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Day By Day in a Colonial Town

July 2024
29min read

How Hadley, Massachusetts, (incorporated 1661) coped with wolves, drunks, Indians, witches, and the laws of God and man.

DURING THE FIRST half of the nineteenth century, there lived in the Connecticut River valley of Massachusetts a scholar and country editor with an insatiable curiosity about the region in which he lived. His name was Sylvester Judd, and his work, except for one posthumous and locally printed history of the nearby village of Hadley, Massachusetts, is practically unknown. Yet by indefatigable and lifelong labors in searching old records and interviewing old inhabitants, he was able to bring together an unprecedented amount of information about village life in colonial New England.

Sylvester Judd was born in Westhampton, Massachusetts, in 1789 and went to work in his father’s store at the age of thirteen. Even in childhood he had a passion for knowledge and the discipline for its systematic pursuit. From his diary it appears that he taught himself at least the rudiments of world history, mathematics, astronomy and other sciences, and Latin and French (his diary entry reads: “I bought a French dictionary on December 21 and by the first of January, I had obtained about 1100 phrases by heart but I know nothing about pronunciation”).

For twelve years he edited the Hampshire Gazette, but he was too dispassionate an observer to be swept away by the swirling political tides of the period and gave up his position because, as he said, “I have become too skeptical in politics to be the conductor of a public press.”

After his retirement he devoted all his energies to a study of the early history of the Connecticut River valley. The intensity of his dedication and the frugality of his life are indicated by this typical entry in his diary, made while he was ransacking the records of the General Court in Boston: “For 9 or 10 weeks I purchased my food at a grocery store for about 8 cents a day and ate it in the State House cellar.”

Sylvester Judd died in 1860. Most of the facts that follow are to be found in his posthumous book, The History of Hadley, and his unpublished manuscripts. The book totaled 469 pages, with a genealogical section completed by a friend of 153 pages. All this material is lodged in a big safe in the Forbes Library in Northampton, Massachusetts, and nowhere else.

White man meets red man …and adopts his currency


WHEN HADLEY, MASSACHUSETTS, was settled in 1659, there were only about eight hundred Indians within that area of the Connecticut Valley that now lies in Massachusetts. During the first forty years, the attitude of the whites to the Indians was friendly but wary. Squaws and braves, in scanty attire, were common sights in the village streets, and the greeting Netop (“my friend”) was often heard.

In this region the popular belief that the Indians surrendered their lands unwillingly to the whites and were cheated to boot had no basis in fact. On the contrary the Indians sold their lands gladly, and the price they received seemed to them clear profit. Except for their village sites and the scanty cornfields their squaws cultivated, which totaled only seventy acres in the entire valley, land was regarded by the Indians merely as a place to hunt and fish. These rights, in most cases, they reserved. And in return for half the crops, the whites not only let the squaws have their cornfields but even ploughed them, thus more than doubling the yield.

How fairly the Indians were treated is shown by this deed of sale for the land now occupied by the town of Hadley: “Be it known to all men by these presents that Chickwollop alias Wahillowa, Umpanchala alias Womscom, and Quomquont alias Wompshaw, the sachems on Nolwotogg, the sole and proper owners of all the land on the east side of the Quonicticot River … do give, grant, bargain and sell unto John Pynchon, of Springfield … his assigns and successors forever, all the grounds, woods, ponds, waters, meadows, trees, stones, etc., lying on the east side of Quonicticot River within the compass aforesaid … for and in consideration of two hundred fathoms [of wampum] which Chickwollop sets off, besides several small gifts … all and singular the aforementioned land, or by whatever name it is or may be called, quietly to have, possess and enjoy the aforesaid tract of land free from all molestation and incumbrances of Indians, and that forever, only the Indians aforementioned, and in particular, Quomquont, doth reserve and keep one corn field … and also they reserve liberty to hunt deer, fowl, etc., and to take fish, beaver, or otter, etc. [Dated December 25, 1658].”

