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SPORTS AND DIVERSIONS
THE Puritans of the first century of colonial life the "true New England men," not only of Winthrop and Bradford's time, but of the slowly degenerating days of Cotton Mather and Judge Sewall thought little and cared little for any form of amusement;
"Not knowing this, that Heaven decrees
Some mirth t'adulce man's miseries."
Of them it may be said, as Froissart said of their ancestors, "They took their pleasures sadly after their fashion." "'Twas no time for New England to dance," said Judge Sewall, sternly; and indeed it was not. The struggle of planting colonies in the new, bleak land left little time for dancing.
The sole mid-week gathering, the only regular diversion of early colonial life, took naturally a religious and sombre cast, and was found in the "great and Thursday lecture." "Truly the times were dull when these things happened," for so eager were the colonists for this sober diversion that it soon became a pious dissipation. Cotton said, in his "Way of the Churches," in 1639, that so many lectures did damage to the people; and the largeness of the assemblies alarmed the magistrates, who saw persons who could ill afford the time from their work, gadding to midday lectures in three or four different towns the same week. Young people, not having acquired that safety-valve; the New England singing-school, gladly seized these religious meetings as a pretext and a means for enjoyable communion, and attended in such numbers that the hospitality shown in providing food for the visiting lecture-lovers seemed to be in danger of becoming a burdensome expense. In 1633 the magistrates set the lecture hour at one o'clock, that lecture-goers might eat their dinner at noon at home; and they attempted to have each minister give but one lecture in two weeks, and planned that contiguous towns should offer but two temptations a week. But the law-makers overstepped the mark, and the lecture and the ministers resumed weekly sway, which they held for a century.
Hawthorne thus described the opening hours of the colonial Lecture-day:
"The breakfast hour being passed, the inhabitants do not as usual go to their fields or work-shops, but remain within doors or perhaps walk the street with a grave sobriety yet a disengaged and unburdened aspect that belongs neither to a holiday nor the Sabbath. And indeed the passing day is neither, nor is it a common week day, although partaking of all three. It is the Thursday Lecture; an institution which New England has long ago relinquished, and almost forgotten, yet which it would have been better to retain, as bearing relations both to the spiritual and ordinary life. The tokens of its observance, however, which here meet our eyes are of a rather questionable cast. It is in one sense a day of public shame; the day on which transgressors who have made themselves liable to the minor severities of the Puritan law receive their reward of ignominy. At this very moment the constable has bound an idle fellow to the whipping-post and is giving him his deserts with a cat-o-nine-tails. Ever since sunrise Daniel Fairfield has been standing on the steps of the meeting-house, with a halter about his neck, which he is condemned to wear visibly throughout his lifetime; Dorothy Talby is chained to a post at the corner of Prison Lane with the hot sun blazing on her matronly face, and all for no other offence than lifting her band against her husband; while through the bars of that great wooden cage, in the centre of the scene, we discern either a human being or a wild beast, or both in one. Such are the profitable sights that serve the good people to while away the earlier part of the day."
Not only were criminals punished at this weekly gathering, but seditious books were burned just after the lecture, intentions of marriage were published, notices were posted, and at one time elections were held on Lecture-day. The religious exercises of the day resembled those of the Sabbath and were sometimes five hours in length.
In primitive amusements, the sports of the woods and waters, even a Puritan could find occasional and proper diversion without entering into frivolous and sinful amusement. The wolf, most hated and most destructive of all the beasts of the woods, a "ravening runnagadore," was a proper prey. Wolves were caught in pits, in log pens, in traps; they were also hooked on mackerel hooks bound in an ugly bunch and dipped in tallow, to which they were toled by dead carcasses. The swamps were "beat up" in a wolf-drive or wolf-rout, similar to the English "drift of the forest." A ring of men surrounded a wooded tract and drew inward toward the centre, driving the wolves before them. The excitement of such a wolf-rout, constantly increasing to the end, can well be imagined. The wolves were not always killed outright. Josselyn tells that the inhuman sport of wolf-baiting was popular in New England, and he describes it thus: "A great mastiff held the Wolf.... Tying him to a stake we bated him with smaller doggs and had excellent sport, but his hinder legg being broken we soon knocked his brains out." Wolves also were dragged alive at a horse's tail, a sport equally cruel to both animals. These fierce and barbarous traits had been nourished in England by the many bear and bull baitings, and even horse baitings, and the colonists but carried out here their English training. Wood wrote in his "New England's Prospects: ""No ducking ponds can afford more sport than a lame cormorant and two or three lusty doggs." Though we do not hear of cock-fights, I doubt not the wealthy and sportsmanlike Narragansett planters, who resembled in habits and occupations the Virginian planters, had many a cock-fight, as they had horse-races.
