Woman's Life in Colonial Days

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Produced by Mark C. Orton, Karen Dalrymple and the Online Distributed
Proofreading Team.

            [Transcriber's Note: In the original text, some footnotes were referenced more than once in the text. For clarity, these references have had a letter added to the number, for example, 26a.]






 Professor of English
 San Jose State College, California

  Author of








 First Printed in 1922
 Reprinted in 1968





            This book is an attempt to portray by means of the writings of colonial days the life of the women of that period,—how they lived, what their work and their play, what and how they thought and felt, their strength and their weakness, the joys and the sorrows of their everyday existence. Through such an attempt perhaps we can more nearly understand how and why the American woman is what she is to-day.

            For a long time to come, one of the principal reasons for the study of the writings of America will lie, not in their intrinsic merit alone, but in their revelations of American life, ideals, aspirations, and social and intellectual endeavors. We Americans need what Professor Shorey has called "the controlling consciousness of tradition." We have not sufficiently regarded the bond that connects our present institutions with their origins in the days of our forefathers. That is one of the main purposes of this study, and the author believes that through contributions of such a character he can render the national intellectual spirit at least as valuable a service as he could through a study of some legend of ancient Britain or some epic of an extinct race. As Mr. Percy Boynton has said, "To foster in a whole generation some clear recognition of other qualities in America than its bigness, and of other distinctions between the past and the present than that they are far apart is to contribute towards the consciousness of a national individuality which is the first essential of national life.... We must put our minds upon ourselves, we must look to our past and to our present, and then intelligently to our future."

            The author has endeavored to follow such advice by bringing forward those qualities of colonial womanhood which have made for the refinement, the intellectuality, the spirit, the aggressiveness, and withal the genuine womanliness of the present-day American woman. As the book is not intended for scholars alone, the author has felt free when he had not original source material before him to quote now and then from the studies of writers on other phases of colonial life—such as the valuable books by Dr. Philip Alexander Bruce, Dr. John Bassett, Dr. George Sydney Fisher, Charles C. Coffin, Alice Brown, Alice Morse Earle, Anna Hollingsworth Wharton, and Geraldine Brooks.

            The author believes that many misconceptions have crept into the mind of the average reader concerning the life of colonial women—ideas, for instance, of unending long-faced gloom, constant fear of pleasure, repression of all normal emotions. It is hoped that this book will go far toward clearing the mind of the reader of such misconceptions, by showing that woman in colonial days knew love and passion, felt longing and aspiration, used the heart and the brain, very much as does her descendant of to-day.

            For permission to quote from the works mentioned hereafter, the author wishes to express his gratitude to Sydney G. Fisher and the J.B. Lippincott Company (Men, Women and Manners in Colonial Days), Ralph L. Bartlett, executor for Charles C. Coffin, (Old Times in Colonial Days), Alice Brown and Charles Scribner's Sons (Mercy Warren), Philip Alexander Bruce and the Macmillan Company (Institutional History of Virginia in the Seventeenth Century), Anne H. Wharton (Martha Washington), John Spencer Bassett (Writings of Colonel Byrd), Alice Earle Hyde (Alice Morse Earl's Child Life in Colonial Days), Geraldine Brooks and Thomas Y. Crowell Company (Dames and Daughters of Colonial Days). The author wishes to acknowledge his deep indebtedness to the late Sylvia Brady Holliday, whose untiring investigations of the subject while a student under him contributed much to this book.






            The Spirit of Woman—The Suffering of Women—The Era of Adventure—Privation and Death in the First Colonial Days—Descriptions by Prince, Bradford, Johnson, etc.—Early Concord.

            Woman and Her Religion—Its Unyielding Quality—Its Repressive Effect on Woman—Wigglesworth's Day of Doom—What It Taught Woman—Necessity of Early Baptism—Edward's Eternity of Hell TormentSinners in the Hands of an Angry God—Effect on Womanhood—Personal Devils—Dangers of Earthly Love—God's Sudden Punishments.

            Inherited Nervousness—Fears in Childhood—Theological Precocity.

            Woman's Day of Rest—Sabbath Rules and Customs—A Typical Sabbath.

