Myth # 148: Pan tiles (S-shaped roof tiles) were made by workers shaping the clay over their thighs.

April 7, 2018

Steve Herchak wrote: Hello again, and thanks for your fabulous posts! In my early days as a volunteer docent at a colonial house I heard for the first time something I’ve often since heard from guides, that being, that the curves in pantiles for roofing came from the workers shaping the clay over the tops of their thighs. The idea seemed absurd to my ears from the get-go that soft clay could be formed like that and somehow hang together and still keep its shape when lifted off and set aside to be fired. The idea of perhaps patty-caking the clay flat for something large like a tile on a surface of similar size such as a thigh was at least in the realm of conceivable, but why not just work it on a surface such as a plank or work table like dough for baking? But because I heard this from the mouth of a “top” guide and heard it repeated since, it keeps me from saying “absolutely not” to people who say “I heard the way they made those tiles was shaping the clay over their thighs,” even though, like the “old glass in windows continues to sag with age” myth, the mechanics of this one also strike me as impossible. Could you bring the hammer down for a verdict on this one?

Well, Steve, this is a bit esoteric, but I’ll give it a go. Please chime in if I’m off base on this topic. 

I’d never heard of pan tiles, which are S-shaped clay tiles used for roofs, especially in certain countries (Scotland and England) and in certain eras (Roman, then the art was lost until rediscovered in the 12th century). There is even a famous picturesque center of Tunbridge Wells, England, called “The Pantiles” after their quaint roofing styles. 

After doing some preliminary research online, which is all I can do for this topic, I can only say I believe this is a myth because it would have been far too laborious to be practical. And workers are practical, above all else. No documentation mentions making tiles on one’s thighs, and frankly, it would be a lot easier and a lot more regular (regularity being important for a roof that will drain rainwater efficiently) if you made them using a mold. Bricks were made with molds, other tiles were made with molds. Why would pantiles be made without molds on your thigh? Makes no sense to me. If I were in your shoes, I’d challenge those who say it to prove it with documentation or cease saying it. 

Thanks to a reader, I now feel certain my gut feeling was correct. Thank you, Joanna Kenny, for the reference to the York (England) Archaeological Trust technical report about tiles, which reads  on page 40: 

These tiles were made in moulds placed over a block or stock-table, both of which were coated with very fine sand, and there was a depression in the top edge of the block that produced the nib on the underside of the tile (Betts 1985, 535-7). The tile was then placed in a second mould and ‘washed-down’ to obtain its characteristic curving shape (ibid., 537). After partially drying it could be beaten back into shape if any warping had occurred while drying; the tile was then fired (ibid., 537).

Also check out these websites for more information on tiles than you ever thought you would need. This one, below says, in part, 

At first clay plain tiles were simple rectangles of clay with nibs pressed out by hand, and laid to overlap the joints of the ones beneath. They were generally 10½ x 6½ inches, which was a size that was not only convenient to press out by hand, but was also easy to handle on the roof. Less scrupulous manufacturers sometimes made them smaller to save on their costs, prompting King Edward IV in 1477 to pass an Act of Parliament laying down their minimum size. Today plain tiles remain standardised at 10½ x 6½ inches and are often referred to in the industry as “ten and a half by six and a half tiles”. Although this size has persisted as the norm through the centuries, in some places plain tiles were historically supplied in non-standard sizes; in York for example many of the older buildings are still roofed with tiles using 12 x 7 plain tiles. Where replacements are needed today for such odd sizes, manufacturers can usually offer to make them to those sizes.

More general use of clay plain tiles seems to have commenced in the 12th or 13th centuries. After the Great Fire of London in 1666, thatched roofing was no longer allowed in London and clay tiles provided an obvious fireproof alternative.

