Jamestown Monument

A Trip to Historic Jamestown & Candle Making in Colonial America

My kids have fallen in love with the U.S. National Park System and its many parks throughout the country.  Our first trip as a family was to Moore's Creek National Battlefield, followed by trips to the Wright Brothers Memorial, Waco Mammoth National Monument, and now Historic Jamestown, which is part of the Colonial National Historical Park.  While we didn't take our kids, my wife and I made a wonderful trip to Acadia National Park in September of 2021, which is the inspiration for our Acadia Candle.  We took a car ferry across the James River and then wandered around historic Jamestown, and the kids eventually got their Junior Ranger badges.  Next on the list is Yorktown, Fort Monroe, and a trip to the Pacific Northwest for a few parks in Washington State.

While I didn't think about it at the time, I began to dig into the history of candle making in colonial America and found some great history.  Candle making was an essential part of Jamestown and early America. Before electricity, candles provided much-needed light for homes, businesses, and public spaces. They were also used for cooking, heating, and even as currency in bartering. Candle making was an important skill that many people had to learn in order to survive.

In Jamestown, the first permanent English settlement in North America, candles were primarily made from tallow, which is the fat from cows or sheep. Tallow candles were relatively cheap and easy to make, but they emitted an unpleasant odor when burned. Beeswax candles were a more expensive option, but they burned more cleanly and had a pleasant scent.  Another great use for beef tallow is for frying up some of the most delicious french fries, which are represented by our French Fries candle.

To make tallow candles, the first step was to collect the fat from a cow or sheep. The fat was then melted down and purified, usually by boiling it with water and adding salt to remove any impurities. Once the fat was purified, it was poured into molds and left to cool and harden. The resulting candles were often lumpy and uneven, but they provided a steady source of light.

Beeswax candles were made by melting down beeswax and pouring it into molds. Beeswax was a more expensive material than tallow, so beeswax candles were typically reserved for special occasions or for use in churches and other public buildings.

In addition to tallow and beeswax, other materials were sometimes used to make candles. For example, bayberry bushes, which grew abundantly in New England, produced a wax-like substance that could be used to make candles. However, bayberry wax was difficult to extract and the candles made from it were expensive.

Candle making was a time-consuming process that required a lot of skill and patience. In early America, many households had a dedicated candle maker who was responsible for making candles for the entire community. In some cases, candle making was also a commercial enterprise, with candle makers selling their wares to local businesses and individuals.

Despite the challenges of candle making, it remained an important craft in early America. Candles were essential for lighting homes and businesses, and they played a key role in daily life. Today, candle making remains a popular hobby and a testament to the ingenuity and resourcefulness of early American craftspeople.

Our own candle shop is a far cry from purifying tallow.  We get sustainably sourced coconut and soy wax that is already cleaned and ready to be made into candles from our wax supplier.  A bit easier and faster for us.  But we did have to do a lot of general testing and safety testing to match our wicks to our containers to bring the best burn to our customers. 

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