1820s American Farm

Exhibit Overview

1820By the 1820s, the diverse peoples who settled the Valley of Virginia had lived together for several generations. Shaped by the common experiences of the American Revolution, the founding of the United States, and the market revolution, ethnic differences began to fade. Cultural persistence remained strongest among the Virginia Germans. Many Virginia Germans maintained their language and unique customs throughout the 1800s, but after 1820 they began moving toward the mainstream of American life.

Life in the 1820s American Farmhouse

By the early 1800s, middling farmers in the Valley of Virginia were able to provide a comfortable lifestyle for themselves and their families. Such households were furnished with tables and chairs, coarse earthenware, pewter and ceramic tableware, chests, books, and bed and table linens, though rarely with fashionable goods such as mahogany furniture or porcelain. Virginia Germans often added cast-iron heating stoves and clocks to their household furnishings.

Activities in and around Virginia German farmhouses were reminiscent of their Central European heritage. Wives and daughters worked as hard as the men, and were known to assist the men and boys with fieldwork. In the house, women did the spinning and weaving and made linen and wool cloth that could be traded for goods at local stores or made into coverlets or rag carpeting. Meals prepared by German housewives were distinctive, and included dishes such as sauerkraut, scrapple, and raisin pies.

Anglo-American influences entered the Virginia German lives slowly. By the 1820s, English furniture forms, such as the chest of drawers, began to appear in their houses, and they became tea and coffee drinkers, and began using imported English dinner plates and teacups.