AUGUSTA — Because Sunday’s rain was expected, Cindy Arnold had prepared for it.

On Friday, Arnold, one of the reenactors at Old Fort Western, took the time to dip beeswax candles Saturday so she could have some to display Sunday as part of the fort’s Harvest Day celebration.

The planned activities were to include cider pressing, wool processing and candle dipping, among others. The cider pressing was expected to go on under a tent outside, but Arnold was not working out in the rain.

“Since we knew it was going to rain, on Friday I made these,” she said, pointing to the rack where beeswax candles hung in pairs, connected by their wicks.

She had already made a number, but the wicks had been trimmed and could not be shown as they would have been.

Cindy Arnold shows Sunday October 27, 2019 Bethany Ives, center, and her sister, Dorothy, a courting candle at Fort Western. The Hallowell twins were celebrating their 15th birthday by volunteering at the Fort. Staff photo by Andy Molloy

Two rooms away, Meghan Logsdon, who traveled to Augusta from Rumford, sat by the window at her spinning wheel, using the treadle to spin the drive wheel, making the bobbin turn to take up wool fleece as it is twisted into yarn.


That kind of activity would not be limited to being done in the fall, Logsdon said, but it would be something a skilled spinner could do in the low light cast by a fire in a hearth during autumn or winter nights.

Like knitting, she said, spinning was taught to girls and boys. Girls would need the skills when they were old enough to marry and establish households. Men, who were too old to work in the fields, might be tasked with knitting or spinning in their later years.

“We still needed men to be useful, to have purpose,” she said. “If you can sit and spin and you have gotten good at it and don’t have to look at your fingers and watch your draft. If you can sit there and clack your needles away, you still have purpose. You’re still useful.”

Old Fort Western, America’s oldest surviving wooden fort, was not always so old.

It was built by the Kennebec Proprietors in 1754 on the eastern bank of the Kennebec River to promote settlement of the lands along the river. The Kennebec Proprietors was a company based in Boston that shared an interest with the colony of Massachusetts in extending the British interests in the region. That included Maine, which remained a territory of Massachusetts through colonial times and the creation of the United States, until it secured its own statehood in 1820.

Had Arnold, who lives in Winthrop, been running a household in the mid-1750s, she would have made sure to have about 100 candles on hand at the end of candle-making season in the autumn for very practical reasons.


“That’s when you’d slaughter the beef, and use the tallow from the animals to make candles,” Arnold said. “You’d collect your summer honey and use the wax for candles and the bees would go dormant for the winter.”

At the time, candles would be made from beef tallow, spermaceti — a waxy substance found in sperm whales — beeswax or bayberry wax.


The job of making candles would fall to primarily to the woman of the household, and dipping a beeswax candle required some skill and the ability to judge just how hot the melted wax is. If it is heated too much, the candle maker — also then known as a chandler — would risk melting the outer layers. Cooler wax allows for thicker layers to be added.

“You have to look at your wick to see how much wax you are taking up,” she said.

AUGUSTA, ME – OCTOBER 27: A variety of 18th century candles and holders were on display Sunday October 27, 2019 at Fort Western. Staff photo by Andy Molloy Staff photo by Andy Molloy

The wax would be melted in a pot over a fire and the wicks would be dipped, perhaps as many as 25 times, to make a candle. To speed up the process, a bucket of cold water would be nearby to cool the dipped wax before another layer could be applied.

The candles would be used only intermittently because they were expensive, Arnold said.

“You really basically worked sunup to sundown,” she said. “And after sundown, you wouldn’t do a lot.”

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