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Colonial Life in America
Powhatan and Pocahontas
Economics of Jamestown
Ann Burras, Colonial Maid
Women in Jamestown
Africans in Jamestown
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English and Irish Influences
Virginia and Southern Colonies
Salem Witch Trials
The Middle Colonies
Labor in the Colonies
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Lecture Notes: Life in the Colonies
The lecture "Life in the Colonies" includes several sections. It starts with "Early Settlement" and then goes to the English Colonies subdivided by the Southern Colonies, the New England Colonies, and the Middle Colonies. After that, there is a section called "Shared Experiences" that describes what the colonists had in common. The main point I want you to get is in which of the regions of colonies would you have preferred to live and why? So, here we go!
The first permanent settlement in today's U.S. was Spanish St. Augustine, Florida, founded in 1549. As most Spanish settlements, it began as a mission to convert American Indians and turn them into tax paying laborers.
St. Augustine still is a lovely city that is worth a visit if you ever get to Florida. A conquistador adorns the town square and a nifty state park is there, too.
The second permanent European settlement in today's U.S. was also Spanish, New Mexico, near today's Santa Fe founded in around 1609 or 1610. This was not a mission but an effort to convert Pueblo Indians to Christians and sheepherders. The Pueblos adjusted well to sheepherding but not the Spanish and will run the out temporarily. But, Spain will not be the dominant influence in the creation of the United states, that was England.
There will be 13 original English colonies in North America. The English came for the same reasons as others but had some distinctive problems that encouraged them to migrate to the colonies. One issue was primogeniture. This was an English law that allowed only the eldest sons to inherit the land. This left many sons of nobles without land and in Europe land determined status. The reason for this l 2000 aw was to try to keep estates intact rather than breaking them apart to distribute to the following generations. As a result, many of these noblemen will come to the New World. What kind of colonists in a wilderness do you think they will make?
Another issue was the problems of the yeomen, farmers who owned small amounts of land. They were being forced off the land to make way for sheep in the ever-growing wool industry in England. That left many of them homeless, wandering the city streets. So, many of them will decide to come to the New World, too. What kind of colonists in a wilderness do you think they will make?
Another stimulant for immigration was the Protestant Reformation. It began in 1517 when Augustinian friar Martin Luther challenged the Catholic Church. He challenged the authority of the Pope over bishops, said the Church was greedy by taking advantage of the poor, did not need priests as intermediaries, believed acceptance of Jesus Christ was sufficient for salvation, criticized the isolation of monks and nuns, and criticized relics and pilgrimages. He also believed priests should be able to marry and condemned burning people at the stake for heresy because witchcraft did not exist. The result was Martin Luther was excommunicated in 1520 and went on to start his own church, the Lutheran Church, where he encouraged everyone to read the Bible and come up with their own interpretations.
A lot of people did and that led to a proliferation of new Christian denominations. In 1533, the Protestant Reformation came to England. King Henry VIII had been crowned in 1509 at 18 years of age. He was a deeply religious Catholic who attended mass five times on Sunday and three times on other days. But, after 22 years of marriage to Catherine of Aragon, he grew frustrated since she had been unable to produce a male heir. Catherine gave birth to five babies but all but one, Mary, died. Then, Henry VIII met Anne Boleyn, the niece of a duke and she and Henry became lovers.
In 1527, Henry began annulment proceedings to get rid of Catherine so he could marry Anne. The Church refused to grant his request since they had been married 22 years. So, in 1533, Henry banished his wife and daughter, declared himself divorced, and married Anne Boleyn. He also declared himself the supreme head of the Church of England (Anglican Church) which he created as a Protestant replacement for the Catholic Church. Almost immediately, others in England began questioning the Church of England and Catholicism was not dead in England. In the years that followed, various groups were persecuted for not following Henry's orders. Many of the persecuted will begin to see the English colonies as a better place or will be forced to go as criminals.
The first English colony in North America will not come easily. Roanoke Island (eventually part of Virginia Colony) was first occupied in 1585 by 100 men. After a year, they gave up and returned to England. There was another effort the next year, but it failed also. The third try came in 1587 with 115 settlers including 17 women. No one checked on them until 1590, and it was discovered all the settlers were missing. They were never found and it remains a mystery today. About the only known result was the birth of the first English child in North America, Virginia Dare. Her fate is a mystery, also.
Not until 1607, will England succeed in establishing a permanent colony at Jamestown (Virginia). 105 men and boys, most of them landless gentlemen, came looking for the good life of gold and no work. The main purpose of Jamestown was to make money. (NOTE: The myth that the U.S. was founded for freedom of religion just is not true as you will see.) Jamestown was the project of a joint-stock company, the forerunner of the corporation where individuals invested to share the risk and share the profits. Jamestown never made a profit, though. Another purpose was to turn the wilderness into an outpost of British power and Christian civilization.
Unfortunately, the founders selected a swampy area for the town. But, at first, things went well. They experienced only one minor attack by American Indians, the climate was mild when they arrived, and wild food, seafood, fowl, and fur-bearing animals were abundant. Of course, that was not enough. The settlers wanted gold.
In June, 1607, things began to go downhill. Almost everyone got sick and food was running out due to the laziness of the settlers. By September, 1/2 the settlers were dead. This is when John Smith emerged as the leader and became the chief negotiator with the American Indians in the area. This also led to his story about Pocahontas. He later claimed she saved his life but that is doubtful. He did not mention the story until after Pocahontas had died. Also, despite the Disney film, John Smith and Pocahontas had no romantic relationship.
