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The Beds Our Wing Ancestors Used and How They Were Assembled Roping a Bed – Comfortable Colonial Sleeping

A rope bed is a type of platform bed in which the mattress is supported by a lattice of rope,

Dave Wheelock and Glenn Gray roping the bed in Cora Wing’s bedroom in the Fort House

rather than wooden slats. These kinds of beds have been around for a long time and became popular beginning in the 16th century. Colonial Americans were very familiar with the concept and rope beds were often found in New England homes in the 18th and 19th centuries. You can see Cora Wing’s rope bed in the Ft. House.

These beds use ropes like we might use a box spring with our mattress.  Ropes are woven across the bed frame in a crisscross pattern.  Some frames have pegs to wind the ropes around and others have slots to put them through. After the ropes were attached to the frame a mattress was placed upon them.  At this point a bed wrench was used to tighten the ropes as much or little as the sleeper preferred. 

Rope Bed Wrench

The ropes provided a “springy” platform to make the mattress more comfortable.  In addition, it allowed better air circulation. In winter, a layer of straw or other padding was placed on the ropes to provide insulation from the cold. The mattress went on top of that. Much better than sleeping on a cold floor! One person recently described the experience of sleeping on a rope bed being much like sleeping on an air mattress.  Very comfortable when she went to sleep, but all the air leaked out (ropes sagged) when she woke up. 

Rope beds fell out of favor in the mid-19th century upon the invention of the box spring.

Many attribute the saying “Sleep tight, don’t let the bed bugs bite” to the rope bed.  “Sleep tight” would mean the ropes were tight and the sleeper would be comfortable.  There is some controversy over this, as some suggest the saying was not used until the twentieth century. 

And now we have the finished product.  Cora Wing was the last inhabitant of the Fort House.  She sold her home to the Wing Family of America in 1942.  Her bedroom in the Fort House includes a freshly tightened rope bed (left).

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