Overlapping tiles were first re-introduced into Britain from the Netherlands in around the 16th century. It was the Dutch nation that probably discovered the idea of linking tiles together using an ogee or S-shape, rather than relying on their vertical overlaps to prevent the ingress of water. This new design was effectively a Roman under and an over, joined into one tile. It was a clever idea, not at all as simple as it at first appears. Even today tilers who are not familiar with the way pantiles overlap find it a difficult concept to understand. In order to make them fit against each other from side to side, and also from top to bottom,  it was necessary to chamfer the top right and bottom left corner (shoulder) of each tile.

These tiles became known in England as pantiles, believed to be from the Dutch word panne (German pfanne). The advantages possessed by pantiles over plain tiles were easily apparent. While plain tiles were laid with their side joints merely butted together, pantiles actually overlapped each other from side to side. Because water could fall through the side joints of plain tiles, 2 to 3 thicknesses of tiles were used to ensure that they were watertight. Pantiles on the other hand only required 1 to 2 thicknesses at any point. It is for this reason that we refer nowadays to plain tiles as “double lap tiles”, but we call tiles which overlap or interlock with each other “single lap tiles”. To construct a roof using plain tiles you need 60 tiles per square metre, but if you use pantiles you only need about 15 tiles. The savings in weight and labour time are obvious.

The National Park Services, a site I trust, has a technical preservation website for this subject.   No mention of making the tiles on your thigh. (See below)

Historical Background

The origin of clay roofing tile can be traced independently to two different parts of the world: China, during the Neolithic Age, beginning around 10,000 B.C.; and the Middle East, a short time later. From these regions, the use of clay tile spread throughout Asia and Europe. Not only the ancient Egyptians and Babylonians, but also the Greeks and Romans roofed their buildings with clay tiles, and adaptations of their practice continue in Europe to the present. European settlers brought this roofing tradition to America where it was established in many places by the 17th century.

Clay roof tiles and a roof-supporting post on an adobe building.Tapered barrel clay roof tiles were custom made for the restoration of the 1820s Indian barracks at Mission Santa Cruz in California. Photo: NPS files.

Archeologists have recovered specimens of clay roofing tiles from the 1585 settlement of Roanoke Island in North Carolina. Clay tile was also used in the early English settlements in Jamestown, Virginia, and nearby St. Mary’s in Maryland. Clay roofing tiles were also used in the Spanish settlement of St. Augustine in Florida, and by both the French and Spanish in New Orleans.

Dutch settlers on the east coast first imported clay tiles from Holland. By 1650, they had established their own full-scale production of clay tiles in the upper Hudson River Valley, shipping tiles south to New Amsterdam. Several tile manufacturing operations were in business around the time of the American Revolution, offering both colored and glazed tile and unglazed natural terra-cotta tile in the New York City area, and in neighboring New Jersey. A 1774 New York newspaper advertised the availability of locally produced, glazed and unglazed pantiles for sale that were guaranteed to “stand any weather.” On the west coast clay tile was first manufactured in wooden molds in 1780 at Mission San Antonio de Padua in California by Indian neophytes under the direction of Spanish missionaries.

By far the most significant factor in popularizing clay roofing tiles during the Colonial period in America was the concern with fire. Devastating fires in London, 1666, and Boston in 1679, prompted the establishment of building and fire codes in New York and Boston. These fire codes, which remained in effect for almost two centuries, encouraged the use of tile for roofs, especially in urban areas, because of its fireproof qualities. Clay roofing tile was also preferred because of its durability, ease of maintenance, and lack of thermal conductivity.

Although more efficient production methods had lowered the cost of clay tile, its use began to decline in much of the northeastern United States during the second quarter of the 19th century. In most areas outside city-designated fire districts, wood shingles were used widely; they were more affordable and much lighter, and required less heavy and less expensive roof framing. In addition, new fire-resistant materials were becoming available that could be used for roofing, including slate, and metals such as copper, iron, tin-plate, zinc, and galvanized iron. Many of the metal roofing materials could be installed at a fraction of the cost and weight of clay tile. Even the appearance of clay tile was no longer fashionable, and by the 1830s clay roofing tiles had slipped temporarily out of popularity in many parts of the country.

