Posts Tagged ‘America’

Wilder Wednesday: Drinking from the Saucer

Eliza Jane was more bossy than ever. She said Almanzo’s boots made too much noise. She even told Mother that she was mortified because Father drank tea from his saucer.

“My land! how else would he cool it?” Mother asked.

“It isn’t the style to drink out of saucers any more,” Eliza Jane said. “Nice people drink out of the cup.”

“Eliza Jane!” Alice cried. “Be ashamed! I guess Father’s as nice as anybody!”

Mother actually stopped working. She took her hands out of the dishpan and turned round to face Eliza Jane.

“Young lady,” she said, “if you have to show off your fine education, you tell me where saucers come from.”

Eliza Jane opened her mouth, and shut it, and looked foolish.

“They come from China,” Mother said. “Dutch sailors brought them from China, two hundred years ago, the first time sailors ever sailed around the Cape of Good Hope and found China. Up to that time, people drank out of cups; they didn’t have saucers. Ever since they’ve had saucers, they’ve drunk out of them. I guess a thing that folks have done for two hundred years we can keep on doing. We’re not likely to change, for a new-fangled notion that you’ve got in Malone Academy.”

That shut up Eliza Jane.

~From Farmer Boy, by Laura Ingalls Wilder

 This was the first, and for a long time, only, reference to drinking from a saucer that I’ve ever come across. Mother Wilder’s history was a bit faulty: Europeans first explored China in the 1516, when the Portuguese explorer (and cousin of Columbus) Rafael Perestrello landed on the southern coast of mainland China and traded in Guangzhou. I think what Mother Wilder had in mind was the United East Indian Company, a Dutch-chartered trading company that had a trade monopoly with China in the 1600s.

 Another reference to drinking from the saucer can be found in Tom Brown’s School Days, a British novel written by Thomas Hughes in 1857:

“Well, I wish I were alongside of him,” said Tom. “If I can’t be at Rugby I want to be at work in the world, and not dawdling away three years at Oxford.”

“What do you mean by ‘at work in the world’?” said the master, pausing, with his lips close to his saucerful of tea, and peering at Tom over it.

“Well, I mean real work; one’s profession; whatever one will have really to do, and make one’s living by. I want to be doing some real good, feeling that I am not only at play in the world,” answered Tom, rather puzzled to find out himself what he really did mean.

“You are mixing up two very different things in your head, I think, Brown,” said the master, putting down his empty saucer, “and you ought to get clear about them.”

 Cups and saucers have been used since the Middle Ages, and I could find no definitive answer about whether they drank from the saucer as well as the cup, or when that habit began. But it certainly was common in Russia and Scandinavia for many years. In fact, in Sweden, they not only sipped from the saucer after purposely overfilling the cup, but sipped the beverage through a lump of sugar held in the front teeth, a custom called “dricka på bit” or “drink with a lump.” While there are people who remember their elderly, usually rural, ancestors drinking this way, it seems to have fallen out of favor in the 20th century. It was still a common enough practice in 1914 to be portrayed in a painting by Konstantin Makovsky.

 tea-drinking-by-konstantin-makovsky-1914

Drinking from the saucer was not confined to Europe. There is a story that when Thomas Jefferson returned from France to find Congress organized into two parts, he asked George Washington why there needed to be a Senate. Washington answered with another question: “Why do you pour tea into your saucer?” Jefferson answered, “To cool it.” “Just so,” responded Washington, “we pour legislation into the senatorial saucer to cool it.” See, the Federal Convention felt that the members of the House were too emotional, so the Senate was formed to have “cooler heads” prevail. This story is anecdotal, but does show that using the saucer to cool the tea was a familiar custom here in America.

