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Life in Emmitsburg in the mid 1800's

Interview with Samuel Flaut

[Originally published in February 1908 in the Emmitsburg Chronicle]

Mr. Samuel J. Flaut is One Of the oldest citizens of Emmitsburg. He will be ninety-two next July 11th but he does not feel the burden of his years and many a man of seventy looks older than does our well-preserved and well beloved fellow town I small. Mr. Flaut comes of a long-lived family. His father Jacob Flaut, was eighty-six when he died a brother died, a brother died at the age of ninety-three; on sister lived to eighty two; another at the time Of her death was eighty-eight years and, ten months and one died at the age of ninety-three.

Mr. Flaut was born on the Blue Ridge mountains near Euclid in Washington county. In 1835 he moved to Emmitsburg and has remained here ever since. Since the death of his wife, eighteen years ago, he has lived with his daughter, Mrs. Arnold, widow of the late James J. Arnold, who ministers affectionately to his declining years.

"When I came to Emmitsburg in 1835, I was apprenticed to James L. Wise, a wheelwright. I stayed with him two years and a half. After I was free I worked at the wheelwright trade about one year but didn't like it so I went to carpentering. I worked at that until 1875 and since then I have lived retired. That's the history of my life."

'"But that won't do at all, Mr. Flaut, said the reporter. "We want to know what it was like to be an apprentice in Emmitsburg in 1835; how your boss treated you; what he paid you how you lived after you became a journey-man ,what kind of clothes you wore; what you had to eat and what a good mechanic could earn it those days. All these details will interest The Chronicle readers so you be good enough to brush up your memory and tell us something about the old times."'

Well said Mr. Flaut, "When I was first apprenticed, my boss agreed to pay me $30 a year. I was to buy my own clothes. Then he found he had to take some clothing in trade so he changed the arrangement and gave me my clothes and a little money once in at while. Of course I lived with him. He gave me a comfortable room and plenty to eat so I had it good while, was with him but. I was not regularly bound out; we had only a verbal agreement. Some didn't fare so well. The bad bosses didn't provide good clothing or nourishing food and some used to flog their apprentices. One boy, I remember, was treated so badly that he ran away to Philadelphia. But his boss followed him and brought him and he served his time out. Some apprentices even had to go in their bare feet in the winter time but mostly they were well treated. As a rule, an apprentice got his keep and clothes and a small sum of money at the end of his term. Sometimes they were allowed wages for work done during the term which were paid to them when they were free. It all depended on the contract.

"After I was free I worked, as I have said, 6 year at the wheelwright trade but work as hard as I could I only made seventy-five cents a day. Later when I went to carpentering I could earn seventy-five cents a day and found, doing job work. That doesn't sound like much but a dollar in those days would go further than it would now, our wants were simpler and living was cheaper.

We paid only eight cents a pound for the best cuts of beef; flitch was six to eight cents a pound, but flour was $4.50 and $5, the barrel. However, it was better flour than we get now. Good coffee was twelve cents a pound. Sometimes we couldn't get coffee we would parch rye in a Dutch oven and grind it in a Mill; or sweet apple suits or chestnuts thoroughly roasted and ground made good coffee. We made teas of herbs-sage and thyme, balm and hoarhound - and these we sometimes drank with our meals.

Our medicine teas were made from life everlasting and wood betony the latter to warm up the system but it had a powerful strong taste. The women would, sometimes drink a dish of catnip tea for the headache. There were many more but I can't remember them. I think right well of the old remedies and I still use them occasionally.

"Clothing was expensive. We boys generally wore Kentucky jeans or cassinette. There was no ready made clothing. We would buy a piece of jeans at the store and have it made up at home or by the town tailor. The cloth didn't cost much but the tailor charged a good deal to make it up. I well remember my "first pair of pants which I got when I was four years old. They were made of bombazine and the legs rubbed at the ankles when I walked; that made a sound like wheet, wheet, wheet. At the same age I was given a rabbit-skin cap, I was so proud of it that I took it out to show to my pet game rooster; I started to tease him by poking it at him. He made a jump for the cap, tore it out of my hands, and picked it to pieces on the ground. My, but he made the fur fly I ran into the house crying, but my sister only laughed at me for being, as she said, so idle.