Bears were "hunted with doggs; they take to a tree where they shoot them." Nothing was "more sportfull than bearbayting." Killing foxes was also the "best sport in depth of winter." On a moonlight night the hunters placed a sledge-load of codfish heads on the bright side of a fence or wall, and hiding in the shadow "as long as the moon shineth" could sometimes kill ten of the wary creatures in a night. Squirrel hunts were also prime sport.
Shooting at a mark or at prizes became a popular form of amusement. We read in the Boston Evening Post of January 11, 1773: "This is to give Notice That there will be a Bear and a Number of Turkeys set up as a Mark next Thursday Beforenoon at the Punch Bowl Tavern in Brookline."
The "Sports of the Inn yards" found few participants in New England. In 1692 the Andover innkeeper was ordered not to allow the playing of "Dice, Cards, Tables, Quoits, Loggits, Bowles, Ninepins or any other Unlawful Game in his house yard Garden or Backside after Saturday P.M." Henry Cabot Lodge says the shovelboard of Shakespeare's time was almost the only game not expressly prohibited. A Puritan minister, Rev. Peter Thatcher, of Milton, bought in 1679 a "pack of ninepins and bowle," for which he paid five shillings and sixpence, and enjoyed playing with them too; but I fancy few ministers played either that or like games. On the second Christmas, at Plymouth, we find some of the Pilgrims playing pitch-the-bar and stool-ball. Pitch-the-bar was a trial of strength rather than of skill, and was popular with sturdy Nantucket whalers till into this century, though deemed hopelessly plebeian in old England.
We hear of foot-ball being played by Boston boys in Boston streets and lanes; of the Rowley Indians playing it in 1686 on the broad sandy shore, where it was "more easie," since they played barefooted. Dunton adds of their sport: "Neither were they so apt to trip up one anothers feet and quarrel as I have often seen 'em in England" and I may add, as I have often seen 'em in New England.
Playing-cards the devil's picture-books were hated by the Puritans like the very devil; and, as ever with forbidden pleasures, were a constant temptation to Puritan youth. Their importation, use, and sale were forbidden. As late as 1784 a fine of $7 was ordered to be paid for every pack of cards sold; and yet in 1740 we find Peter Fanueil ordering six gross of best King Henry's cards from England. Jolley Allen had cards constantly for sale "Best Merry Andrew, King Harry and Highland Cards a Dollar per Doz." and also "Blanchards Great Mogul Playing Cards." The fine for selling these cards must have been a dead letter, for we find in the newspapers proof of the prevalence of card-playing.
One use for playing-cards other than their intended one was found in their employment to inscribe invitations upon. Ball invitations were frequently written upon the backs of playing-cards, and dinner invitations also.
In the Salem Gazette, in 1784, appeared "New In Laid Cribbage Boxes, Leather Gammon Tables, and Quadrille Pools." In the Evening Post, in 1772, may be seen "Quadrille Boxes and Pearl Fishes;" and I do not doubt that many a gay Boston belle or beau (as well as Mrs. Knox) gambled all night at quadrille and ombre, as did their cousins in London. Captain Goelet had many a game of cards in his travels through New England, in 1750.
On April 30, 1722, the New England Courant advertised that any gentleman that "had a Mind to Recreate themselves with a Game of Billiards" could do so at a public house in Charlestown.
It is curious to find how eagerly the staid colonists turned to dancing. Mr. Eggleston says:
"The savages themselves were not more fond of dancing than were the colonists who came after them. Dancing schools were forbidden in New England by the authorities but dancing could not be repressed in an age in which the range of conversation was necessarily narrow and the appetite for physical activity and excitement almost insatiable."
