On grandson Nathaniel’s day off, we drove to Tennessee to visit the house called Rocky Mount built by William Cobb. It served as the capital of the Southwest Territory (west of North Carolina) from 1790 – 1792. John had checked the web site, so we were perplexed when there were no cars in the parking lot. Nathaniel got out to test the front door of the visitor’s center. It was locked, even though there was a sign saying it was open. Nathaniel came to the rescue, having the only cell phone with data. He looked up the site and called the number listed there. The man who answered told him the place should be open, but to make sure, he would telephone. Soon a woman opened the door for us, explaining that a group had used the space earlier. They had left the door open the other times they had been there, so she assumed it was open. What a relief that our long drive was not wasted!
This was a living history site, one where the docents take on the character of a family member to show you around. We began in the house, where a granddaughter talked about the daily life of her grandparents. I took a photo when she was explaining that her grandmother kept common medications on hand, because the nearest doctor was three hours away by wagon. Liquids in clear bottles could be taken internally, but those in colored bottles were poisonous and could only be applied externally.
The granddaughter handed us off to a cousin of William Cobb. He showed us William’s office and talked about making ink from black walnuts. Quill pens were usually made of turkey or goose feathers. Because the feather would have oil on it from the bird, the first thing you’d do was heat sand and stick the big end in it to draw out the oil. You’d cut a small slit in the tough end, which would help hold the ink as you wrote. Then you’d make a diagonal slice on the under side and cut it to make a fine point. You’d generally write a document with a smaller goose feather and sign your name with the larger turkey quill pen. I couldn’t help but wonder what bird’s quill John Hancock used to sign the Declaration of Independence. [His is the largest signature on the document.]
Besides we three, there was a three-generational family of six touring the house with us. The cousin expressed surprise that the 10-year-old was not at least 13. She was wearing earrings, and only unmarried girls who were looking for a husband would wear earrings. I asked at what age a man married. He would probably be 16. The cousin gently inquired Nathaniel’s age. On hearing that he is 17 he asked, “Do you own land?”
Playing along, Nathaniel answered he did. Did he own a rifle? Yes. What about a horse? No, he didn’t own a horse. The man said, “As soon as you get a horse, you will be ready to get married. You have to own those three things before you can get a wife.”
A daughter of William Cobb explained things in the separate kitchen and the weaving area. There had been a teaching group earlier, so there was a real fire in the large fireplace. She showed us a meat spit, a coffee roasting gadget, and pointed out dried herbs hanging there within reach. Holding up a cast iron gadget, she asked if we knew what it was for. She explained that you’d put bread in it and rest it near the fire. With a straight face, she said you’d shift it with your toe to brown the other side, and that’s why it was called a “toe stir”.
The docent playing the cousin met us on the path as we walked back to the museum. He said he’d like to answer a question further, which he couldn’t do while in character. He explained what happened to the house after the period he was playing. He actually met the last man to be born in the house, which was occupied by that man’s family in 1958. They had no electricity or running water. That man said he hated Saturdays, because it was wash day. He had to bring all the water up from the spring down the hill. The other two docents joined us, and we told them we were impressed with their knowledge of the time. They said they chose a Cobb family member from the era and did research to learn about them so they could get in the character.
We had a delightful day and got home a few minutes before David got off from work. Our main dinner conversation was about what we had seen. Before long the boys were talking about things they did at work. Yesterday Nathaniel worked as a line cook, and today David was in the fast food kitchen. He broiled burgers for the first time. Up until now, he has taken orders and served food. We were amused that the non-cook in the family was finally cooking in a kitchen.