The deed was signed by the marks (Indian signatures to such deeds as these were in the form of pictorial marks: a beaver, a snake, a snowshoe, a bow, a hand) of the three sachems, by John Pynchon, and by five witnesses. It was subscribed below: “The Indians desired that they might set their wigwams at some time within the tract of ground they sold without offense, and that the English would be kind and neighborly to them in not prohibiting them firewood out of the woods, etc., which was promised them.” The deed was then assigned by John Pynchon to the “present inhabitants of Hadley,” he having acted as their agent for the purchase.

The currency of the Indians was wampum, and the 228 fathoms for which this land was sold was then the equivalent of somewhere in the neighborhood of sixty English pounds sterling. Wampum was made from shells and was of two kinds: white, made from the shells of the whelk, and black (actually darkish blue), made from the shells of the quahog clam, and having twice the value of the white. These shells were collected by the Indians along the shores of Long Island Sound, cut into tiny beads, polished to a glassy smoothness, bored, and strung on thin strips of deer sinew. If used for decoration, the strings of wampum were worn about the neck and wrists, or the beads were embroidered on deerskin to make a belt that was a prestige symbol, with the width of the belt and the number of beads, sometimes as many as three thousand, indicating the power and wealth of the wearer.

If used as currency, the wampum was usually strung in units of a fathom, or six feet, containing from 240 to 360 beads and worth from five to ten shillings if white, ten to twenty if black.

By enactment of the Great and General Court (the Massachusetts legislature) in 1641, wampum became legal currency in the Bay Colony for sums of ten pounds or less at the rate of six pieces of white wampum for a penny, and half as many black. However, wampum currency was soon debased by the influx of ill-made shells. In 1648 it was ordered that “it shall be entire without deforming spots” and strung in different lengths worth from one to twelve pence in white and from two pence to ten shillings in black, thus making it conveniently passable in lieu of small coins, which were very scarce.

In the early years of the colony, wampum was a sound currency, since it could always be exchanged with the Indians for beaver skins, which were readily salable in England at a good profit. However, as beaver grew scarce, debasement continued, and when silver from the West Indian trade grew more abundant, the value of wampum continued to slip. In 1661 the law making it legal tender was repealed. In 1675 a penny would buy twenty-four wampum, and by the end of the century it was no longer used except in remote villages, and then only for small change.

An early capitalist


MEANWHILE, THE DESIRE of the Indians for wampum and of the English for furs was gratified by a shrewd English gentleman. William Pynchon, a fur trader and one of the original proprietors of the Bay Colony, transferred his operations in 1636 to what is now Springfield, Massachusetts. He built a warehouse and trading post on the banks of the Connecticut River and quickly monopolized the fur trade of the great river and its tributaries. Prudently, and from sources unknown, he acquired bushels of loose wampum shells, and these he hired the women and children of his settlement to string for him to the extent of twenty thousand fathoms, paying them at the rate of three half-pence a fathom. By turning shells into currency, he accumulated capital worth somewhere between five and ten thousand pounds with which to pay the Indians for their furs.

How well the scheme worked is shown by the Pynchon account books now in the Connecticut Valley Historical Museum in Springfield. In six years William, and his son, John, secured from the Indians over nine thousand beaver skins, weighing about fourteen thousand pounds, which he paid for in wampum and in bartered goods. They also bought thousands of skins of otter, muskrat, mink, fox, raccoon, wildcat, and moose. These skins were packed in hogsheads and carted down the river to his warehouse just below the rapids, in what is now Windsor Locks, where they were transferred to coastal vessels for shipment to Boston and thence by packet to London. There they were sold, partly for cash and partly in exchange for bright-colored cloth and coats, knives, awls, axes, and trinkets for their trading posts.

For years William Pynchon paid over half the taxes of Springfield and ruled his growing settlement with the aid of a “cabinet” consisting of his son and two sons-in-law. Eventually he had the temerity to write a theological treatise that was denounced by the clergy and publicly burned in Boston, whereupon he returned in 1652 to England, leaving his wilderness empire to his son, twenty-six-year-old John.

