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Customs and Fashions in Old New England
CUSTOMS AND FASHIONS IN OLD NEW ENGLAND
FROM the hour when the Puritan baby opened his eyes in bleak New England he had a Spartan struggle for life. In summer-time he fared comparatively well, but in winter the ill-heated houses of the colonists gave to him a most chilling and benumbing welcome. Within the great open fireplace, when fairly scorched in the face by the glowing flames of the roaring wood fire, he might be bathed and dressed, and he might be cuddled and nursed in warmth and comfort; but all his baby hours could not be spent in the Ingleside, and were he carried four feet away from the chimney on a raw winter's day he found in his new home a temperature that would make a modern infant scream with indignant discomfort or lie stupefied with cold.
Nor was he permitted even in the first dismal days of his life to stay peacefully within-doors. On the Sunday following his birth he was carried to the meeting-house to be baptized. When we consider the chill and gloom of those unheated, freezing churches, growing colder and damper and deadlier with every wintry blast — we wonder that grown persons even could bear the exposure. Still more do we marvel that tender babes ever lived through their cruel winter christenings when it is recorded that the ice had to be broken in the christening bowl. In villages and towns where the houses were all clustered around the meeting-house the baby Puritans did not have to be carried far to be baptized; but in country parishes, where the dwelling-houses were widely scattered, it might be truthfully recorded of many a chrisom-child: "Died of being baptized." One cruel parson believed in and practised infant immersion, fairly a Puritan torture, until his own child nearly lost its life thereby.
Dressed in fine linen and wrapped in a hand-woven christening blanket — a "bearing-cloth" — the unfortunate young Puritan was carried to church in the arms of the midwife, who was a person of vast importance and dignity as well as of service in early colonial days, when families of from fifteen to twenty children were quite the common quota. At the altar the baby was placed in his proud father's arms, and received his first cold and disheartening reception into the Puritan Church. In the pages of Judge Samuel Sewall's diary, to which alone we can turn for any definite or extended contemporary picture of colonial life in Puritan New England, as for knowledge of England of that date we turn to the diaries of Evelyn and Pepys, we find abundant proof that inclemency of weather was little heeded when religious customs and duties were in question. On January 22d, 1694, Judge Sewall thus records:
"A very extraordinary Storm by reason of the falling and driving of the Snow. Few women could get to Meeting. A child named Alexander was baptized in the afternoon."
He does not record Alexander's death in sequence. He writes thus of the baptism of a four days' old child of his own on February 6th, 1656:
"Between 3 & 4 P.M. Mr. Willard baptizeth my Son whom I named Stephen. Day was louring after the storm but not freezing. Child shrank at the water but Cry'd not. His brother Sam shew'd the Midwife who carried him the way to the Pew. I held him up."
And still again on April 8th, 1677, of another of his children when but six days old:
"Sabbath day, rainy and stormy in the morning but in the afternoon fair and sunshine though with a Blustering Wind. So Eliz. Weeden the Midwife brought the Infant to the Third Church when Sermon was about half done in the Afternoon."
Poor little Stephen and Hull and Joseph, shrinking away from the icy water, but too benumbed to cry! Small wonder that they quickly yielded up their souls after the short struggle for life so gloomily and so coldly begun. Of Judge Sewall's fourteen children but three survived him, a majority dying in infancy; and of fifteen children of his friend Cotton Mather but two survived their father.
This religious ordeal was but the initial step in the rigid system of selection enforced by every detail of the manner of life in early New England. The mortality among infants was appallingly large; and the natural result — the survival of the fittest — may account for the present tough endurance of the New England people.
Nor was the christening day the only Lord's Day when the baby graced the meeting-house. Puritan mothers were all church lovers and strict churchgoers, and all the members of the household were equally church-attending; and if the mother went to meeting the baby had to go also. I have heard of a little wooden cage or frame in the meeting-house to hold Puritan babies who were too young, or feeble, or sleepy to sit upright.
Of the dress of these Puritan infants we know but little. Linen formed the chilling substructure of their attire — little, thin, linen, short-sleeved, low-necked shirts. Some of them have been preserved, and with their tiny rows of hemstitching and drawn work and the narrow edges of thread-lace are pretty and dainty even at the present day. At the rooms of the Essex Institute in Salem may be seen the shirt and mittens of Governor Bradford's infancy. The ends of the stiff, little, linen mittens have evidently been worn off by the active friction of baby fingers and then been replaced by patches of red and white cheney or calico. The gowns are generally rather shapeless, large-necked sacks of linen or dimity, made and embroidered, of course, entirely by hand, and drawn into shape by narrow, cotton ferret or linen bobbin. In summer and winter the baby's head was always closely covered with a cap, or "biggin" often warmly wadded, which was more comforting in winter than comfortable in summer.