Dancing was forbidden in Massachusetts taverns and at weddings, but it was encouraged at Connecticut ordinations. In a letter written by John Cotton, that good man specifies that his condemnation is not of dancing "even mixt" as a whole, but of "lascivious dancing to wanton ditties with amorous gestures and wanton dalliances;" an objection in which I hope he is not singular, an we be not Puritan ministers; and an objection which makes us suspect, an he were a Puritan minister, that he had been in some very singular company.
In 1713 a ball was given by the governor in Boston, at which light-heeled and light-minded Bostonians of the governor's set danced till three in the morning. As balls and routs began at six in the afternoon, this gave long dancing-hours. On the other hand, we find sober folk reading "An Arrow against Profane and Promiscuous Dancing Drawn out of the Quiver of the Scriptures By the Ministers of Christ at Boston." And though one dancing-master was forbidden room to set up his school, we find that "Abigaill Hutchinson was entered to lern to dance" somewhere in Boston in 1717, probably at the school of Mr. George Brownell. By Revolutionary times old and young danced with zest at balls, at "turtle-frolicks," at weddings. President Washington and Mrs. General Greene "danced upwards of three hours without once sitting down," and General Greene called this diversion of the august Father of his Country "a pretty little frisk." By 1791 we find Rev. John Bennett, in his "Letters to a Young Lady," recommending dancing as a proper and healthful exercise. Queer names did early contra-dances bear: Old Father George, Cape Breton, High Betty Martin, Rolling Hornpipe, Constancy, Orange Tree, Springfield, Assembly, The President, Miss Foster's Delight, Pettycoatee, Priest's House, The Lady's Choice, and Leather the Strap. By Federal times came Federal dances.
Such care was paid by New Englanders to the raising and improving of horses that I presume horse-races did not seem so wicked as card-playing or dancing, for I find hint of a horse-race in the Boston News Letter of August 29, 1715, for Jonathan Turner therein challenged the whole country to match his black gelding in a race for a hundred pounds, to take place on Metonomy Common or Chelsea Beach. Many pace-races took place in Narragansett on Little Neck Beach, at which the prizes were silver tankards. And if we can believe Dr. MacSparran, or, rather, since we would not appear to doubt the word of a clergyman, especially upon the speed of a horse, if he took the time of "a little over two minutes" with any care and had a good watch, there must have been some very good sport on Little Neck Beach.
Though the Puritan magistrates denounced shows as a great "mispense of time," yet after a century's existence in the New World, the people was so amusement hungry that all turned avidly to any kind of exhibition, and but little was necessary to make an exhibition. A "Lyon of Barbary" was in Boston in 1716; and I believe the "Iyons hair," which was "cut by the keeper" and sent by Wait Winthrop to be placed as a strengthening tonic under the armpits of his sickly little grandchild, was abstracted from this very lion. In 1728 another lonely king of the beasts made the round of all the provinces on a cart drawn by four oxen, with as much ιclat as if he had been a whole menagerie. He lodged in New London in Madam Winthrop's barn, and "put up" elsewhere at the very best taverns, as became a royal visitor, yet seems, a semi-pathetic figure a tropical king in slavery and alone in a strange, cold land.
In December, 1733, and in 1734, rivals appeared at a Boston tavern, and were advertised in the Weekly Rehearsal.
"A Fine Large White Bear brought from Greenland, the like never been seen before in these Parts of the World. A Sight far preferable to the Lion in the Judgment of all Persons who have seen them both. N.B. He is certainly going to London in about 3 Weeks & his Farewel Speech will be publish'd in a day or two."
"To be seen at the Shop of Mr. Benjamin Runker Tin-man near the Market House on Dock Square a very Strange & Wonderful Creature called a Sea Lion lately taken at Monument Pond near Plimouth The like of which never seen in these Parts before. He is Nine Feet long from His Rump to his Head & near 4 feet wide over his back with Four Large Feet & Five Strong Claws on Each. Also Two Large Strong Teeth as white as Ivory sticking out of his mouth five or six Inches long with many other Curiosities too Tedious to mention here. Price Sixpence for a Man or Woman & 2 Pence for a child."
