Thursday, June 11, 2009

Weather in our Ancestors' Lives

It is June, so the weather is really heating up in Florida. It was 95 degrees (F.) today, and will be hot tomorrow, too. My washer and dryer are in the garage, which faces west, with a metal door which really gets hot in that summer afternoon sun, and puts the temperature in the garage during a Florida summer day in the range of 110 to 120 degrees. This is the time of year I start doing my laundry at 2:00 in the morning!

Thinking of that got me to thinking about weather and our ancestors. Weather influenced our ancestors' lives at least as much as it does ours, and in many ways probably more. Florida's early pioneers, the Spanish, went mucking about in the jungly Florida forests in all the heat and humidity, wearing mail, plate, or quilted armor. Not only did they not have air conditioning, they didn't have Gold Bond powder, either! Even in the late nineteenth century, when my husband's great-grandfather Daniel McLeod Marshall arrived from Alabama and settled first in Apopka and then in Lakeland, the weather was not suited to the clothing! Men dressed in suits, sometimes three-piece suits, and women had dresses that covered just about everything. I cannot imagine how uncomfortable people must have been in 1883, wearing all those clothes in a Florida summer.

Further back, weather was very much a factor in the life of my ancestor Samuel Packard, who arrived at Hingham, Massachusetts, in August of 1638. Hingham at the time was only three years old, and conditions were fairly primitive. Add to that the fact that the climate in New England was harsher than that in England, both in winter and in summer. Samuel and his fellow immigrants were mostly farmers, trying to get a living in harsh weather out of rocky New England soil. There are not many people more dependent on and more influenced by the weather than farmers.

It is also now hurricane season in Florida. Hurricane season begins 1 June and ends 30 November. When I was a child, the season ended on 1 November. The extension of the season to the end of the month is no guarantee of coverage; several years ago, there was a hurricane in April. I remember my mother telling me about the hurricane of 1926 that hit Pensacola, where she was raised. She was nine years old at the time. Back then, there was not the predictive capability we have today. We know a hurricane is coming several days before it gets to us, and we have time to take precautions, from boarding up windows and clearing potentially airborne items from our yards, to evacuating.

The captains of Spanish treasure ships in the sixteenth century didn't have any foreknowledge of approaching hurricanes, any more than my mother's family did in 1926. Many such ships came to rest at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean, driven there by hurricanes. Some peoples' ancestors from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries helped shipwrecked sailors and passengers on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Other people's ancestors lured the ships onto those shoals with false lights, so they could plunder the cargo. The rescuers were hampered by the weather, the "wreckers" abetted by it.

From sixteenth-century hurricanes to the Dust Bowl of the 1930s, weather has been part of our ancestors' lives. We should try to find out what sort of weather events or climate factors may have influenced our ancestors' lives. And we would do our descendants a favor by noting important weather events in our own lives.

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