What we do know about Pocahontas includes she was a Powhatan Indian and the daughter of the chief, Chief Powhatan. Her real name was Matoaka but the settlers renamed her Pocahontas meaning "little plaything." She was just a child at the time of the European arrival.
Meanwhile, Jamestown struggled to survive. More and more settlers arrived including women, but only 38 of the original settlers survived. Smith was elected President of Jamestown in September, 1608. They had many problems. They were in dire need of food, weapons, tools, and clothing. Smith did manage to get corn from the American Indians. If they would not give the corn, the settlers took it anyway even if it left the Indians with nothing. Indians were killed, captured, their villages burned, and canoes confiscated. Smith wrote it was the only way to deal with "such a treacherous people." At the same time, the settlers accepted Pocahontas as she was no threat. Eventually, they converted her to Christianity (Anglican) and renamed her Rebecca. The picture of the top of this page shows her in European dress. She did try to keep peace between the settlers and her people. She even warned the settlers if an attack was planned by her people.
Meanwhile, more settlers arrived and spread out into the wilderness which worsened relations with the Indians. Warfare erupted. This led to the ousting of Smith from his leadership role and he left Jamestown in 1609. With Smith gone, things got worse with both continued attacks and starvation. One man even killed his wife, boiled her, and ate her.
A new leader arrived in 1611, Sir Thomas Dale who brought some orderliness and industry to the settlement. He made a long list of capital crimes including impiety, theft, three blasphemies, and illegal trade with American Indians. He also ordered enslavement to anyone with three unexcused absences from church. He ordered ear cropping (cutting) for dishonest bakers, cooks, and fisherman. Improper shirt-making led to a whipping. Dales also decided to eliminate the American Indian threat. To do this, he kidnapped Pocahontas in 1613. At that point, settler John Rolfe steeped forward, professed his love for her, and asked if he could marry her. Dale and her father agreed to the marriage and this improved relations between the settlers and Indians. With this, the Indians agreed to provide food. In 1616, Pocahontas went to England with her husband and son Thomas. There she died of disease at the age of between 22 and 24. Rolfe left his son in England to 2000 be raised and Thomas does not return until after his father's death to take control of his inherited land. He became a wealthy, successful colonist at that time.
Another accomplishment by John Rolfe was the introduction of tobacco farming to the colonists. He brought in seeds from South America that he found more tasty than those near Jamestown. This was the first great success for England in the colonies. By 1626, 1.5 million pounds per year were shipped out of Virginia.
By then, though, the joint-stock company had gone bankrupt and although Jamestown survived 92 years, it never was a stable community. It became a transfer point for new settlers who headed further into the wilderness. Jamestown was important, though, because it gave England a foothold in Virginia and North America. Eventually this shakey beginning grew to be the five Southern Colonies.
There were five colonies known as the Southern Colonies: Virginia, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia. Think about if you would like to have lived there.
Each of the colonies had unique qualities but also had great similarities. Maryland was founded in 1634 as a safe haven for Catholics trying to escape the harassment in England. In 1665, the Carolinas received a charter but separated in 1691 over political and cultural conflicts. The last of all 13 colonies was Georgia founded in 1733.
In general, the Southern Colonies shared an agricultural economy growing tobacco, rice, sugar, indigo, and hemp. Both plantations and small farms occupied the sparsely populated region that featured few cities or roads. Diseases took a huge toll due to the swampy areas that led to malaria. Typhoid fever and dysentery, fatal diarrhea, resulted from contaminated water and food. Adding to the discomforts of southern life were extremes in temperature and hostile American Indians. Life was short averaging 50 years if born there but only 40 if an immigrant.
Developing family life was a challenge. First a shortage of women led to problems. In 1650 there were six men for every woman. As late as 1700 it was still three men for every two women. When couples did marry, it was usually later than other regions. Men usually did not marry until they were around 30. As a result, there were fewer children in the Southern Colonies averaging 4-5 per family rather than the 7-8 in the North. 1/2 of marriages lasted less than seven years due to the death of a spouse.
Therefore, the South grew slowly. In 1700, the population was about 200,000 and made up of mostly the English and Africans although there were also Scots, French, and people from Barbados. Most southern colonists faced lonely lives on farms spread out over 42,000 square miles.
The Southern Colonies also featured a class-structured society meaning once born into a class, it was likely you would stay there the rest of your life. The structure resulted from the land policy known as the headright system. A colonist could pay the passage of a laborer to the colonies and receive 50 acres of land. For those with money, this meant the accumulation of huge parcels of land that usually became plantations. These landowners were at the stop of the class structure, the aristocrats, making up about 6-10% of the population, controlling the economy, and dominating politics including in the first colonial legislature, the House of Burgesses in Virginia. Colonists accepted this dominance because they believed the wealthy were the "natural leaders." The aristocrats also owned 2/3 of the servants and slaves.
Below them were the yeomen, farmers with small amounts of land usually 50 acres. This was the largest class and made-up approximately half of the population. Below them, things got harder. Landless freemen had quite a predicament. They were free but had no land so had to either move into the wilderness where conditions were extreme or take low paying jobs in the few cities or on farms. They will become rebellious with resentment. Below them, though, were the indentured servants and slaves.
