If you love colonial American history and you haven’t started watching Townsends’ channel on YouTube yet, you are missing out.
Something about the end of one year and the start of a new one seems like a great time for countdowns… or Top 10 lists, so I figured I’d make one about one of my favorite guilty pleasure research tools — Jas. Townsend & Son, known more recently as simply Townsends — on YouTube.
I first learned about the channel from a video they released about seven years ago and I’ve been a huge fan ever since. In no particular order, here are 10 of my favorite episodes from the channel. (I have many other favorites, but I’m trying to narrow it down here… 😉 )
1. How to Build an Earthen Oven
As soon as I started watching this several years ago, I knew it was a project I wanted to tackle, but you know what? I still haven’t done it yet! My teenage son has now told me he’ll help me make one of these in 2019, so expect a post about that when we do it — documenting either our success or our spectacular failure. We’ll see!
After you watch the video below, you’ll want to check out the one where he bakes bread in it, right here.
2. These Plants Could Have Saved You – Historical Herbal Medicine
Ever since my college days, when my mom regularly administered doses of White Oak Bark tea along with Echinacea and Goldenseal Root to help me beat Mononucleosis in a little over a week, I’ve been a big fan of herbal remedies. I’m not so hard-nosed about it that I won’t take regular pharmaceuticals when I need them, though. Nevertheless, anything about old-timey preparations or traditional healing methods fascinates me.
Even though this particular video is set in a nineteenth century village, the same remedies might have been used in the colonial era. (Side note: I can’t help but recommend this book. I’ve referenced my dog-eared copy many, many times for almost 20 years now!)
2. Lives of the Downtrodden in Early America
I love travel journals. Interestingly, when Townsends released this video I had only a couple of months earlier been poring over the very journal by William Byrd that is mentioned in this video. In 1728, Byrd was commissioned to survey the dividing line between North Carolina and Virginia and as Jon details below, there were two versions, the official one, and the unofficial one, which captured his more down-to-earth sentiments about the things he had encountered during his travels. (I studied his journal while working on The Stolen Bride, as Adam passes through the area from North Carolina into Virginia.) Prior to talking about that, Jon cites a wonderful entry from the journal of Sarah Kemble Knight, in which she discusses a family living in “wretched” conditions on the side of a river that she was waiting to cross, and yet she talked about how clean and tidy and happy they were, in spite of their few possessions.
Watch this one. It’s a very sweet and touching video, and if you just take a moment to think back on those times, you can almost smell the little wood fire and see the proud smile of these materially poor, but joyful, souls in early colonial America.
4. Q & A – Dogs in the 18th Century
Ok, so this whole video isn’t about dogs, but about half of it is, and I love dogs, so I definitely loved hearing Jon talk about dogs in the colonial era. He shows several pieces of art from the era that demonstrate that — just as they have been throughout history — dogs were man’s best friend in the 18th century, too!
I’ve queued up this video to start at the part where he’s talking about dogs, but you might find the whole thing interesting.
5. Fire Starting: No Matches, No Lighter – The American Frontier
I’m not sure what it is. Maybe it’s that I come from ancestors who farmed for centuries until my parents’ generation, but my whole family is all about being able to be resourceful with what you have; to know how to live off the land if needed. My dad was prepping before it was cool. (Not crazy person, build an end-of-the-world-bunker-underground-type preppier, but the kind of guy who wanted to have ample supplies to take care of his family if the proverbial you-know-what hits the fan.) My mom is all about growing things; even rooting plants without seeds. (So cool!)
While I already know about starting fires without matches (and in fact, I wrote about it here), I love watching Townsends videos where Jon brings in guys like Dan Wowak of Coalcracker Bushcraft to talk about the basics: fire, shelter, cordage, etc.
In this particular video, Dan discusses using flint and steel and char cloth to get a fire going in potentially damp conditions.
6. Planting an Herb Garden with 18th Century Favorites
Jon and his daughter, Ivy, plant a basic herb garden in this video. This isn’t about just medicinal herbs, but these sorts of gardens would’ve also been used for some vegetables and things. He’s referencing The Universal Gardener and Botanist by Thomas Mow.
7. Springtime Soup Made with Wild Greens
Some of my favorite Townsends videos are the cooking episodes. There are so many, it’s hard to choose from them which ones to feature here, but I picked this one because I love the idea of using wild greens like dandelions and wild garlic to make a springtime soup. He also mentions using his portable soup base in the video. There are at least three videos worth watching that deal with that topic, here, here, and here.
8. A Survival Item from Tree Bark — The American Frontier
Yep. Another video with Dan Wowak. I love this one. In it, he and Jon make cordage out of tree bark. How practical is that?! If you were off camping in the woods and realized you needed to tie something up (or down), it’s a helpful skill to know how to make cordage out of found materials. He also uses a trick that I learned when I was a girl — cutting a seemingly endless cord from a circle of buckskin or other tanned hide.
9. Roast Beef Over an Open Fire!
What’s not to love about this? I love roast beef! And he’s cooking it according to Amelia Simmons’s recipe — over an open fire! I really need to try this sometime… outdoors. 😉
10. Dutch Oven Baking: Getting to Know the Utensil
It’s amazing what can be done with a Dutch oven. Maybe one of these days I’ll come up with something that ties in with the Adam Fletcher books to cook in my Dutch oven and do a video.
Well, that’s all for now! What did you think of this post? If you enjoyed it, let me know in the comment section below and I’ll try to do more on other similar topics. If you aren’t already, I hope you’ll enjoy watching more of Jon Townsend’s videos at YouTube, plus you can visit Jas. Townsend & Son’s online store here.