Early Housing: Wattle and Daub Construction

From as early as 1607, when settlers began building homes in both the Popham Colony in Maine and Jamestowne in Virginia, they used a construction style known as wattle and daub (1).

To start construction on an average house, which was about 15 feet long by 10 feet wide, the men pounded four small tree posts upright into the ground to erect the four corners. Smaller branches were used to form cross beams. Then they wove thin twigs in and out of the cross beams to create a lathe, called the wattle. Over that lathe, both inside and outside, they daubed, or slapped on, a layer of clay or mud mixed with straw. This daub was pressed in between the sticks of the wattle like a plaster.

With more medium-sized branches, the planters framed a steep roof, over which they tied layers of bundled thatch [grasses they collected from the marsh swamps]. They covered window openings with oil-soaked paper to keep the cold out and let the light in. The houses were waterproof and snow proof. They were not, however, fireproof. Fire was a constant threat, especially since most of the smaller buildings had no chimneys. The planters needed to build fires to keep warm and to cook. So, sometimes they left a hole in the roof to release the smoke.

The floors remained bare dirt, over which the settlers threw dried grass to warm things up and keep the dust somewhat under control.

Next article: The South American Native before Columbus

Notes

  1. This sketch was taken from a sample wattle and daub house at the Maine Maritime Museum in Bath, Maine.