Indentured servants were temporary slaves. Most were poor English men, women and children, although the first Africans to arrive in Jamestown were considered indentured servants, too. They usually had a contract for four to ten years and then freed to become landless freemen. At first they were given 50 acres of land but that did not last long. Indentured servants and slaves lived together, worked together, and were treated the same except the possibility of freedom for the servants. Both were brought by boatloads and auctioned.
Over the years, however, distinctions were made between indentured servants and slaves. With that chattel slavery evolved in the colonies. Laws appeared defining the status of Africans and race relations. Colonist used the Bible and the Hamitic Hypothesis to justify their actions. Each colony had its own laws and were strictest where the most Africans resided. The first law dealing with race in colonies came in 1630 Virginia and is a bit contradictory. It established the punishment of whipping for interracial sexual intercourse. This seemed contradictory because the aristocrats made the laws, owned the plantations, and had sexual intercourse with slave women. There seems to be little evidence this law was enforced.
The most significant law came in 1661-2 first in Virginia and then spreading to the other colonies. These laws made slavery hereditary based on the mother's status. It would have been inconvenient for slaveowners to produce children with slaves only to see them be legally free. So, status was based on the woman. This is also the first time the word "slave" appeared in laws. Colonial laws defined slaves as "perpetual servants" and African. Other laws included outlawing intermarriage and the rule that if one spouse was a slave, both spouses were slaves to discourage intermarriage. Starting in 1667 Virginia another law ruled that baptism did not alter status. Previously, a slave who converted to Christianity was rewarded with freedom but that ended throughout the colonies after the Virginia law. Chattel slavery, people as property, had been born.
Life for the wealthy in the Southern Colonies could be relatively luxurious. Plantations of hundreds of acres with homes that copied the styles of Europe provided a comfortable life compared to most. The men put their wives on a pedestal as pure, virtuous, and fragile. They received pampering by slaves and servants while dressed in European fashions. The "Southern Belle" became a symbol of womanhood in the South, but it is rather sad. Women were seen as childlike who were given the responsibility of supervising the staff. And, they had few opportunities outside their wifely duties. They also had no say when they watched their husbands run to the slave quarters to meet their slave mistresses.
The aristocrats sent their sons to Europe for college until 1693 when William and Mary College became the first college in the South. The aristocrats paid no taxes either since they ran the government. That would be good if not for the things societies do with taxes such as establish schools, build roads, and provide law enforcement which did not happen in the Southern Colonies.
The good news was the plantation party. These were great gatherings that lasted for days. All classes came together to mingle and keep the peace. The mingling of European and African cultures also occurred. This will be the birthplace of American music. That will take awhile to develop, however. The European colonist held tight to their culture. That seems ironic since they all escaped Europe for one reason or another but then tried to recreate it when they got to the co
lonies. While slaves had their music, the Europeans had their music and dance. In this period, The Minuet was popular and will be throughout the 19th century. So, give it a try:
For those outside the aristocracy, life was very different. The yeoman's life was very difficult. Most had been indentured servants who got land, usually 50 acres or less. Most were illiterate, lived in crude housing, and both men and women lived lives of hard labor. They raised their own crops for food plus a cash crop to sell for items they could not make. In addition, they had to complete with plantation owners. To make it worse, tobacco destroyed the land so they had to be constantly on the move. They also had to make almost everything they needed since there were few stores and distance made even going to those a chore. Many of these crafts were done by women including making candles, sewing, preserving food, and making soap, one of the worst jobs ever with heat and lye while stirring over the pot. Men did the farming and herding most of the time.
For food, they ate mostly hog meat and corn while drinking rum and cider. Cleanliness was a low priority and they rarely bathed due to the difficulties involved. The water had to be hauled and heated. Once that was done, the family shared the same bath water with the husband first, then the wife, and then the children beginning with the eldest. This is where the phrase "Don't throw the baby out with the bath water" originated. Fashion was not an issue and there was rarely a break from the monotony other than the occasional plantation party. Church was often impossible to attend even though laws required attendance at the Anglican Church (all the Southern Colonies became officially Anglican including Maryland that began as a Catholic haven). There was little tolerance for other denominations until the early 1700s. Those who failed to attend were vulnerable to punishment including fines, stocks, having houses searched, and slaves whipped. The lack of roads made obeying the laws almost impossible and the priests England sent were second rate. In general, religion will be less important in the Southern Colonies that the other colonies until the 1700s.
Men had a few other diversions such as going to taverns or "ordinaries." They also engaged in sports and gambling. Horse races, billy goat butting, and cockfights were a few of their favorite activities. For women, there was little diversion other than an occasional fair. Even getting together with other women was a challenge due to the conditions. The yeoman's wife could be grateful for one thing. She did not live in the lower classes.
Below the yeomen class was the class of landless freemen. Most had been indentured servants who did not get land. The aristocrats decided they did not want to share. So they took low paying jobs or lived in the "slums in the woods." They were on the front lines of the struggle with American Indians and after 1670, they were not allowed to vote. Frustration and resentment erupted in violence in 1676 known as Bacon's Rebellion. This was an uprising of landless freemen, both black and white, against the government of Virginia. The leader, Nathaniel Bacon, was actually a lawyer and member of the House of Burgesses legislature. But, he organized the landless who were angered at the lack of government suppression of Indians.
