- Historic Sites
Day By Day in a Colonial Town
How Hadley, Massachusetts, (incorporated 1661) coped with wolves, drunks, Indians, witches, and the laws of God and man.
December 1983 | Volume 35, Issue 1
By 1655 cattle were being driven to Boston for market and sold for a penny a pound. When a farmer slaughtered, he “lent” his neighbors what meat he could not use before it spoiled and expected an equal return when they slaughtered. By 1700 milch cows were plentiful, and the tinkling of their bells as they browsed along the roads made a pleasant background to the sounds of the village.
Although Hadley was on the east bank of the Connecticut and Northampton, its sister town, on the west, no ferry connected them until 1675. The difficulty, and even the danger, of crossing in the frail canoes of the period is indicated by this piteous petition of the inhabitants of West Hadley for a church on their side of the river: “Sometimes we come in considerable numbers in rainy weather and are forced to stay till we can empty our canoes, that are half full of water, and before we can get to the meeting-house we are wet to the skin. At other times, in winter seasons, we are forced to cut and work the canoes out of the ice till our shirts be wet upon our backs. At other times, the winds are high and the waters rough, the current strong and the waves ready to swallow us—our vessels tossed up and down so that our women and children do screech, and are so affrighted that they are made unfit for ordinances, and cannot hear so as to profit by them by reason of their anguish of spirit; and when they return some of them are more fit for their beds than for family duties.”
By colony law of 1647, every town of fifty families was required to provide a school where children could learn to read and write, and towns of a hundred families had also to provide a grammar school with a master able to fit young men for college. The schools were supported in part by the town and in part by the parents of the pupils. Teachers were paid about thirty pounds a year, and to guard against truancy, parents were compelled to contribute their share whether or not their children attended school. Free schools were long a bone of contention, as the less well-to-do favored them, while the more well-to-do looked askance at the increased taxes this would entail. The former won but not until well into the eighteenth century.