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Daily Frontier Life in America in 1800 - When Visitors Came to Call

Updated on December 6, 2017
cygnetbrown profile image

Donna, AKA Cygnet Brown is a recent honors graduate of Argosy University. She is an author of four books and a long time gardener.

A welcome sight when traveling in 1800

Daily Life in 1800 America

If you lived in 1800 in America, more than likely you didn’t live in a city or even a small town. You probably lived out in the rural areas of the country, and your family produced most of its own necessities right there on your own farm. Everyone in your family, from the very young to the very old, worked from sunup to sundown. You probably had few visitors, your nearest neighbor probably lived several miles away. For months on end the only people you probably saw were members of your own family. When visitors came to you door, it was not an inconvenience. Your family, without a doubt, welcomed them with genuine hospitality. These visitors were a welcome sight because they offered a break from the every day drudgery. Visitors meant it was time to pull up a chair and bring out the musical instruments. It was a time for celebration and socialization.

The fact that you put out the hand of welcome was a blessing for the visitor too. Your farm was probably the only one they might pass all day; so when anyone drove on the road where your home was, they knew to expect a warm meal and friendly folks in which to converse.

You wouldn’t know, of course that they were coming. No one had a phones or computer access. Mail wasn’t as reliable in the rural areas as it was in the cities, so you might not get a letter informing you that company was coming. Besides, even if you did know that someone was going to visit you, you didn’t know exactly what time or what day they would arrive. Traveling was, after all, difficult at best. Therefore, the first warning that you got that you were going to have guests on any given day was when your dogs greeted them at your gate.But that was fine, because company was here!

Sharing the Noon Meal in 1800

If your company arrived around noon hour, they would enjoy the noonday meal with you. If you already had dinner cooking (as the noonday meal was called in those days), you would send one of the children out to the garden, (or if the garden wasn’t producing that time of year, out to the root cellar) to add more vegetables to the pot on the stove. You might even whip up another batch of cornbread just to make sure that everyone was well fed. Sometimes your visitor would bring in hand fresh meat that the visitor had hunted on the trail before arrival, but often the visitor came empty handed. That was fine though, because if you were on the road, likely these same people would offer you a home cooked meal as well.

Entertaining Overnight Guests in 1800

If the visitor came for the noon meal, they were often gone that afternoon so that they could continue their journey, but if they arrived at suppertime, (evening meal) they usually expected to spend the night. You did not consider yourself put out because they expected to spend the night either. It’s just the way things were done in those days. Matter of fact, you’d have a party. Someone would bring out whatever musical instruments were available, the furniture would be kicked back, and everyone would spend hours dancing and tapping their feet to the music. The man of the house would tell one of his stories, or someone would sing or read poetry and everyone would enjoy one another’s company. Because everyone knew that there were chores to do in the morning, they didn’t usually stay up too late. Soon it was time for bed.

You couldn’t send your visitors out to the barn to sleep either. You shared what you had, and if there weren’t enough beds for everyone (and there usually wasn’t,) you gave them your bed, and you slept on the floor. Sometimes there’d be so many unmarried people and your home would be so small that a special sleeping arrangement would be used. The younger children would be put to bed on the bed then straw would be used to cover the entire floor. The husband and wife of the house would lie down in the middle of the floor. Then all the females would lie on the other side of the wife and all the males would lie on the other side of the man. This way, there would be no hanky-panky going on. It worked better than a bundling board for keeping the young ladies unmolested. (A bundling board was put between a young man and a young lady who shared a bed before marriage.)

In the morning the visitors helped straighten everything from the evening before.You would help them prepare to continue their journey. You might even offer them your left over cornbread. There was never any money that changed hands. You didn't expect it, and your guests wouldn't offend you by offering any. It was just the way things were done back then.

© 2012 Cygnet Brown


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    • DommaLeigh profile image

      DommaLeigh 4 years ago

      The offering of your bed is still common in my family but only to married family members visiting from out of state. Things were a lot different back than but the people were to. The thought of a guest going through your things or stealing from you was unheard of back than but now a days you have to lock up everything when there is a sleep over. Respect for others and others property, seem to have disappeared over the years.

    • frogyfish profile image

      frogyfish 5 years ago from Central United States of America

      Necessary hospitality shown, but with caring consideration for the needs of travelers...of whom yourself might be next. What a way of life...goodness to (nearly) all. Thanks for a brief glimpse of that long-ago life.

    • cygnetbrown profile image

      Cygnet Brown 5 years ago from Springfield, Missouri

      Yes, expertscolumn people gave up their own beds to strangers so that they would have a comfortable place to sleep. It certainly does seem odd by today's standards, but hospitality was almost a religion.

    • expertscolumn profile image

      Stanley Soman 5 years ago from New York

      We may need bundling boards back again, and when you stated "you gave them your bed", I found that a bit odd. Giving a stranger your own bed?

    • Hyphenbird profile image

      Brenda Barnes 5 years ago from America-Broken But Still Beautiful

      Those were innocent and trustful days that I long to come again. People are too busy to visit and family vacations are planned out to the second. When I was a child, people went visiting on Sunday afternoons. We were always welcomed or happy to offer hospitality to others. Thank you for a nostalgic glance into the past.

    • WillStarr profile image

      WillStarr 6 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      Bundling was also done by sewing both the young man and young woman into separate nightgowns to contain wayward hands.

      It was necessary because a young man might be courting a young lady a full day's ride apart, and beds were scarce.

      Good Hub!