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History Corner 3/30/18 – Parts 1 and 2

History Corner 3/30/18 – Parts 1 and 2

It’s Now The Second Floor

No, it’s not called the 2nd floor, and it’s not the attic, it’s the garret.  The word garret comes from Old French with a military meaning of a watchtower, something similar to a garrison.  Here guards or soldiers would be quartered to defend with its origin meaning to provide or defend.  The garret of the Bryan-Andrew House is the place where 8 children slept, Nathan’s children.  When Mrs. Emerson sold the house, in 2000, the 2nd floor had a proper ceiling, narrow width floors with walls to match, painted white.  The part that was the “attic” could be reached by a trap door in the ceiling of one of the partitioned-off bedrooms.

The Orange Historical Society (OHS), in its efforts to keep the house to the original 1740 design, has removed the 1940s “look” and replaced the floors with 10’x15” oak boards, some of which were found in the attic.  There had been a staircase from the first floor to what is now the garret, but was removed during one of the owners’ need to put in a shower in the only bathroom.  To this end, the staircase was literally cut off, leaving two steps and two risers at the very top.  Flooring then covered the opening and a closet was built there.

Since this area was now divided into two bedrooms and a 2nd bathroom, all evidence of the history of the hidden staircase was removed only to be discovered when touring the house.  Ginny Reinhard, President of the OHS, noticed the pieces of stairs just hanging in place and upon further investigation, wallpaper could be seen on the inner wall of the missing staircase giving rise to the fact that indeed, there was a staircase there at one time.  With additional research, the houses, known as a Vernacular cape had such a staircase in that place.  Vernacular meaning simple and often copied in a certain area or colony.

A modern, curved mahogany staircase was built in the front part of the house, closing it in with one of the doors from the hall, most likely to keep heat from rising to the 2nd floor.  This door exactly matched two others from this east side room.  With the help of our contractor, Edd Oberg, the garret floor is complete and a colonial style railing has been installed so that this area can be used as it was originally intended.  For visitors coming to see the house, a typical rope bed with colonial bed linen and a trundle bed will welcome sightseers to yesterday.  Two blanket chests, one which appears to hale from Pennsylvania, a desk and a trunk will give rise to yet another completed original room.

One will need to notice the embroidered letters and numbers on the bed linen as this was not only to show the bride’s dowry but also upon which bed it was to be put.  Beds, being hand-made were of different sizes depending on the maker and the available material, so bed linen was made to match each bed.  The OHS is fortunate to have several quilts from the Treat family and the Andrew family as well.  Unfortunately, all of the inventory of the two Nathan Bryans, builder and son are long gone.  The inventory of the father, as researched by Clare Staib-Kaufmann shows many items associated with the bedroom.

And What Was In the Garret?

In 2001 the Orange Historical Society (OHS) was active in the restoration of the area that Mrs. Emerson’s daughters used as bedrooms with the curved stairway winding around the chimneystack.  Now this stack, although covered with tongue & groove, also had a small fireplace with a makeshift hearth of loose bricks.  Once the decision was made to take the cover off, a whole new history emerged.

Under the bricks were small pieces of this and that, material, corncobs, chicken bones and small pieces of  broken pottery.  In looking at the corncobs, it was obvious that notches were carved into the ends which, when put together, made a cross, not a religious cross as we know it but more of an “x”.  There were several of these which peaked our interest to go into researching  all of these “treasures.”

And what did we find?  Cosmograms, a circle with an “x” inside.  Many slaves came from the BaKongo in West Central Africa and it was there that this symbol was used in their rituals.  The Bakongo are a numerous and powerful people located in the southern portion of modern Democratic Republic of Congo near the Angolan border.  It is here that the slave trade was carried on in earnest for the southern plantations.  The cosmogram represented the universe and the path traveled through this world and the next.  The slaves believed that the soul came and went from fire and it was the fireplace and hearth that gave us the various artifacts that represented their faith and the manner in which the soul came to them and departed.

According to Bakongo religion, an almighty God emanates power that may be controlled for either good or evil by living human beings, people who make sacred medicines or minkisi.  These minkisi control the spirits of the cosmos connecting the living with the powers of the dead which involves putting together several spirit-embodying materials which as mentioned were found in the hearth in the garret.  In addition to what was mentioned shells, pieces of wood, and little bundles of cloth would be part of the ritual.

The 1790 Census lists 2 slaves in the Bryan-Andrew house.  Since New England did not have a widespread practice of owning slaves as was in the south, it can be interpreted that the two members listed were more likely household servants, but the census is very limited as to members of a household, thus the category of slave would be the most obvious place to put the two members.  However, before Christianity was thrust upon them, they would have held to the beliefs of their ancestors.

In the late 18th century Methodist Episcopal preachers carried the Christian message to the plantations in Maryland and were somewhat successful in interpreting the cosmogram by repurposing it with the connection to Ezekiel’s wheel.  Both symbols put the universe theory together.

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