            Religion and Woman's Foibles—Religious Regulations—Effect on Dress—Women's Singing in Church—Southern Opinion of Northern Severity—Effect of Feminine Repression.

            Woman's Comfort in Religion—An Intolerant Era—Religious Gatherings for Women—Formal Meetings with Mrs. Hutchinson—Causes of Complaint—Meetings of Quaker Women.

            Female Rebellion—The Antinomians—Activities of Anne Hutchinson—Her Doctrines—Her Banishment—Emotional Starvation—Dread of Heresy—Anne Hutchinson's Death.

            Woman and Witchcraft—Universal Belief in Witchcraft—Signs of Witchcraft—Causes of the Belief—Lack of Recreation—Origin of Witchcraft Mania—Echoes from the Trials—Waning of the Mania.

            Religion Outside of New England—First Church in Virginia—Southern Strictness—Woman's Religious Testimony—Religious Sanity—The Dutch Church—General Conclusions.


            Feminine Ignorance—Reasons—The Evidence in Court Records—Dame's Schools—School Curriculum—Training in Home Duties.

            Woman's Education in the South—Jefferson's Advice—Private Tutors—General Interest in Education—Provision in Wills.

            Brilliant Exceptions to Female Ignorance—Southern and Northern Women Contrasted—Unusual Studies for Women—Eliza Pinckney—Jane Turell—Abigail Adams.

            Practical Education—Abigail Adams' Opinion—Importance of Bookkeeping—Franklin's Advice.

            Educational Frills—Female Seminaries—Moravian Schools—Dancing—Etiquette—Rules for Eating—Mechanical Arts Toward Uprightness—Complaints of Educational Poverty—Fancy Sewing—General Conclusions.


            Charm of the Colonial Home—Lack of Counter Attractions—Neither Saints nor Sinners in the Home.

            Domestic Love and Confidence—The Winthrop Love Letters—Edwards' Rhapsody—Further Examples—Descriptions of Home Life—Mrs. Washington and Mrs. Hamilton at Home.

            Domestic Toil and Strain—South _vs._ North—Lack of Conveniences—Silver and Linen—Colonial Cooking—Cooking Utensils—Specimen Meals—Home Manufactures.

            Domestic Pride—Effect of Anti-British Sentiment—Spinning Circles—Dress-Making.

            Special Domestic Tasks—Supplying Necessities—Candles—Soap—Herbs —Neighborly Co-operation—Social "Bees."

            The Size of the Family—Large Families an Asset—Astonishing Examples—Infant Death-Rate—Children as Workers.

            Indian Attacks—Suffering of Captive Women—Mary Rowlandson's Account—Returning the Kidnapped.

            Parental Training—Co-operation Between Parents—Cotton Mather as Disciplinarian—Sewall's Methods—Eliza Pinckney's Motherliness—New York Mothers—Abigail Adams to Her Son.

            Tributes to Colonial Mothers—Judge Sewall's Noble Words—Other Specimens of Praise—John Lawson's Views—Woman's Strengthening Influence.

            Interest in the Home—Franklin's Interest—Evidence from Jefferson—Sewall's Affection—Washington's Relaxation—John Adams with the Children—Examples of Considerateness—Mention of Gifts.

            Woman's Sphere—Opposition to Broader Activities—A Sad Example—Opinions of Colonial Leaders—Woman's Contentment with Her Sphere—Woman's Helpfulness—Distress of Mrs. Benedict Arnold.

            Women in Business—Husbands' Confidence in Wives' Shrewdness—Evidence from Franklin—Abigail Adams as Manager—General Conclusions.


            Dress Regulation by Law—Magistrate _vs._ Women—Fines.

            Contemporary Descriptions of Dress—Effect of Wealth and Travel—Madame Knight's Descriptions—Testimony by Sewall, Franklin, Abigail Adams.

            Raillery and Scolding—Nathaniel Ward on Woman's Costume—Newspaper Comments—Advertisement of Hoop Petticoats—Evidence on the Size of Hoops—Hair-Dressing—Feminine Replies to Raillery.