 

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Revisited Myth # 143: Lawn Jockeys are not racist; they honor Jocko, a black groom who served General Washington.

March 26, 2018

Thanks to Sarah Uthoff who sent me this link and suggested it would make a good addition to the blog. Credit for the research goes to David Pilgrim, Curator of the Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia at Ferris State University in Michigan. He writes, in part:

The story begins the icy night in December 1776 when General George Washington decided to cross the Delaware River to launch a surprise attack on the British forces at Trenton. Jocko Graves, a twelve-year-old African-American, sought to fight the Redcoats, but Washington deemed him too young and ordered him to look after the horses, asking Jocko to keep a lantern blazing along the Delaware so the company would know where to return after battle. Many hours later, Washington and his men returned to their horses that were tied up to Graves, who had frozen to death with the lantern still clenched in his fist. Washington was so moved by the young boy’s devotion to the revolutionary cause he commissioned a statue of the ‘Faithful Groomsman’ to stand in Graves’s honor at the general’s estate in Mount Vernon, [Baltimore].

I have heard this account from many African Americans and it is frequently cited on Internet sites. It is a heroic tale and, like many such tales, its historical accuracy is questionable. In a 1987 letter to the Enoch Pratt Free Library, Ellen McCallister Clark, a Mount Vernon librarian, concluded that “the story is apocryphal; conveying a message about heroism among blacks during the Revolutionary War and General Washington’s humanitarian concerns, but it is not based on an actual incident. Neither a person by the name of Jocko Graves, nor the account of any person freezing to death while holding Washington’s horses has been found in any of the extensive records of the period. Likewise, the Mount Vernon estate [in Baltimore] was inventoried and described by a multitude of visitors over the years and there has never been any indication of anything resembling a ‘jockey’ statue on the grounds. I have put the story in the category with the cherry tree and silver dollar, fictional tales that were designed to illustrate a particular point.” 

Yes, this is a myth. For details read David Pilgrim’s entire footnoted (and very interesting!) research paper, see www.ferris.edu/HTMLS/news/jimcrow/question/july08/index.htm

 

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Revisited Myth # 142: During the Civil War, wounded soldiers bit bullets against the pain.

March 14, 2018

Rhonda Florian wrote: “I’m hoping you can help me with some information. I am a living historian. I keep running into what I believe is a history myth—that soldiers used to bite on a bullet during surgery. I always scoff at the idea. I ask the person, “What’s going to happen the first time you scream?” Besides, I ask, what would be the purpose of biting a bullet even if it were humanly possible? But then there’s always that person who says they’ve seen a Civil War bullet with teeth marks on it. Undeniable proof, they exclaim.”

I can only point to an excellent response to this question, written by George Wunderlich, executive director of the National Museum of Civil War Medicine, here. 


Myth # 147: Immigrants had their last names changed or shortened on Ellis Island.

February 17, 2018

While doing some research on a certain Russian immigrant for the nonfiction book I’m working on, I came across this myth. It surprised me, as I had never questioned this “fact.”  

We all know the story: millions of immigrants passed through immigration on Ellis Island from 1892 to 1954 at an average of 500 people a day, and as they came, inspectors often shortened their last names to something easier to spell, something more “American” sounding. So Waclawek became Walters, Markovitch became Marks, or Schwarz could be translated literally and become Black.

According to the National Park Service, this is a myth. In actual fact, the inspectors on Ellis Island worked from ships’ manifests, where passengers’ names were already listed along with details about their occupation, age, country of origin, marital status, and so forth. These were created in their home port, not in the U.S. 