The seventeenth century baby slept, as does his nineteenth century descendant, in a cradle, frequently made of heavy panelled or carved wood, and always deeply hooded to protect him from the constant drafts. Twins had cradles with hoods at both ends. Judge Sewall paid sixteen shillings for a wicker cradle for one of his many children. The baby was carried upstairs, when first moved, with silver and gold in his hand to bring him wealth and cause him always to rise in the world, just as babies are carried upstairs by superstitious nurses nowadays, and he had "scarlet laid on his head to keep him from harm." He was dosed with various nostrums that held full sway in the nursery even until Federal days, "Daffy's Elixir" being perhaps the most widely known, and hence the most widely harmful. It was valuable enough (in one sense of the word) to be sharply fought over in old England in Queen Anne's time, and to have its disputed ownership the cause of many lawsuits. Advertisements of it frequently appear in the Boston News Letter and other New England newspapers of early date.
The most common and largely dosed diseases of early infancy were, I judge from contemporary records, to use the plain terms of the times, worms, rickets, and fits. Curiously enough, Sir Thomas Browne, in the latter part of the eighteenth century, wrote of the rickets as a new disease, scarce so old as to afford good observation, and wondered whether it existed in the American plantations. In old medical books which were used by the New England colonists I find manifold receipts for the cure of these infantile diseases. Snails form the basis, or rather the chief ingredient, of many of these medicines. Indeed, I should fancy that snails must have been almost exterminated in the near vicinity of towns, so largely were they sought for and employed medicinally. There are several receipts for making snail-water, or snail-pottage; here is one of the most pleasing ones:
"The admirable and most famous Snail water. — Take a peck of garden Shel Snails, wash them well in Small Beer, and put them in an oven till they have done making a Noise, then take them out and wipe them well from the green froth that is upon them, and bruise them shels and all in a Stone Mortar, then take a Quart of Earthworms, scowre them with salt, slit them, and wash well with water from their filth, and in a stone Mortar beat them in pieces, then lay in the bottom of your distilled pot Angelica two handfuls, and two handfuls of Celandine upon them, to which put two quarts of Rosemary flowers, Bearafoot, Agrimony, red Dock roots, Bark of Barberries, Betony wood Sorrel of each two handfuls, Rue one handful; then lay the Snails and Worms on top of the hearbs and flowers, then pour on three Gallons of the Strongest Ale, and let it stand all night, in the morning put in three ounces of Cloves beaten, sixpennyworth of beaten Saffron, and on the top of them six ounces of shaved Hartshorne, then set on the Limbeck, and close it with paste and so receive the water by pintes, which will be nine in all, the first is the strongest, whereof take in the morning two spoonfuls in four spoonfuls of small Beer, the like in the Afternoon."
Truly, the poor rickety child deserved to be cured. Snails also were used externally:
"To anoint the Ricketed Childs Limbs and to recover it in a short time, though the child be so lame as to go upon crutches:
"Take a peck of Garden Snailes and bruse them, put them into a course Canvass bagg, and hang it up, and set a dish under to receive the liquor that droppeth from them, wherewith anoint the Childe in every Joynt which you perceive to be weak before the fire every morning and evening. This I have known make a Patient Childe that was extream weak to go alone using it only a week time."
There were also "unguents to anoynt the Ricketted Childs breast," and various drinks to be given "to the patient childe fasting," as they termed him in what appears to us a half-comic, though wholly truthful appellation.
For worms and fits there were some frightful doses of senna and rhubarb and snails, with a slight redeeming admixture of prunes; and as for "Collick" and "Stomack-Ach," I feel sure every respectable Puritan patient child died rather than swallow the disgusting and nauseous compounds that were offered to him for his relief.
Puritan babies also wore medical ornaments, "anodyne necklaces." I find them advertised in the Boston Evening Post as late as 1771 — "Anodine Necklaces for the Easy breeding of Childrens Teeth," worn as nowadays children wear strings of amber beads to avert croup.
Another medicine "to make childrens teeth come without Paine" was this: "Take the head of a Hare boyled a walm or two or roahed; and with the braine thereof mingle Honey and butter and therewith anoynt the Childes gums as often as you please." Still further advice was to scratch the child's gums with an osprey bone, or to hang fawn's teeth or wolf's fangs around his neck — an ugly necklace.
The first scene of gayety upon which the chilled baby opened his sad eyes was when his mother was taken from her great bed and "laid on a pallat," and the heavy curtains and valances of harrateen or serge were hung within and freshened with "curteyns and vallants of cheney or calico." Then, or a day or two later, the midwife, the nurses, and all the neighboring women who had helped with advice or work in the household during the first week or two of the child's life, were bidden to a dinner. This was also a French fashion, as "Les Caquets de l'Accouchée," the popular book of the time of Louis XIII., proves.
Doubtless at this New England amphidromia the "groaning beer" was drunk, though Sewall "brewed my Wives Groaning Beer" two months before the child was born. By tradition, "groaning cake," to be used at the time of the birth of the child, and given to visitors for a week or two later, also was made; but I find no allusion to it under that name in any of the diaries of the times. At this women's dinner good substantial viands were served. "Women din'd with rost Beef and minc'd Pyes, good Cheese and Tarts." When another Sewall baby was scarcely two weeks old, seventeen women were dined at Judge Sewall's on equally solid meats, "Boil'd Pork, Beef, Fowls, very good Rost Beef, Turkey, Pye and Tarts." Madam Downing gave her women "plenty of sack and claret." A survival of this custom existed for many years in the fashion of drinking Caudle at the bedside of the mother.
