Archive for Laundress

A Beating of Another Type…Laundry

Posted in How to with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 7, 2013 by creweofthearchangel


A brief discourse on the methods of laundry aboard ship. Penned by Mae Harrington, a servant, indentured to John Sterling; he being captain of the Archangel, a private ship of war.

As ship’s laundress to the captain and his officers, all matters of washing, ironing, and mending fall to my care. Though I am achingly weary after a day at the tubs, there is something soothing in the repetition which makes my task less daunting.

The tools are my trade are few, and simple in their construction. Two large wooden tubs, slatted and heavy. One for washing, the other for rinsing. A basket of straw, loosely woven. A wooden paddle, or “beetle”, long of handle, broad and flattened at one end.

Though chamber lye or a mixture of ashes and animal fat will produce the desired cleanliness, I prefer to use lye made from the ashes of a hard wood such as oak, apple, or cherry. As fires aboard ship are hazardous and limited in their use, I procure a fair amount of ash before we leave our port. I fill the basket with layers of straw, gravel, and ash, then filter the ash through the weave of the basket by pouring hot water over top and letting it drain into the tub.
Piling dirty laundry into the tub, I allow it to soak for a period of time- pushing it to and fro with the end of my beetle. It is then heaped up or spread out on whatever is at hand…I prefer to use the deck of the ship, if a quiet corner may be found. Beating each piece of laundry with the paddle loosens the weave and helps to free the dirt trapped in the threads. It is then returned to the tub for a final scrub in the lye water, then rinsed in the barrel of clean water, wrung out, and hung or spread out to dry.


Copyright October 2013/J. Ashing