His son, the land speculator

JOHN PYNCHON CONTINUED and extended the fur monopoly, establishing additional posts in the Connecticut and Housatonic valleys and building up extensive interests in the West Indies, where he traded with his own fleet of ships. In addition to his trading enterprises, he was an early and successful real estate operator. As settlers pushed into the fertile valley, he would buy tracts of land from the Indian sachems who were supplying him with furs, giving them credit at his trading posts to the extent of the price agreed upon, and sell the land to the colonists at the same price, having made his profit on the goods which the Indians took in payment.

One example of John Pynchon’s land operations—his purchase of what is now the town of Hadley—has already been mentioned. Another was his purchase of additional land for Hadley on the west side of the river—what is now the town of Hatfield. For this land he paid the sachem Umpanchala three hundred fathoms of wampum, charging the settlers an equivalent amount, which he computed at seventy-five English pounds. His account books show that Umpanchala took up the full amount of his credit in trade within one year, buying no fewer than fifteen coats for an average of five fathoms of wampum each; two pairs of breeches and a waistcoat for four fathoms and nine “hands"; a gun for six fathoms and five hands; also 134 fathoms of wampum and various miscellaneous articles, leaving a credit of two fathoms of wampum, which was canceled by the entry “For your being drunk"—evidently, says Judd, a fine that Pynchon, as magistrate, had imposed upon him.


John Pynchon’s account books were kept in fathoms and hands of wampum. (Fathoms he wrote fadams. He computed ten hands of wampum as equal to a fathom of six feet, making his hands a little over seven inches instead of the usual four. The white wampum he valued at five shillings (in 1660) a fathom. At his death in 1702 he was worth about five thousand pounds, a vast estate for that place and time.

Wolves, wildcats, and Indians

AMICABLE THOUGH the relations were between Indians and whites in the Connecticut Valley during the first quarter-century, the abyss that separated the two civilizations was too wide to be permanently bridged. In 1675 years of peace were shattered by King Philip’s War when Indian treacheries and torturings led to reprisals. Perhaps the most chilling example is a terse note scribbled on the margin of a letter in which the captain of a troop of soldiers in Springfield forwarded to the governor in Boston information that had been extorted from a captured squaw. The note reads, “This aforesaid Indian was ordered to be tourne to peeces by dogs, and she was so dealt with.”

From the beginning the Great and General Court set bounties on wolves, wildcats, and other predators. During the long terror of the French and Indian Wars in the first half of the eighteenth century, the largest bounty of all was set on Indians. Ten pounds was paid for each Indian scalp taken by a soldier or one hundred pounds if taken by a volunteer; later the amount was raised to forty pounds to soldiers and three hundred to volunteers for Indian braves and twenty pounds for squaws or children under twelve. Men of the Connecticut Valley ventured into the wilderness on scalping parties, and Judd reports that the accounts of the treasurer for Hampshire County during 1757 and 1758 show that he paid bounties of fifteen hundred pounds for five scalps.

Flaunters and witches

IN ORDER THAT MONEY might not be wasted on nonessentials, the General Court passed a law in 1651 forbidding persons whose estate did not exceed two hundred pounds, and those dependent on them, to wear gold or silver lace, gold or silver buttons, bone lace above two shillings a yard, or silk scarves or hoods, under penalty of ten shillings for each offense. The first attempt to enforce this law in Hampshire County (Massachusetts) was made in 1673 when twenty-five wives and five maids were haled into court as “persons of small estate who used to wear silk contrary to law.” Of the thirty only three were fined.


In 1676 there was a roundup of the younger set with thirty-eight wives and maids and thirty young men brought into court—the men, “some for wearing silk, and that in a flaunting manner, and others for long hair and other extravagancies.” Only two of the sixty-eight were fined, which seems to have had a discouraging effect upon the officers of the law, as six years later, in a curious reversal, the officials of five towns were brought to court for not arresting such inhabitants of their towns as wore unsuitable and excessive apparel. The battle was over and the younger set had won, but for many years their elders continued to wag their heads over the degeneracy of the age.

