Day By Day in a Colonial Town


Country folk seldom used titles in the early days except for military officers. A few leading members of the community, including the minister, would be called Mister, but it would have been thought quite shocking to use it for a farmer or mechanic. Goodman and Goodwife (or Goody) were the titles for a yeoman (a farmer who owned or occupied land) and his wife. Until about 1720 both the wife and daughter of a Mister were called Mistress (abbreviated to Mrs.) and, for some time after that, Miss and Mrs. were used indiscriminately for married and unmarried females. Middle names came in during the eighteenth century; before then only one given name was used.

During its first half-century Hadley sometimes aided the aged and worthy poor by boarding them out around town; two weeks with one family, then moved on to the next. (A stay so brief might indicate that a fortnight was as long as any one family could tolerate them.) By the next century, when the number of paupers had increased, they were annually put up at vendue and knocked down to the lowest bidder; that is, each pauper was put on the block and auctioned off to the person who would keep him a year for the smallest sum.

The first minister of Hadley had three Negro slaves; a man, woman, and child, valued at sixty pounds. The peak year for slaves was 1754, when the number reached eighteen—a surprisingly large number for a New England village of about five hundred inhabitants. Also, there seems to have been a local slave dealer, says Judd—very reluctantly, as he was an ardent Abolitionist—who bought and sold Negroes, shaving their heads to make them look younger.

“The very springs of true history”

IN HIS PUBLISHED BOOK and in his many volumes of manuscripts, Judd was, for the most part, the objective historian and magpie collector of simple facts. Here and there, however, he permitted himself to editorialize briefly (usually in footnotes), thus giving a clue to the man behind the historian. After recording the reprisals of the whites upon the Indians he added: “It is a hard and difficult matter for those who are conscious of their superiority to treat inferiors with justice and humanity. Even good men are deficient in this respect.” Comparing Indians with whites, he wrote: “The ignorant savage and those who think themselves the most highly civilized, Viz., many of those in fashionable high life, harmonize in many things. Both contemn and scorn useful labor, and consider those engaged in toilsome occupations mean and despicable; both delight in gaming, chasing animals and carousing.” Of hunting: “The habits of hunters are inconsistent with regular industry. Hunting does not increase property nor improve morals.” Of kill-devil, as rum was called: “The liquor was strangely misnamed. Instead of killing the devil it has greatly extended and strengthened his kingdom.” And of himself: “I have been too much attached to my books to amass property, and too much perplexed with property to amass knowledge.”


The author of the obituary that appeared in the Hampshire Gazette at the time of Judd’s death stressed his love of village chronicles and stories of the first settlers “so evanescent in their character, so apt to be regarded as too trivial for notice by the learned … which are the very springs and sources of true history.” This is the characteristic that give the work of Sylvester Judd its unique value; his passion and delight in collecting those small, illuminating facts about the early settlers that enable us today to relive their daily lives in our imagination.