Interview with Herbert James Devenney, 1984 April 2 [audio]

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  • Family's Irish origins; Leaving their home along the Brandywine; The local neighborhood; Morris chairs and other household objects; Bathing and washing; Brewing beer
    Keywords: Bathing; Beer; Brandywine Creek; Brewing; Catalogs; Christ Church Christiana Hundred (Wilmington, Del.); Clocks; County Donegal, Ireland; Hygiene; Immigration; Morris chairs; Outhouses; Pewter; Shaving; Toilet paper; Westclox
    Transcript: Myers: Do you recall that your family brought over any trunks when they came from Ireland; that is your father who came from Ireland? I know your mother was English.

    Devenney: Yes, pop came from Ireland. County Donegal. Yes, there was a trunk. There was a trunk in the home for years. Reminds me of a seaman's trunk. Evidently, that's what they brought their sole goods in.

    Myers: Their possessions.

    Devenney: Yes, possessions, yeah.

    Myers: Was that a fairly large trunk?

    Devenney: Yeah. If I recall, it was fairly large; it held quite a lot.

    Myers: What was it made of?

    Devenney: It was made out of wood. I remember the brass bands around it to hold it together. Now whatever became of that, I don't know. Like the other things, the settees and everything else were all destroyed when we left the Brandywine. We took only the essentials with us, you know.

    Myers: What year was that that you left the Brandywine?

    Devenney: Oh, God. Let's see.

    Myers: When the powder yards closed?

    Devenney: Oh, the powder yards had been closed, yes. Let me think. I guess 1930, I suppose, when we left the Brandywine.

    Myers: Where did you keep that trunk in your home?

    Devenney: That trunk was up in the front bedroom of our last home there. Now where it was kept on the Walker's Bank section I can't recall that.

    Myers: You had an outhouse. Can you tell me where that was located?

    Devenney: Ours was located across the road down toward the Brandywine. So was the next door neighbor's; the others were all up in back towards the fields, you know. It's according to which was the most accessible. Yeah, they were all over up and down the Brandywine, the outhouses. All made out of wood. They were properly maintained.

    Myers: Who maintained them? The individual families?

    Devenney: Yes, except for the cleaning of them which was -- they had some outfit in Wilmington that came out. That was referred to as a honey wagon -- which was one million miles away from honey, but nevertheless that's the term was given to it. They were colored people. They worked for some outfit that did all that work for Mrs. Copeland.

    Myers: You're talking about Mrs. Lammot du Pont Copeland?

    Devenney: Yeah, she was the owner of all them properties on the Walker's Bank side.

    Myers: We know the people used Sears-Roebuck catalogs.

    Devenney: Yes, they did. Oh, I discussed that question with my brother, the oldest brother and he said, well I know a lot of them did use them, he says, but we always brought the toilet rolls -- bought them. And he said, "Don't you remember that?" I said, "Lord, yes, I do now, Edmond. It was rough --rough as sandpaper, it was brown color." He said, "Yeah, that's right." He said, "Those who could afford to buy the toilet tissue bought it.”

    Myers: But that was available in your time?

    Devenney: Yes. I don't recall no Sears-Roebuck catalog being in our outhouse.

    Myers: Do you ever recall any discussions about what they used prior to using Sears-Roebuck catalogs?

    Devenney: Evidently, newspaper. Everyone subscribed to a newspaper -- either Democrat or Republican newspaper. I imagine the newspapers were used. They had to be.

    Myers: All right. Mr. Devenney, did you have a Morris type chair in your home?

    Devenney: We did. Yes. Yes, that was in the living room -- the parlor.

    Myers: Describe that.

    Devenney: I'm trying to think what in the world our Morris chair was. There was a very comfortable chair, a chair that you could lean back in. Yeah. Morris. I wonder if they still make them today. Mrs. Myers, I can't recall just what the color was.

    Myers: An upholstered chair?

    Devenney: Yeah, it was upholstered, yeah. Without horsehair.

    Myers: Without horsehair. So what did it have in it, in place of horsehair?

    Devenney: It had to be cotton.