            Extravagance in Dress—Chastellux's Opinion—Evidence from Account Books—Children's Dress—Fashions in Philadelphia and New York—A Gentleman's Dress—Dolly Madison's Costume—The Meschianza—A Ball Dress—Dolls as Models—Men's Jokes on Dress—Increase in Cost of Raiment.


            Southern Isolation and Hospitality—Progress through Wealth—Care-free Life of the South—Social Effect of Tobacco Raising—Historians' Opinions of the Social Life—Early Growth of Virginia Hospitality—John Hammond's Description in 1656—Effect of Cavalier Blood—Beverly's Description of Virginia Social Life—Foreign Opinions of Virginia Luxury and Culture.

            Splendor in the Home—Pitman's Description of a Southern Mansion—Elegant Furnishings of the Time.

            Social Activities—Evidence in Invitations—Eliza Pinckney's Opinion of Carolinians—Open-House—Washington's Hospitable Record—Art and Music in the South—A Reception to a Bride—Old-Time Refreshments—Informal Visiting—A Letter by Mrs. Washington—Social Effects of Slow Travel.

            New England Social Life—Social Influence of Public Opinion—Cautious Attitude Toward Pleasure—Social Origin of Yankee Inquisitiveness—Sewall's Records of Social Affairs—Pynchon's Records of a Century Later.

            Funerals as Recreations—Grim Pleasure in Attending—Funeral Cards—Gifts of Gloves, Rings, and Scarfs—Absence of Depression—Records of Sewall's Attendance—Wane of Gift-Giving—A New Amsterdam Funeral.

            Trials and Executions—Puritan Itching for Morbid and Sensational—Frankness of Descriptions—Treatment of Condemned Criminals—The Public at Executions—Sewall's Description of an Execution—Coming of More Normal Entertainments—The Dancing Master Arrives.

            Special Social Days—Lecture Day—Prayers for the Afflicted—Fast Days—Scant Attention to Thanksgiving and Christmas—How Bradford Stopped Christmas Observation—Sewall's Records of Christmas—A Century Later.

            Social Restrictions—Josselyn's Account of New England Restraints—Growing Laxity—Sarah Knight's Description—Severity in 1780—Laws Against Lodging Relatives of the Opposite Sex—What Could not be Done in 1650—Husking Parties and Other Community Efforts.

            Dutch Social Life—Its Pleasant Familiarity—Mrs. Grant's Description of Early New York—Normal Pleasures—Love of Flowers and Children—Love of Eating—Mrs. Grant's Record—Disregard for Religion—Mating the Children—Picnicking—Peculiar Customs at Dutch Funerals.

            British Social Influences—Increase of Wealth—The Schuyler Home—Mingling of Gaiety and Economy—A Description in 1757—Foreign Astonishment at New York Display—Richness of Woman's Adornment—Card-Playing and Dancing—Gambling in Society.

            Causes of Display and Frivolity—Washington's Punctiliousness—Mrs. Washington's Dislike of Stateliness—Disgust of the Democratic—Senator Maclay's Description of a Dinner by Washington—Permanent Benefit of Washington's Formality—Elizabeth Southgate's Record of New York Pastimes.

            Society in Philadelphia—Social Welcome for the British—Early Instruction in Dancing—Formal Dancing Assemblies.

            The Beauty of Philadelphia Women—Abigail Adams' Description—The Accomplished Mrs. Bingham—Introduction of Social Fads—Contrasts with New York Belles.

            Social Functions—Lavish Use of Wealth at Philadelphia—Washington's Birthday—Martha Washington in Philadelphia—Domestic Ability of the Belles—Franklin and his Daughter—General Wayne's Statement about Philadelphia Gaiety.

            Theatrical Performances—Their Growth in Popularity—Washington's Liking for Them—Mrs. Adams' Description—First Performance in New York, Charleston, Williamsburg, Baltimore—Invading the Stage—Throwing Missiles.