According to Smithsonian historians, “If anything, Ellis Island officials were known to correct mistakes in passenger lists,” says Philip Sutton, a librarian in the Milstein Division of United States History, Local History and Genealogy, at the New York Public Library, in a blog post delving into the name change mythology. More commonly, immigrants themselves would change their names, either to sound more American, or to melt into the immigrant community, where they were going to live, says Sutton. If name changes happened with any frequency on Ellis Island, it was not noted in any contemporaneous newspaper accounts or in recollections from inspectors, Sutton says. 

It is also unlikely a foreign name would flummox an Ellis Island inspector. From 1892 to 1924, “one-third of all immigrant inspectors were themselves foreign-born, and all immigrant inspectors spoke an average of three languages,” says the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. 

So was your last name one of those that was Americanized?  

Read more: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smithsonian-institution/ask-smithsonian-did-ellis-island-officials-really-change-names-immigrants-180961544/#WMjuCszSzCHjSYB1.99


Revisited Myth # 141: Colonial-era bread ovens were constructed outside the fireplace, to one side of the hearth.

February 10, 2018

Above: 18th-c. New England fireplace with rear bread oven; below: Michie Tavern fireplace with right side oven.

This is more misunderstanding than myth, but Cindy Conte of Michie Tavern, Charlottesville, Virginia, asked me to address the subject, so I will! 

“The 18th-century hearth is one of the most romanticized and iconic images of colonial times,” writes Cindy Conte. “Early depictions feature a woman in colonial garb cooking over a roaring fire. Sadly, this romantic hearth cooking image has been stamped into our mindset as permanently as it has been inked into old history books. At least once every season a tourist will point to the bread oven which is tucked to the side of our fireplace and exclaim, ‘That has to be wrong. A person would get burned baking bread if the oven were placed there.’ Surely, they are thinking of that colonial woman, a roaring fire and possibly a large black kettle. Quite often, we explain that once a fire was good and hot, the coals would be separated into piles (think of burners on a stove) and several dishes could be prepared at once. Bread could be prepared as well. Bread ovens were tucked into the side of hearths, at the back of hearths, close to the hearth, to the right of the hearth, to the left of the hearth and outside.”

Bread ovens (which had doors that are missing in these photos), could be constructed in various places around the fireplace. Why build one inside the fireplace where surely it would be harder to access? Frank Clark, Colonial Williamsburg’s supervisor of Historic Foodways, says the reason is: “It was cheaper. If you put your oven on either side of the fireplace, you must also build a flue to tie it into the main chimney. This takes more bricks and more labor from a mason. If you don’t, your kitchen fills with smoke when you use it. When you build it in the back of the fireplace, it feeds to the main chimney with no flue. It is, however, more difficult to use since you have to keep the hearth fire to the other side so you can access the oven.”

So bread ovens at the back or side of the fireplace are not mistakes. 

 

 


Revisited Myth # 140: A woman would use a diamond to etch her name/date on window glass to see if the stone was genuine.

January 28, 2018

window at The Old Manse in Concord, MA

“I am a museum interpreter at Bacon’s Castle in Surry, Virginia. We have a couple of window panes that have names, dates, and even a branch with leaves etched in them – all from the 19th century. Is it true that ladies would test their diamonds or other gems to see if they were real or glass by doing such etchings?”

You may have heard that a real diamond will scratch glass and an imitation one won’t. If only it were that easy! Many high quality imitation diamonds made in recent decades are harder than glass, so even fakes will scratch glass. Don’t rely on this myth to determine whether your own diamond-looking piece of jewelry is genuine or not. Take it to a reputable, local jewelry, one who has been in business for many years, and he or she will tell you at no cost whether it is genuine or not. They will not appraise it at no cost–for that you need an experienced CGA or Certified Gemologist Appraiser who has the training to judge your jewelry value it.

The idea that the ability to scratch glass proves a diamond’s genuine-ness is clearly a myth today. But what about in earlier times?

