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Colonial Cats, Mice, and Candles

Candles were essential in Colonial days. With no electricity, candles were a needed source of light. 

Once the sun set, it was a dark and shadowy world in colonial America. In most smaller homes, people saw only by the light of the fire on the hearth. Candles weren’t used  unless you really needed them. Even the well- to- do lived in comparative darkness. Candles were carried from room to room, and they were used in lanterns.

Most women used tallow (animal fat) from cattle or sheep to make their candles, and the smell was unpleasant. Bayberry was added to help the smell. The Moravians used beeswax, to make their candles, and they were popular for those who could afford to buy candles. Merchants from the Moravian settlement in North Carolina took their wares to Charlestown to sell in the stores.

Here is a video that will help you see the time that this one job took.

There were many mice and rats that the colonists had to deal with when it came to their food supply, and believe it or not, these rodents even ate candles. So the women kept these precious candles in wooden boxes to protect them. Cats were a necessity in most households to keep those mice at bay. Some of the richer homes even had openings to the outdoors to encourage their cats to go in and out.

Candlelight gives us an ambiance in our homes today, and scented candles are easily bought. Maybe the reason we keep them in cabinets or drawers is to keep the mice away, and we didn’t even know this was an issue. 

My mother used to change her candles with the seasons – pink for spring, yellow for summer, burgundy for fall, and red at Christmas. She enjoyed the scented ones and would burn them periodically; they weren’t just for decoration.

I have a new candle that I am lighting each afternoon in our kitchen. Its scent is called Sweet and Spicy Pumpkin pie.  I believe it has influenced me to bake two pumpkin pies recently, but it has not encouraged me to adopt a cat!

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