The Rebellion began with attacks on American Indians for allegedly stealing hogs. The colonists killed regardless of guilt. American Indians retaliated. Then, Bacon's followers attacked Jamestown and burned it to the ground. The Rebellion ended when Bacon died of dysentery or tuberculosis. The results, however, had a huge impact on the colonies. Now, the landless free were labeled troublemakers therefore indentured servants were troublemakers. So, the colonist turned more toward slavery. In 1650 there had been only 150 Africans in all the Southern Colonies. By 1680, that grew to 3,000. By 1700, 10,000-17,000 Africans were arriving each year. By the mid-1700s, Africans made up half of Virginia's population. And since they were chattel, they did not have to be freed like indentured servants.
And with all this, southern culture developed. Individualism and self-reliance were encouraged. Guns and horses were more important than education. But, music and dance flourished. The region also developed the reputation for having "southern hospitality." The loneliness of southern life made the colonists happy to see anyone so they were generally welcoming of anyone who came by including strangers. The Southern Colonies became a unique culture formed by the mingling of the English and Africans and they were forever tied together in history and culture whether they liked it or not.
Do you think the South is the same today? Does "southern hospitality" still survive?
Meanwhile, a very different culture developed to north in New England. This included Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Connecticut, and Rhode Island. All the New England colonies had a connection to the religious turmoil in England. One persecuted denomination in England was the Puritans or Calvinists. Founded by John Calvin, Puritans wanted to "purify" the Anglican Church. It was too Catholic. (In the U.S., the Anglican Church is now called the Episcopal Church and if you have ever attended one, you can see many Catholic influences.)
The beliefs of the Puritans influenced the developed of the New England colonies. Let's see if I can convert you! First, they believed all human were weak and wicked. Do you believe that we are born weak and wicked? This sounds bad but came in handy sometimes. If a Puritan did something wrong, they might get off with a light punishment because, afterall, they are weak and wicked. One example showed how this worked. A Puritan woman had five children out of wedlock which was considered a sin. But, after each child, she went to the congregation and asked for forgiveness. Each time she was forgiven because was weak and wicked.
Puritans also believed that life was misery. Do you agree with that? They also said few people are saved and most go to hell. The elders had the most power and were the ones who generally decided who had been saved. To be a member of the Congregationalist Church (Puritans), a person had to convince the elders he/she had been saved and that was not an easy task but it helped if they had family members already in the church. Once the elders and ministers had been convinces, the person became one of the "chosen." At the same time, no Puritans ever could be totally certain about their fate after life.
Puritans believed in predestination. There are several different views on predestination, but the Puritans had a distinctive interpretation. They called predestination the "horrible decree." They believed that God, before the creation of the earth, determined each person's afterlife in a random fashion without regard for goodness or evilness. No human actions could save a person from this decree. For examples, mass murderer Ted Bundy may be in heaven and Mother Teresa in hell. What they did in life was irrelevant.
So, if that's the case why worship God at all? Puritans called it Covenant Theology. A Puritan was to accept God and hope for the best. They served God for its own reward not to go to heaven. God was not loving or forgiving. Some of this came from Ephesians 1:4 - "According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love." Basically, Puritans worried all their lives about that true fate.
In 1620, they brought their beliefs to the American
colonies. They made up and 1/2 of the 65 passengers on the Mayflower famous for its Pilgrims. They landed in Plymouth Bay and created the first permanent English colony in New England. These first Puritans were called "Separatists" since they wanted total separation from the Anglican Church. The tended to be the most tolerant of the Puritans but will not be the dominant group in the colonies.
Like Jamestown, Plymouth Bay struggled to survive. The settlers did contribute to American democracy, though, by signing the Mayflower Compact that allowed all adult men to participate in government. But, Plymouth Bay was eventually absorbed by Massachusetts Bay (founded in 1629) that became the dominant New England colony, Massachusetts. Two other New England colonies, New Hampshire (1623) and Connecticut (1635) will be dominated by Puritans also. The exception was Rhode Island founded in 1636 by Roger Williams after he was banished from Massachusetts.
Most of the Puritans who came to New England did not share the tolerance of the Separatists. They were the Anglican Puritans who wanted to stay in the Church of England but purify it. A third group of Puritans was the Presbyterian Church who had a unique structure and disagreed with the Anglican Puritans on numerous issues. But the most intolerant Anglican Puritans will dominate New England.
In America, they wanted a "community of saints" or "the chosen," themselves. They wanted a utopian community and that did not include non-Puritans. This made life in New England very different than in the South. For awhile, New England Puritans could afford to be "exclusive" and keep others out.
New England featured a healthier climate for one thing. While most of us think of it as too cold, the settlers avoided the problems of southern swamps. They lived 10-20 years longer than southerners and had more children averaging 7-8 per family. They did not need outsiders to grow. They used natural population growth and Puritan immigrants so had no labor shortage as in the Southern Colonies. There was less class structure with few very wealthy and few slaves. Village life also gave New Englanders some advantages.
They had a community, companionship and support. They could share responsibilities. For example, all the men were in the fire department. Some were appointed as "fence watchers." Others checked for "foul chimneys." When something need to be built like a barn, everyone gathered to help. Most of the colonists were small farmers who shared the "commonlands" around the villages. Each family had a garden space and pasture for one or two cows. Trade, however, will become more and more important to New England during the colonial era.
Most homes were log or plank houses with two stories. The top story could be used as a perch to shoot American Indians. They used oiled paper for windows until glass became available and heavy shutters.