    Myers: And I assume you had a shaving mirror with all those – -

    Devenney – Oh, yes, yes, indeed. That was right above the sink in the corner of the cooking area. And that's where the boys shaved. Downstairs.

    Myers: Did you just have one in the house?

    Devenney: Uh-huh. It's the only one I remember where they shaved – down in that area. And they had the big mirror above it.

    Myers: A fairly large mirror.

    Devenney: Yeah, it was fairly large, yeah. Gilded with gold gilt.

    Myers: Where would you have gotten that mirror?

    Devenney: Oh, it had to be purchased somewhere in Wilmington. See, the family lived in Wilmington before they moved out to Henry Clay. Yeah. Oh, incidentally, Old Swedes was their church. Of course, when we moved out there, we attended Christ Church.

    Myers: Let's talk about a shaving mug and soap.

    Devenney: Oh, Lord. The boys all had their own shaving mugs.

    Myers: Where did they keep those?

    Devenney: They were kept in that sideboard, or you referred to it as -- a sideboard, didn't you. Yeah, a sideboard. That's where mugs were kept and their shaving brushes and soaps.

    Myers: Each one of you put -- now there were several men in your household, but each one of you --

    Devenney: Had their own one, yeah, they certainly did, yeah.

    Myers: I'm sure you had a clock in your house.

    Devenney – Yes, we did.

    Myers: More than one?

    Devenney: Yes, there was one -- a real, nice pretty clock in the parlor and there was one on the mantle on the side of the big cookstove. That's the one was called Westclox – - made by Westclox. It was.

    Myers: That's a familiar name today, too.

    Devenney: Now the one in the parlor I can't recall the make of that. No, I can't.

    Myers: Were there any chime clocks?

    Devenney: That was a chime clock, the one in the parlor.

    Myers: A type of mantle clock.

    Devenney: They were mantle clocks, yeah.

    Myers: All mantle, no floor clocks -- no floor models, but all mantle clocks.

    Devenney: That's right, they were all mantle clocks. No, we did not have any grandfather clocks.

    Myers: And you had a washtub.

    Devenney: Oh, my Lord, yes.

    Myers: Can you describe that to me and tell me where you kept that?

    Devenney: They were kept out in the second kitchen. They were the bathing utensil, you know.

    Myers: I was going to say, you all bathed in that?

    Devenney: That's right. Then, of course, the washing of the face and hands was all done in the wash basin which were much, much smaller. Oh, yeah. Those tubs must have held 25 gallons of water. That was kind of a bathing of a hit-and-miss affair. But, at least you bathed. I know we did.

    Myers: How often?

    Devenney: I think it was quite often. Mom was a very particular woman. She came from a very good family in England. Mother's people were much -- they were much higher class. They were much wealthier. Grandfather was a sea captain. Travelled between England and Ireland -- or India and England.

    Myers: Did you have a dry sink in your home?

    Devenney: Yes, we did, Mrs. Myers. We certainly did. That was a catch-all, too, and it was also a storage later on when the boys made home brew. Made beer. The storage of the beer for it to age.

    Myers: They made beer at home?

    Devenney: Yep. Well, it was appropriate. They use dry sinks today for storage of alcohol, bottles of gin and various other things, yeah.

    Myers: Did you have any spoons made of pewter?

    Devenney: Oh, we had a lot of pewter. Yes, we did. And we had pewter teapots. I said pots, now, I only recall one. Yeah, we had pewter; we had pewter utensils.

    Myers: Knives, forks, spoons?

    Devenney: Um-hum. Along with the other.

    Myers: Anything else?

    Devenney: I'm trying to think. We had some pewter dishes. What in the world were they used for? I remember pewter, though. I imagine quite a number of people up there had pewter, also.

    Myers: Was that a sign of affluence?

    Devenney: No, I wouldn't say so.

    Myers: Pewter today is fairly expensive.

    Devenney: Yes it is. No, I think that was just an ordinary item at that time.

    Myers: So a lot of people had it.

    Devenney: I imagine they did. I would assume they did. Pewter, yeah.
  • The family Bible; Applying for social security; Protestants and Catholics; Floor coverings and furniture; Household objects
    Keywords: Bibles; Congoleum; Floor coverings; Foot lockers; Furniture; Illustrated bibles; Irish Americans; Italian Americans; Social Security
    Transcript: Myers: I assume you had a Bible in your home.

