Housekeeping and Tools
It’s the little things that jump out and bite you. Wood-burning cast iron stoves were invented in the mid-1500s, but it wasn’t until the industrial revolution that they were even remotely affordable for the general public. So I had to be careful not to use the word “stove” in my 1790s stories in that context. After writing several westerns where my heroines cook on a wood burning stove, pulled bread out of the oven, or the hero reached for the coffee pot in the cookhouse, that turned out to be quite a challenge. Unfortunately, I’m afraid one or two references might have slipped through.
Mostly pots and pans, tools, and things of that sort didn’t change much between the two periods. But when in doubt, I always check sources.
Cobbler (1860) and sowbelly (1870) were two of a slew (1840 btw) of words I couldn’t have used in my 1790s series, but when I looked at a list of foods from 1790s, the only one that I would hesitate to use in the late 1800s was matelote (1730), which is a type of stew.
Let There be Light
I also had to be careful of the type lighting my characters used. In my westerns, the hero might just light the lantern, and readers immediately know what type of lantern I meant. While the word lantern goes back to 1300, during 18th century America, they mostly used candles with tin reflectors to reflect the light. Widespread use of kerosene lamps and lanterns came at a bit of a later time.
Probably the biggest hurdle for me was the catch phrases peppered throughout westerns. Phrases like “poker face” (1885, but my editor found evidence that the first poker game was played in 1829), “pipe dream” (1900), and the one that gave me the most sorrow to cut was “hook, line, and sinker” (1838).
The class structure of the haves and the have nots was still in place in the late 18th century in the Americas, but it was slipping. As hordes of immigrants, both bond and free, flooded into the colonies in the 18th and 19th centuries, they held the promise of freedom close. The cowboy, the gold miner, the railroad worker, the pioneers all had freedom of choice that their ancestors only dreamed of.
So, there was a bit of a shift in the way I portrayed my characters to the way I’d show a foot-loose and fancy-free cowboy.