As might be expected of a man who diverted himself in attending the dissection of an Indian, which gruesome gayety exhilarated him into spending a tidy sum — for him — on drinks and feeing "the maid;" and in visiting his family tomb; and who, when he took his wife on a pleasure trip to Dorchester "to eat cherries and rasberries," spent his entire day within-doors reading that cheerful book, Calvin on Psalms; — in the house of such a pleasure-seeker but small provision was made for the entertainment or amusement of his children. They were sometimes led solemnly to the house of some old, influential, or pious person, who formally gave them his blessing. He took them also to some of the funerals of the endless procession of dead Bostonians that files sombrely through the pages of his diary, to the funeral of their baby brother, little Stephen Sewall, when "Sam and his sisters (who were about five and six years old) cryed much coming home and at home, so that I could hardly quiet them. It seems they looked into Tomb, and Sam said he saw a great Coffin there, his Grandfathers." These were not the only tears that Sam and Betty and Hannah shed through fear of death. When Betty was a year older her father wrote:
"It falls to my daughter Elizabeths Share to read the 24 of Isaiah which she doth with many Tears not being very well, and the Contents of the Chapter and Sympathy with her draw Tears from me also."
Two days later, Sam, who was then about ten years old, also showed evidence of the dejection of soul around him.
"Richard Dumer, a flourishing youth of 9 years old dies of the Small Pocks. I tell Sam of it and what need be had to prepare for Death, and therefore to endeavor really to pray, when he said over the Lord's Prayer: He seemed not much to mind, eating an Aple; but when he came to say Our Father he burst out into a bitter Cry and said he was afraid he should die. I pray'd with him and read Scriptures comforting against Death, as O death where is thy sting, &c. All things yours. Life and Immortality brought to light by Christ."
In January, 1695, Judge Sewall writes:
"When I came in, past 7 at night, my wife met me in the Entry and told me Betty had surprised them. I was surprised with the Abruptness of the Relation. It seems Betty Sewall had given some signs of dejection and sorrow; but a little while after dinner she burst out into an amazing cry, which caus'd all the family to cry too; Her Mother ask'd the reason, she gave none; at last said she was afraid she should goe to Hell, her Sins were not pardon'd. She was first wounded by my reading a sermon of Mr. Norton's, Text, Ye shall seek me and shall not find me. And those words in the sermon, Ye shall seek me and die in your Sins ran in her mind and terrified her greatly. And staying at home she read out of Mr. Cotton Mather — Why hath Satan filled thy Heart, which increased her Fear. Her Mother asked her whether she pray'd. She answered yes but fear'd her prayers were not heard because her sins were not pardon'd."
A fortnight later he writes:
"Betty comes into me as soon as I was up and tells me the disquiet she had when wak'd; told me she was afraid she should go to Hell, was like Spira, not Elected. Ask'd her what I should pray for, she said that God would pardon her Sin and give her a new heart. I answer'd her Fears as well as I could and pray'd with many Tears on either part. Hope God heard us."
Three months later still he makes this entry:
"Betty can hardly read her chapter for weeping, tells me she is afraid she is gon back, does not taste that sweetness in reading the Word which once she did; fears that what was once upon her is worn off. I said what I could to her and in the evening pray'd with her alone."
Poor little "wounded" Betty! She did not die in childhood as she feared, but lived to pass through many gloomy hours of morbid introspection and of overwhelming fear of death, to marry and become the mother of eight children; but was always buffeted with fears and tormented with doubts, which she despairingly communicated to her solemn and far from comforting father; and at last she faced the dread foe Death at the age of thirty-five. Judge Sewall wrote sadly the day of her funeral: "I hope God has delivered her now from all her fears;" every one reading of her bewildered and depressed spiritual life must sincerely hope so with him. In truth, the Puritan children were, as Judge Sewall said, "stirred up dreadfully to seek God."
Here is the way that one of Sewall's neighbors taught his little daughter when she was four years old:
"I took my little daughter Katy into my Study and there I told my child That I am to Dy Shortly and Shee must, when I am Dead, Remember every Thing, that I now said unto her, I sett before her the sinful condition of her Nature and I charged her to pray in secret places every day. That God for the sake of Jesus Christ would give her a New Heart. I gave her to understand that when I am taken from her she must look to meet with more Humbling Afflictions than she does now she has a Tender Father to provide for her." I hardly understand why Cotton Mather, who was really very gentle to his children, should have taken upon himself to trouble this tender little blossom with dread of his death. He lived thirty years longer, and, indeed, survived sinful little Katy. Another child of his died when two years and seven months old, and made a most edifying end in prayer and praise. His pious and incessant teachings did not, however, prove wholly satisfactory in their results, especially as shown in the career of his son Increase, or "Cressy."
