The Failure of the Condom in the 1700’s and Beyond!
How Many Kids are Too Many – The Failure of Contraceptives in the 1700s
Portsmouth was settled by the British in 1623 but by the 1740s most of the native populations were wiped out by one disease or another that the new inhabitants brought with them. By the early 1700s the population of the town grew to about 600 thanks to the old New England virtue of defying the odds by fornicating regardless of food, danger or Indian attack. Early New Englanders were rugged and resourceful people and when they met an unforeseen obstacle they would do what most of us do in the modern age: screw!
Condoms were reportedly used as early as 1350 BC by Egyptians though it is hard to imagine the Pharaoh Amenhotep erecting anything less majestic than a pyramid. Condoms were also found to be used as early as 100 AD in Europe as there were plenty who looked to sheath their majesty in dark. It wasn’t until the late 1600s that Catholic priests (and popes) were forced to be celibate so we can only imagine that not only were a lot of things going on in in the bedroom were not Catholic but were hardly holy.
It seems odd that as time ebbs and flows that society becomes more and less conservative depending on the swing of the pendulum. AT times the majority of people could care less about hiding their lust in dark hallways and street corners but in the light of day the colonists of this country and much of Europe had a hot and cold relationship with the prophylactic. Many have complained that when the time arises the use of a condom was like wearing a raincoat when you really did not care about the weather.
Though most men then as now generally do not fancy wearing a condom they fancy less the thought of unwanted off spring milling about. After all, bloodlines were important to some and keeping it pure usually meant keeping it within the family. Most men just complained that condoms had the same appeal as a cold-water pool. Where the discussion turned more to shrinkage rather than lovemaking. Unfortunately for others it became a matter of faith.
Rubber , johnny, protection, raincoat, safety, sheath, copper hat, love-sock, frog-skin, night cap and a whole host of other alias have been used to describe something that was initially used to stop pregnancy, then disease then rational discussion. There are some religions that see condoms as an affront to the programmed appropriation clause of their religion while others just find them annoying. Regardless of how people feel about them they have a long history (not so long for others) that has affected both men and women alike.
The history of condoms is an interesting tale of invention throughout the ages that proves even the best science alongside good intentions won’t work if people don’t use them. As you all are aware many a bad decision has been made in the throws of passion and the consequences of those bad decisions stick around for at least 18 years and some even longer if you have a comfortable couch. You would think most would learn from past mistakes but if people didn’t make mistakes no more than once than why would they have more than one child.
Condoms grew in importance during the 1500s when the first reports of Syphilis emerged in 1494 among soldiers during the war between France and Naples. Syphilis was about to make a name for itself in its “unpleasantness” and as it was an unknown disease in the ancient world proving one thing; those ancient people sure could keep a secret. Syphilis was known by many names but it was most commonly known as the “French Disease”, adding yet another contribution to the world stage by the French. Long live the Republic!
The sexual nature of the disease was noticed right from the start. The disease was believed to have been brought into Europe from the New World by Christopher Columbus’s sailors and spread by women, specifically prostitutes. Morality started to play a part for the first time in treating a disease as many believed that to discover a cure would only lead those down a path of moral degradation. After all if people were acting immoral then wasn’t this disease a penance for their unholy behavior?
Before we can judge condoms, or why people did or did not wear them, we first must discover how they came to being in the first place. When you consider the history of the age of invention throughout time and look at such marvels as the wheel, the compass and the steam engine, not to mention the first jet and nuclear power, one must wonder what made a man unzip his pants and think “Hmm, I need to do something about that.”
Condoms were invented by men at a time when men shirking their responsibilities was not only never spoken of it would be deemed improper behavior not befitting of a gentlemen. . Because of that assumption the need for a condom had to come more from a concern over disease than population control. Men just wanted to make sure they could do it again and again and had little concern of how many juniors they could spawn. The history of that feeling can be seen in some of the most famous men who came out of Portsmouth.
In the 1500’s condoms were no more than linen sheaths that were soaked in chemicals, dried then used. Sounds sexy doesn’t it? By the 1700’s the use of animal intestines began to be available where after they were used were washed out, probably by a disgusted underling, and then re-used. Yes, re-used. If there were washed then they needed to be dried. Can you imagine seeing the clothesline in that back yard?
The true discovery came in 1844 when Charles Goodyear patented the vulcanization of rubber. Yes, this was the “blimp” guy who obviously would have a lot of experience stretching thin layers of rubber over large wiener-shaped objects. The first rubber condom was manufactured in 1844. Thanks to the age of invention there was now a new way for men to shirk their responsibility and to stop unwanted pregnancy. Yes, finally men found a way to have their cake while still not actually buying the cake- just a slice. Of course the process was not perfect from the start.
