Every Day Life in the Massachusetts Bay Colony

Every Day Life in the Massachusetts Bay Colony

Author:
George Francis Dow
Author:
George Francis Dow
Format:
epub
language:
English

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Author: Dow, George Francis, 1868-1936
Massachusetts — Social life and customs — To 1775
Every Day Life in the Massachusetts Bay Colony


EVERY DAY LIFE IN THE MASSACHUSETTS BAY COLONY


EVERY DAY LIFE
IN THE
MASSACHUSETTS BAY
COLONY

BY

George Francis Dow

Massachusetts Bay Colony Seal, 1675

ARNO PRESS
A New York Times Company New York / 1977


First Published in Boston, 1935 Reissued in 1967, by Benjamin Blom, Inc. Reprint Edition 1977 by Arno Press Inc. LC# 77-82079 ISBN 0-405-09125-7 Manufactured in the United States of America


PREFACE

A picture of some phases of life in the early days of the Massachusetts Bay Colony is presented in the following pages; lightly sketched, as much of the detail has become dim or has disappeared with the passage of years, it never having been placed on record even among the traditions. For why keep an exact record of doings with which every one is familiar? It follows that many of the every day happenings, the manners and customs of daily life—much of the intimate detail of existence in the Colony, in the seventeenth century, have been lost forever.
Few realize how modern are the furnishings and comforts of our present-day houses and how different was the home life of our ancestors. Chairs were unknown in ordinary English households until a generation or so before the sailing of the Mayflower. Hats were worn at meals and the use of table forks did not become general until the last of the 1600s. Food was placed in the mouth with the knife or the fingers. Washing the hands and face was not considered essential on rising from bed in the morning and few of the laboring classes in any country in Europe washed their faces every day.
This is a collection of source materials, somewhat digested, rather than a comprehensive, well-balanced narrative of daily life in the Colony—an impossible task at this late day. Moreover, the exact limitations of the Colonial Period have not been observed too closely as it has seemed desirable to include some material from newspapers and other later sources.


CONTENTS

I. The Voyage to New England 3
II. Their Early Shelters and Later Dwellings 13
III. How They Furnished Their Houses 28
IV. Counterpanes and Coverlets 53
V. Concerning Their Apparel 60
VI. Pewter in the Early Days 84
VII. The Farmhouse and the Farmer 91
VIII. Manners and Customs 101
IX. Sports and Games 110
X. Trades and Manufactures 120
XI. Concerning Shipping and Trade 143
XII. From Wampum to Paper Money 166
XIII. Herb Tea and the Doctor 174
XIV. Crimes and Punishments 199
Appendix
  A. Seventeenth-Century Building Agreements (1658-1688) 227
  B. Rev. Samuel Skelton’s Accompte (1629-1630) 239
  C. An Abstract of the Inventory of the Contents of the Shop of Capt. Joseph Weld of Roxbury, 1646-7 242
  D. Inventory of Goods in the Shop of Capt. Bozone Allen of Boston, 1652 244
  E. Manufactures and Other Products Listed in The Rates on Imports and Exports Established by the House of Parliament, June 24, 1660 246
  F. Inventory of Goods in the Warehouse of William Paine of Boston, Merchant, 1660 258
  G. Inventory of Goods in the Shop of Edward Wharton of Salem, 1678 262
  H. Inventory of the Contents of the Shop and House of Capt. George Corwin of Salem, 1685 270
Index 284

