Yes, iron was used in the 18th century for medicinal purposes. Samuel Johnson writes in his Dictionary that iron has more medicinal properties than any other metal. The Lititz Pharmacopeia, 1778, Lititz, Pennsylvania, has several recipes for tonics which include red oxide of iron or prepared iron filings, usually added to an alcoholic beverage.
Learn more about 18th-century remedies in The Poisoning of King George III.
Webcam viewers will notice that, having dried after early April rains, the Anderson kitchen now sports a coat of paint. The decision to use tar paint is a practical one. Used throughout the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries, tar paint offers a protective coating that is easily made and applied. Carl Lounsbury, an Architectural Historian here at Colonial Williamsburg, has collected references to its use, and has found that it is very common to hear that a building has been tarred. Tar paint has been found on wood surfaces at the John Blair (east) house, as well as the St. George Tucker, and the Robert Carter houses. Analysis of these surfaces has been instrumental in giving us the mixture that was being used.
The mixture we use is a combination of three parts pine tar, two parts linseed oil, and one part iron oxide pigment, which is red brown. This is a common mixture in the 18th century, and it is likely that a building like the Anderson Kitchen would have been painted using tar paint with these ingredients. We heat the tar and linseed oil until it is approximately 90°F and then stir in the pigment. The mixture continues to heat until it reaches 190°F, at which time we hold the temperature for approximately 30 minutes. The tar paint is then ready to use.
One question that remained for us was whether the tar paint should be applied hot or cool. Willie Graham, another Architectural Historian at Colonial Williamsburg, had seen references that it was applied hot. Our own experiment last week seemed to confirm that hot was the way to apply the paint. As always, this is a learning process for us. Check out the results on the webcam, or the pictures above.
-Contributed by Matt Webster, Director of Historic Architectural Resources
Colonial Williamsburg’s gardens have provided inspiration to generations of gardeners. During “Timeless Ideas for Today’s Gardens” at the 65th annual Garden Symposium, gardeners can glean ideas from the diversity of plants and functional designs that are part of the Historic Area’s charm. The symposium will be at the DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum on April 10-11.