    Devenney: Mrs. Myers, we had two. One was a beautiful leather Bible and the other one was a great big Bible. It contained the old and the new St. James Testament. I'm sorry to say we don't have it today. I can tell you a little story why we don't. We weren't allowed to handle -- the children weren't allowed to handle the big, beautiful Bible that was leather-bound -- black. But the other one we looked through a million times because it always had pictures depicting the scenes of the disciples of Christ. And it was a large affair. A great, big one. Where it ever came from, I can't recall. But, I know how we lost it. And in that Bible was recorded all the births and deaths of the family. And the last one I knew that had it was Edmond, the oldest. It was held together with red ribbons because every loose leaf -- every leaf of the Bible was loose and -- the thing about that is three years back when I retired at 65, I went to file for Social Security. And they asked me up there did I have a recording of my birth and I said, "Oh, I certainly do -- in the old Bible." She said, "Bring it up." So, I said now, who in the world has it? So, I found that Edmond had it. So, I went over to see him and he said, "I don't have it." He said, "You know it kept falling apart and all, so I took out the births and death pages and I mailed them to George." And he says, "I threw the old Bible away." I said, "How -- why didn't you give it to one of us children?" He said, "What do you want, it was nothing but old loose pages." I said, "God, that thing should have been preserved." Well, anyway, he did it. He's a stubborn old soul, anyway. He's more Irish than all the rest of the family put together. That's what makes him so thick. Oh, is this being recorded?

    Myers: That's quite all right; you go right ahead.

    Devenney: So, I hustled over to George to get it. George said, “ I don't have it, Herb. He never mailed it to me." Oh, that started a rigmarole. And he said he did. Well, if he did, I won't doubt his word that he may have. Well, it got lost. And do you know, I referred back to the church and also for credentials that I could apply for Social Security. I had to prove to the Government that I was born. All right. So, that's the episode of the old Bible. And Bobby had the other one, so I guess it's up in his home. Well, that was an interesting old story about that. It's a shame. I would have loved to have received that old Bible.

    Myers: Yes, you would. It would have meant a great deal to you.

    Devenney: Yes, it would have.

    Myers: Did you have a crucifix in your home?

    Devenney: No. We didn't. Usually the Catholic homes retain them. We were Protestant. So, we did not have one.

    Myers: Tell me a little bit more about that, then. As far as the division of the Protestants and Catholics there. They were predominately Irish, we know that.

    Devenney: Yes, they were predominately Irish. And the second element were the Italians who were Catholic, also. Yeah, I would say there were two-thirds -- of the Irish element I would say offhand two-thirds were of the Roman Catholic faith. The rest were the Protestant faith which were broken up into Episcopalians, Methodists, and Presbyterians. In fact, the Presbyterians had one of their churches right upon Route 52.

    Myers: Greenhill?

    Devenney: Yeah, Greenhill, yes. That's an old church, also, along with Mt. Lebanon, you know. Up above the mills on the other side of the crick.

    Myers: And Mt. Salem.

    Devenney: And Mt. Salem, the Methodist Church, up by Rockford Tower.

    Myers: Did you have a cradle in your home? Would you like to think about that for a little while -- we can come back to that.

    Devenney – You know, Mrs. Myers. There had to be. I'm trying to think. There had to be. Heck, yes, I recall it now. Because George was the last one was ever put in that thing. And that was (Laughter) one instrument that was very useful and was repaired a thousand times.

    Myers: Where would that cradle have been?

    Devenney: That cradle would have made only one place and that was in the living area -- the cooking area and eating area. Yep.

    Myers: A lot of things took place in that kitchen.

    Devenney: You know, the oldest boys, I know. You know that was a rough -- probably with the feet moving it back and forth to stop the squalling of the kid to make him go to sleep, you know. Yeah, a cradle. Oh, heck, yeah. There's another thing should have been saved. It wasn't.

    Myers: Did you have any oilcloth floor covering in your house?

