Edward H. Nabb Research Center for Delmarva History and Culture

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Nabb Research Center Tools - Dictionaries & glossaries

* Illustrated dictionary of colonial items

Illustrated dictionary of items found in 17th-century probate inventories and other records. This work represents the combined effort of Nabb Research Center interns and staff, including Kevin Russell, James E. Jensen, and Natasha Jones.

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~ D ~

Damask - a very fine fabric, usually composed of linen or silk and was most often woven with a texture and used as a decorative dressing such as a tablecloth, e.g., "One curtain & valance, one damask tablecloth, and one rug."

Dimitie (Dimity) - a cotton fabric, one that was both fine and corded - see corded, e.g., "Richard's inventory revealed 4 ells of Dimitie and a lot of other fabrics in large quantities, therefore he may have been a merchant."

Dogs (Firedogs) - used to fasten a log securely so it would not move while one either sawed it in two or placed it to burn in the fire for cooking, e.g., "One pair of dogs with brass heads." See also andirons and creepers.

Charles I of England
Daniel Mijtens the Elder (1629)

Doublet - predominantly a type of men's apparel, which covered the torso from the neck to below the hips, usually without sleeves and was characteristically close-fitting, e.g., "John wore the same doublet for many years and being sleeveless was ideal in the warmer months."


Recollections of J.P. Ryan

Dowlas - a linen fabric that was made entirely from long flax strands, see flax; it was a material made in Brittany and was popularized through the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, e.g., "Mathew's inventory revealed six yards of dowlas linen."

Dram cup - a cup that measures a liquid measurement of one eighth of an ounce, also see avoirdupois weight, e.g., "Margaret's recipe called for a dram cup of molasses." Also, refers to a drink of an intoxicating beverage, e.g., "although she was no physician, mother often said that a dram would cure any ailment."

Draught oxen (Draft oxen) - a large mammal similar to a cow - ox; which outnumbered horses at one time, since they were cost efficient and was used for heavy work such as plowing and carrying heavy loads, e.g., "Richard's will stated that his horse and draught ox were to be given to his son John after Richard's wife's decease."

Drawers (or underdrawers) - an article of clothing, worn as underwear by either males or females, which covered the individual from the waist down and usually covering the legs as well as, e.g., "on hot days his young boys would strip down to their drawers and jump into the pond to cool off."

dram cup

drawing knife

Drawing knife (Draw knife, Drawknife) - an edged tool with a blade and a handle on each end, which was used by pulling the tool towards the user; such as a chair bodger, a cooper, a carpenter, a wheelwright, a rake maker, a basket maker, or a gate hurtle maker, e.g., "a drawknife and chisel were mentioned in Stephen's inventory, which suggests that he worked a lot with wood."

Dripping pan - a cooking device, which consisted of a shallow pan with a perforated tray cover, this would allow the melted animal fat and oils to collect away from the cooking meat, e.g., "Mary used her dripping pan for cooking the roast and collecting animal fat, with which she made soap."

Drugget (Druggit) - a coarse cloth, which was used as a covering for furniture or carpeting; also used to describe a cotton rug that was stuffed with wool, e.g., "Ann loved her drugget petticoat, because its woolen stuffing kept her warm."

Drum lines - a fishing line that was predominantly used to catch Drum fish, a species found often in Eastern Shore waters.

Duffel (Duffield) - a woolen cloth with both a coarse texture and a thick nap, which was used usually in the fabrication of overcoats and blankets, e.g., "one sorry duffel coat and an old pair of shoes was revealed in his inventory."

Dutch box - a Dutch cupboard, a shelved unit with shutting doors.

~ E ~

Earthen plates - a plate made from clay that had been shaped and fired; see earthenware.

Earthenware - any tableware item or vessel made from fired clay and an outer glaze, either decorated or plain in design, e.g., "her inventory revealed earthen ware, trays, and earthen plates."

~ F ~

Falling leaf table (failing table) - a table with a leaf which can be dropped and when raised could allow the table to accommodate several more individuals, e.g., "when my daughter Elizabeth visited with my son in-law we would raise the leaf of the falling table to accommodate the numbers."

Farthingale - usually referring to a hoop frame, which was made from whalebone and served to extend a skirt or petticoat, e.g., "Ann wore her fabulous blue dress, which was flared out by the whalebone farthingale beneath it."

Filly - a female horse that has not yet given birth to any offspring, see Mare, e.g., "Sarah was given a filly and two foals from her grandfather's administrators."

earthenware plate

fire shovel

Fire peel - see fire shovel.