No age appeared to be too young for these remarkable exhibitions of religious feeling. Phebe Bartlett was barely four years old when she passed through her amazing ordeal of conversion, a painful example of religious precocity. The "pious and ingenious Jane Turell" could relate many stories out of the Scriptures before she was two years old, and was set upon a table "to show off," in quite the modern fashion. "Before she was four years old she could say the greater part of the Assembly's Catechism, many of the Psalms, read distinctly, and make pertinent remarks on many things she read. She asked many astonishing questions about divine mysteries." It is a truly comic anticlimax in her father's stilted letters to her to have him end his pious instructions with this advice: "And as you love me do not eat green apples."
Of the demeanor of children to their parents naught can be said but praise. Respectful in word and deed, every letter, every record shows that the young Puritans truly honored their fathers and mothers. It were well for them thus obey the law of God, for by the law of the land high-handed disobedience of parents was punishable by death. I do not find this penalty ever was paid, as it was under the sway of grim Calvin, a fact which redounds to the credit both of justice and youth in colonial days.
It was not strange that Judge Sewall, always finding in natural events and appearances symbols of spiritual and religious signification, should find in his children painful types of original sin.
"Nov. 6, 1692. — Joseph threw a knop of Brass and hit his Sister Betty on the forehead so as to make it bleed; and upon which, and for his playing at Prayer-time and eating when Return Thanks, I whip'd him pretty smartly. When I first went in (call'd by his Grandmother) he sought to shadow and hide himself from me behind the bead of the Cradle; which gave me the sorrowful remembrance of Adam's carriage."
It was natural, too, that Judge Sewall's children should be timid; they ran in terror to their father's chamber at the approach of a thunderstorm; and, living in mysterious witchcraft days, they fled screaming through the hall, and their mother with them, at the sudden entrance of a neighbor with a rug over her head.
All youthful Puritans were not as godly as the young Sewalls. Nathaniel Mather wrote thus in his diary:
"When very young I went astray from God and my mind was altogether taken with vanities and follies: such as the remembrance of them doth greatly abase my soul within me. Of the manifold sins which then I was guilty of, none so sticks upon me as that, being very young, I was whitling on the Sabbath-day; and for fear of being seen, I did it behind the door. A great reproach of God! a specimen of that atheism I brought into the world with me!"
It is satisfactory to add that this young prig of a Mather died when nineteen years of age. Except in Jonathan Edwards's "Narratives of Surprising Conversions," no more painful examples of the Puritanical religious teaching of the young can be found than the account given in the Magnalia of various young souls in whom the love of God was remarkably budding, especially this same unwholesome Nathaniel Mather. His diary redounded in dismal groans and self-abasement: he wrote out in detail his covenants with God. He laid out his minute rules and directions in his various religious duties. He lived in prayer thrice a day, and "did not slubber over his prayers with hasty amputations, but wrestled in them for a good part of an hour." He prayed in his sleep. He fasted. He made long lists of sins, long catalogues of things forbidden, "and then fell a-stoning them." He "chewed mach on excellent sermons." He not only read the Bible, but "obliged himself to the vigor of nature being consumed in ye very budd as it were. But that which was more lamentable and of all sorrowes most heavie to be borne, was, that many of their children, by these occasions, and ye great licentiousness of youth in ye countrie, and ye manifold temptations of the place, were drawn away by evill examples into extravagante and dangerous courses, getting ye raines off their neks and departing from their parents. Some became souldiers, others took upon them for viages by sea, and other some worse courses, tending to disolutenes and the danger of their soules, to ye great greef of their parents and dishonor of God. So that they saw their posteritie would be in danger to degenerate and be corrupted."
Though Judge Sewall could control and restrain his children, his power waxed weak over his backsliding and pleasure-seeking grandchildren, and they annoyed him sorely. Sam Hirst, the son of poor timid Betty, lived with his grandfather for a time, and on April 1st, 1719, the Judge wrote:
"In the morning I dehorted Sam Hirst and Grindall Rawson from playing Idle tricks because 'twas first of April: They were the greatest fools that did so. N. E. Men came hither to avoid anniversary days, the keeping of them such as the 25th of Decr. How displeasing must it be to God the give of our Time to keep anniversary days to play the fool with ourselves and others."
Ten years earlier the Judge had written to the Boston schoolmaster, begging him to "insinuate into the Scholars the Defiling and Provoking nature of such a Foolish Practice" as playing tricks on April first.
Sam was but a sad losel, and vexed him in other and more serious matters. On March 15th, 1725, the Judge wrote:
"Sam Hirst got up betime in the morning, and took Ben Swett with him and went into the Comon to play Wicket. Went before anybody was up, left the door open: Sam came not to prayer at which I was much displeased."
Two days later he writes thus peremptorily of his grandson:
"Did the like again, but took not Ben with him. I told him he could not lodge here practicing thus. So he log'd elsewhere."