Flaunters were bad enough, but witches were even more troublesome. The first was Mary Parsons of Springfield, who was indicted in 1651 for having been seduced by the Devil; for having used “divers” hellish practices on the persons of two children of the Springfield minister; and for having murdered her own child. At her trial in Boston (local courts could not try capital offenses) she pleaded not guilty to witchcraft and was acquitted but she was found guilty of murder and was condemned to death. Her husband, Hugh, was also indicted for witchcraft, largely on the word of his wife, who testified that “sometymes he hath puld of the Bed Clothes and left me naked abed. … Sometimes he hath thrown pease about the Howse and made me pick them up. … Oftentymes in his sleep he makes a gablings Noyse.” Hugh was found guilty by the jury, but the verdict was overruled by the magistrates.

In 1674 another Mary Parsons, this one of Northampton, was accused of familiarity with the Devil and of having caused the death of Mary Bartlett. The accused was a respectable woman and the wife of one of Northampton’s richest citizens, but according to Judd, she was proud and high-spirited to a point that had excited the ill will of her neighbors. At the preliminary hearing she vehemently asserted her innocence, whereupon the magistrate appointed a “jury of soberized, chaste women to make a diligent search upon the body of Mary Parsons, whether any marks of witchcraft might appear.” Suspicious marks were discovered, and she was sent to Boston for trial but there found innocent and discharged.

The Devil's work

THE MOST FAMOUS witch of Hampshire County was Mary Webster of Hadley, a poor old woman who had the unfortunate habit of feuding with her neighbors—the customary background for a charge of witchcraft. Hadley folks told many tales of her devilries. Horses and cattle going by her house stopped and could not be driven past. A load of hay overturned near her home, and when the driver threatened her with his whip, she turned it back again. A hen fell down the chimney of a neighbor’s house and was scalded in the pot, whereupon it was discovered that Mary had just been scalded. Lt. Philip Smith fell strangely ill after she had threatened him. Feeling against her finally grew into such heat that in 1683 she was indicted and sent to Boston for trial, the charge being that “she not having the fear of God before her eyes, and being instigated by the devil, hath entered into a convernent and had familiarity with him in the shape of a warraneage [a fisher or marten] and had his imps sucking her.” She was found not guilty, and the colony paid the costs of her trial, amounting to twenty-three pounds, fifteen shillings, and twopence.


An odd and unexplained preface to this case is a court record of 1680 stating that Anne Belding, a sixteen-year-old girl, pleaded guilty to purposes and practices against the body and life of Mary Webster and was fined one pound. And an even stranger postscript is thus told in the words of Cotton Mather: “Mr. Philip Smith, aged about fifty years, deacon of a church in Hadley, and a man of devotion, sanctity and gravity, was … in the winter of 1684 murdered with a hideous witchcraft. He was, by his office, concerned about relieving the indigencies of a wretched woman in the town, who being dissatisfied at some of his just cares about her, expressed herself unto him in such a manner, that he declared himself henceforth apprehensive of receiving mischief at her hands.” Deacon Smith’s fears seemed to be verified when he became “very valetudinarious. … Galley pots of medicine were unaccountably emptied; audible scratchings were made about the bed, when his hands and feet lay wholly still, or were held by others. … Some of the young men of the town being out of their wits at the strange calamities … went to give disturbance to the woman thus complained of; and all the while they were disturbing her, he was at ease, and slept as a weary man. Mr. Smith dies; the jury that viewed his corpse, found a swelling on the breast, his back full of bruises, and several holes that seemed made with awls. … This was the end of a good man.”

“Give disturbance” strikes one as a rather mild way of putting it when we learn from another contemporary that “a number of brisk lads tried an experiment on the old woman. Having dragged her out of the house, they hung her up until she was nearly dead, let her down, rolled her some time in the snow, and at last buried her in it, and there left her; but she survived, and the melancholy man died.”

This was the last of the valley’s witchcraft trials. The old superstitions were dying out, and when a Northampton man accused a neighbor of bewitching him, the magistrate, instead of entering the complaint, is said to have ordered the accuser to be whipped ten stripes on the spot.

How the river towns were settled and governed

HADLEY AND OTHER FRONTIER towns were founded by companies of men, banded together by written agreement to establish new homes in the wilderness. The agreement first had to be approved by the General Court, which appointed a committee to lay out the bounds “that this wilderness may be populated and the main ends of our coming into these parts promoted.” When land had been bought from the Indians, it was divided among the “proprietors,” partly by lot and partly by proportional investment. A main street, often as much as 20 rods (320 feet) wide was fenced for a common grazing ground, and each proprietor received a home lot of eight acres (in the case of Hadley) and some meadowland for crops and grazing.


