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1675 Three Hundred And Twenty-five Years Ago

June 2024
2min read

The Puritans Strike Back

On November 3, amid widespread reports of massacres and looting by Indians, the General Court (legislature) of the Massachusetts Bay Colony adopted a series of emergency laws. “The righteous God,” declared the court, “hath heightened our calamity, and given commission to the barbarous heathen to rise up against us, and to become a smart rod and severe scourge to us.” To counter these divinely inspired attacks, which are known today as King Philip’s War, the Puritans resorted to desperate measures. One of their most powerful weapons was the haircut.

“Whereas,” the legislators continued, “there is manifest pride openly appearing amongst us in that long haire, like weomens haire, is worne by some men, either their oune or others haire made into perewiggs, and by some weomen wearing borders of haire, and theire cutting, curling, & immodest laying out their haire, which practise doeth prevayle & increase, especially amongst the younger sort… the County Courts are hereby authorized to proceed against such delinquents either by admonition, fine, or correction, according to theire good discretion.”

Affectations of dress were also blamed for calling down the Lord’s wrath. “The evill of pride in apparrell, both for costlines in the poorer sort, & vayne, new, strainge fashions, both in poore & rich, with naked breasts and armes, or, as it were, pinioned with the addition of superstitious ribbons both on haire & apparrell” would subject dandyish offenders to a warning, with a fine of 10 shillings for incorrigible fashion plates.

Since alcohol was responsible for much unholy conduct, public houses were limited to “the refreshing & entertainment of travailers [i.e., laborers] & strangers only, and all toune dwellers are heereby strictly enjoyned & required to forbeare spending their time or estates in such common houses of enterteynement, to drincke & tiple, upon poenalty of five shillings for every offence, or, if poore, to be whipt, at the discretion of the judge, not exceeding five stripes.…” A more serious infraction, punishable by a fine of 40 shillings or 10 days in jail, was the “loose & sinfull custome of going or riding from toune to toune, and that oft times men & weomen together, upon pretence of going to lecture, but it appeares to be meerely to drincke & revell in ordinarys & tavernes, which is in itself scandalous, and it is to be feared a notable meanes to debauch our youth and hazard the chastity of such as are draune forth thereunto…”

Failure to report the use of “prophane oathes and curses” to the authorities was made a crime. Church officers were ordered to appoint “persons to shutt the meeting house doores” to keep worshipers from sneaking out early. Anyone attending a Quaker meeting, where “damnable haeresies” and “abominable idolatrys” were propagated, would be held to labor for three days and given only bread and water. Citing the Fifth Commandment and the “remarkeable judgments upon Chorah and his company” in the sixteenth and twentysixth chapters of Numbers, the court bemoaned the general “contempt of authority, civil, ecclesiasticall, and domesticall,” and directed “all persons under this government to reforme so great an evil, least God from heaven punish offenders heerin by some remarkeable judgments.”

These measures, together with a large and well-equipped army, managed to overcome the “barbarous heathen” by August 1676. From then on, although pestered with frequent raids along the frontier, the colonists of Massachusetts Bay never suffered another large-scale Indian attack. Manifest pride, profaneness, and disorder and rudeness in youth, however, would only increase in centuries to come.

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