The absence of plantations was one reason there were few slaves in New England. Puritans disapproved of slavery in general but not due to morality concerns. They saw nothing wrong with slavery and one minister wrote "slavery is gentle...slaves are treated with humanity." Another wrote "If slaves were free, many...would not live near so well as they do." Opposition to slavery was the result of fear that the African influence would be disruptive, threaten their cohesiveness and invite disorder or uprisings. As a result less than 5% of the population of Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Connecticut were slaves. Ironically, 10-15% of Rhode Island's population were slaves after Roger Williams died and Rhode Island became a center for the slave trade.
Puritans who did have slaves treated them differently than southerners. They tried to socialize them to conform to Puritan standards. They were given private religious instruction, attended churches, and slave marriages were allowed. The work of slaves was also different. In New England they tended to be artisans, farmhands, and personal servants. Most worked alone or with one or two other slaves. They lived with the owner in the same house.
Village life had some disadvantages, though. Everyone knew everyone else's business. Gossip was considered a good thing and woman's work. They kept their eyes open to any infractions and lawbreakers. And there were many laws.
They wanted to be left alone. To ensure security, a sheriff checked on newcomers, required registration, and non-Puritans run out of town. It was against the law to sell a house to a stranger and everyone had to report if they had visitors. Free African-Americans in New England had more rules. They had curfews and could not intermarry. They could own land and participate in the judicial system. The few slaves in New England were encouraged to try to become Puritans, too. The strictness of Puritan colonies tended to discourage non-Puritan immigration.
Not surprising, the church was the center of village life and laws made sure of that. Attendance was required and as of 1631, only adult male members could vote. After 1638, taxes supported the church. Other laws limited free speech, assembly (conspiracy against God), and dress. Ministers served as moral censors and punishers for anyone who displeased God. They deserved instant vengeance.
While women outnumbered men in the Puritan churches, they had few rights or powers in the churches. They sat in segregated pews and could not speak. After a major debate and controversy, they were allowed to sing. On Sunday, life was totally focused on church. The Sabbath lasted from sunset Saturday to sunset Sunday. During that period, there were more rules. They were not allowed to have heavy meals, work, go to parties, travel except to church, or hunt and fish. Punishment for offenses was severe.
Church services were also very structured. Sermons lasted two to six hours while seated on wooden benches. The doors were locked to prevent an exit and everyone sat in assigned seats so the minister on his raised pulpit could immediately see who was not there. Children received "raps and blows" if they misbehaved. Even the music was boring if it could be called music. They had no hymnals or instruments so the deacon would yell out the words and the congregation yell them back.
One significant result of the emphasis on religion in New England was that an emphasis on basic education followed. Everyone had to be able to read the Bible so almost all villages had a school for boys and girls. Boys pursued their education to prepare them for the ministry. Educations was seen as a way to create obedient and responsible citizens. The first college in all 13 colonies was founded in New England, Harvard (1636) as a college for ministers. As a result, New England had a much higher literacy rate than in the Southern Colonies.
New Englanders also developed stronger family life. They migrated as families and marriage by 14 or 15 was acceptable. Necessity drove the Puritans to accept romance as part of marriage more like American Indian marriages than Europeans. Arranged marriages began to decrease although parental approval was expected. Couples were also given the opportunities to get to know one another and allow 2000 ed unchaperoned companionship. Puritans wanted married couples to get along well to prevent discord in the villages, so it was important to make sure the couple was compatible. The romance of Puritan relationships led to some interesting rituals.
First there was "bundling." Once a couple announced their official engagement, they were allowed to spend the night together bundled in separate blankets. But, people are weak and wicked so they passed the "Seven Months Rule." This meant if a couple got pregnant but married immediately (7 months before the birth of the baby), they were automatically forgiven and did not have to appear before the congregation. It is believed that 1/3 Puritan couples had sexual relations before marriage and as many as 1/4 were pregnant at the time of marriage.
Puritans, though, made an effort to pass laws for acceptable sexual behavior. Most of the anti-gay rights attitudes of today can be traced back to the Puritans. The Renaissance Europeans were much more tolerant. The Puritans wanted to restrict heterosexual activities as well. Laws were passed in New England against vague "other acts" and even sexual positions. In Massachusetts, it was illegal for women to be on top during sexual relations for example. Puritans were intolerant of any sexual relations accept what they defined as normal and that was a man and a woman using the so-called missionary position. Of course, it was impossible to enforce these laws but the prejudice Puritans promoted against the gay/lesbian community have influenced U.S. history ever since.
Other regulations further defined the normal relationship. A person could be sued for breaking an engagement. Adultery was one of the most serious transgressions but women usually received more severe punishment. (The book The Scarlet Letter describes this attitude. The author, Nathaniel Hawthorne, came from Puritan roots.) The minimum punishment was public humiliation, a favorite of Puritans. The maximum punishment could be death.
For women, marriage was very serious since it meant incessant childbirth and possible death. While most averaged 7-8 children, having 12 or more was not uncommon. Giving birth was very different in the colonial period than from today. Of course, children were born at home and it was a woman's event. No men were allowed. The pregnant woman would be surrounded by friends and relatives who tried to distract her during childbirth without any kind of pain medicines. Generally, the woman sat at the end of a bed so the baby dropped into the arms of the midwife. The mother was basically squatting while pushing. Once that ordeal ended, the fate of mother and child was still fragile. If you go on a gravestone project, you will see many deceased young mothers up until many years later. Until World War II (1940s), childbirth was a dangerous proposition. For the babies, it was even more dangerous as about 1/2 of Puritan children died. Almost all parents lost a child or more.