Well, it was closer to the truth in the past, when imitation diamonds were made of something called “paste.” Not the sort of paste you used in kindergarten to glue lace to your Valentine, this word meant a type of glass with a high lead content that was used to make imitation stones. According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, the Romans were the first to make this sort of imitation stone. For all you chemists, here’s the lowdown: 

“Before 1940 most imitation gems were made from glass with a high lead content. Such glasses were called paste because the components of the mixture were mixed wet to ensure a thorough and even distribution. Colourless paste is commonly formulated from 300 parts of silica (silicon dioxide, SiO2), 470 of red lead (a lead oxide, Pb3O4), 163 of potassium carbonate (K2CO3), 22 of borax (a sodium borate, Na2B4O7·10H2O), and 1 of white arsenic (arsenic oxide, As2O3). Pigments may be added to give the paste any desired colour: chromium compounds for red or green, cobalt for blue, gold for red, iron for yellow to green, manganese for purple, and selenium for red.”

Nonetheless, that doesn’t mean it was true in the past–other clear stones that look like diamonds can scratch glass. Quartz, for instance. I think it likely that people who scratched on window glass were indulging in some playful or sentimental graffiti rather than testing their diamonds.

Some window glass in the Virginia Governor’s Mansion had two little girls’ names etched in it–these were youngsters who lived in the mansion when their father was governor in the 1840s. (Sadly, that pane went missing during the 1999 renovations.) Many old houses have windows with initials, names, dates, or even sketches that were scratched in the glass. My theory is that most of them were done by girls or young women having fun, but I can’t prove that. 

Does anyone else work at places where someone etched something into the window glass?  

 

Previous comments:

21 Responses to Myth # 140: A woman would use a diamond to etch her name/date on window glass to see if the stone was genuine.

  1. Jake Pontillo says:

    Not exactly in an historical context, but certain graffiti ‘artists’ will scratch their initials, their ‘tag’ as they call it, on the windows of the NYC subway cars. To do this they use a sharpening stone- the kind I would use to sharpen a knife. They use the edge or else break it to get a finer edge. I think they found that using spray paint for their tags was not that permanent since the NYC Transit authorities can remove their paint work, but the tags on windows are left in place, I think.

  2. Frank says:

    According to the Shakespeare House in Stafford-upon-Avon, when I visited there, the etchings were customarily done by guests as a way of “leaving their mark”, so to speak.

  3. Thank you for your response! We have had visitors who have been to other historical sites where this is told to them as being the truth. Now I have more information to help debunk this myth!

    I forgot to mention that we also have a windowpane (it is broken into several pieces and kept carefully in storage) from 1840 where a husband wrote an entire love letter to his wife. We have a copy of that letter on display. He definitely was not testing any sort of gem – he was expressing his love to his wife in a permanent way!

  4. Margie Thompson says:

    There is a house in Ravenna,Ohio that has a window with the initials of my mother’s twin uncles. The boys carved them there when they were young. I would guess in the 1870,s.margiethompson

  5. Barb King says:

    My history professor at U of Michigan, who used to work at Ithica College (I believe) said the building he was housed in used to be Women’s Dorm in the early 1900’s. The women when they got engaged would etch their initals, and their fiancee’s, into the glass with the date, with their diamonds; IIRC there are letters to coroborate this. I’ll check and see for sure.

  6. In the 1730s four volumes of collected graffiti from English outhouses, walls, AND tavern windows and glasses were published under the title The Merry Thought, or the Glass-Window and Bog-House Miscellany. Occasionally the poems are self-referential and mention the use of a diamond-tipped pen for writing on glass.

    You can find online editions at Project Gutenberg

    Volume 1 – http://www.gutenberg.org/files/20558/20558-h/20558-h.htm

    Volumes 2-4 – http://www.gutenberg.org/files/20535/20535-h/20535-h.htm

  7. First Time Visitor says:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sophia_Hawthorne

    “Together the couple etched their impressions of their new married life in the glass of a window in the study using Sophia’s diamond ring:”

    http://www.thetrustees.org/places-to-visit/greater-boston/old-manse.html

  8. I’ve etched in glass–as a boy. My grandmother possessed what my sister and I believed might be a diamond (it was probably quartz). We etched a little on her mirror to test it, but didn’t write our names–after all, she was renting.