These early settlements were determined to keep themselves select and to exclude “unworthy persons or those liable to become a town charge.” For Hadley it was stipulated in the Articles of Agreement that “no man shall have the liberty to sell any of his land until he shall inhabit and dwell in the town three years; and also to sell it to no person but such as the town shall approve on.” Even visitors were coldly scrutinized. Springfield, for example, ordered in 1642 that “if any man of this Township shall, under the color of friendship or otherwise, intertayne any person or persons here to abide or continue as inmates, or shall subdivide their house lot to intertayne them as tenants for a longer time than one month without the general consent and allowance of the inhabitants, he shall forfeit for the first default twenty shillings.” Inhospitable as this may seem, it was a necessary precaution during the first years when food was scarce and living precarious.

In those days, when men’s affairs were strictly ordered and wages and prices (or many of them) set by law, town officials were more numerous than they are today. In addition to the governing body of five townsmen (selectmen) there were in Hadley three raters (assessors), two auditors, two constables who doubled as tax collectors and who carried five-foot black staffs tipped with brass, a town clerk, a clerk of the markets (sealer of weights and measures), three commissioners to end small causes (to try civil cases up to forty shillings), a clerk of the writs to grant summonses and attachments in civil actions, four tithing men to keep a watchful eye on liquor sellers, Sabbath breakers, tipplers, and nightwalkers, two measurers of land, two surveyors of highways, one gauger of casks, two fence viewers to perambulate bounds, two haywards and a hogreeve to keep animals out of the mowing, a hog ringer, a cow keeper, a shepherd, a gravedigger, and a sabbath guard to attend church, armed and alert. The less important officers were paid only by the piece, that is, for actual work performed.

In the early days there was no town treasurer and virtually no money. The townsmen kept an account with each inhabitant, crediting him with work done or supplies furnished and debiting him for his taxes. At the end of the year he gave or received produce for the balance, or canceled it out by bartering directly with some other citizen whose balance was on the other side. Judd quotes, as a typical example of how cumbersome a simple transaction can be under a barter economy, the case of Lt. Philip Smith, to whom in 1681 the town of Hadley owed nine pounds, seventeen shillings, and six pence. To discharge this bill, the townsmen first credited his tax as paid, then arranged to have eight other citizens each pay Smith part of their tax in such produce as he could use, and then turned over to him enough peas, wheat, and corn (paid in by other taxpayers) to make up the balance.

At first none but church members could be freemen in Massachusetts, and none but freemen could vote. Because town offices were a burden to people busy in subduing the wilderness, so many church members refused to record themselves as freemen that in 1647 a law was passed compelling such men to serve on penalty of a twenty-shilling fine. Also, every citizen was compelled to work one day a year on the highways plus another day for every acre of meadow he owned.

Town meetings were open to all, but only freemen could vote for officers. Attendance was compulsory, and anyone an hour late, or absent, was fined twelve pence unless excused at the next meeting; nor could anyone depart before the meeting was over, under penalty of a sixpence fine.

Before each meeting a moderator was elected, toward whom all were to direct their speech, “he to value and make answer thereto, until it be ripened for a vote; so that we may avoid personal jangling.” A clerk was also chosen and paid twopence for each order recorded with a penalty of a fourpence forfeit for each order not recorded before the next meeting. Townsmen were elected to transact all public business except admitting new inhabitants, giving lands, laying out highways, levying taxes, and other matters to be decided by a vote of all the citizens. Then, as now, there must have been ranters and idle talkers, for in 1664, the Hadley town meeting voted that “the carriage of Richard Billings at this present meeting is offensive.”


“Have pity on us! Not one in ten hath any money.”

