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More Social Questions

What did the people of the 18th century wipe themselves with after using the washroom?

The Toilet Paper incident

In trying to understand the humbler details of daily life, people sometimes wonder about such things as what people used after using the privy before the days of Cottonelle. This is not an area of material culture that has generated many good records or much archaeological evidence. “Whatever they could get their hands on,” might be a reasonable response. This story from early 18th century Annapolis Royal provides a rare hint at that aspect of everyday life:

“One morning as Lieutenant Martin Groundman of Philipp’s Regiment entered the privy on the top of the ramparts (at Annapolis Royal, 1721) he asked Lieutenant Washington, who was exiting, for a piece of ‘foule’ paper, which Washington provided. The paper turned out to be the draft of a letter to Major Armstrong at Canso, criticizing officials and his fellow officers at Annapolis Royal. Groundman handed the paper over to Philipps, who seized Washington’s letter book.”

[From Brenda Dunn, A History of Port Royal/Annapolis Royal 1605-1800, (Halifax: Nimbus, 2004) pg. 120. ]

These officers used scrap paper after the privy, a reasonable resort, but not one available to all. Others may have used moss or leaves, or scraps of cloth, but there is little chance of being able to confirm this.

[Anne Marie Lane Jonah, July 2006]