  9. JennyOH says:

    I went to a private school in CT with many buildings, including the dorms, from the 19th/early 20th centuries. At this school, getting your school ring at the end of your first year was a big deal, and using your ring to then scratch your name/initials into your window was one of several of the school’s idiosyncratic traditions (that were mostly dying out at the time – I attended in the late 90’s). The room I stayed in my freshman year had names and initials from the early 20th century and I remember seeing a few older than that.

  10. Jayne says:

    I recently bought a 145 year old house. Just last week I glanced up from the sofa and noticed that someone had etched their name in the window but I can’t make it out. I do know that this is one of the older window panes as it is full of waves and bubbles. I find it to be fascinating!

  11. Andrew says:

    Honestly the myth makes no real sense, if the interest was to test the diamond they would do it in an out of the way place with as little a mark as possible. Names, dates or images put on glass were done intentionally, because someone wanted to leave their mark.

  12. I have 2 names in my grandparents home from 1832 😊

  13. Dianne Fitzpatrick says:

    Sophia Hawthorne (maiden name Peabody), when she was newly married to author Nathanial Hawthorne, supposedly etched some panes of window glass with her diamond ring while living at the Old Manse in Concord, MA. Her husband etched on the gkass as well. Here’s what they etched:
    Man’s accidents are God’s purposes. Sophia A. Hawthorne 1843
    Nath Hawthorne This is his study
    The smallest twig leans clear against the sky
    Composed by my wife and written with her diamond
    Inscribed by my husband at sunset, April 3 1843. In the Gold light.
    SAH[9]
    Their landlord was none other than Ralph Waldo Emerson, a spiritual leader and founder of Transcendentalism. David Thoreau is said to have put in a vegetable garden for the newlyweds before they arrived. The house and those panes of glass still exist today overlooking the spot where the Battle of Concord and Lexington ignited with the “shot heard ’round the world.” I know all this because I regularly canoe to this spot and enjoy reading about these people and their contributions.

  14. Amy S says:

    This is a myth that has become a reality at Shirley Plantation. The Carter family attributes the first initials in the windows of their dining room to Elizabeth Carter, who married William Byrd III of Westover; according to the family legend, she hoped the stone would prove to be paste so she would have an excuse to call off the wedding. However, the diamond was real, after which discovery she felt duty-bound to proceed with the marriage. Successive generations of Carter women have since inscribed their names in similar fashion, not any longer with any real concern about the genuine nature of their diamonds, but to continue what they believe to be a family tradition. I’d be curious to know when their tale of “proving the stone” actually began! I imagine it has been spread from the time the house was first opened to the public in the ’50s, but it’s probably older than that, since the first tours were given by the owner and basically consisted of Carter family oral history of this sort. Like other commenters, I suspect the practice actually originated as a way the daughters of the house left a mark of themselves there before marrying and moving away. That Elizabeth’s marriage to William Byrd was in fact an unhappy one probably gave rise to some wishful thinking about her having searched for a loophole before the wedding!

  15. M.E. Botsford says:

    Our home was built in 1819. There was a pane of glass in the kitchen that had a name and saw arches in it. The date is hard to read, but it’s 18 something. We saved the lane when we remodeled the kitchen.

    • So glad you saved it! When the Virginia governor’s mansion was renovated during the 1990s during the Gilmore administration, the precious scratchings on an upstairs window by the then-governor’s little girls was not noticed, and therefore, replaced.