Fire shovel - an iron shovel that was used to remove ash and other debris from the fireplace floor, e.g., "every morning John would employ the fire shovel to remove the mound of ash from the night's fire on the fireplace floor."

Fireslice - see fire shovel.

Fire tongs - a long iron tool that was used to rearrange burning logs in the fireplace or to position a new log in a fire, e.g., "Mary always preferred to use the fire tongs to place more wood on the fire, so as not to burn her hands."

Firkin - 1) a small wooden container, being one quarter of a barrel in size; 2) used as a measurement for goods, also equivalent to eight gallons of liquid or six and one half pounds of dry goods, e.g., "the inventory of Elizabeth Smith revealed one firkin of sugar."

Fish hookes - small metal hooks, which were often baited and used to catch both fresh and salt water fish, e.g., "Richard's inventory listed one old boat and a parcel of fish hookes and was therefore most likely a fisherman by trade."

Fistula - an opening similar to a canal, resulting from either disease or injury, which permits the body's fluids to drain to the surface, also seen as a tube-like pocket found in the body, e.g., "his inventory revealed a mare with fistula, perhaps caused by a previous disease."

Fixed - see unfixed.

Flagon - a large drinking vessel that characteristically had a handle and a narrow spout, which was used to serve liquids at a table or for the consumption of alcoholic beverages such as beer, e.g., "George enjoyed visiting Shield's Tavern in Williamsburg for a flagon of ale."

Flannel - a cloth made from wool, which had a nap on one side and was generally used for bedding or winter clothing, e.g., "the children knew that spring had arrived when Jenny stored the flannel sheets."

Flannelet - see Flannel, yet made from cotton and not wool.

from: The Happy Couple, Judith Leyster (1630)

Flask - a small container or bottle with a lid or stopper, which was used to store both fine powders and liquids, such as gunpowder or vinegar respectively, e.g., "his inventory revealed one gunn and a flask of powder."

Flaskett (Flasket) - a shallow basket or tub, or small flask, e.g., "she used three flaskets to store her medicines and kept them in the small closet in the hall."


flesh fork

Flax - the fibers extracted from a blue-flowered plant, the lengthy fibers of which were then woven into linen to produce a sturdy fabric, e.g., "after the long process of collecting and preparing the flax fibers, Elizabeth would spin them into thread and weave them into her linens."

Fleem (Fleames) - the tools used by a phlebotomist, on either humans or animals, to open a blood vein and bleed a patient, see lancets, e.g. "James' inventory revealed a parcel of fleames and a blood porringer."

Flesh fork (Flesfork) - a large hooked iron fork that was used to either remove or rotate meat cooking in a pot, e.g., "Sambo would use the flesh fork to handle the meat, which he would then carve and serve to the household."

Fleshhook - see flesh fork.

Flitches of bacon - a unit of measurement that was reserved for expressing an amount of bacon meat.

Flock - rags or other unused scraps of linen and cloth, e.g., "she had to re-stuff her flock bed after many years of use."

Foal - a newborn horse, without making reference to the sex of the animal, see Mare, e.g., "Stephen's inventory revealed a mare with foal."

Fodder - animal feed that was stored for the winter months, usually referring to a bundle of dried grasses, e.g., "the slaves worked hard on the plantation to prepare animal fodder during the fall months."


Footwarmer - a small metal box that was usually attached to the base of a desk, into which hot coals and ash were placed to warm the feet an individual, e.g., "the court clerks would often employ their footwarmers during colder months, because the fireplace was not efficient enough to heat the entire room."

Fowling piece (Fowler or Birding piece) - a long barreled gun with a large bore, similar to a musket, which enabled it to be loaded with birdshot, i.e. several small round lead pellets, as in a shotgun, e.g., "John taught his eldest son how to use his fowling piece, for hunting ducks, by the age of ten."

French Falls - a low leather shoe worn by either men or women and being of superior quality, e.g., "Jonathan left his new French falls to his cousin Jonas."

Freteg pillow - an embroidered pillow, fret is archaic for both embroidered and tore-up.

Froe (Frow) - a tool used by woodworkers, specifically a wooden-handled blade that was positioned at a ninety degree angle and was used to cut shingles or other narrow stripes of wood from a larger block, often used by makers of baskets and hoops, e.g., "Jonas spent a whole day with his froe in order to have enough shingles for the new cider house."

Fustian - a fabric that was made up of forty percent linen and sixty percent cotton, which was usually lightly brushed on one side and used predominantly for clothing, e.g., "John's favorite shirt was his white fustian work shirt."

See an example of a froe in use

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