Rubber condoms were produced by wrapping strips of rubber around penis-shaped molds then dipping the wrapped molds into a solution used to “cure” the rubber. One can only assume the “one-size-fits-all” mentality of the process was not very popular with every gentleman let alone every lady. Julius Fromm developed a new technique in 1912 where glass molds were dipped into rubber. Latex, rubber suspended in water, was invented in 1920 and provided a better condom with a longer shelf life. There is no attached to the “ribbed for your pleasure” addition which we can assume happened somewhere in the 1970s.
Of course, proper society (though they were probably in full use for the upper one percent) was seen as scandalous and something not discussed. The door creaked open a little bit when in 1918 the Crane Ruling legalized doctor prescribed condoms as a way to hinder the spread of disease. Suddenly you were wearing condoms for the good of public health, God and America. It also brought down the price.
This ruling allowed people to buy cheaper versions of the prescribed condom over the counter, yet they were still kept behind the counter.. By 1931 the top 15 condom manufacturers produced an average of 1.4 million condoms a day and that number skyrocketed during World War II. By 1965 almost forty-two percent of the American population used condoms as their main source of birth control. Apparently the stigmas had worn off but not so much for our fore fathers.
Now most of us would squirm when presented with the idea of our mothers and fathers having sex, let alone with each other. So then how does it make us feel about our fore fathers taking a little role in the hay? Perhaps it was not called Mount Vernon by accident but that there was someone living there named Vernon who…..well, you get the point. Think about it. Did John Hancock leave his name everywhere he went? Did Nathan Hale regret that he only had one life to give for his country or did he go back for seconds? Was the horse the only thing Paul Revere rode? No matter how you look at it we would not be here unless our fore fathers, our famous fore fathers “did the deed”.
What were they thinking? Consider the average Colonial woman who’s main outfits consisted of a high collar, long sleeves and floor -length skirts yet the average colonial woman had at least six children and delivered them at regular intervals every twenty to thirty months, usually delivering the last one while in her forties. Many of these children died before the age of two years so you would think that condoms would be nothing but a godsend to save the lives of children who had no hope of surviving. Those thoughts were never considered during a time when men were men and sheep were afraid.
The average Colonial family size fluctuated depending on the number of children who lived or died. Most families averaged around six but those numbers could be skewed due to the high infant mortality rate. Puritan preacher Cotton Mather had 15 children yet eight of them died before the age of two years. Magistrate and merchant Samuel Sewall had 14 children yet 7 of his kids never saw their third birthday. With numbers like these condoms would not only have saved some heartache but given these poor women some well needed rest.
Men will always be men and that means that they are in a constant state of readiness: not to attack on the battlefield but in the bedroom. After all George Washington said, “happiness and moral duty are inseparably connected” so maybe he was constantly unhappy or a bad boy who liked to be spanked behind closed doors. After all he did famously say, “My mother was the most beautiful woman I ever saw”. I guess the real question is what was his mother wearing when he made that famous comment.
In the 18th century well known lover and bedder of woman Casanova referred to condoms as the “English frock coat” and he made good use of them, otherwise Casanova would have been probably named father of the year. Though condoms were making strides into the new world due to their “eminent quality” most men, particularly men in high places probably did not use them. After all most religions dictated that we populate the new country with same-minded individuals making the wearing of a rubber almost akin to being a traitor: Lets look at some local examples.
James Rundlett made his fortune buying and selling textiles before doing what everyone else in New Hampshire does, moves into real estate. James made his fortune by being at the right place at the right time and he was there with the supply when the demand was greatest. He provided fabrics and with the start of the War of 1812 this country needed uniforms and lots of them. With his newfound fortune he built and created a mansion that was seemingly from the future with all of its new amenities including a heating system, which was unheard of in the early 1800s. The Rundlett-May mansion is one of the wonderful historic houses visitors from all over the world come to Portsmouth to see. James, along with his wife had 13 children; obviously not a condom user.
Governor John Langdon is perhaps one of the best-known gentlemen of New Hampshire and for good reason. Langdon was a merchant, a ship builder, a patriot and some say privateer (a state sanctioned pirate). He was also a hero who led the charge against the British at Fort William and Mary and confiscated the much-needed ammunition stored there. He was a signer of the United States Constitution and the first president of the American senate. He fathered only two children but his daughter had nine: obviously with all of his goings-on he did not have time to have the “talk” with her about population control.
We do have to cut these gentlemen a little slack considering that during the seventeen hundreds condoms were little more than the intestine of some animal that you probably just had for dinner the evening before. For those who did not have a servant, or worse a slave to perform the ritual, the man would have to clean the carcass of an animal before disemboweling it, cleaning it off and probably cutting it to the proper size. In the rugged and often brutal seventeen hundreds this may seem like a task that is not out of the ordinary. If nothing else it does do a lot to ruin the mood and is a lot messier than simply removing a pre-made condom from a vacuum-packed container. Perhaps the aristocracy had it a little easier.
