| American History Stories, Volume I|
|by Mara L. Pratt|
|Stories of early exploration and founding of American colonies, conflicts over religion, and troubles with the Indians, culminating in the French and Indian War. Ages 8-12 |
CUSTOMS IN THE COLONIES
 During all these years a gradual change from the
early days of struggle and poverty had been taking
place in the older colonies, especially in Virginia.
Hearing of the many advantages in the new world, a
number of industrious and even wealthy families had come
from England to
 settle in Virginia. They had obtained from the proprietors
great tracts of land, had built for themselves elegant
mansions, and were cultivating great fields of cotton and
These people were not Puritans nor Catholics, they had
not been persecuted at all, and were content with the
English Church, but had come to America to found new
homes, and to trade and grow up with the country.
Now, in these early days it was very difficult to get
laborers to work in the fields; so it had become the
custom to ship over criminals and poor people from
England, and make them work a number of years before they
obtained their freedom. After a time negroes began to be
sent from Africa, and thus it became quite common in the
South for one to own a number of slaves, and even in the
Northern colonies slaves were to be occasionally seen; but
 in Virginia where it paid to keep a great many laborers to
cultivate the corn fields, the planters owned a great many
slaves. These slaves did the work of the fields and received
no pay except their food and clothes.
Very likely the masters were kind enough to them, and very
likely they worked no harder than men and women do
everywhere. But there is this great difference
between slaves and other people who work: The man or
woman who goes out to work as we see them doing to-day,
goes at a certain hour, works until a certain hour, and
receives pay for it. That man or woman has perfect
liberty to do whatever he or she wishes with the pay
received, perfect liberty to go to another place to work,
perfect liberty to do anything and everything proper
without asking permission of the employer. But how is it
with a slave?
 His employer owns him just as he owns his horses or oxen.
The slave takes the master's horses in the
morning and goes out to work with them
wherever the master bids. No matter how
much or how little the slave and the horses
have earned for the master,—the master takes
it all. He would no more think of giving the
slave a part of it than he would of giving a part
to his horse. The horse receives his bed
and supper for his day's
work, and the slave receives the same.
So you see a slave
has no hope (no matter how hard or how well
he may work) of receiving anything for it
which he can call his own.
Is it any wonder then, as the years roll on and on,
bringing him no reward for his labor, that he grows to be
stupid and heavy, without ambition or hope, and
becomes, as the
slave-  holders used to say of him, as dumb as the
cattle he works with?
But we must remember people did not think
of slavery in those days as we do now. Everybody
who could afford it owned slaves, just as to-day
everybody who can afford servants has servants;
and they thought it no wrong so long as they
were kind to them and gave them
good food and lodging.
In the early days of the Colonies, the need
of money was very much felt. There were
various ways tried. In Virginia, which was a
great tobacco growing country, the colonists
used tobacco for money. This, of course, was
just as good; for, if a farmer wanted to buy an
article worth fifty cents, he gave fifty cents
worth of tobacco for it. The dealer who
received the tobacco, packed it away with other
tobacco until he had a large amount of it.
 Then he would send it to England and receive
for it goods for his store, which he would
sell again for tobacco.
At one time in the early history of this colony,
were very few white women in America, there were sent over
from England about a hundred young women,
who were sold to the
colonists for a hundred pounds of tobacco each. Each
colonist then went to the minister with the woman he had
bought with his tobacco, had the marriage ceremony
performed, and then led her to his home.
This would seem
a very strange thing now-a-days; but we must remember
there was then no other way for these colonists
wives, unless they were sent to them
from the old country—and it was no more
than right that the future husband
should pay the expense.
 There were also some very strange laws as well as
customs in those early colonial days.
If a woman was a scold she was ducked in running water
three times; if she slandered any one, her husband was
obliged to pay five hundred pounds of tobacco to the
governor of the colony; a husband had a perfect right in
those days to whip his wife whenever he seemed to think
she needed it.
They had some good temperance laws. No man was allowed to
keep a "tavern" who did not possess an excellent
character. The names of all drunkards were posted up in
the taverns, and no one was allowed to sell liquor to
them. In Connecticut no one under twenty years of age
was allowed to use tobacco, and no one, no matter what his
age, was allowed to use it more than once a day.
One must dress, too, according to law. No
 one owning land not valued at two hundred dollars or more
could wear gold or silver lace; and only the "gentility"
were allowed to use Mr. or Mrs. before their names.
There were very severe laws against those who would not
attend church. If a man was absent one Sunday, he would
not be given his allowance of provisions for a week; if he
was absent a second time, he was whipped; a third time, he
was likely even to be hanged.
In Virginia, especially, both men and women were sometimes
whipped in sight of the whole colony. For some offenses
they were made to stand in the church with white sheets over
their heads during the service; or they would be made to
stand on the church steps, with the name of their crime
pinned upon their breasts.