The Boston Gazette of April 20,1741, thus advertised:
"To be seen at the Greyhound Tavern in Roxbury a wild creature which was caught in the woods about 80 miles to the Westward of this place called a Cattamount. It has a tail like a Lyon, its legs are like Bears, its Claws like an Eagle, its Eyes like a Tyger. He is exceedingly ravenous and devours all sorts of Creatures that he can come near. Its agility is surprising. It will leap 30 feet at one jump notwithstanding it is but 3 months old. Whoever wishes to see this creature may come to the place aforesaid paying one shilling each shall be welcome for their money."
Salem had the pleasure of viewing a "Sapient Dog" who could light lamps, spell, read print or writing, tell the time of day, or day of the month. He could distinguish colors, was a good arithmetician, could discharge a loaded cannon, tell a hidden card in a pack, and jump through a hoop, all for twenty-five cents. About the same time Mr. Pinchbeck exhibited in the same town a "Pig of Knowledge" who had precisely the same accomplishments.
In 1789 a pair of camels went the rounds "19 hands high, with 4 joints in their hind legs." A mermaid also was exhibited defunct, I presume and a living cassowary five feet high, that swallowed stones as large as an egg. A white sea bear appeared in the port of Pollard's Tavern and could be seen for half a pistareen. A forlorn moose was held in bondage at Major King's tavern and shown for nine pence, while to view the "leapord strongly chayned" cost a quarter. The big hog, being a home production, could be seen cheaply for four pence. It is indeed curious to find a rabbit among "curious wild beasts." The Winthrops had tried to breed rabbits in 1633 and again in 1683, and if they had not succeeded were the only souls known to fail in that facile endeavor. To their shame be it told, Salem folk announced in 1809 a bullfight at the Half-Way House on the new turnpike, and after the bull-fight a fox-chase. In 1735 John Burlesson had some strange animals to show, and was not always allowed to exhibit them either: "the Lyon, the Black and Whight bare and the Lanechtskipt were shown by me that had their limbs as long as they pleased."
There were also exhibitions of legerdemain a "Posture Master Boy who performed most surprizing Postures, Transforming Himself into Various Shapes;" performers on the "tort rope;" solar microscopes, "Italian Matcheans or Moving Pictures wherein are to be seen Windmills and Water-mills moving around Ships sayling in the Seas, and various curious figures;" electrical machines; "prospects of London" or of "Royall Pallaces;" but, to their credit and good taste be it recorded, I find no notices of monstrosities either in shape of man or beast. Exhibitions of wax figures were given and museums were formed. Gentlemen sailing for foreign ports were begged to collect for museums and collections of curiosities, and did so in a thoroughly public-spirited manner.
Shortly after the invention of balloons came their advent as popular shows into New England towns. In Hartford they appeared under the pompous title of "Archimedial Phaetons, Vertical Aerial Coaches, or Patent Federal Balloons," and the public was notified that "persons of timid nature might enter with full assurance of safety." These federal balloons not only served to amuse New Englanders, but were strongly recommended to "Invaletudinarians" as hygienic and medicinal factors, in that through their employment as carriers they caused "sudden revulsion of the blood and humours" to the benefit of the aeronautic travellers.
The first stepping-in of theatrical performances was to the lively tunes of jigs and corams on a stage. In 1713 permission was asked to act a play in the Council House in Boston. Judge Sewall's grief and amazement at this suggestion of "Dances and Scenical Divertessiments" within those solemn walls can well be imagined. Ere long little plays called drolls were exhibited; puppet shows such as "Pickle Herring," or the "Taylor ryding to Brantford," or "Harlequinn and Scaramouch." About 1750 two young English strollers produced Otway's "Orphans" in a Boston coffee-house. Prompt and strict measures by Boston magistrates nipped in the bud this feeble dramatic plant, and Boston had no more plays for many years.
Many ingenious ruses were invented to avoid the legal obstructions placed in the way of play-acting. "Histrionic academies" tried to sneak in on the stage; and in 1762 a clever manager gave an entertainment whose playbill I present as the most amusing example of specious and sanctimonious truckling extant.
KINGS ARMS TAVERN NEWPORT RHODE ISLAND
On Monday, June 10th, at the Public Room of the above Inn will be delivered a series of
in Five Parts
Depicting the evil effects of jealousy and other bad passions and Proving that happiness can only spring from the pursuit of Virtue.