Lt. Governor John Wentworth was the last Royal Governor of the Province of New Hampshire before the colonists ran him and his large family out of town. He authorized the construction of the Portsmouth Harbor Lighthouse off Newcastle Island and also divided New Hampshire into the five counties that still remain today. John Wentworth was a busy man especially considering he fathered nine boys and one girl. His position was one held by his Uncle Benning Wentworth who for 26 years was a popular governor until he married a fifteen year old and things started to go badly for him. Benning was the eldest of 14 children proving once and for all that the English just can’t keep it in their pants. Though not many men did.
Pregnancy it seemed was not the problem of the man who had to go through the excruciating task of fertilization not to mention the arduous task of wooing. Once the men were satisfied many merely walked away or traveled while the woman had to endure childbirth with no anesthetic and in an unclean time when both baby and mother could easily perish. It was simply too much to ask a man to wear a condom which might dampen his pleasure. Of course some men dealt with large families in other ways. Some were just dying to get away.
Greg Purcell and Sarah Wentworth are well known in New Hampshire due to the fact that they had somewhat unremarkable lives but were the original owners of what is now commonly known as the John Paul Jones House. Wentworth, the daughter of Benning Wentworth, married Greg Purcell, an ambitious ship builder, who after fathering 9 children promptly died. Wentworth needed a way to support her new family so she opened up a boarding house and eventually played host to one John Paul Jones for about 18 months over two stays. If the Purcells had used a condom perhaps Jones would have stayed at a Marriot.
Women did not have much to use in terms of birth control either. During the 1800’s women had to rely on male withdrawal, or melting suppositories designed to form an impenetrable coating over the cervix. Gross! The rhythm method though used was largely unsuccessful because it was based on criteria that was easily misunderstood and let’s face it: most white men have no rhythm. Abortions, considered immoral and controversial, were relatively common. It is estimated that in the 1840’s one in every 30 pregnancies was terminated due to abortion. Of course, it was considered scandalous. For the most part the women of the time wanted these children, regardless of the dangers involved, and felt it was their duty to have them. Of course anyone, whether it be a man or a woman is always up for a good time.
Frank Jones was making beer and money before the word microbrewery was invented or even thought about. The fifth of seven children Jones was the largest producer of ale in the country producing 250,000 barrels yearly and employing more than 500 workers. Jones married Alice Felch and the couple promptly had six children proving the old adage that liquor makes it quicker or maybe Alice just had the hic-cups! . Of course for many years Jones also secretly owned a whorehouse and was also known to throw many a lavish party while the wife was home with the kids.
Daniel Webster, the father of the American dictionary, lawyer and namesake for a New Hampshire college had five children with his wife Grace. John Adams and his wife Abigail had 5 kids also, one of them becoming president of the United States. Even Benedict Arnold the most famous villain throughout history for his treasonous acts found time to father eight children in between stabbing America in the back.
Of course, no one can beat Paul Revere in this breeding contest due both to his stamina and sexual prowess. We all know Revere for his famous midnight ride warning us all that the British will surely be coming of course we here in Portsmouth remember him more for the mid-day ride to Portsmouth warning us that the British were going to move their munitions out of Fort William and Mary. However, Revere was a man of many surprises.
We all know that he was a silversmith but did you know that he dabbled in dentistry and that he produced some of the most sophisticated copper engravings of the era. According to the CIA, Revere launched the first covert network in the country. He made his most famous ride on a borrowed horse, and contradictory to history he was not alone on that ride but rather was with two other men and never made it to Concord as he fell off his horse and was detained by the British. (Samuel Prescott, a young physician who later died in the war made it to Concord.) But all of those surprises take a back seat to his biggest accomplishment: Paul Revere fathered 16 children.
Revere fathered 8 kids with his first wife Sarah Orne and eight with his second wife Rachel Walker. Apparently Revere, who opened a hardware store after the war and provided the materials for the USS Constitution and who also produced more than 900 church bells, had a libido that all of his accomplishments could not curtail. In Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s famous poem, which starts “Listen, my children, and you shall hear. Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere”, what you could be listening to is one of his wives yelling, “Get off me!” With no condom in site we now know that his horse was not the only thing he rode!
The Jackson House is the oldest surviving wood frame house in the state of New Hampshire and in Portsmouth dating back to 1664. Though there are no specific records remaining of the inhabitants we do know that in the 1700s it was known as the most populated house in town. Though only men were counted, the house had 12 adult males in residence. It is generally assumed that both women and children also lived there raising speculation as to the number of kids these men could have fathered. Of course, Benjamin Frankin said “we all must hang together or most assuredly we shall hang separately” could be a reference to many un-recorded births because we all know a woman like a man that is hung.
Whatever the reasoning historically and still today men do not like to wear condoms. Excuses ranging from them killing the mood to killing the sensation are as old as “Honey, I have a headache.” Men will be men and women will be women. Hell, when you think about it George Washington, the father of our country, is probably only called that because he never wore a condom.