Of course, living children were seen as "gifts from God" or a "poor man's wealth." Each children was seen as a producer. Puritans were loving but strict parents. They had high expectations of their children even giving them names to reflect those expectations. Biblical names were very popular, of course, but some were more descriptive. Names like Believe, Truegrace, Comfort, and Silence were common. My favorite though did not have a similar connotation. A mother whose husband died while she was pregnant named her son "Fathergon."
Parents worried constantly about their childrens' relationship with God. Baptism at birth was required even if it meant risking the baby's life. Puritans believed if a baby died before baptism, he went to "limbo" or the place between heaven and hell. As one minister (Jonathan Edwards) stated, the road to hell is paved with the skulls of unbaptized babies.
Children were taught politeness was expected and stubbornness had to be broken as the following reading describes from A New England Diary: Raising Boys.
"A boy is taught a profound respect for his parents, teachers and guardians, and implicit prompt obedience. If he undertook to rebel his will was broken by persistent and adequate punishment. He was taught it was sin to find fault with his meals, his apparel, his tasks and his lot in life. Courtesy was enjoined as a duty. He must be silent among his superiors. If addressed by older persons he must respond with a bow. He was to bow as he entered and left school, and to every man and woman, old or young, rich or poor, black or white, whom he met on the road. Special punishment was visited upon him if he failed to show respect for the aged, the poor, the colored or to any persons what ever whom God had visited with infirmities."
For girls, it was no less strict as the following reading shows from A Child's Account of Her Day's Work (1775).
"Fixed gown for Prude, mended mother's riding-hood, spun short thread, fixed two gowns for Welsh's girls, carded tow (flax or hemp), spun linen, worked on cheese basket, hatched flax with Hannah, we did five pounds a piece; milked the cows, spun more linen, did 50 knots; made a broom of Guinea wheat straw, spun thread to whiten, set a red dye, had two scholars from Mrs. Taylor's [to tutor], I carded two pounds of whole wool, spun harness twin, scoured the pewter [dishes]..."
Another little girl received a very harsh lecture from her father, Reverend Cotton Mather in his advice for "Raising Girls."
"I took my little daughter Katy into my study and then I told my child I am to die shortly and she must, when I am dead, remember everything I now said unto her. I set before her the sinful condition of her nature, and I charged her to pray in secret places every day that God for the sake of Jesus Christ would give her a new heart."
As soon as children were old enough, they were put to work. That meant at least by two years of age. They gathered wood, fed animals, and picked berries. They helped mothers make candles, soap, wool, linen, pickling, preserving, and smoking meats. Girls learned to knit, embroidery, make lace and quilts, and become experts in dying cloth. They loved indigo and maroon as well as the stereotypical black and white.
Girls also were trained to cook in iron pots over open fires with soups, stews, seafood, and game being the most common. All this was washed down with cider, beer, or rum (even for the children). Boys helped run the farm, tend the animals, cut timber, hunt and fish.
Play was discouraged as the "devil's work." As one Puritan said, "Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child." Laziness was the worst sin and work was to be accepted with eagerness without ever tiring. To encourage hard work, Puritans were creative in punishment. Corporal punishment was common. Tapping the head with a thimble was a favorite torture. They also yoked delinquents together and used wooden gags or "whispering sticks." Teach had great latitude in punishing students, too. Whipping the souls of feet was described by a Boston school master as "it is good for them." Teachers also used pinching sticks, gags, and labels such as the "dunce cap" to humiliate offenders.
School lessons also encouraged proper values and behavior. Without many materials, learning consisted of a lot of recitation. Teachers would tell them the lesson and students repeated it. One o 2000 f the first textbooks in the colonies was The New England Primer. Here is an example of how they learned the alphabet. Here are some more lessons that taught values to students.
Still, children did have some amusements. Singing songs like A Froggy Went a-Courtin were popular because children could sing and work at the same time. They also played games like tag, hopscotch, and "Farmer in the Dell." So, let's play! Farmer in the Dell To play get several friends or relatives in a circle and circle around. Someone starts as the farmer. He/she takes someone from the circle as the "wife (or husband)" and so on....
Children also had a few toys like dolls, kites, and puppets. Boys had bows and arrows but it was more practical. Massachusetts law (1645) required all 10-16 year old boys be trained in the use of bows and arrows.
Despite these amusements, some children broke. They suffered from depression, fear of damnation, and self-hate was common. But, it was not just children who broke under the strain.
Roger Williams, a Puritan minister, founded Rhode Island because of that very reason. When he criticized the Puritan church much as Martin Luther had the Catholic Church, he was banished from Massachusetts. He complained that Puritans were not pure enough. He said he would only have communion with his wife for she was the only one worthy. He complained Puritans abused American Indians and took advantage of them. He accused them of attending non-Puritan churches when traveling. He opposed slavery and had other "dangerous opinions." So, he established his own colony in Providence now known as Rhode Island. There he established freedom of religion and tried to deal with American Indians as fairly as he could. It is believed he built the first Baptist Church in North America. Rhode Island became the destination of free spirits but Puritans called it the Rhode Island "sewer." Williams was not a democrat, however. He saw himself as the lord of the manor and did not intend to share authority. At one point, his followers tried to overthrow him. After his death, though (1683), Rhode Island became more like the other colonies even becoming a center for the slave trade.