I’ll leave you with a poem by John Paul Moore:

 Drinking From The Saucer

I’ve never made a fortune,
And I’ll never make one now
But it really doesn’t matter
‘Cause I’m happy anyhow

As I go along my journey
I’m reaping better than I’ve sowed
I’m drinking from the saucer
‘Cause my cup has overflowed

I don’t have a lot of riches,
And sometimes the going’s tough
But with kin and friends to love me
I think I’m rich enough

I thank God for the blessings
That His mercy has bestowed
I’m drinking from the saucer
‘Cause my cup has overflowed

He gives me strength and courage
When the way grows steep and rough
I’ll not ask for other blessings for
I’m already blessed enough

May we never be too busy
To help bear another’s load
Then we’ll all be drinking from the saucer
When our cups have overflowed

Wilder Wednesday – The Dark Side of Old Dan Tucker

Wilder Wednesday posts are inspired by the Little House on the Prairie series of books.

“Play, Ingalls!” he said. “Play me down the road!” So while he went down the creek road and out of sight, Pa played, and Pa and Mr. Edwards and Laura sang with all their might,
“Old Dan Tucker was a fine old man;
He washed his face in the frying-pan,
He combed his hair with a wagon wheel,
And died of the toothache in his heel…”
Far over the prairie rang Pa’s big voice and Laura’s little one, and faintly from the creek bottoms came a last whoop from Mr. Edwards.
“Git out of the way for old Dan Tucker!
He’s too late to get his supper!”

~Little House on the Prairie, by Laura Ingalls Wilder

The Ingalls family loved music, most often supplied by Pa’s fiddle. Laura recorded dozens of songs that the family enjoyed. One of these is Old Dan Tucker, more strongly associated with Little House on the Prairie due to the character of Mr. Edwards, who sang it often on the TV show.

The song dates from the middle of the nineteenth century. It is not certain who wrote it, although it is often attributed to Dan Emmett (who also wrote Dixie). It is certain that his blackface troupe Virginia Minstrels made it popular.

Wait…did I just say “blackface?” Yes, I did, and that term should be explained for those unfamiliar with it. Merriam-Webster defines it as “makeup applied to a performer playing a black person, especially in a minstrel show; also: a performer wearing such makeup.” What the definition does not say is that blackface minstrel theater was more than just makeup; it was an exaggerated, stereotypical portrayal of caricaturized black people, meant to be humorous. (I’ll discuss minstrel shows, including Pa’s – Pa’s! – participation in one, more in a future post.)

A poster for a 1900 minstrel show

A poster for a 1900 minstrel show

In the case of Old Dan Tucker, the original words were written to be performed by a troupe, with some verses sung – and acted out, an essential ingredient in minstrels – by “Dan” and other verses sung by other members as observers of Dan’s antics. Despite some claims to the contrary, there is no doubt that Dan was supposed to be black. The vernacular of the song, particularly Dan’s own verses, was overplayed Black English (now often called Ebonics). An early playbill calls the show “a Virginian Refrain, in which is described the ups and downs of Negro life.”

It was the usual practice for blackface troupes to portray people of color as ignorant and uncouth, or worse. Old Dan Tucker, according to the 1843 lyrics (which can be found at the end of this post), was a fighting, drunken glutton who had no sense of, or didn’t care about, social mores. He sometimes speaks of himself in the third person, as a child might, which is to further show his simple-mindedness. Part of the appeal of this portrayal is that it allowed “lower class” whites to poke fun at the culture of the “upper class” in an analogous way, as opposed to outright finger-pointing, which would only further cement their own lesser-mannered class.

It is important to note that both black and white performers used blackface. Black minstrel performers often satirized the behavior of whites, including their racist attitudes, and promoted abolition. By the 1870s, white minstrel shows were giving up blackface (often incorporating other ethnic stereotypes, such as the blarney-filled, drunken Irishman, or greedy, conniving Jews, instead) and black performers were taking over blackface theater. Some African Americans saw it as a means of spreading their own culture, while others realized that it was a much easier way to earn a living than most avenues available to them (which was mostly menial labor). This does not, of course, excuse the caricaturizations of black people by white minstrel performers in blackface.

Old Dan Tucker was immediately successful and became a popular song across the country. In fact, it was one of the top 3 most popular songs in 1843, thanks in large part to the Virginia Minstrels.

Virginia_Minstrels,_1843

However, its lyrics did not remain static. Performers added, deleted, and changed verses as it suited them. Hundreds of different versions have been recorded. Some of these promoted specific causes; for example, in 1844 a group called the Hutchinson Family Singers turned it into “a song for emancipation” with abolitionist lyrics. Other versions were designed to eliminate the racist portrayal of blacks and convert it into a generic, fun tune.

