The Log Cabin

The log-cabin was the universal residence for years. But there are distinctions even in this simple class of structures, and the majority of those found here were of the better sort. While the larger number of the first settlers were not wealthy for even that day, there were some that were well-to-do, and there was manifested a disposition to secure all the comforts to be had at the cost of labor simply. The cabins therefore were as neat and comfortable as the rude carpentry and materials at hand would afford. The roof was made of clapboards; boards were supplied by splitting a piece of straight-grained timber with a froe. These were about four feet long, as wide as the timber would admit, and used in-doors and elsewhere without further dressing. Puncheons, split trees of about eighteen inches diameter, and smoothed upon the upper surface with a broad-ax, supplied the floor. The furniture was generally made from the same material and fashioned with an ax. A split slab supported by four legs did duty as a table; three-legged stools took the place of chairs, while the bedstead was made to go upon one leg. At a proper distance from the side of the cabin, adjacent to a corner, a single fork was placed with the lower end in a hole in the floor and the upper end fastened to a joist. Resting on this fork, and projecting at right angles to each other, were two poles, the other end of which found support upon the logs of two sides of the building. Upon this support was placed the foundation of the bed, which was really a fixture of the house. Thoughtful housewives brought with them the cord and tick. The latter was filled with dry leaves until the first corn crop furnished a better substitute in the husks. A few pegs on which to hang the limited spare clothing, and a buck-horn on which to hang the rifle, completed the wood-work of a frontier home. The fire-place was a large affair, and the cabin was sometimes so arranged that a log could be dragged in by a mule and rolled into its capacious jaws as a back-log. The lower part was constructed of stone, and above this a chimney of ” cat and clay ” reached to the height of the ridge of the cabin. This was the average dwelling until the manufacture of brick and lumber made more convenient houses possible. There were a few cabins which were quite pretentious, and one of these had the first shingle roof in the county. It belonged to Adams, who sold out to Kennedy in 1809, and is thus described by the latter: “Adams” was a thrifty, industrious man, and said to my father, ‘ I gad, I thought I would build the best and finest house in all this country!’ It was constructed of large, hewed white oak logs, twenty-four feet long by eighteen feet wide, covered with black walnut shingles rounded at the butt end, and every one put on with walnut pegs, bored through shingles and lath with a brace and bit. It was a good roof, and lasted about thirty years. Then the lower and upper floors were laid with poplar planks sawed by hand with a whip-saw, nicely dressed, tongued and grooved, and put down with pegs. Three windows two feet square, with nice shutters but not a pane of glass, nor a nail in all the house save in the three doors. For these a few nails were made by a blacksmith, his brother, Andy Adams. The chimneys were of stone, the first in the country, and contained at least 150 wagon-loads of rock. The fire-places were six feet wide, with wooden mantel-pieces.”

The frontier cabin was the scene of busy activity. House-keeping was crowded into the smallest possible space to give place to the spinning-wheel and loom. Every woman took pride in such useful accomplishments as were involved in the preparation of the crude material, the manufacture of the fabric, and the fashioning of the wearing apparel of the whole family. The dress of the settlers was generally of primitive simplicity. The hunting shirt was worn universally. This costume was peculiarly adapted to the pursuits and habits of the people, and has been connected with so many thrilling passages of war and wild adventure that the Kentucky hunting shirt is famous throughout the world. This was usually made of linsey, sometimes of coarse linen, and a few of dressed deer-skin. The bosom of the dress was fashioned to form a wallet, to hold a piece of bread, cakes, jerk, tow for wiping the barrel of the gun, and any other necessary for the hunter or warrior. The belt, which was always tied behind, answered several purposes besides that of holding the dress together. In cold weather the mittens and sometimes the bullet bag occupied the front part of it. To the right side was suspended the tomahawk, and to the left the scalping-knife in its leathern sheath. A pair of drawers, or breeches and leggins, were the dress of the thighs and legs, and a pair of moccasins answered for the feet. Hats were made of the native fur. The dress of the women consisted of linen and linseywoolsey. An overshadowing sun bonnet of linen, neatly washed and ironed, and a check made of the heavier material furnished the dress. This, with a pair of heavy cowhide shoes, made the lady’s outfit for the most showy occasion.

With the increase of settlements, about 1811, society began to show some efforts to supersede this primitive style, and calico and broadcloth began to be seen more frequently. In 1820 it was not unusual to see on court days or special occasions considerable of the old magnificence of dress, as there were quite a number in the county who possessed consider-able wealth. As described by Mr. Kennedy, ” the garb of the sages, the ministers and the representative community, particularly at church on high days, were first, a fine cloth or velvet coat, cut round-breasted, with long or swallow tail; large, gilt buttons on both sides, set from the collar to the waist; then a vest, if for winter of swan’s down, if for summer, beautiful white marseilles, with small gilt buttons; then, what we call pants, were ‘ breeches,’ made for winter of cloth or velvet or corduroy; nankeen or home-made flax for summer, reaching down from the waist to the knee, at which point a cloth band reaching around close below the knee, with a silver buckle on the outside of each knee; then a long stocking, of worsted for winter, and silk or home-knit fleece for summer, the knee-band buckled tight around the top instead of a garter; then a pair of shoes with silver buckles on the outside of the instep. A white and black stock with a silver buckle took the place of a cravat. The hat was black, of fur or mixture of lamb’s wool and fur, with very large brim, and if worn by an officer or man of distinction the brim was cocked with a silver boss to fasten it to the owner. If not disposed to dress in the above style, they wore what we call pants, but were then called ‘ overalls.’ If they wore boots, which was rare, they were long to the knee, with a scallop in the front top with a silk tassel hanging down some three inches; these were known as ‘ fair-tops,’ a nice piece of very fair leather. I forgot to speak of the finishing touch. Nearly all that could sported a queue. The back hair was suffered to grow long; this they wrapped up like a pig-tail, bound round with blue or pink ribbon with a double bow-knot; and if the hair was not long enough, some false hair was nicely spliced to the stub, and I have seem them reach down to the waist. The ladies of the same grade of society were less elaborate. A few silk gowns, bombazet and ginghams-often homespun-with what was then called a ‘ spencer,’ was the in-door dress. Their hats or bonnets were of straw or silk, moderately trimmed. The gown was not so long as to hide a pair of nice shoes and buckles, and fine silk or thread stockings.”


Battle, J. H., W. H. Perrin, Counties of Todd and Christian, Kentucky : historical and biographical, Chicago : F. A. Battey Publishing Co., 1884.

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