Mr. Douglass Will represent a noble and magnanimous Moor called Othello, who loves a young lady named Desdemona, and after he marries her, harbours (as in too many cases) the dreadful passion of jealousy.
Of jealousy, our beings bane,
Mark the small cause, and the most dreadful pain.
Mr. Allyn Will depict the character of a specious villain, in the regiment of Othello, who is so base as to hate his commander on mere suspicion, and to impose on his beat friend. Of such characters, it is to be feared, there are thousands in the world, and the one in question may present to us a salutary warning.
The man that wrongs his master and his friend, What can he come to but a shameful end?
Mr. Hallam Will delineate a young and thoughtless officer who is traduced by Mr. Allyn, and, getting drank, loses his situation and his generals esteem. All young men whatsoever, take example from Cassio.
The ill effects of drinking would you see
Be warned and fly from evil company.
Mr. Morris Will represent an old gentleman, the father of Desdemona, who is not cruel or covetous, but is foolish enough to dislike the noble Moor, his son-in-law, because his face is not white, forgetting that we all spring from one root. Such prejudices are very numerous and very wrong.
Fathers, beware what sense and love ye lack,
'Tis crime, not colour, makes the being black.
Mr. Quelch Will depict a fool who wishes to become a knave, and trusting to one, gets killed by one. Such is the friendship of rogues. Take heed!
Where fools would knaves become, how often you'll
Perceive the knave not wiser than the fool.
Mrs. Morris Will represent a young and virtuous wife, who, being wrongfully suspected, gets smothered (in an Adjoining room) by her husband.
Reader, attend, and ere thou goest hence,
Let fall a tear to hapless innocence.
Mrs. Douglass Will be her faithful attendant, who will hold out a good example to all servants, male and female, and to all people in subjection.
Obedience and gratitude,
Are things as rare as they are good.
Various other Dialogues, too numerous to mention here, will be delivered at night, all adapted to the improvement of the mind and manners. The whole will be repeated on Wednesday and on Saturday. Tickets, six shillings each; to be had within. Commencement at 7. Conclusion at half past 10; in order that every spectator may go home at a sober hour, and reflect upon what he has seen, before he retires to rest.
God save the King,
And long may he away,
East, north and south
And fair America.
The Continental Congress of 1774 sought to pledge the colonists to discountenance "all exhibitions of shews, plays, and other expensive diversions and entertainments," and such exhibitions languished naturally in war times; but with peace came new life to shows and theatres.
We catch a glimpse at Hartford of the "New Theatre" in 1795. The play began at half after six. Following the English fashion, servants were sent in advance to keep seats for their masters and mistresses. They were instructed to be there "by Eve at the Farthest." If ladies "chused to sit in the Pit" a place was partitioned off for them. The admission price was a dollar. There was variety in the entertainment furnished. One actor gave a character recitation entitled "The New Bow Wow." In this he played the "Sly Dog, the Sulky Dog, the Hearty Dog, and many other dogs in his character of Odd Dog."
In 1788 the "Junior Sophister Class" of Yale College gave a theatrical performance, during Election week, of "Tancred and Sigismunda," and followed it with a farce of the students' own composing, relating to events in the Revolutionary War. A letter of Rev. Andrew Eliot is still in existence referring to this presentation, and severely did he reprehend it. Of the farce he wrote, "To keep up the character of these Generals, especially Prescot, they were obliged (I believe not to their sorrow) to indulge in very indecent and profane language." He states that many in the audience were much offended thereat, and says: "What adds to the illegality is that the actors not only were dressed agreeable to the characters they assumed as Men, but female apparell and ornaments were put on some contrary to an express statute. Besides it cost the lads £60." What this reverend complainer would have thought of the multitudinous exhibitions of masculine collegiate skirt-dancing of the present day is impossible to fathom.
There were circuses also in Connecticut. "Mr. Pool The first American Equestrian has erected a Menage at considerable Expence with seats Convenient. Mr. Pool beseeches the Ladies and Gentlemen who honour him with their Presence to bring no Dogs with them." As late as 1828 a bill prohibiting circus exhibitions passed both houses of the Connecticut Legislature, but was all in vain, for that State became the home of circuses and circus-makers.