DURING THE SEVENTEENTH CENTURY the river towns saw very few of the “Pine Tree” shillings minted in Boston, and taxes, debts, and wages were paid in “provision pay” or produce, with wampum for small change. A minister, for example, might receive eighty pounds a year in provision pay which was figured as equivalent to sixty pounds in money—high pay for the period. Soldiers in King Philip’s War were paid six shillings a week, plus food, which was computed at five shillings. The principal medium of this pseudocurrency was grain, and its price was strictly set—wheat, for example, at three shillings a bushel, corn at two.

This barter economy continued for over half a century and was followed by a half-century of paper economy based on indented bills of credit issued to meet the costs of the Indian wars. Year by year the bills issued exceeded the taxes collected in ever greater amounts, with the inevitable result of a depreciation in the value of money and increase in the cost of labor and goods. In 1736 the issue was called “new tenor,” and it was ordered that one pound of these should be equal to three pounds in the previous bills, now called “old tenor.” Five years later there was another devaluation, and a final one in 1749.

The fluctuating value of the paper currency and the confusing use of the terms “old tenor,” “middle tenor,” and “last emission” to designate the various issues make it difficult to compute real wages and prices during the first half of the century, but we know, for example, that wheat rose from three to thirty shillings a bushel and then dropped back to three. To enable its citizens to meet the strain of this sharp and sudden increase in the cost of living, Massachusetts loaned the river towns a total of 260,000 pounds at 5 percent interest. The money was passed around to the towns and loaned to deserving citizens by trustees appointed in each town. The town kept 2 percent of the interest, the balance went to the province. The gyrations of paper money were a nightmare to traders, the more stubborn of whom continued doggedly to keep their accounts at old tenor for as much as twenty years after it had been superseded.


Meanwhile, as a result of the wars, the inevitable agony of taxes had become even worse in the country towns. In the seventeenth century taxes were called “rates” and were of four kinds: country rate (equivalent to our state tax), county rate to defray county expenses, town rate for local expenses, and minister’s rate, which the constables collected separately (usually in grain) and turned over to the minister to the extent of his salary.

The customary country rate was a poll tax of one shilling and eightpence on every male over sixteen, plus a penny a pound on real and personal estate. To meet the cost of King Philip’s War, ten country rates were ordered in 1675; that is, the poll of one and eight and the penny a pound assessment had to be paid ten times over. In three years thirty-five taxes were collected. Even single females who earned a livelihood were taxed two shillings. And when it was further ordered that part of the taxes should be paid in silver, which was to be sent to England in payment of the colony’s debts, the cries of distress rose from every village and were embodied in petitions that poured into the General Court. “Our people have not patience to bear such a yoke. Not one in ten of the inhabitants hath any income of money.” “Have pity on us. Have mercy on us. Oh, do not distress us. Do not, for charity’s sake, enjoin us to pay one penny more in money. Let it be enough for us to pay in corn, when we can raise it.” Even the tax collectors were delinquent, and the sheriff complained that it did no good to seize their estates, since no one had the money to buy them.

The country was like a great park

WHEN THE WHITE MEN came to the valley, it was not, as supposed, covered with dense forests. The Indian custom of burning over the land each year to destroy the undergrowth and facilitate hunting had made it like a park where a deer could be seen at forty rods. Pine gradually took the place of oak for building, but all pine trees of two feet or more in diameter were reserved for the king’s navy, a law that produced more discontent than logs. In Northampton, Massachusetts, for example, of 363 logs marked for the king, all but 37 were poached for private use.

During the seventeenth century wheat was the staple crop. Corn, peas, and oats, rye for bread, barley for malt, and flax for cloth were also raised. Horses, cattle, and sheep were pastured in the forest, and hogs and young stock ran wild. To help in sorting them out, each town was required by law to have its own brand mark. Cattle and horses were driven to pasture before the sun was an hour high by the town herdsmen and brought back “seasonably” at night. Sheep were watched by the town shepherd and “folded” at night in hurdles, or movable pens. Geese often wore a shingle with a hole bored in it about their necks to keep them from straying. They splashed and honked in the puddles of the common and slept at night before their owners’ houses, being much esteemed as watchdogs. Four times a year the women of the village plucked them for feather beds, first pulling stockings over the heads of the geese to keep them from biting. Many families kept skeps (hives) of bees, and the only way they knew to get the honey was to kill the bees with brimstone.


