Visitors witnessed the artistic skills of the late 1700s and early 1800s performed during Artisan Day at the Historic Latta Plantation last month.
A cook, blacksmith, woodworker, fire-starter and gunsmith performed historically accurate arts from the period of the plantation’s founder, James Latta, circa 1785-1837.
Canadian visitors Justin and Margie Mullaney took a seat in the gunsmith’s cabin as Joseph Eisner started his presentation of weapons used by the early inhabitants of the plantation. Eisner began explaining the differences between muskets, which have a smooth surface inside the barrel, and rifles, which have a grooved surface inside the barrel.
“The muskets were faster loading and only accurate for short distances,” said Eisner. “The Kentucky rifle still shot lead balls, but the rifling (spiral groves cut into the inside of the barrel) made them deadly accurate at longer distances,” he said, explaining that they took longer to load so they weren’t as effective for close range fighting as the muskets.
Eisner said there were three things hunters needed to survive in the late 1700s. “Other than a good wife and good horse, you needed a Kentucky rifle, a tomahawk and a long belt knife,” he said.
“If you shot a bear and it still kept coming towards you, you wouldn’t have time to reload, so you would have to throw your tomahawk. If that didn’t stop him, you still had a chance with your long knife,” he said.
Cheryl Henry was portraying the house cook Sukey as she explained the cooking practices of the Latta era to the Sutton family, visiting from Arizona. As she pointed out that the kitchen was built apart from the main house because the kitchens frequently caught on fire, Austin Sutton, 8, asked, “Did they have a pizza oven?”
Explaining that there weren’t really ovens as we know them and that most of the food was prepared over a fire, Henry stayed in character as she showed how to cook stew, rice and vegetables in pots near or over the fire in the fireplace.
Fire and sparks completed the day as blacksmith James Ruggerio heated and pounded metal, creating nails similar to those used to build the plantation. Turning a handle on a blowing mechanism to heat up the fire, Ruggerio pulled the metal rod from the flames and placed it on the anvil for shaping.
Sparks flew as he hammered the metal and used a file to smooth the edges of the rod he was working on. After a few minutes he cut the nail from the rod, heated it up once more to form the head and then dipped it into a pail of water to cool before showing the finished nail to the visitors.
The nail was not as uniform as the ones we use today but it was still capable of doing the same tasks.
Marty Price is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Marty? Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org
Want to go?
The Historic Latta Plantation was originally built by James Latta in 1800 and has been offering tours of the historic home since 1975. The plantation is open for tours from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., with hourly tours starting at 11 a.m., Tuesday through Saturday. Admission is $7 for adults, $6 for seniors and students, free for children under 5.
David Clay, executive director of the Historic Latta Plantation, said local schools visit during the school year and organizations planning to bring groups of 10 or more should call ahead at 704-875-2312 to check availability.
Closures and special events such as Artisan Day are listed at www.lattaplantation.org/latta/index.php?page=home