During the seventeenth century and the first half of the eighteenth century there was little in New England that could properly receive the name of music. Musical instruments and books of musical instruction were rare. I have told the deplorable condition of church music in "The Sabbath in Puritan New England." A feeling of revolt rose in ministers and congregation. In 1712 Rev. Mr. Tuft's music-book appeared. The first organ came to Boston about 1711. The first concert of which I have read was advertised thus in the New England Weekly Journal of December 15, 1732:
"This is to inform the Publick That there will be a Consort of Music Perform'd by Sundry Instruments at the Court Room in Wings Lane near the Town Dock on the 28th of this Iustant December; Tickets will be deliver'd at the Place of Performance at Five Shillings each Ticket. N.B. No Person will be admitted after Six."
In 1744 a concert was given in Faneuil Hall for the benefit of the poor, and after 1760 concerts were frequent. The universal time for beginning was six o'clock, and the highest price of admission half a dollar, until after 1790.
Singing-schools, too, were formed, and the bands of trained singers gave concerts. The story of the progress of New England concert-giving has been most fully given by Henry M. Brooks, esq., in his delightful book, "Olden Time Music."
Lectures on pneumatics, electricity, and philosophy were given in Boston as early as 1740, and soon acquired a popularity which they have retained to the present day.
A very doubtful form of diversion was furnished to New Englanders at the public expense and in the performance of public duties. Not only were offenders whipped, set in the stocks, bilboes, cage, or pillory on Lecture-day; but criminals were hung with much parade before the eyes of the people, as a visible token of the punishment of evil living. In all the civil and religious exercises previous to the execution of the sentence, publicity was given to the offender; petty and great malefactors were preached at when sentenced, and after condemnation were made public examples were brought into church and made the subject of discourse and even of objurgation from the pulpit. Judge Sewall frequently refers to this meretricious custom. Under date March 11, 1685, he says: "Persons crowd much into the old Meeting House by reason of James Morgan (who was a condemned murderer) and a very exciting and riotous scene took place." This was at a Thursday lecture, and in the gloomy winter, twilight of the same day the murderer was executed "turn'd off" as Sewall said after a parting prayer by Cotton Mather, who had preached over him in the morning. Cotton Mather's sermon and others on Morgan and his crimes, which were preached by Increase Mather and Joshua Moodey, were printed and sold in vast numbers, passing through several editions. Morgan's dying words and confessions were also printed and sold throughout New England by chapmen.
Captain Quelch and six other pirates were captured on June 11, 1704; were brought to Boston on the 17th, sentenced on the 19th, and, "the silver oar being carried before them to the place of execution," were hung on the 30th. An "extra" of the News Letter says that "Sermons were preached in their Hearing Every Day, And Prayers made daily with them. And they were Catechized and they had many Occasional exhortations;" but the paper also states, "yet as they led a wicked and vitious life so to appearance they died very obdurately and impenitently hardened in their sin." Sewall gives this painfully particular account of the execution:
"After Dinner about 3 P.M. I went to see the Execution. Many were the people that saw upon Broughtons Hill But when I came to see how the River was covered with People I was amazed; Some say there were 100 boats. 150 Boats & Canoes saith Cousin Moody of York. He Told them. Mr. Cotton Mather came with Captain Quelch & 6 others for Execution from the Prison to Scarletts Wharf and from thence in Boat to the place of Execution. When the Scaffold was hoisted to a due height the seven Malefactors went up. Mr. Mather pray'd for them standing upon the Boat. Ropes were all fastened to the Gallows save King who was Reprieved. When the Scaffold was let to sink there was such a Screech of the Women that my wife heard it sitting in our Entry next the Orchard and was much surprised at it, yet the wind was sou-west. Our house is a full mile from the place."
In another entry Sewall tells of brazen women jumping up on the cart with a condemned man.