Revisited Myth #139: The association of black-eyed peas with good luck comes from Sherman’s March to the Sea during the the Civil War

January 14, 2018

Pat McMillion from Burritt on the Mountain, Huntsville, AL, wrote to ask if I would take on this story behind the tradition that black-eyed peas eaten on New Year’s Day would bring good luck. (Actually, I had mentioned it back in July of 2013, but this week we’ll give it full court press.)

The story told throughout the South is that the tradition of eating black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day for good luck dates back to Sherman’s March to the Sea in the fall of 1864, when the Yankees laid waste to the Georgia countryside, stealing, killing, or burning everything in their wide path. Survivors faced starvation, until they realized Sherman’s men had left silos full of black-eyed peas, thinking it was food fit only for livestock, as was the case in the North at that time. And since there was no more livestock, there was no use for the peas, so theYankees left the beans alone, and the South was saved from starvation. Hence the good luck. (The relationship to New Year’s Day is fuzzy.) 

Anyone knowledgable about history would surely raise their eyebrows at this lame story–silos full of black-eyed peas in 1864? According to footnoted references in Wikipedia, the first modern silos were invented in Illinois in the 1870s, but we’ll leave that aside, assuming the story doesn’t really mean silos but rather “storage.” It’s just hard for me to picture Sherman’s troops being quite that carefully judgmental as they loot and burn a wide swath of territory for over a month. All the soldiers who came across storage bins with black-eyed peas came to the independent conclusion that they could be left in place because they were no use to anyone but animals? Not logical. Another flaw in the story: the Yankees actually did confiscate animal fodder–millions of pounds of it–either for their own animals or to ship North as contraband. 

But never mind common sense, we must search for hard evidence! (Excuse the enthusiasm, I’m having a glass of wine as I write.)

Black-eyed peas are native to Africa and/or the Far East, and they figure prominently in Southern African-American cuisine. It’s logical that the African-born slaves brought food-related customs with them (“cultural baggage”) long before General Sherman marched to the sea. But black-eyed peas also belong to a 2,500-year-old Jewish custom that links the food to a celebratory meal at Rosh Hashanah. Martha Katz-Hyman, curator at Yorktown Victory Center, sent an informative link to a Jewish article which points to the Babylonian Talmud. “Now that you have said that an omen is significant, at the beginning of each year, each person should accustom himself to eat gourds, black-eyed peas, fenugreek….” Each of the foods (nine in total) represents something different for the year ahead; the black-eyed peas symbolize good fortune.” Read more: http://forward.com/articles/112887/at-rosh-hashanah-black-eyed-peas-for-good-fortune/#ixzz3OMoliuUG. The good-fortune/New Year link to black-eyed peas, this article states, likely arrived in America with the Sephardic Jews who moved to the South. The traditions of the Jews and the African slaves, who did much of the cooking in Southern homes, overlapped with black-eyed peas.

Sharon (no last name) wrote in July of 2013 that “if 18th c. Jews traditionally ate beans for Rosh HaShana, it wasn’t for luck. Rosh HaShana is a two-day “yom tov” or holy day, and Jews are not allowed to light fires or cook on holy days. So it was a long-standing tradition to assemble a casserole, usually something like a pot of beans, and set it among the banked coals on the hearth before the holiday starts, so it will slow-cook like a crock pot meal, and still be hot a day or (even two days) later. However I seriously doubt that anyone in the American South learned this from their Jewish neighbors as a “New Year’s” tradition. Rosh HaShana is in September or very early October, and non-Jewish southerners would almost certainly not have understood enough about the holiday to make the connection to their own New Year’s celebrations.” Good point, Sharon, but Rosh Hashana is the Jewish new year, so the connection is there.