In the seventeenth century horses were cheaply raised, little tended, and sold for as low as thirty shillings in barter or twenty in money. Fourteen hands was set by law as the proper height for a horse. They were used only under the saddle and could be hired for a penny and a half a mile or twopence if the horse carried double.

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.


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

THE STANDARD DISH of early New England was made of cornmeal and water and called hasty pudding or mush. On Saturday a huge batch was cooked to be eaten for breakfast and often for supper throughout the week. Pumpkins, another early favorite, were adopted from the Indians. They were pared and cut into circular slices through which poles were passed and on which they were then suspended from the kitchen ceiling to dry.

Salt pork was the principal meat dish. To salt or corn meat was to powder it, and every family had its powdering tub. Some pork was kept in brine, but most was salted in large pieces and hung in the great kitchen chimney to smoke. These smoked sides were called flitches of bacon.

Contrary to popular belief, baked beans were not eaten till the eighteenth century. Potatoes were first raised in the valley about 1750; tomatoes and rhubarb were unknown until well into the nineteenth century.

Candlewood (pine knots or slivers of pine) was commonly used for light in the seventeenth century as it was much easier to come by than candles, which country people made by spinning wicks of tow and dipping them in melted tallow.

The favorite drinks of the early settlers were beer and cider. Beer was the most popular, and almost every household made its own. Brew day was once a week, and into the kettle went not only malt and hops but also dried pumpkins, dried apple parings, and sometimes rye bran and birch twigs. After brewing, the beer was strained through a sieve, and from the emptyings (the settlings in the barrel) yeast was made. Of cider, the average country family drank four or five barrels a year, and innumerable apple trees were planted to supply this demand. At first the apples were pounded by hand in a trough, but cider mills came in around 1700. In winter, when milk was scarce, children were given cider sweetened with molasses and warmed in a pan.

Because the word alehouse had fallen into bad repute, inns or drinking places were called ordinaries and were strictly regulated. Indeed, governmental regulations today would have seemed puny to the Puritans, who believed that well-being could be assured by legislative enactment. The first ordinaries, for example, were not allowed to serve strong drinks, nor even cakes and buns except at weddings and funerals, nor to force meals costing twelve pennies or above on poor people.

This first law was soon repealed, but the strength of liquor continued to be regulated; four bushels of malt, for example, had to be used in making a sixty-three-gallon hogshead of beer under penalty of a stiff fine. Moreover, liquor could be sold only to “governors of families of sober carriage,” as complaints were being made even then of drinking by wild youths.


As an instance of the extraordinary care taken to ensure the respectability of liquor sellers, Judd mentions that, in 1663, the citizens of Hadley voted to appoint a committee of ten to consider the matter of licensing an ordinary, they to report to a committee of seven who were then to report to the town. Owing perhaps to this triple precaution, no one was deemed worthy of a license until 1668. Meantime, two men were fined for selling without a license, so, as a stopgap, Deacon Smith was allowed to sell liquor “to persons in real need.”

The drinks sold in the ordinaries were beer and ale, sack, “strong-water,” which was aqua vitae distilled from wine or grain, and wine of several kinds. “Kill-devil,” as rum was called, was brought from the West Indies late in the seventeenth century and quickly became popular because it was so much cheaper than aqua vitae, selling at only six shillings a gallon. New England rum, distilled from molasses, came in early in the eighteenth century. Other liquors were mum, perry, metheglin, cherry bounce, and a flip made of beer, spirits, and sugar.

Time, titles, lights, paupers, and slaves

CLOCKS AND WATCHES were rare before the Revolution. A few country people had hourglasses or sundials, but for the most part, time was told by the sun or by a “noon mark,” which many houses had on the bottom casing of a south window. The month of March, when most town meetings are still held, once marked the beginning of the new year. Some towns figured it as beginning March 1, but most towns began it on March 25 and called the days from January 1 to March 24, inclusive, mongrel time, to be written down thus: March 3, 167¾, the upper figure in the fraction denoting the year commencing March 25, the lower the year commencing January 1. This confusion continued until the calendar was reformed in 1752.

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.

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