Though Boston boys played "wicket" on Boston Common, I fancy the young Puritans had, as a rule, few games, and were allowed few amusements. They apparently brought over some English pastimes with them, for in 1657 it was found necessary to pass this law in Boston:
"Forasmuch as sundry complaints are made that several persons have received hurt by boys and young men playing at football in the streets, these therefore are to enjoin that none be found at that game in any of the streets, lanes or enclosures of this town under the penalty of twenty shillings for every such offence."
One needless piece of cruelty which was exercised toward boys by Puritan lawgivers is shown by one of the enjoined duties of the tithingman. He was ordered to keep all boys from swimming in the water. I do not doubt that the boys swam, since each tithingman had ten families under his charge; but of course they could not swim as often nor as long as they wished. From the brother sport of winter skating, they were not debarred; and they went on thin ice, and fell through and were drowned, just as country boys are nowadays. Judge Sewall wrote on November 30th, 1696:
"Many scholars go in the afternoon to Scate on Fresh Pond. Wm. Maxwell and John Eyre fall in, are drowned."
In the New England Weekly Journal of January 15th, 1728, we read:
On Monday last Two Young Persons who were Brothers, viz Mr. George and Nathan Howell diverting themselves by Skating at the bottom of the Common, the Ice breaking under them they were both drowned;" and in the same journal of two weeks later date we find record of another death by drowning.
"A young man, viz, Mr. Comfort Poster, skating on the ice from Squantum Point to Dorchester, fell into the Water & was drown'd. He was about 16 or 18 years of age."
Advertisements of "Mens and Boys Scates" appear in the Boston Gazette, of 1749, and the Boston Evening Post, of 1758. The February News Letter of 1769, has a notice of the sale of "Best Holland Scates of Different Sizes."
In the list of goods on board a prize taken by a privateersman in 1712 were "Boxes of Toys." Higginson, writing to his brother in 1695, told him that "toys would sell if in small quantity." In exceeding small quantity one would fancy. In 1743 the Boston News Letter advertised "English and Dutch Toys for Children." Not until October, 1771, on the lists of the Boston shop-keepers, who seemed to advertise and to sell every known article of dry goods, hardware, house furnishing, ornament, dress and food, came that single but pleasure-filled item "Boys Marbles." "Battledores and Shuttles" appeared in 1761. I know that no little maids could ever have lived without dolls, not even the serious-minded daughters of the Pilgrims; but the only dolls that were advertised in colonial newspapers were the "London drest babys" of milliners and mantua-makers, that were sent over to serve as fashion plates for modish New England dames. A few century-old dolls still survive Revolutionary times, wooden-faced monstrosities, shapeless and mean, but doubtless well-beloved and cherished in the days of their youth.
As years rolled by and eighteenth century frivolity and worldliness took the place of Puritan sobriety and religion, New England children shared with their elders in that growing love of amusement, which found but few and inadequate methods of expression in the lives of either old or young. In the year 1771 there was sent from Nova Scotia a young miss of New England parentage — Anna Green Winslow — to live with her aunt and receive a "finishing" in Boston schools. For the edification of her parents and her own practice in penmanship, this bright little maid kept a diary, of which portions have been preserved, and which I do not hesitate to say is the most sprightly record of the daily life of a girl of her age that I have ever read. There is not a dull word in it, and every page has some statement of historical value. She was twelve years old shortly after the diary was begun, and she then had a "coming-out party" — she became a "miss in her teens." To this rout only young ladies of her own age and in the most elegant Boston society were invited — no rough Boston boys. Miss Anna has written for us more than one prim and quaint little picture of similar parties — here is one of her clear and stiff little descriptions; and a graphic account also of the evening dress of a young girl at that time.
"I, have now the pleasure to give you the result Viz; a very genteel well regulated assembly which we had at Mr. Soleys last evening, Miss Soley being mistress of the ceremony. Miss Soley desired me to assist Miss Hannah in making out a list of guests which I did. Sometime since I wrote all the invitation cards. There was a large company assembled in a large handsome upper room in the new end of the house. We had two fiddles and I had the honor to open the diversion of the evening in a minuet with Miss Soley. Here follows a list of the company as we form'd for country-dancing. Miss Soley and Miss Anna Green Winslow; Miss Calif and Miss Scott; Miss Williams and Miss McLarth; Miss Codman and Miss Winslow; Miss Ives and Miss Coffin; Miss Scollay and Miss Bella Coffin; Miss Waldo and Miss Quinsey; Miss Glover and Miss Draper; Miss Hubbard and Miss Cregur (usually pronounced Kicker) and two Miss Sheafs were invited but were sick or sorry and beg'd to be excused.
"There was a little Miss Russel and little ones of the family present who could not dance. As spectators there were Mr. & Mrs. Deming, Mr. & Mrs. Sweetser, Mr. and Mrs. Soley, Mr. & Mrs. Claney, Mrs. Draper, Miss Orice, Miss Hannah — our treat was nuts, raisins, cakes, Wine, punch hot and cold all in great plenty. We had a very agreeable evening from 5 to 10 o'clock. For variety we woo'd a widow, hunted the whistle, threaded the needle, & while the company was collecting we diverted ourselves with playing of pawns — no rudeness Mamma I assure you. Aunt Deming desires you would particularly observe that the elderly part of the Company were Spectators only, that they mixed not in either of the above-described scenes.