That is how we today think of Old Dan Tucker. Its history should not make us shun the song, but learn from it. Let its modernized verses bring to mind Mr. Edwards and his helpfulness and neighborliness – to everyone, regardless of their race or color – and enjoy it as an entertaining bit of Americana. Here’s a mix of that version.

What do you think? Does the dark history of Old Dan Tucker change how you think about the song? Should it?

dan music

1843 sheet music for Old Dan Tucker

1843 Lyrics of OLD DAN TUCKER as sung by the Virginia Minstrels

I come to town de udder night,
I hear de noise an saw de fight,
De watchman was a runnin roun,
Cryin Old Dan Tucker’s come to town.

Gran’ Chorus:
So get out de way! Get out de way!
Get out de way! Old Dan Tucker.
Your too late to come to supper.

Tucker is a nice old man,
He use to ride our darby ram,
He sent him wizzen down de hill,
If he hadn’t got up he’d lay dar still.

Gran’ Chorus.

Here’s my razor in good order,
Magnum bonum—jis had bought ‘er,
Sheep sell oats, Tucker shell de corn,
I’ll shabe you soon as de water get warm.

Gran’ Chorus.

Old Dan Tucker an I got drunk,
He fell in de fire an kick up a chunk,
De charcoal got inside he shoe,
Lor bless you honey how de ashes flew.

Gran’ Chorus.

Down de road foremost de stump,
Massa make me work de pump;
I pump so hard I broke de sucker,
Dar was work for ole Dan Tucker.

Gran’ Chorus.

I went to town to buy some goods
I lost myself in a piece of woods,
De night was dark I had to suffer,
It froze de heel of Daniel Tucker.

Gran’ Chorus.

Tucker was a hardened sinner,
He nebber said his grace at dinner;
De ole sow squeel, de pigs did squal
He ‘hole hog wid de tail and all.

Gran’ Chorus.

Masonic Monday – Glorious Independence Day

How will you celebrate the 4th of July? That is, of course, Independence Day, when our forefathers, led by George Washington, declared these United States to be free and independent. We’ve talked before about George Washington.

I’m sure you will see many flags waving. Contrary to popular legend, the first official flag of the United States was not designed by George Washington or Betsy Ross, but by Francis Hopkinson. His design was approved on June 14, 1777, when the Continental Congress made the following resolution: Resolved: that the flag of the United States be thirteen stripes, alternate red and white; that the union be thirteen stars, white in a blue field, representing a new constellation.
Francis Hopkinson was a Freemason.

first flag

Seeing all those flags waving, you may have a chance to recite the Pledge of Allegiance. The Pledge was written by Francis Bellamy in 1892, for a public school program. The original words were: “I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” The words “my flag” were replaced with “the flag of the United States of America” in 1924, and “under God” was added in 1954.
Francis Bellamy was a Freemason.

Often, either before or after the Pledge, our National Anthem, Star Spangled Banner, is sung. The words to this song were written by yet another Francis – Francis Scott Key. He wrote the lyrics to be sung to the tune of a song called To Anacreon in Heaven, which had been composed by John Stafford Smith.
Francis Scott Key and John Stafford Smith were both Freemasons.

Will you read the Declaration of Independence? It was written by a committee of five men, at least 2 of which were Freemasons, and signed by 56 men, of which up to a third were Freemasons (documentation of some being lost, we don’t know for sure).

declaration

Maybe your day will include a parade. Those guys in the funny hats driving the tiny cars? They are Shriners, famous for providing free care to children in their world-renowned Shriners Hospitals for Children.
Every Shriner is a Freemason.

shriners

Will you have a cookout? Henry Ford instrumental in developing charcoal briquettes. (When his brother-in-law, E.G. Kingsford, took over the manufacture of them, he called them “Kingsford.”)
Henry Ford was a Freemason.

fordcharcoal

However you celebrate, have a glorious, safe, and happy Independence Day.

bell

John Pass and John Stow, casters of the Liberty Bell, were also Freemasons.