Another article in Forward.com, the Jewish Daily, explains a mixup between fenugreek and black-eyed peas (although I note the quote from the Talmud mentions both, so there, at least, is no mix up.). “Fenugreek is a little seed that the Talmud calls rubia, which sounds like yirbu, the word for “to increase” — as in, to increase luck. But it actually increased confusion, says [food historian] Gil Marks, because the Sephardim got it mixed up with lubia, the word for black-eyed peas. So the Sephardim began eating black-eyed peas rather than fenugreek for good luck in the new year, a tradition they brought with them when some of them up and moved to the colonies. There, non-Jewish Southerners picked up the tradition, too, which is why — Marks swears — to this day, many of them eat black-eyed peas on Rosh Hashanah.” Thank you, Mr. Marks.

Read more: http://forward.com/articles/142762/for-rosh-hashanah-eat-these-symbolic-sounding-food/#ixzz3ORjEzzpS

Another reader of this blog, a “Southerner married to an Englishman,” chimed in. “In northeast England it is traditional to eat carlings on New Years for good luck. Carlings [or carlins] are a black-eyed pea. This tradition is older than the U.S. Civil War and comes from an old Catholic tradition during Lent. Carlings began to be seen as good luck, period. The history of the Carling Festival and Carling Sunday [during Lent] might help with understanding why southerners eat black-eyed peas for good luck at new years.” 

So . . . as we enter the new year, let’s view this myth with some skepticism. The association of black-eyed peas and good luck seems to date back before the American Civil War, and it seems to have existed in at least two distinct societies: northern English and Jewish. I can’t provide definitive proof that it is a myth, and you needn’t be convinced, however, I am. (Pass the wine bottle.) And may the new year bring you good health and much happiness! Cheers!

 

6 previous Responses to Myth #139: The association of black-eyed peas with good luck comes from Sherman’s March to the Sea during the the Civil War.

  1. Pat McMillion says:

    Thank you so very much!!! I knew that logically this was a myth but just didn’t have the proof! I hope to meet you some day so I can give you a hug of thanks for all you do!

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

  2. Thank you, ma’am. Your blog is always a good read. I was born and raised in Richmond, Virginia (which is a lot further South than it looks on a map), and I have never heard that Sherman story. Is it really that widespread?

    • Mary Miley says:

      I’m in Richmond too, and no, it isn’t THAT widespread. Mostly in Georgia, I expect, with that General Sherman angle. I hadn’t heard it myself until a couple readers sent the story to me. One reader said she had heard it as a youngster and she was from Mississippi.

  3. Hanley, Kevin says:

    Actually, Mary, they could very well have referenced silos! Though, as you state, the modern silos as we know wasn’t invented until the 1870’s in Illinois, aboveground silos were known before that. In the 1850’s, in France, they built some of masonry, lined with sheet iron. Prior to that, underground silos, were all the rage, going back to Greek (siros) and Roman (sirus/syrus) times. Both early terms referred to pits for storing grain. Its from those roots that the term “silo” evolved from. Remember the scene in the “Ten Commandments” when Charley Heston a/k/a Moses breaks open the Egyptian priests granary. Those mud brick storage bins were silos. So those southerners may have had underground “silos” on their farms. Civil War texts refer to the Georgian crowd, as with many southern farmers, burying their goods: crops, the good silver, etc., underground to hide them from those da*ned Yankees.

    BTW, no I’m not a silo historian. In the research for info about the Wick and Ford family farms here at Morristwon NHP, I wondered if they may have had such “silos”, and came across a whole bunch of neat stuff about silos (especially an 1880’s British book about the proper storage of their fodders. Those Brits really dug their agriculture! Course, what they did with their mudders we’ll never know. Sorry, couldn’t resist!)

    Kevin Hanley Park Ranger, MORR

    • Mary Miley says:

      Thanks for the information, Kevin. I’m afraid my brain leaped directly to tall, cylindrical silos when I read this term. Of course other grain storage facilities have been around for millennia, and I’m sure that’s what the story was referencing.

  4. i know I’m rather late, but the other factor people tend to ignore or just flat out miss is that Sherman had contact with Federal units from Tennessee and Kentucky at least during the battle of Atlanta, so I’m sure that he was well informed about black-eyed peas.


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