EVERY DAY LIFE IN THE MASSACHUSETTS BAY COLONY


Every Day Life in the Massachusetts Bay Colony


CHAPTER I

The Voyage To Massachusetts

“Before you come,” wrote Rev. Francis Higginson, the first minister at Salem, “be careful to be strongly instructed what things are fittest to bring with you for your more comfortable passage at sea, as also for your husbandry occasions when you come to the land. For when you are once parted with England you shall meete neither markets nor fayres to buy what you want. Therefore be sure to furnish yourselves with things fitting to be had before you come: as meale for bread, malt for drinke, woolen and linnen cloath, and leather for shoes, and all manner of carpenters tools, and a great deale of iron and steele to make nails, and locks for houses, and furniture for ploughs and carts, and glasse for windows, and many other things which were better for you to think of there than to want them here.”[1] Elsewhere the good pastor set down “A catalogue of such needfull things as every Planter doth or ought to provide to go to New England” in which he enumerated the necessary victuals per person for the first year, viz.:
“8 Bushels of meale, 2 Bushels of pease, 2 Bushels of Otemeale, 1 Gallon of Aquavitae, 1 Gallon of Oyle, 2 Gallons of Vinegar, 1 Firkin of Butter; also Cheese, Bacon, Sugar, Pepper, Cloves, Mace, Cinnamon, Nutmegs and Fruit.”
The household implements listed were: “1 Iron pot, 1 Kettel, 1 Frying pan, 1 Gridiron, 2 Skellets, 1 Spit, Wooden Platters, Dishes, Spoons and Trenchers.”