The tobacco we used was twist and we cut off the same plug for chewing and smoking There were no pack or cut tobaccos, then. You could buy two cigars or four tobies for a cent. Everybody took snuff, and the women rubbed it on their gums. There wasn't much beer drunk for there were so many distilleries that hard liquor was cheap. Around here they used to make apple jack peach brandy and rye whiskey, At the distillery, apple brandy sold a pint for a fippeny bit.

"I married when I was making seventy-five cents a day and went to housekeeping. I had saved enough out of my wages to furnish a house. My wife was a seamstress and her earnings helped us out. I remember she made Dr. Patterson's wife's wedding outfit. She got $2.50 for making the wedding gown and it was flounced to the waist. As a rule, she made a dollar a week so you see even with my seventy-five cents a day we didn't have much but we made out to live comfortably and be happy together and raise a family of nine children. It meant hard work though. We were used to hardships in those days. Why, my sister and I, before I came to Emmitsburg to live, used to walk from near Pen Mar to Mount St. Mary's to attend, church on Sunday - ten miles each way. We would have no dinner and when we got home we would be hungry enough to eat an iron wedge. The young people nowadays ain't as anxious to go to church as we used to be."

"Mr. Flaut," said the reporter, 'In your long life what was the most interesting thing that ever happened to you?" After a moment's thought Mr. Flaut said: "I will tell you about something very strange that once happened and it occurred just as I am going to tell it to you. It was when my father and brother and I were living alone up in the mountain. We had a neighbor named Wolff and he was a mean hard man and a bad neighbor. You never could tell what be was going to do but he was most always in a bad humor. Once he shot out of the window of his house and killed our favorite hunting dog. He owned a mean dog which would run out at people on the road. I would stone him every chance I got and that would make Wolff mad.

One Winter night, it was the middle of February and there was a foot of snow on the ground, just as we were getting ready for bed, I said to my father "I heard Mrs. Wolff call.  He thought I must be mistaken and my brother could hear nothing, but I heard her call again and then again - three times in all - but the others heard nothing. I went out into the yard and saw the Wolff's house on fire. He and his wife were fast asleep and we had a hard time to rescue them. After it was all over I told Wolff it was a providence and was sent to show him he ought to mend his ways. We Were reconciled and were friendly afterwards but I never liked him."

"Mr. Flaut," said The Chronicle man, it would you rather live in the old days or in the present and what do you think of the ways and manners of the nowadays people?" "Well, of course, I prefer the old ways," he replied. "People were more social able and neighborly - more helpful to each other. They act sociable now but there doesn’t seem to me to be much reality about it."

"To what do you attribute your long life?" queried the reporter. "To hard work and a moderate way of living. I never could afford to be luxurious but have enjoyed good health and have lived to a great age so I must have had what was necessary. I have tried to use all things moderately. Never in my life was I drunk, thank God! But I have taken a little once in a while as I needed it. Tobacco I have always used and I am nearly ninety-years old." "Yes, "interrupted his daughter, Mrs. Arnold, "and he owes his good health; and long life to his even temper and good nature, as much as to anything else. He was always the same-never cross and never impatient."

"Now," said Mr. Flaut, "in conclusion I would like you to let me say a few words to the young people for they are much in my thoughts and I may never have a chance. to speak to them again. Perhaps they will listen to an old man who was once young like them-selves. I see that the world has changed but the great rifles of life have not changed. Therefore, I say to the young men, be sober, honest, truthful and industrious and above. all things shun excessive use of intoxicating drink.

To the young women I say, be not given to too much pride; strive to be good daughters at home so that when your time comes to have your own home you may have learned to be good wives and mothers. To all I say, cultivate a spirit of true humility, respect the, aged, be obedient to parents. I grieve to see that the children are not as obedient as they used to be. My father never spoke to me twice - I minded the first time. And it is the fault of the parents that the children are deficient in these respects.

Children should be taught at home the virtues of humility, respect and obedience. If they don't learn these lessons at home they will have to learn them, sometimes by sad and bitter experience, when they go out into the world.

Read other stories in this series of first hand accounts of
life in Emmitsburg in the 1800's

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