Day By Day in a Colonial Town


Girls were commonly taught at home, as it was deemed improper for the sexes to mingle at school. As a result there were many private schools kept by “dames” in their own homes where girls were taught at minimum cost to read and sew. Writing was thought unnecessary for females in the seventeenth century, and not one in ten could sign her name.

By the standards of the times, ministers were well paid. The first minister of Hadley received an allotment of land and eighty pounds a year in produce, as well as free wood for his fireplace. (Since ministers sat at home to write sermons instead of working outdoors, they used prodigious amounts of firewood. The average Hadley family burned thirty cords a year but some ministers used up to seventy cords. A cord is a stack of wood four feet wide, four feet high, and eight feet long. ) One shrewd minister of the eighteenth century stipulated a cost-of-living clause in his contract—that is, his salary should rise or fall as the prices of eight commodities of the period rose and fell.

In the old meetinghouses the allotting of places was done by a committee on the basis of the age, estate, and honors of each parishioner. Since prestige was involved, a man’s standing in the community being publicly proclaimed by the seat given him, quarrels were common. Sermons in the unheated churches never diminished in length, even in zero weather, though they were sometimes hard to hear above the stamping of numbed feet. Perhaps that is why Hadley voted in 1672 that “there shall be some sticks set up in several places, with some fit person placed by them to keep the youth from disorder.”


Weddings and funerals

IN A COLONY FOUNDED ON, and permeated with, religion, it seems strange that marriage should have been a civil ceremony performed not by a minister but by a magistrate and that divorce could be had only by petitioning the legislature in Boston. It was not until 1692 that ministers were permitted to perform the marriage ceremony. Weddings in the valley were usually held on Thursday and were the occasion for a joyous celebration, though kissing was not customary, nor dancing until the eighteenth century. However, at a wedding in 1769, it is recorded that before the ball was over at 12:45 A.M., the guests managed to dance ninety-two jigs, fifty-two contra dances, forty-five minuets, and seventeen hornpipes—how is not explained. Sack posset was the fashionable drink at weddings, and it was not uncommon for a party of gay young men to steal the bride and hide her at an inn until she was ransomed with drinks.

By colony law of 1647, no one might “draw away” the affections of a maid under promise of marriage until he had gained the consent of her parents or guardian, under penalty of a five-pound fine. Courtship was after supper, and it was proper for the suitor to stay till midnight. Bundling must occasionally have been practiced, since Jonathan Edwards preached against it in neighboring Northampton, but Judd says he found no record or hearsay of it.

In the seventeenth century there were neither prayers nor sermons at funerals, since there were no examples of such in the Bible; nor hearses, the coffin being carried to the burying ground on a shoulder bier. In the next century the custom slowly spread of a prayer at the house and a short speech at the grave. In the country funerals were simple affairs and mourning apparel rare, but in the cities the funerals of the rich were occasions of great ostentation. The heaviest expenses were for wine, liquor, and cakes for the funeral feast, and gloves, rings, and scarves furnished to the mourners. At a Boston funeral in 1738 three thousand pairs of gloves and two hundred rings were given away. To put a stop to this extravagance, the General Court, in 1742, prohibited the giving of gloves, scarves, and rings and the serving of wine and cakes at funerals, except that six pairs of gloves might be given to the pallbearers and one to the minister. The law was unpopular and five years later was repealed.


Hasty pudding for breakfast and “brew” day every week