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What can be learnt from a 17th century American town

In Plymouth, Massachusetts- the site of the first English colony in America – Matteo Brault spends his days living a 17th-century life, along with dozens of other re-enactors on the modern-day Plimoth Plantation.

“The year is 1627. This is Plymouth Colony, an English town set up by Reformed Church people… these people hope to own land, they are struggling on the edge of a wilderness, they stayed on the Mayflower until they were able to build simple structures.”

The simplest homes in town were built using cratchets– natural forks in trees- as support for the ridgepole of the roof.

The walls are built up with “wattle”- small sticks for the lattice structure- and “daub”- a mortar of clay, earth, and grasses. Instead of using the traditional English lime wash to protect the walls, the colonists took advantage of the plentiful wood in America and created clapboard siding by cleaving wood into thin boards.

For the thatch roofs, large bundles of water reed or wheat straw are woven with a giant needle by two people working in tandem (one outside and one inside). “It’s like a giant quilt made of grass,” explains Brault, “which makes a water-tight roof that essentially acts as a giant sponge. It absorbs water and laps it off.”

Brault works full-time as a 17th-century style blacksmith, using traditional tools like a grindstone, hand-made nails, and large bellows for making the fire hot enough for forging iron and steel. He loves the challenge of this type of work, but he’s not a Luddite.

“My whole life revolves around this stuff but that does not equate that I want to go back in time and be an English blacksmith… If you do the research into this period it’s not a pleasant time to live. So I’m not nostalgic but what I am is someone who appreciates the past and I appreciate my forebears and as a modern blacksmith you have to appreciate your roots to know who you are and where you’re going.”

The Plimoth Plantation and English village are open to visitors from March through November. The site also has a native Wampanoag homesite (we will tour in a separate video).

  • Pale Writer

    Is Matteo Brault still around? The original video was from 2015; Brault makes the very key observation that even if people aspire to Do-It-Yourself, there is no reason to try and go back to the 17th century to do so.
    What is needed is 21st century know-how, applied to timeless questions.

    Take blacksmithing. A DIY homesteader cannot produce iron/steel in useful quantities, etc. As Brault states, trying to do so will just break your body down in 10-15 years of continuous blacksmithing.
    A 21st century modification might be to use aluminum bronze, which is an alloy of 11-12% aluminum to 88-89% copper. Those metals are accessible to most people, and more importantly, can be worked at cooler temperatures (about 1200 degrees Fahrenheit, instead of the 1800+ needed to work iron or steel.
    The end product, good aluminum bronze, is nearly as hard as steel, and does not corrode or rust. It can be used in marine environments (another name for it is ‘marine bronze’).
    In theory, using our 21st century minds, DIY people could get their copper and aluminum from recycle bins… smelt it, and cast it into DIY tools. In theory, a sheet of aluminum bronze could be heated to less-than melting point, and then hot rolled into a uniform sheet or drawn into wire.

    This website is ‘Simple Living’. Well — there’s no point in simple living, if the experience is going to be a miserable existence of constant work and strain. What must be done is to apply new and old methods to rethink conventional ways of sourcing necessary materials — and those anti-conventional methods must also not destroy the entire foundation of going ‘off grid’, etc.

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