Mr. Higginson listed in detail the food supplies required per person for a year, including a good variety of spices; and also the clothing for a man, which included a Monmouth cap, a suit of canvas, a suit of freize, a suit of cloth, four pairs of shoes, three shirts and three falling bands, a pair of blankets, a coarse rug and seven ells of canvas with which to make a bed and bolster. The settler must also bring with him a complete armor, with a long piece, sword, bandoleer and ammunition, tools for cultivating the soil and for working wood, and also household implements—a limited equipment, comparable with the kit packed by the scout or mining prospector of more recent times.
On looking backward over the span of three centuries, Time lends an enchantment to these Puritan forefathers of present-day Massachusetts. Worshiping descendants have placed halos about their heads and the hardships of life during the early years have been magnified to the extent that these independent-minded Englishmen have become types of suffering fortitude—martyrs to the noble cause of free religion and self-government. That is a long tale, however, carrying with it many qualifications, and cannot be enlarged upon here. In what follows, it should always be borne in mind that aside from the Dutch at New Amsterdam and the small colony of Swedes on the Delaware, it was English stock that settled the American colonies and that these men and women brought with them a background of generations of English life. Their standards of living, manner of working their trades and natural aptitude for barter and commerce were all modeled upon English life and customs. It was only natural that this should be so. The ships crossed the Atlantic at comparatively frequent intervals and their holds came filled with all kinds of necessities and luxuries required by English standards of living—foodstuffs, fabrics and implements which the shops of London, Plymouth or Bristol could supply and which could not be produced by the American settlements. To obtain these refinements of life the colonists required only money or merchandise. Lumber, raw or manufactured, salted fish, beaver and peltry, plantation-built vessels and other products of the colonies, could be easily converted into the comforts of English life for sale in the shops across the Atlantic.
The Rev. Francis Higginson came over in the Talbot, a ship of three hundred tons burden, which was armed with nineteen guns and carried a crew of thirty men. She brought over one hundred passengers. Sailing with her was the ship George of three hundred tons, in which came fifty-two passengers and a stock of cattle, twelve mares, thirty cows and some goats. From the original records of the Massachusetts Bay Company in New England we learn what food supplies were shipped on board the Talbot for the American voyage. The amount was supposed to be sufficient for one hundred and thirty-five men for three months. As a matter of fact, the voyage from Gravesend to the anchorage in Salem harbor occupied sixty-eight days.
The ship carried 22 hogsheads of salted beef, 12,000 of bread (biscuits), 40 bushels of peas, 20 barrels of oatmeal, 450 pounds of salt fish, 10 firkins of butter and 1,200 pounds of cheese. To wash down this food they took on board 6 tons of water, 45 tons of beer, 20 gallons of brandy, 20 gallons of Spanish wine (Malaga and Canary), 2 tierces of beer vinegar and 20 gallons of olive oil.[2] During the voyage two died of smallpox, including a blasphemous seaman. A child died of consumption and a dog fell overboard and could not be recovered. The rest came through and reached Salem harbor in a good state of health.
The Massachusetts Bay Company seems to have maintained a “company store,” in the modern phrase, at which the colonists might obtain clothing, fabrics, foodstuffs and supplies of all sorts. When Governor Endecott came over in 1628, the Company sent extra clothing sufficient for one hundred men including three hundred suits of clothes, four hundred shirts and four hundred pairs of shoes. Two hundred of the suits of clothes consisted of doublet and hose made up of leather, lined with oiled skin leather, and fastened with hooks and eyes. The other suits were made up of Hampshire kerseys, the doublets lined with linen and the hose with skins. There were a hundred waistcoats of green cotton bound about with red tape, a hundred Monmouth caps, at two shillings each, five hundred red knit caps, milled, at five pence each, and one hundred black hats, lined in the brows with leather. This store supplied the natural wear and tear of headgear among the hundred men. The stock contained four hundred pairs of knit stockings, ten dozen pairs of Norwich garters, three hundred plain falling bands, two hundred handkerchiefs and a stock of sheer linen with which to made up other handkerchiefs. Scotch ticking was supplied for beds and bolsters, with wool to put therein. The blankets were of Welsh cotton and fifty rugs were sent over to place over the blankets, while mats were supplied “to lye vnder 50 bedds aboard shippe.”[3]
During the ten years that followed the settlement of the Massachusetts Bay, a continuous flow of emigration from England crossed the Atlantic in all kinds of available sailing craft.[4] The passage usually cost £5 per person and this included provisions provided by the ship such as “salt Beefe, Porke, salt Fish, Butter, Cheese, Pease, Pottage, Water-grewell, and such kinde of Victualls, with good Biskets, and sixe-shilling Beere; yet it will be necessary to carry some comfortable refreshing of fresh victuall. As first, for such as have ability, some Conserves, and good Clarret Wine to burne at Sea; Or you may have it by some of your Vintners or Wine-Coopers burned here, & put into Vessels, which will keepe much better than other burnt Wine, it is a very comfortable thing for the stomacke; or such as are Sea-sicke: Sallat-oyle likewise, Prunes are good to be stewed: Sugar for many things: White Biskets, and Egs, and Bacon, Rice, Poultry, and some weather-sheepe to Kill aboard the Ship: and fine flowre-baked meates, will keepe about a weeke or nine days at Sea. Iuyce of Lemons well put up, is good either to prevent or curre the Scurvy.[5] Here it must not be forgotten to carry small Skillets or Pipkins, and small frying-panns, to dresse their victualls in at Sea. For bedding, so it be easie, and cleanly, and warme, it is no matter how old or coarse it be for the use of the Sea: and so likewise for Apparrell, the oldest cloathes be the fittest, with a long coarse coate to keepe better things from the pitched ropes and plankes. Whosoever shall put to Sea in a stoute and well-conditioned ship, having an honest Master, and loving Seamen, shall not neede to feare, but he shall finde as good content at Sea, as at Land.[6]
