Day By Day in a Colonial Town


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.

Getting from here to there

FOR NEARLY A CENTURY all travel was on foot, by boat, or on horseback with goods and chattels fastened to the saddle and probably a batch of journeycake (later corrupted to johnnycake) in the saddlebag. Roads were merely paths through the woods. Indian paths were hardly more than a foot wide, and the first paths of the whites were scarcely wider. Not until the eighteenth century was there a cart road from Hadley to Boston. Before then produce was carried by canoe down the river to a point below the rapids and there transshipped to coastal vessels. Oxen were the beasts of burden, and oxcarts were used in farm work. The gradual increase in the use of horse carts and carriages, sleds and sleighs, and the subsequent opening up of highways, revolutionized travel and the conveyance of goods. No sled or sleigh, says Judd, was owned in Hadley before 1730, no carriage before 1750, no two-horse wagon till just before the Revolution, and no one-horse wagon till 1808. In all Massachusetts there were, in 1753, only 6 coaches, 18 chariots, 339 chaises, and 992 chairs, which were chaise bodies without a top.

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.”

The professions

VILLAGE DOCTORS CHARGED sixpence for a visit, plus an additional sixpence a mile for visits to outlying districts. They were addicted to bleeding and dosing and made their profit on drugs, which they sold to their patients in great variety and profusion. The drugs were imported from England, and no fewer than 250 are in the Book of Rates for 1660 as subject to duty. In the next century an apothecary’s shop was opened in Northampton, which sold drugs to doctors at two and one-half times cost. The doctor’s markup was at his discretion. On the whole, doctors were held in low esteem by the country people, who preferred to grow their own home remedies. Bonesetters and “chirurgeons” (surgeons), however, were highly valued. Both doctors and surgeons could practice without a license, but if licensed by a court, they considered themselves entitled to much higher fees.


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.