            Strange Customs in Louisiana—Passion for Pleasure—Influence of Creoles and Negroes—Habitat for Sailors and West Indian Ruffians—Reasons for Vice—Accounts by Berquin-Duvallon—Commonness of Concubinage—Alliott's Description—Reasons for Aversion to Marriage—Corruptness of Fathers and Sons—Drawing the Color Line—Race Prejudice at Balls—Fine Qualities of Louisiana White Women—Excess in Dress—Lack of Education—Berquin-Duvallon's Disgust—The Murder of Babes—General Conclusions.


            New England Weddings—Lack of Ceremony and Merrymaking—Freedom of Choice for Women—The Parents' Permission—Evidence from Sewall—Penalty for Toying with the Heart—The Dowry.

            Judge Sewall's Courtships—Independence of Colonial Women—Sewall and Madam Winthrop—His Friends' Urgings—His Marriage to Mrs. Tilley—Madam Winthrop's Hard-Hearted Manner—Sewall Looks Elsewhere for a Wife—Success Again.

            Liberty to Choose—Eliza Pinckney's Letter on the Matter—Betty Sewall's Rejection of Lovers.

            The Banns and the Ceremony—Banns Required in Nearly all Colonies—Prejudice against the Service of Preachers—Sewall's Descriptions of Weddings—Sewall's Efforts to Prevent Preachers from Officiating—Refreshments at Weddings—Increase in Hilarity.

            Matrimonial Restrictions—Reasons for Them—Frequency of Bigamy—Monthly Fines—Marriage with Relatives.

            Spinsters—Youthful Marriages—Bachelors and Spinsters Viewed with Suspicion—Fate of Old Maids—Description of a Boston Spinster.

            Separation and Divorce—Rarity of Them—Separation in Sewall's Family—Its Tragedy and Comedy.

            Marriage in Pennsylvania—Approach Toward Laxness—Ben Franklin's Marriage—Quaker Marriages—Strange Mating among Moravians—Dutch Marriages.

            Marriage in the South—Church Service Required by Public Sentiment—Merrymaking—Buying Wives—Indented Servants—John Hammond's Account of Them.

            Romance in Marriage—Benedict Arnold's Proposal—Hamilton's Opinion of His "Betty"—The Charming Romance of Agnes Surrage.

            Feminine Independence—Treason at the Tongue's End—Independence of the Schuyler Girls.

            Matrimonial Advice—Jane Turell's Advice to Herself.

            Matrimonial Irregularities—Frequency of Them—Cause of Such Troubles—Winthrop's Records of Cases—Death as a Penalty—Law against Marriage of Relatives—No Discrimination in Punishment because of Sex—Sewall's Accounts of Executions—Use of the Scarlet Letter—Records by Howard—Custom of Bundling—Its Origin—Adultery between Indented White Women and Negroes—Punishment in Virginia—Instances of the Social Evil in New England—Less Shame among Colonial Men.

            Violent Speech and Action—Rebellious Speech against the Church—Amazonian Wives—Citations from Court Records—Punishment for Slander.


            Religious Initiative—Anne Hutchinson's Use of Brains—Bravery of Quaker Women—Perseverance of Mary Dyer—Martyrdom of Quakers.

            Commercial Initiative—Dabbling in State Affairs—Women as Merchants—Mrs. Franklin in Business—Pay for Women Teachers—Women as Plantation Managers—Example of Eliza Pinckney—Her Busy Day—Martha Washington as Manager.

            Woman's Legal Powers—Right to Own and Will Property—John Todd's Will—A Church Attempts to Cheat a Woman—Astonishing Career of Margaret Brent—Women Fortify Boston Neck—Tompson's Satire on it—Feminine Initiative at Nantucket.

            Patriotic Initiative and Courage—Evidence from Letters—The Anxiety of the Women—Women Near the Firing-Line—Mrs. Adams in Danger—Martha Washington's Valor—Mrs. Pinckney's Optimism—Her Financial Distress—Entertaining the Enemy—Marion's Escape—Mrs. Pinckney's Presence of Mind—Abigail Adams' Brave Words—Her Description of a Battle—Man's Appreciation of Woman's Bravery—Mercy Warren's Calmness—Catherine Schuyler's Valiant Deed—How She Treated Burgoyne—Some General Conclusions.



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