While up in northern Minnesota this past weekend, it was certainly cold along the North Shore. Wind chill temperatures hovered at low single digits.
In general, winter always makes me wonderâ€¦how did people survive a winter likeÂ this hundreds of years ago?
It truly is staggering for me to think about. Hundreds of years ago, Native populations surviving temperatures without our modern comforts. Being draped in robes of fur and even greasing themselves in animal fat for cold protection.
Colonists later faced the same. William Bradfordâ€™s famous journal Of Plymouth Plantation outlined what it was like for settlers in the famous settlement: â€śAnd for the season it was winter, and they that know the winters of that country know them to be sharp and violent, and subject to cruel and fierce storms, dangerous to travel to known places, much more to search an unknown coast. Besides, what could they see but a hideous and desolate wilderness, full of wild beasts and wild men? and what multitudes there might be of them they knew not.â€ť Several times in the journal the word â€śfoulâ€ť is used to describe the weather. And certainly the natural obstacles of the land still existed, on top of the harsher weather.
And do you hate showering in the cold? Well, even later in the colonial period, bathing in the New England area would not only be a hassle, it would essentially cease to exist. Charles Francis Adams (grandson of John Quincy Adams) wrote, â€śWhen the temperature of a bed-room ranges below the freezing-point, there is no inducementâ€¦to waste any unnecessary time in washing.â€ť
Jamestown, the first permanent settlement, endured a period so harsh it is referred to as the â€śStarving Timeâ€ť. Conditions got so dire and food so scarce, colonist George Percy wrote that not only did colonists eat their horses and other animals but also â€śboots, shoes, or any other leather some could come byâ€ť. Research suggests the possibility of cannibalism as well.
However, iconic Virginian William Byrd was said to swim in rivers during the winter â€świthout being discouraged by frost or Snowâ€ť, even to help rid himself of impending ill health. He further alludes to how if everyone did the same, it would â€śstarve all our doctorsâ€ť.
Time to turn the heat up.
NOTE: this is an edited version of a post that appeared on January 13th, 2015.