A note was appended by Dr. Ephraim Eliot to the last page of a sermon delivered by his father, Dr. Andrew Eliot, on the Sunday before the execution of Levi Ames, who was hung for burglary October 21, 1773. Ames was present in church, and the sermon was preached at his request. The note runs thus:
"Levi Ames was a noted offender though a young man, he had gone through all the routine of punishment, and there was now another indictment against him where there was positive proof, in addition to his own confession. He was tried and condemned. His condemnation excited extraordinary sympathy. He was every Sabbath carried through the streets with chains about his ankles, and handcuffed, in custody of the Sheriff officers and constables, to some public meeting, attended by an innumerable number of boys, women and men. Nothing was talked of but Levi Ames. The ministers were successively employed in delivering occasional discourses. Stillman improved the opportunity several times and absolutely persuaded the fellow that he was to step from the cart into Heaven."
One Worcester County murderess was hanged on Boston Common, and to the delight of beholders appeared in a beautiful white satin gown to be "turn'd off."
I think, in reading of the past, that next to executions the most vivid excitement, the most absorbing interest indeed, the greatest amusement of New Englanders of the half century preceding and that succeeding the Revolutionary War was found in the lottery. An act of Legislature in 1719 speaks of them as just introduced; but this licensed and highly approved form of gambling quickly had the sanction and participation of the entire community. The most esteemed citizens not only bought tickets, but sold them. Every scheme of public benefit, the raising of every fund for every purpose, was conducted and assisted through a lottery. Harvard, Rhode Island (now Brown University), and Dartmouth College thus increased their endowments; Towns and States thus raised money to pay the public debt. Congregational, Baptist, and Episcopal churches had lotteries "for promoting public worship and the advancement of religion." Canals, turnpikes, bridges, excavations, public buildings were brought to perfection by lotteries. Schools and academies were thus endowed; for instance, the Leicester Academy and the Williamstown Free School. In short, "the interests of literature were supported, the arts encouraged, the wastes of wars repaired, inundations prevented, the burthen of the taxes lessened" by lotteries. Private lotteries were also carried on in great number, as frequent advertisements show; pieces of furniture, wearing apparel, real estate, jewelry, and books being given as prizes. Much deception was practised in those private lotteries.
Though many lotteries were ostensibly for charitable, educational, or other beneficial purposes, the proportion of profit applied to such purposes was small. The Newbury Bridge Lottery sold ten thousand dollars' worth of tickets to raise one thousand dollars. The lottery to assist in rebuilding Faneuil Hall was to secure one-tenth of the value of tickets. Harvard College hoped to have twelve and a half per cent. The glowing advertisements of "Rich Wheels," "Real & Truly Fortunate Offices," "Lucky Numbers," "Full Drawings," appealed to every class; the poorest could buy a quarter of a ticket as a speculation. New England clergymen seemed specially to delight in this gambling excitement.
The evil of the system could not fail to be discovered by intelligent citizens. Judge Sewall, ever thoughtful, wrote his protest to friends when he found advertisements of four lotteries in one issue of the Boston News Letter. Though I have seen lottery tickets signed by John Hancock, he publicly expressed his aversion to the system, and Joel Barker and others wrote in condemnation. By 1830 the whole community seemed to have wakened to a sense of their pernicious and unprofitable effect, and laws were passed prohibiting them.
The sports and diversions herein named, of the first century of the Puritan commonwealth, were, after all, joined in by but a scanty handful of junketers. We see in our picture of the olden times no revellers, but a "crowd of sad-visaged people moving duskily through a dull gray atmosphere," who found, as Carlyle said, that work was enjoyment enough. The Pilgrim Fathers had been saddened with war and pestilence, with superstition, with exile, still they had as a contrast the keen novelty of life in the picturesque new land. The sons had lost all the romance and were more narrow, more intolerant. But we must not think them unhappy because they thought it no time for New England to dance. There be those nowadays who care not for dancing, nor for the playing of games, yet are not unhappy. There be, also, I trow, those who fare not at fairs, and show not at shows, and would fain read sober books or study their Bible as did the Puritans, and yet are cheerful. And perhaps also there is a singular little band of those who love not the play a few such I wot of Puritan blood yet are not sorrowful. Hawthorne said: "Happiness may walk soberly in dark attire as well as dance lightsomely in a gala-dress." And I cannot doubt that good Judge Sewall found as true and deep a pleasure albeit a melancholy one in slowly leading, sable-gloved and sable-cloaked, the funeral procession of one of the honored deputies through narrow Boston streets, as did roystering Morton in marshalling his drunken revellers at noisy Merrymount.