A Young Lady of 1795


A young lady of 1795 would have lived at a time of great optimism for the new republic. Growing up she would have played many games that children still play today such as Blindman's Bluff, Hide & Seek as well as checkers and hopscotch which was called Scotch Hopping. She would have remembered viewing as a child the public execution of the infamous spy, Maj. John Andre on October 1, 1780 in Tappan. She would have learned her first letters and numbers at home, and might have attended the first schoolhouse in Rockland County, by 1786 called the old school in a portion of the Hafer House on Greenbush Road in Tappan. State records show that by 1798 there were five schools in Orangetown and 233 scholars. Penmanship was very important and a sign of a well educated person. Letters were sealed with melted wax, often symbolizing a family's or an individual's wealth. In 1796 the Orange Town Library was formally organized and by 1805 had 342 volumes on its shelves. There may have been families in her acquaintance who owned slaves.


A girl's qualities as a gentlewoman were judged, in part, by her sewing ability. Girls stitched pillows, handkerchiefs and even some of their own dresses to display their talent. Fashionable young ladies would wear tightly laced corsets, dresses with a stomacher bodice to keep the front of the dress smooth and sleeves with removable lace. She might have learned to dance reels, jigs or a minuet. She would have been her mothers' helper in housewifery, the art of managing a household with everything from breaking up homemade cheese curds to spinning thread. Spring was a time to pluck geese; the feathers provided warm stuffing for pillows and mattresses. Summers harvest was preserved for use in the winter; her family may have grown wheat, corn or strawberries. Autumn was candle dipping time as well as the time when farm animals were butchered, smoked and salted to preserve the meat for winter storage. In the winter wool was spun into cloth to sew new clothes and bed linens; she might have worked on a sampler or written poetry in the evening.


Her family might have attended the Reformed Protestant Dutch Church of Tappan every Sunday for the two hour service that began at 10. During this period services still alternated between the Dutch and English language; footstoves containing hot coals were passed among the ladies who sat on benches along the sides of the church where they would listen to the thunderous sermons of Domine Lansing. The first settlers worked with nature, not against it with their roads meandering around hills and swamps, as Indian trails had, rather than crossing them. Many homes were built on lowlands along streams or near springs where water was available. Sandstone houses like the Salyer House were faced so the sun's low rays in winter came through south windows with the rear of the house towards prevailing winds. The roof overhang shaded the south windows and kept the rooms cool in the summer. Dutch Doors let ventilation in and kept livestock out. In the tradition of her Dutch ancestors, her nature would have been open and honest with an independent attitude. In the colonial years few discarded the dress or mannerisms which on the streets of New York marked them as homespun country people; they were traditionally frugal and clever. These traits helped them to withstand the hard times that often befell them. The many changes that were yet to come to Orangetown would truly revolutionize every aspect of this young lady's life.