I found it interesting that most colonial families were not self-sufficient, so to acquire necessary goods they had to trade, or sell excess crops and services at the market in town or at their homes or do without. Women often ran a side business from their “backyard storage shed” where they sold or traded garden surplus, candles, linens, yarn, teas, beer, etc.
Early colonial women were extremely involved in the financial success and well being of their lands and home and worked alongside the men. Many of these women were responsible for making financial decisions and running businesses with their husbands and then, many times, taking over the lands and crops when the husband died or was away for an extended time for war or business (Cross and Szostak, 41).
Some of the tasks these colonial women accomplished were to clean out the fireplace and save the ashes to make soap (Cross and Szostak, 42). They also planted and cared for a garden as a means of providing food for their families and used the excess to trade for goods they needed. Women also had to keep several fires of various temperatures constantly going in the large kitchen hearth in order to properly cook the daily meals. In addition, they helped butcher pigs and collected the fat to make candles, which provided light in their homes after the sun went down. Women and children also milked the cows and separated the milk to make butter. In each family, the wife also tended a quarter acre of flax so she could make cloth, which allowed them a means of manufacturing clothing for their families (Cross and Szostak, 45-46).
These early women put us all to shame with our modern conveniences, as they labored to provide necessities for their families and continually worked to keep their homes in order.
Cross, Gary and Rick Szostak, Technology and American Society: A History. (New Jersey: Person Education Inc., 2005).