Anne Hutchinson was also broken by the pressures of Puritanism. The daughter of a prominent minister, she and her husband arrived in Massachusetts in 1634. Governor Winthrop described Mr. Hutchinson as a "man of very mild temper and weak parts, and wholly guided by his wife." Anne began having Bible study classes for other women at her home. They would discuss the sermon of the previous week. Anne was particularly devoted to predestination although took it to the extreme in what is called "antinomianism." She preached that people did not have to obey the laws of men only the laws of God. Good behavior was not a sign of genuine conversion. Nothing they did made any difference. She stated that anyone who was a true believer could communicate directly with God.
This, of course, threatened the authority of the leaders. They saw anarchy. The church leaders confronted her and demanded she stop and recant her speeches. She refused and was tried for heresy, convicted, and banished from the colony in 1638. She, her husband, her eleven surviving children, and some followers went to Rhode Island. Her husband died a few years later. Then, Massachusetts took power over Rhode Island and forced them to run to the Dutch colony of New Netherlands (New York) where she and everyone else in her party except one captured daughter were killed in a battle with American Indians. Hutchinson was 52 years old.
Problems like these did not tend to bring people into the Puritan Church and they felt their culture was threatened. By the 1660s, religion was losing its importance so the Puritans passed the Half-Way Covenant in 1662. This made it possible for a person to be a half member of the church because he/she could not prove to be a "saint" or "chosen." Then in 1691, England forced the Puritans to allow non-Puritan landowners to vote. The atmosphere became more tense. Conflicts between villages worsened especially between merchants and farmers.
They also had innumerable superstitions ranging from comets being a bad sign, black cats being bad luck, but a cat's blood was good luck and few New England cats went unscathed with cropping their ears being popular to get the lucky blood. Puritans also had to deal with the ever-present Satanic influences, too. His servant, witches and wizards, were everywhere and caused storms, droughts, deaths of cattle, sexual impotence, and epidemics. All these issues and the fear of losing their power and culture provided the perfect atmosphere for one of the most unusual events in New England history, the Salem Witch Trials of 1692.
Persecution of witches was nothing new in 1692 and there had already been several colonial executions and thousands in Europe. the Salem Village incident was singular in the colonies for the sheer number of people involved. It began with two pre-pubescent girls who began to act strangely and spread to six girls. The diagnosis was witchcraft. The girls accused three women in the community of causing their problems including a slave, Tituba (see likeness in pictures above). Titiba confessed that she taught the girls how to tell fortunes. For once being a slave was an advantage. Rather than hanging her, she was sold to pay jail fees.
During interrogation, the girls began naming other names of witches and wizards (male witches) usually confirming the fears of others. The accused tended to be people of dubious reputations, non-conformists, family political rivals, and perhaps people with diseases or disabilities. Eventually, 150 were accused and the trials began. The problem was how to tell if someone was a witch or wizard. A confession was no good since Satan was the "Prince of Lies." The Puritans had other methods. The water ordeal was one of the most famous. In this, the accused was tied to a chair and thrown into a pond. If she sank, she was not a witch. If she floated, she was. What is wrong with this method?
Another test was recitation of the "Lord's Prayer." If the accused could not recite it without any errors, that was a sign of being a witch or wizard.. Birth marks, moles and the "witches tit" were also signs of being a witch or wizard. A "witches tit" is a third nipple which is a common birth mark that is easily removed today, but then it was a sign of being a witch. Also, a witch's touch stopped convulsions that the young accusers conveniently did when touched by the accused.
Eventually about 20 were executed including three men. One convicted wizard requested he be crushed with stones and the Puritans obliged. All the others were hanged. Two dogs were also convicted and executed. Then, in 1697, the Massachusetts General Court announced it had all been a big mistake. We still use the term "witch hunt" 2000 to refer to the persecution of innocent people for perceived social good. The Salem Witch Trails also did not do anything to help the decline of Puritan power in New England.
Another reason for Puritan decline in power was their own success in trade. They worked hard believing in the so-call "Protestant Work Ethic." At the same time, Puritans were suspicious of profits from business. They feared wealth and the development of a class structure. So, Puritans passed laws to limit profits, business, and corporations. At the same time, they participated in the so-called Triangular Trade.
The Triangular Trade included raw materials, hemp products, rum, and other goods from New England that went to West Africa to trade for slaves. Then, the slaves were taken first to the Caribbean and some traded for molasses to make more rum. The rest of the slaves came to the colonies where they were generally sold to southerners. The slave part was the most profitable with a profit of 30 cents on every dollar spent. New England prospered and became less Puritan as others came to take advantage of the trade in New England's excellent ports. New Englanders also built ships from their vast wood resources.
So, all these trends created New England culture. Do you think it is similar today if you have been in that area? Are they less friendly than southerners?
Meanwhile, a third groups of colonists had arrived in the Middle Colonies and they also prospered.
Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware were the Middle Colonies. In some ways, they were like the Southern Colonies and in other ways like the New England colonies. But, they were distinctive also. The dominant colony was Pennsylvania founded in 1681 by William Penn. Philadelphia became the dominant city in the Middle Colonies. Pennsylvania was distinctive as a result of the Society of Friends or Quakers who settled there. They belonged to religious group persecuted in England like the Puritans. They also influenced New Jersey and Delaware while New York went a different direction that we will discuss later.
The Quakers had some things in common with the Puritans. They wanted a utopia, too, called the "holy experiment." Quakers also had many restriction on behavior such as dress, types of recreation (no cards, dice, cockfights or dramatic presentations since "Jesus didn't act.") They also discouraged music, dance and art as impractical. They also had "blue laws" on the Sabbath that limited what they could purchase and other activities. When I was in college, Texas still had many "blue laws." We still have a "blue law" about liquor stores on Sunday. When I was young, though, many things considered non-necessities could not be purchased. For example, my girlfriend was moving and need some supplies. She could buy food but not a can opener. That was a "blue law."