"I was dressed in my yelloe coat, black bib and apron, black feathers on my head, my paste comb and all my paste garnet marquasett & jet pins, together with my silver plume — my locket, rings, black collar round my neck, black mitts and yards of blue ribbon (black and blue is high tast) striped tucker & ruffles (not my best) and my silk shoes completed my dress."
How clear the picture: can you not see it — the low raftered chamber softly alight with candles on mantel-tree and in sconces; the two fiddles soberly squeaking: the rows of demure little Boston maids, all of New England Brahmin blood, in high rolls, with nodding plumes and sparkling combs, with ruffles and mitts, little miniatures of their elegant mammas, soberly walking and curtseying through the stately minuet "with no rudeness I can assure you;" and discreetly partaking of hot and cold punch afterward.
There came at this time to another lady in this Boston court circle a grandchild eight years of age, from the Barbadoes, to also attend Boston schools. Missy left her grandmother's house in high dudgeon because she could not have wine at all her meals. And her parents upheld her, saying she had been brought up a lady and must have wine when she wished it. Evidently Cobbett's statement of the free drinking of wine, cider, and beer by American children was true — as Anna Green Winslow's "treat" would also show.
Though Puritan children had few recreations and amusements, they must have enjoyed a very cheerful, happy home life. Large families abounded. Cotton Mather says:
"One woman had not less than twenty-two children, and another had no less than twenty-three children by one husband whereof nineteen lived to mans estate, and a third who was mother to seven and twenty children."
Sir William Phips was one of twenty-six children, all with the same mother. Printer Green had thirty children. The Rev. John Sherman, of Watertown, had twenty-six children by two wives — twenty by his last wife. The Rev. Samuel Willard, first minister to Groton, had twenty children, and his father had seventeen children. Benjamin Franklin was one of a family of seventeen. Charles Francis Adams has told us of the fruitful vines of old Braintree.
The little Puritans rejoiced in some very singular names, the offspring of Roger Clap being good examples: Experience, Waitstill, Preserved, Hopestill, Wait, Thanks, Desire, Unite, and Supply.
Of the food given Puritan children we know but little. In an old almanac of the eighteenth century I find a few sentences of advice as to the "Easy Rearing of Children." The writer urges that boys as soon as they can run alone go without hats to harden them, and if possible sleep without nightcaps, as soon as they have any hair. He advises always to wet children's feet in cold water and thus make them (the feet) tough, and also to have children wear thin-soled shoes "that the wet may come freely in." He says young children should never be allowed to drink cold drinks, but should always have their beer a little heated; that it is "best to feed them on Milk, Pottage, Flummery, Bread, and Cheese, and not let them drink their beer till they have first eaten a piece of Brown Bread." Fancy a young child nowadays making a meal of brown bread and cheese with warm beer! He suggests that they drink but little wine or liquor, and sleep on quilts instead of feathers. In such ways were reared our Revolutionary heroes.
Of the dazzling and beautiful array in our modern confectioners' shops little Priscilla and Hate-Evil could never have dreamed, even in visions. A few comfit-makers made "Lemon Pil Candy, Angelica Candy, Candy'd Eryngo Root & Carroway Comfits;" and a few sweetmeats came to port in foreign vessels, "Sugar'd Corrinder Seeds," "Glaz'd Almonds," and strings of rock-candy. Whole jars of the latter adamantine, crystalline, saccharine delight graced the shelves of many a colonial cupboard. And I suppose favored Salem children, the happy sons and daughters of opulent epicurean Salem shipowners, had even in colonial days Black Jacks and Salem Gibraltars. The first-named dainties, though dearly loved by Salem lads and lasses, always bore — indeed, do still bear — too strong a flavor of liquorice, too haunting a medicinal suggestion to be loved by other children of the Puritans. As an instance, on a large scale, of the retributive fate that always pursues the candy-eating wight, I state that the good ship Ann and Hope brought into Providence one hundred years ago, as part of her cargo, eight boxes of sweetmeats and twenty tubs of sugar candy, and on the succeeding voyage sternly fetched no sweets, but brought instead forty-eight boxes of rhubarb.
The children doubtless had prunes, figs, "courance," and I know they had "Raisins of the Sun" and "Bloom Raisins" galore. Advertisements of all these fruits appear in the earliest newspapers. Though "China Oranges" were frequently given to and by Judge Sewall, I have not found them advertised for sale till Revolutionary times, and I fancy few children had then tasted them. The native and domestic fruits were plentiful, but many of them were poor. The apples and pears and Kentish cherries were better than the peaches and grapes. The children gathered the summer berries in season, and the autumn's plentiful and spicy store of boxberries, checkerberries, teaberries or gingerbread berries with October's brown nuts. There were gingerbread and "cacks" even in the earliest days; but they were not sold in unlimited numbers. The omnipotent hand of Puritan law laid its firm hold on their manufacture. Judge Sewall often speaks, however, of Banbury cakes and Meers cakes; Meer was a celebrated Boston baker and confectioner. The colonists had also egg cakes and marchepanes and maccaroons.
