Monday, February 22, 2021

Scour the Pewter-ware

 The previous post contains a story about America (Aaric) Mulkey requiring the younger children to “scour the old pewter-ware with brick dust until it shown.”  I was surprised by that because I'd always thought of pewter-ware as having a flat, dull, gray finish. I decided to learn a bit more about pewter.

Pewter is an alloy of tin.  Originally lead was added to make it easier to work but imparted a bluish cast to the objects.  Because of its toxicity, lead was later replaced by copper and antimony.  The latter makes a white and harder alloy. Most pewter-ware was cast in molds of brass and then smoothed on a lathe or  hammered to make it stronger.

By the Middle Ages, this process was being used to produce all sorts of household goods, such as teapots, tankards, spoons and plates, replacing those made of wood.

This tankard was made about 1800 in England, which was a center for pewter-ware. As pewter is a relatively soft metal, dents in pewter-ware this old are common.

The donor's mother said this pewter basin came to Oregon on the Oregon trail.

In addition to these two objects, the Benton County Historical Museum's collection also contains plates, a pitcher, a cream and sugar set, a mug, a whale oil lamp, a fork, an inkwell, and a teapot all made of pewter. Most are relatively plain or like the tankard, decorated with raised bands.

I was also surprised to find that pewter is still being used today, as a base for silver-plated items and to make jewelry and other decorative items, such as this handcrafted egg from the Port Pewter line (1972-2012).

The egg has a nice sheen to it. I image this is what many of the other items looked like when new. At a time when pewter-ware was replacing wood items, an owner would want to display  them, and, like America Mulkey, would polish to keep it looking as much like silver as possible.  I imagine that as porcelain dishes replaced those of pewter, the “old” things were not give the same attention, resulting in a dull finish. Also, over time there is some oxidization which darkens the metal and is more difficult to remove. So, many of the old pewter items would look dull, not shiny.  Only new or well-cared for items would be shiny. 

By Martha Fraundorf, Volunteer for Benton County Historical Society, Philomath, Oregon 

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

More Mulkey Stories by Maude Cauthorn Keady

 The previous post contained some of the Mulkey family stories as told by Maude Cauthorn Keady in a manuscript in the Benton County Historical Museum's collection.  This post will continue with more stories from this manuscript.

Maude's grandparents, Johnson and Susanna Mulkey emigrated to Oregon from Missouri in 1846 along with their 8 children. Martha Madeline Mulkey, Maude's mother, was just one year old at the time. Maude notes that her grandmother had fourteen children in all, twelve of which lived to adulthood. She writes, “Grandfather named his two eldest daughters America and Missouri.  After that Grandmother rebelled and named the girls herself. Aunt America hated her name and demanded that we children call her 'Auntie', as she was the oldest aunt.   She did not like 'Aaric', as the family and friends called her any better. I am fully convinced that she hated to visit Corvallis in later years because people knew her name. I have always been glad that Grandmother would not allow Grandfather to name my mother 'Oregon', as he wanted to do.”

“Aunt America was a true Victorian type.  She spent all her life, some seventy odd years, being shocked at things people did and had to see and hear. At one time Aunt and two of the others had gone for wild berries to a distant part of the farm. They had gathered their berries when they noticed cattle coming from every direction—wild cattle that they did not know were in that part of the range.  The girls knew enough not to run but walked as fast as they could toward a deserted cabin. They managed to reach it and get inside but the cattle surrounded the place, pawing the ground and making a great disturbance.

At last, after a long time, a man came by on horseback with a dog following along. Some of the others wanted to call to him for help but Auntie would not allow it. She said they did not know him and nice girls did not call on strangers for help.  The man saw the cattle acting strangely and drew near, riding slowly, but for some reason did not enter the cabin. The cattle took after the dog and when they were out of sight over the hill, the girls came out and went home....

“At some time, all the fathers of the early family must have had a meeting and decided on certain rules of conduct, because it became the rule that no young girl could go walking, riding, or driving with a young man without being in the company of others or take a little sister along. As there were always little sisters, they received many a ride but what a nuisance they must have been, stuck behind on the horse, or crowded in between on the narrow buggy seat, or tagging at ones heels when they walked. Small brothers either would not go, or, if they were made to do so, they made everyone so uncomfortable and behaved so badly that they were not allowed to go anymore....

“Auntie was such a good housekeeper and loved new and pretty things” Maude notes that someone told her of spending time at the Mulkey house as a child and that they “...always knew when Bent Odeneal and John Porter were coming because 'Aaric' made them scour the old pewter-ware with brick dust until it shown.  After Auntie married [to Bent Odeneal], she worked very hard keeping her house immaculate; that she nearly worked herself to death, so whenever possible, they boarded.”

By Martha Fraundorf, Volunteer for Benton County Historical Society, Philomath, Oregon