“When I was a little bitty boy, just up off a floor, We used to go down to Grandma’s house every month end or so. We’d have chicken pie and country ham, homemade butter on the bread. But the best darn thing about Grandma’s house was her great big feather bed. It was nine feet wide, and six feet high, soft as a downy chick It was made from the feathers of forty-eleven geese, took a whole bolt of cloth for the tick.” – John Denver
John Denver’s song “Grandma’s Feather Bed’ echoes a way of life dear to my mother’s memories of childhood. At a time before the modern conveniences of central heating and air conditioning, on cold winter nights, mom would warm by the fireplace before going to bed. Running as fast as her little legs would carry her, she’d jump up onto a feather tick piled high with soft warm quilts.
Not knowing the origin of the word “tick,” I’ve always imagined a mattress packed so full of soft down and feathers that it looked rather like a plump, well-fed deer tick. This viewpoint changed after reading the following store ledger written long ago.
In 1793, almost ten years before moving from North Carolina to Kershaw South Carolina, Daniel Little (Junior) made the above purchases at John Melchior’s store in Cabarrus County. Such ledgers provide a wealth of information, offering clues and rare glimpses into the daily lives of our early ancestors. An account in this store ledger documents Daniel’s numerous puchases of Osnaburg along with 20 yards of ‘Ticklenburg’. Curious as to the Germanic sounding names of these items, I searched online to find out more; I am amazed at what I learned.
Located in the south of Lower Saxony, German was Prince-Bishopric of Osnabrück, a state of the Holy Roman Empire from 1225 to 1803. The fabric purchased by Daniel Little at Melchior’s store is rooted in this region, in the town of Osnaburg, known historically for quality woven cloth and fabrics. Originally made from flax yarns, the creamy white Osnaburg cloth has also been made from tow or jute yarns. A coarse imitation of the German fabric began to be woven in Scotland in the 1730’s and quickly became the most important variety in east-central Scotland. For bedding and clothing garments, Osnaburg was used in revolutionary war uniforms and was the fabric most often used to clothe slaves prior to the Civil War. It’s still commonly used today for window curtains.
Happy to have found the origin of the Osnaburg fabric, I was then surprised to find that less than 15 miles to the southwest of the town of Osnabruck, was a district and town called Tecklenburg which was well-known for making another kind of cloth. Named after the town, Tecklenburg is a course blue and white striped industrial-type material often used for britches and bedding. Today we know it as “Ticking,” the blue and white fabric we’ve all seen made into mattress and pillow coverings. So now we know that it is this place in Germany where the naming of our fabled feather tick is rooted!
In another 1793 purchase by Christoph Lylerle (above), stockings, buttons, and Durant were purchased. Durant is of Norman origin being derived from an Old French word meaning “enduring.” I’ve not found the exact connection though the name of this cloth is likely attributable to John Durant, a wealthy wool merchant who died in 1297 Bedfordshire, England. The Columbia Cyclopedia identifies Durance as “A term applied to the leathrn dresses worn by the lower orders; a stout woolen stuff formerly made in imitation of buff leather, and used for garments, also called Durant and Tammy.”
And worth sharing in this post, I stumbled across the chance to learn from another word found in Christoph Lyerle’s acount. In the last entry, dated November 15, 1793, Christoph’s account was paid off by Richard Honnicut. At first reading this as “Green, a Widdow,” I thought maybe I had stumbled upon some genealogical clue. Excited, and in discussing this with a friend who just happened to be a retired NC State animal husbandry professor, I quickly learned that a “Wedder” is a castrated annd fattened sheep! Aparrently Richard paid for the bill with a fat sheep!
Note that one other purchase by Christoph Lylerle was paid for using counterfit money. This was a major issue after the Revolutionary War and was one met with harsh penalties ..more later.
Have fun reading those old docs!