In keeping with last week’s post on historic structures and lifestyle, I thought I would include a photograph of a Backwoods Cabin. The cabin is located in Historic Brattonsville, South Carolina.
The cabin pictured is actually a recreation built in the 1980s. It’s meant to show how the early settlers lived when the Carolina Piedmont, or “Backcountry” was a raw deep forest frontier. It does faithfully reflect both the style and building techniques of the period. This type of crude construction was used in cabins intended as temporary homes. They would serve until a more permanent home could be built.
These early settlers were Scotch-Irish but the building technique was derived from traditional methods used by German and other northern European settlers in Delaware and Pennsylvania. Temporary backwoods or frontier homes usually were built with round logs and had mud chimneys. The roof was whatever was available, boards or planks. The Brattonsville cabin is of higher quality than many similar small homes in that is has a rough stone chimney and a shingle roof. It’s possible features like these might have been added later.
A typical cabin had a dirt floor, and a door that most likely remained open for both light and air, since there are no windows, all suggest the building would have been dark cold and drafty at the best of times. A home for the poorest of the poor.
The endless forest was not ideally suited for growing row crops. The woodland Indians grew sunflower, squash, gourds, beans and maize in small cleared fields. The settlers adopted those crops and planted the native corn (maize), squash and beans in the clearings left from timber cutting. What is certain is that corn whiskey quickly became a staple. So much so that it was sometimes used as money, or for barter. Many settlers also raised some cattle. But as the population increased cattle ranching would have become increasingly difficult. Farmers switched to raising swine which were easier to manage. Swine acclimated to the forest environment easily, and were prolific breeders. It didn’t take long for pork to become entrenched in the southern lifestyle. Even today, pork BBQ is a southern tradition.