    Devenney: Oh, my Lord. My Lord, yes. Not in the parlor. But in the kitchen and the two kitchens and the living –

    Myers: What did you have in the parlor?

    Devenney: That was a rug.

    Myers: A rug -- made of what now -- what does that look like?

    Devenney: They don't have as quite a fancy parlor. It had good furniture in it. There were quite a few working at that time.

    Myers: Well, let's go on to the oilcloth –

    Devenney: I'm trying to think of the color of that rug that was in the parlor. It was a big rug because the parlor was huge. Now what the make was, I don't know. It was wool. It was a wool carpeting.

    Myers: But this oilcloth floor covering was in your kitchen area.

    Devenney: Yes it was.

    Myers: What did that look like?

    Devenney: It looked like congoleum -- like they made congoleum later on.

    Myers: It had a pattern?

    Devenney: Right. Yeah. What the patterns were, I can't recall. It was light, I know that.

    Myers: But it was not a solid type -- it was a pattern?

    Devenney: Patterned, yeah.

    Myers: Did you have an organ in your home?

    Devenney: No.

    Myers: I know some of your people were musicians in your family. Did you use sheet music?

    Devenney: No, they played by ear.

    Myers: You all played by ear?

    Devenney: The ones that played the instruments, did, yeah. I can't recall sheet music at all. And they were good, too.

    Myers: You were self-taught.

    Devenney: Yes. No one ever took music lessons. They were the oldest boys that played instruments.

    Myers: Did you have a foot locker?

    Devenney: I'm trying to think about that. Yes, we did. It was at the foot of the bed. Most of the time what was kept in it was --yeah -- almost every bed had a foot locker. Most of the time it was the change of bed clothes that was kept in it. Along with quilts and all were kept in closets where mothballs and all could be used. Oh, yeah. Foot lockers. Oh, my Lord, yeah. They were crudely made, but they suited the purpose. Made out of wood.

    Myers: You would not have put blankets in those foot lockers? If you were worried about moths?

    Ringing of telephone.

    Devenney: I’ m going to leave that go. Oh, wait a minute, that may be my tax people.

    Myers: We were discussing the foot lockers. There were no blankets in the foot lockers? Where were they stored?

    Devenney: Closets.

    Myers: You mentioned moth balls. You did have moth balls then?

    Devenney: My, Lord, yeah. I can still smell those things. Yep. That's for storage during the summer of your heavier quilts, blankets, etc. Yeah, foot lockers. Oh, Mrs. Myers, I imagine odds and ends and everything went into them along with the change of bed clothing.

    Myers: What odds and ends are you referring to -- do you recall?

    Devenney: Pillows, pillow cases, I suppose.

    Myers: So, it sounds like a fairly large foot locker if you put that many things in them.

    Devenney: They were. They were foot lockers.

    Myers: And you said every bed had one.

    Devenney: As I recall, most every bed had a foot locker for storage. For a large family, the whole home had to be closets; otherwise, you had to have smaller things to store things in. Nine people in a home -- ten at one time -- Yeah.

    Myers: Is there anything else you would like to add at this point?

    Devenney: Well, regarding the inside of the home, the only thing I can add to it was that linoleum on the flooring is the coldest thing next to treading on ice. Yep. It sure was.

    Myers: Did you sometimes walk around in your bare feet?

    Devenney: Yep. And before we left, of course, there was rugs in the dining and cooking area. The only place I recall when we left the old Brandywine that linoleum was still in that second kitchen in back. No more icy feet.

    Myers: Well, I thank you, Mr. Devenney. This winds up the interview with you and I am very grateful to you for taking the time so that we can have a lot more information to add to the Hagley archives. And I thank you very much. Do you have an afterthought now that you might like to add to this?

    Devenney: Oh, I'm only too glad to do this. Wasn't there some other questions that I didn't elaborate on or neglected to answer you on? Maybe I can remember now. I think there was.

    Myers: Well, let me turn off the recorder and let's look this over. Just a moment. You've heard the rest of it. Now we are going to play this new one. Now this is going to go back now -- it should. Don't tell me it didn't record. If we didn't get that, I'm going to be. Yes, it's turning. No, wait –