There were children's books in those early days; not numerous, however, nor varied was the assortment from which Puritan youth in New England could choose. Here is the advertisement of one:
"Small book in easey verse Very Suitable for children, entitled The Prodigal Daughter or the Disobedient Lady Reclaimed: adorned with curious cuts, Price Sixpence."
Somehow, from the suggestion of the title we should hardly fancy this to be an edifying book for children. John Cotton supplied them with "Spiritual Milk for Boston Babes in Either England: Drawn out of the Breasts of both Testaments for their Souls Nourishment. But may be of like Use to Any Children."
Another book was published in many editions and sold in large numbers, and much extolled by contemporary ministers. It was entitled:
"A Token for Children. Being the exact account of the Conversion & Holy & Exemplary Lives of several Young Children by James Janeway."
To it was added by Cotton Mather:
"Some examples of Children in whom the fear of God was remarkably Budding before they died; in several parts of New England."
Cotton Mather also wrote: "Good Lessons for Children, in Verse." Other books were, "A Looking Glasse for Children," "The life of Elizabeth Butcher, the Early Piety series;" "The life of Mary Paddock, who died at the age of nine;" "The Childs new Plaything" (which was a primer); "Divine Songs in Easy Language;" and "Praise out of the Mouth of Babes;" "A Particular Account of some Extraordinary Pious Motions and devout Exercises observed of late in many Children in Siberia." Also accounts of pious motions of children in Silesia and of Jewish children in Berlin. One oasis appeared in the desert waste — after the first quarter of the eighteenth century Puritan children had Mother Goose.
By 1787, in Isaiah Thomas' list of "books Suitable for Children of all ages," we find less serious books.
"Tom Jones Abridged," "Peregrine Pickle Abridged," "Vice in its Proper Shape," "The Sugar Plumb," "Bag of Nuts Ready Crack'd," "Jacky Dandy," "History of Billy and Polly Friendly." Among the "Chapman's Books for the Edification and Amusement of young Men and Women who are not able to Purchase those of a Higher Price" are, "The Amours and Adventures of Two English Gentlemen in Italy," "Fifteen Comforts of Matrimony," "The Lovers Secretary," and "Laugh and be Fat." Another advertisement of about the same date contained, among the books for misses, "The Masqued Wedding," "The Elopement," "The Passionate Lovers," "Sketches of the History and Importance of the Fair Sex," "Original Love Letters," and "Six Dialogues of Young Misses Relating to Matrimony;" thus showing that love-stories were not abhorred by the descendants of the Puritans.
In such an exceptional plantation as New England, a colony peopled not by the commonplace and average Englishmen of the day, but by men of special intelligence, and almost universally of good education, it was inevitable that early and profound attention should be paid to the establishment of schools. Cotton Mather said in 1685, in his sermon before the Governor and his Council; "the Youth in this country are verie Sharp and early Ripe in their Capacities." So quickly had New England air developed the typical New England traits. And the early schoolmasters, too, may be thanked for their scholars' early ripeness and sharpness.
At an early age both girls and boys were sent to dame-schools, where, if girls were not taught much book-learning, they were carefully instructed in all housewifely arts. They learned to cook; and to spin and weave and knit, not only for home wear but for the shops; even little children could spin coarse tow string and knit coarse socks for shop-keepers. Fine knitting was well paid for, and was a matter of much pride to the knitter, and many curious and elaborate stitches were known; the herring-bone and the fox-and-geese-patterns being prime favorites. Initials were knit into mittens and stockings; one clever young miss of Shelburne, N. H., could knit the alphabet and a verse of poetry into a single pair of mittens. Fine embroidery was to New England women and girls a delight. The Indians at an early day called the English women "lazie Squaes" when they saw the latter embroidering coifs instead of digging in the fields. Mr. Brownell, the Boston schoolmaster in 1716, taught "Young Gentle Women and Children all sorts of Fine Works as Feather works, Filigree, and Painting on Glass, Embroidering a new Way, Turkey-work for Handkerchiefs two new Ways, fine new Fashion purses, flourishing and plain Work." We find a Newport dame teaching "Sewing, Marking, Queen Stitch and Knitting," and a Boston shopkeeper taking children and young ladies to board and be taught "Dresden and Embroidery on gauze, Tent Stitch and all sorts of Colour'd Work." Crewels, embroidery, silks, and chenilles appear frequently in early newspapers. Many of the fruits of these careful lessons of colonial childhood remain to us quaint samplers, bed hangings, petticoats and pockets, and frail lace veils and scarfs. Miss Susan Hayes Ward has resuscitated from these old embroideries a curious stitch used to great effect on many of them, and employed also on ancient Persian embroideries, and she points out that the designs are Persian also. This stitch was not known in the modern English needlework schools; but just as good old Elizabethan words and phrases are still used in New England, though obsolete in England, so this curious old stitch has lived in the colony when lost in the mother country; or, it may be possible, since it is found so frequently in the vicinity of Plymouth, that the Pilgrims obtained both stitch and designs in Holland, whose greater commerce with the Orient may have supplied to deft English fingers the Persian pattern.