On the other hand, Quakers were very different than the Puritans. While Puritans feared capitalism, profits, and the accumulation of wealth, Quakers embraced capitalism. They believed it was their Christian duty to be successful. But, in England, that had been banned from many occupations and avoided others due to their beliefs in not taking oaths or joining the military. So, like the Jewish people, they turned to business since many Christians shunned it. (Quakers are Christians, though.) Quakers also developed a reputation for fairness long before they came to the American colonies so people wanted to do business with them. The Quakers engaged in almost every aspect of business except they would not trade in slaves or tobacco.
Quakers were also different than Puritans because of their devotion to liberalism, the concern for human rights. This made the Middle Colonies very different than New England and Southern Colonies. They were liberal in several ways. First, they had an "open-door policy" to immigrants. Anyone could come including Jews, Mennonites, and the Scotch-Irish Presbyterians who generally came as indentured servants. Their liberal land policy made it possible for almost all free settlers to get land including freed indentured servants and slaves. They did require immigrants to pay taxes and be a Christian to vote.
Also, Quakers did not believe in an established religion so there was freedom of religion in the Middle Colonies except for New York which was Anglican. They also believed it was their duty to help the less fortunate so the first charity appeared in Philadelphia in 1713, an almshouse to provide food and other services. Quakers believed the wealthy should give generously while Puritans believed poverty was a sign of God's displeasure.
Quakers were also pacifists and refused to participate in violence. They were anti-military. This included their approach to American Indians. There was no warfare in Pennsylvania until the Quakers lost control. They signed treaties with American Indians but in the long run, the result was the same for Indians in the loss of land. But, for about 75 years, there was peace in Pennsylvania. Many American Indians moved there to avoid war. This to me is the closest thing to a utopia that I've seen in history.
Quakers also limited capital crimes to only two, murder and treason. The Puritans and Anglicans had dozens including for teenagers who talked back to their parents in New Hampshire (interesting idea). Quakers also wanted to abolish slavery due to morality concerns. Pennsylvania tried to abolish slavery but England overruled the law with the "royal veto." But, they had a clever idea of how to limit slavery by taxing slaveowners heavily so that few could afford slaves. By the time of the American Revolution, Quakers formed the first anti-slavery organization in the colonies and will be involved in the movement to free slaves until the end. They participated in the Underground Railroad and other activities, too.
Quakers also were the first in the colonies to endorse woman's rights. They believed girls should be educated and be able to support themselves. Women were allowed to preach in the "meeting houses," too. (See the picture at the top of this section of the woman preaching.) Quakers believed education promoted "divine potential."
Quakers also rejected predestination. They believed if a person lived a good life the reward was heaven. Unlike Puritans, they felt certain of salvation. They tried to live as Christ-like as possible. Their guiding principles were peace, equality and simplicity.
They also rejected the idea of original sin and believed all were born innocent. They rejected sacraments, water baptismals, and that those not those not exposed to Christianity were condemned but they did do a lot of missionary work. They believed anyone could minister including women and there was no profession ministry. During services that sat quietly until someone was moved to speak and it had to be unrehearsed. Some meetings were in complete silence. They believed that in silence, God could be found. They believed God's word was a individual search like the Plains Indians. Quakers called it the "Inner Light" rather than the "vision-quest."
Quakers valued the simple life and believed everyday should be lived as the last. They had complete acceptance of death and believed it should be welcomed and rejected outward signs of mourning. They believed all should be submis 2000 sive to God.
They were not submissive to England, though. They caused constant problems for England. In 1692, the charter for Pennsylvania was revoked but restored in 1699.
But, the Quakers success in business brought them more problems. As they became wealthy in trade, they invested in larger industries like iron, paper, and whaling. So Quaker merchants grew rich and it became harder to maintain a simple life. Many left the church and children exposed to other ideas intermarried and were excommunicated from the Society of Friends. In addition, the open-door policy weakened Quaker influence as non-Quakers wanted to take advantage of the economic success of the Middle Colonies.
Unfortunately, many of the non-Quakers wanted military control over American Indians so war erupted in 1756 after 75 years of peace. To protest, Quakers resigned from political offices which further weakened their power.
Meanwhile, New York began to prosper, too. Their wealth came about in a different way, though. Originally founded by the Dutch and named New Netherlands with the capital city New Amsterdam, they created a colony similar to the Southern Colonies. There was a landed aristocracy and many slaves. Then, in 1664, it was taken over by England and renamed New York and New York City. It became an official Anglican Church colony. New York city became the only city outside the South with a large African population. In 1740 they made up 1/6 of New York City's population (12,000 slaves).
This led to violence. The only major slave revolt in the Middle Colonies (1712) occurred in New York. In 1741 there was another uprising by Catholics and African-Americans in an effort to take over New York City. This led to 175 imprisoned (both black and white), 35 executions, and 70 Africans sent to the West Indies. New Yorkers also experienced a series of riots by tenant farmers versus landholders similar to Bacon's Rebellion.
As the colonial era continued, however, the differences between the colonies began to erode. They became more and more alike. They were becoming Americans. And that brings us to what I call "Shared Experiences." In the long run, their similarities will be more significant than their differences.