The Mayflower shipped 15,000 brown biscuit and 5,000 white, that is, hard bread, i.e. crackers; also smoked or half-cooked bacon, as it came from the smokehouse, which was much liked with the biscuit and when fried was considered a delicacy. Haberdyne (dried salted codfish) was also a staple article of diet; also smoked herring. Potatoes were practically unknown at that time and the store of cabbages, turnips, onions, parsnips, etc., soon ran short and gave way to boiled mush, oatmeal, pease puddings, etc. Their beer was carried in iron-bound casks.
When passengers came aboard vessels bound for New England in those early days, how did they stow themselves and their possessions? The Mayflower had a length of about 110 feet and measured about 244 tons. It was originally intended that she should carry ninety passengers, men, women and children, but when the Speedwell put back, twelve of her passengers were taken aboard, and two boys were born during the voyage. The ship also carried a crew of twenty to twenty-five men, and officers and petty officers, about sixteen in number, would bring the total of those aboard to one hundred and forty or more. Goats, pigs, and poultry occupied pens on the upper or spar deck and in the boats carried there. Small sleeping cabins were provided for the ship’s officers and the more important passengers; most of the company slept in narrow bunks, in hammocks, and on pallet beds of canvas filled with straw, placed on the deck beneath the hammocks. The crew bunked in the forecastle. The chests and personal possessions of the passengers were stowed below on the lower deck where the food, water and ship’s stores were kept. On the Arbella, Governor Winthrop’s ship, the male passengers lodged on the gundeck and four men were “ordered to keep that room clean.”
The ship Whale, in 1632, brought thirty passengers, including Mr. Wilson and Mr. Dummer, all in good health, and seventy cows of which they lost but two. The ship Regard of Barnstaple, 200 tons, arrived in 1634, brought twenty passengers and about fifty cattle. The ship Society of Boston, N. E., 220 tons, with a crew of thirty-three men, arrived in 1663, with seventy-seven passengers. A notable example of fortitude is found in the voyage of the sloop Sparrow Hawk, that sailed from London in 1626 for Virginia and having been blown off her course was wrecked on Cape Cod.
She was only forty feet in length, had a breadth of beam of twelve feet and ten inches, and a depth of nine feet, seven and one-half inches. Bradford in his History records that she carried “many passengers in her and sundrie goods … the cheefe amongst these people was one Mr. Fells and Mr. Sibsie, which had many servants belonging unto them, many of them being Irish. Some others ther were yt had a servante or 2 a piece; but ye most were servants, and such as were ingaged to the former persons, who also had ye most goods … they had been 6 weeks at sea, and had no water, nor beere, nor any woode left, but had burnt up all their emptie caske.”[7] And this happened in the month of December!
In those days cooking on shore was done in an open fireplace. On shipboard, the larger vessels were provided with an open “hearth” made of cast iron sometimes weighing five hundred pounds and over. More commonly a hearth of bricks was laid on deck, over which stood an iron tripod from which the kettles hung. More crudely still a bed of sand filled a wooden frame and on this the fire was built, commonly of charcoal. On the ship Arbella, in which came Governor John Winthrop and his company, in 1630, the “cookroom” was near a hatchway opening into the hold. The captain, his officers and the principal men among the passengers dined in the “round house,” a cabin in the stern over the high quarter-deck. Lady Arbella Johnson and the gentlewomen aboard dined in the great cabin on the quarter-deck. The passengers ate their food wherever convenient on the main deck or in good weather, on the spar deck above. Years later, a new ship lying at anchor in Boston harbor was struck by lightning which “melted the top of the iron spindle of the vane of the mainmast” and passing through the long boat, which lay on the deck, killed two men and injured two others as “they were eating together off the Hen-Coop, near the Main Mast.”
The ship supplied each passenger with a simple ration of food distributed by the quartermasters, which each family or self arranged group of passengers cooked at a common hearth as opportunity and the weather permitted. Of necessity much food was served cold and beer was the principal drink. John Josselyn, Gent., who visited New England in 1638, records “the common proportion of Victualls for the Sea to a Mess, being 4 men, is as followeth:
“Two pieces of Beef, of 3 pound and ¼ per piece.
“Four pound of Bread.
“One pint ¼ of Pease.
“Four Gallons of Bear, with Mustard and Vinegar for three flesh dayes in the week.
“For four fish dayes, to each Mess per day, two pieces of Codd or Habberdine, making three pieces of fish.
“One quarter of a pound of Butter.
“Four pound of Bread.
“Three quarters of a pound of Cheese.
Bear is before.
Oatmeal per day, for 50 men, Gallon 1. and so proportionable for more or fewer.

“Thus you see the ship’s provision, is Beef or Porke, Fish, Butter, Cheese, Pease, Pottage, Water gruel, Bisket, and six-shilling Bear.
“For private fresh provision, you may carry with you (in case you, or any of yours s

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