Other accomplishments were taught to girls; "cutting of Escutcheons" and paper flowers — "Papyrotamia" it was ambitiously called — and painting on velvet; and quilt-piecing in a hundred different and difficult designs. They also learned to make bone Iace with pillow and bobbins.
The boys were thrust at once into that iron-handed but wholly wise grasp — the Latin Grammar. The minds trained in earliest youth in that study, as it was then taught, have made their deep and noble impress on this nation. The study of mathematics was, until well into this century, a hopeless maze to many youthful minds. Doubtless the Puritans learned multiplication tables and may have found them, as did Marjorie Fleming, "a horrible and wretched plaege," though no pious little New Englanders would have dared to say as she did, "You cant conceive it the most Devilish thing is 8 times 8 and 7 times 7, it is what nature itself can't endure."
Great attention was paid to penmanship. Spelling was nought if the "wrighting" were only fair and flowing. I have never read any criticism of teachers by either parents or town officers save on the one question of writing. How deeply children were versed or grounded in the knowledge of the proper use of "Simme colings nots of interiogations peorids and commoes," I do not know. A boundless freedom apparently was given, as was also in orthography—if we judge from the letters of the times, where "horrid false spells," as Cotton Mather called them, abound.
It is natural to dwell on the religious teaching of Puritan children, because so much of their education had a religious element in it. They must have felt, like Tony Lumpkin, "tired of having good dinged into 'em." Their primers taught religious rhymes; they read from the Bible, the Catechism, the Psalm Book, and that lurid rhymed horror "The Day of Doom;" they parsed, too, from these universal books. How did they parse these lines from the Bay Psalm Book?
"And sayd He would not them waste; had not
Moses stood (whom he chose)
'fore him th' breach; to turn his wrath
lest that he should waste those."
Their "horn books" —
"books of stature awe
Which with pellucid horn secured are
To save from fingers wet the letters fair,"
those framed and behandled sheets of semitransparent horn, which were worn hanging at the side and were studied, as late certainly as the year 1715 by children of the Pilgrims, also managed to instil with the alphabet some religious words or principles. Usually the Lord's Prayer formed part of the printed text. Though horn-books are referred to in Sewall's diary and in the letters of Wait Still Winthrop, and appear on stationers' and booksellers' lists at the beginning of the eighteenth century, I do not know of the preservation of a single specimen to our own day.
The schoolhouses were simple dwellings, often tumbling down and out of repair. The Roxbury teacher wrote in 1681:
"Of inconveniences [in the schoolhouse] I shall mention no other but the confused and shattered and nastie posture that it is in, not fitting for to reside in, the glass broke, and thereupon very raw and cold; the floor very much broken and torn up to kindle fires, the hearth spoiled, the seats some burned and others out of kilter, that one bad well-nigh as goods keep school in a hog stie as in it."
This schoolhouse had been built and furnished with some care in 1652, as this entry in the town records shows:
"The feoffes agreed with Daniel Welde that he provide convenient benches with forms, with tables for the scholars, and a conveniente seate for the scholmaster, a Deske to put the Dictionary on and shelves to lay up bookes."
The schoolmaster "promised and engaged to use his best endeavour both by precept and example to instruct in all Scholasticall morall and Theologicall discipline the children so far as they be capable, all A. B. C. Darians excepted." He was paid in corn, barley or peas, the value of £25 per annum, and each child, through his parents or guardians, supplied half a cord of wood for the schoolhouse fire. If this load of wood were not promptly furnished the child suffered, for the master did not allow him the benefit of the fire; that is, to go near enough the fireplace to feel the warmth.
The children of wise parents like Cotton Mather, were also taught "opificial and beneficial sciences," such as the mystery of medicine — a mystery indeed in colonial times.
Puritan schoolmasters believed, as did Puritan parents, that sparing the rod spoiled the child, and great latitude was given in punishment; the rod and ferule were fiercely and frequently plied "with lamming and with whipping, and such benefits of nature" as in English schools of the same date. When young men were publicly whipped in colleges, children were sure brutal instrument can well be imagined. At another school, whipping of unlucky wights was done "upon a peaked block with a tattling stick;" and this expression of colonial severity seems to take on additional force and cruelty in our minds that we do not at all know what a tattling stick was, nor understand what was meant by a peaked block.
I often fancy I should have enjoyed living in the good old times, but I am glad I never was a child in colonial New England — to have been baptized in ice water, fed on brown bread and warm beer, to have had to learn the Assembly's Catechism and "explain all the Quaestions with conferring Texts," to have been constantly threatened with fear of death and terror of God, to have been forced to commit Wigglesworth's "Day of Doom" to memory, and, after all, to have been whipped with a tattling stick.