In New England they had an odd way of
 taking offenders out into a public place and
putting them in the stocks or in the pillory,
where they were kept until sundown, the subject of
the laughter and jokes of every passer by.
STOCKS AND PILLORY
Such punishments would seem unchristian now,
but they were very common in those
The New England people were also very
strict regarding the Sabbath. As soon as the
 sun went down on Saturday evening their Sabbath began.
From that time until sunset on Sunday night
no manner of work was
allowed to be done; no visiting, no playing, no
gayety of any kind was permitted; one man, it is said,
was brought to trial and fined for kissing his wife on a
Public worship took place in what was called the meeting
house, the place where all meetings for attending to the
town's business were held.
Slowly and solemnly the families all walked to church,
coming sometimes for miles from the country around.
PILGRIM'S MONUMENT, PLYMOUTH
On reaching the church the men took their places on one
side of the aisle, and the women took theirs on the
other. The children, too, sat all by themselves,
and there was a
man appointed to keep them quiet.
This man carried a long stick with a hard
 knob at one end and a little feather brush on the other.
With the knob he knocked the heads of the men if they
chanced to grow sleepy, and with the feather tickled the
faces of the women.
I shouldn't wonder if he had to use this rod pretty often
on men, women, and children all; for the sermons were very
long, sometimes lasting whole hours, and they were timed by
an hour-glass which stood upon the high pulpit and not
until it had been turned three or four times was a sermon
considered at all of the proper length. And the singing!
For many years it was the custom for the people all to
rise and sing. There were few hymn-books;
therefore the minister, or some one of the
deacons, would read a line of the hymn, the people would
sing it, then wait for another line to be read.
But, by and
 schools began to come into fashion, the "queristers," as
the singers were called, began to sit together during the
church service, leading the singing, the whole
congregation joining with them in rolling out the grand
old tunes that
were the fashion then.
There were not many tunes that the people knew, but such
as they did know they poured forth vigorously and were
quite content with them for years and years. The first
hymn-book published in the colonies contained
"Twenty-eight tunes!" cried the people.
"We can never learn so many!"
"This book is a sin and a snare," preached one
his pulpit. "This new solfa singing is wicked. Singing
schools will lead to mischief. Let us have no more of this
 But the "foolish vanity" some way would not go. The
young people had begun to learn to sing, and sing they
would, until in the course of time both people and
ministers became reconciled to it, wicked as it was; and
when, in 1764, Josiah Flagg published a book containing one
hundred and sixty hymns, no one thought of objecting.
On the contrary, every singing youth and maiden
own the book, and it was not long before the churches
throughout the colonies rang out the whole hundred and sixty
grand old tunes, happy enough that there were so many to
As to the men, as you read in the "Indian Stories," they
brought their muskets to the meeting-houses, that they
might have them in case of attack.
The meeting-houses were not warmed even in very cold
weather; the people had an idea
 that some way they were better Christians if
they bore all these discomforts, without a murmur.
But soon the people began carrying hot
bricks and stones to keep their feet and hands
from freezing; and, by and by, they carried
little foot stoves. These stoves were little tin
boxes, with holes in the sides, a cover, a door,
and handles with which to carry them. In
these boxes were put live coals, and so the fire
would last during the whole sermon.
As books were very scarce, the minister
read off one line of the hymn, which
the people would sing to some old tune; then another line
would be read and sung, then another and another, until
the whole hymn was sung.
When the service was over, all walked
solemnly home again. The fathers and
moth-  ers were very strict on this Sabbath day, and I fear many
and many a little boy and girl dreaded to have this long,
dreary day come,
and were very glad when it was over;
for you remember there were no beautiful books and
magazines in those days; and if there had been, the
children would not have been allowed to read anything but
the little New England Primer which contained quaint
pictures, a few terrible verses, and the Catechism.
I am sure we are glad people have got over the idea that
Sunday should be such a dismal, sober day. I am sure
the Heavenly Father is much more pleased to see the
children spending His day happily in their homes
with their fathers and mothers and little sisters
Of all the men of rank or office in the colony, none
were looked upon with such
rev-  erence and respect as the ministers. Though the
Puritans hated titles of all kinds, considering them
vain inventions, they were willing to honor
the minister with
"Parson," or "Elder," or
"Teacher," and were ready to humble themselves
before him. I am afraid, however, that
these ministers sometimes received little else
than reverence; for their salaries were generally
very small; sometimes they had none at all,
and depended wholly upon the gifts of the
parishioners who supplied them with whatever
they had or could spare. "Alas," said one
pastor, "my people are very poor; and I am
very poor. I have received for salary this
year only turnips, there being a generous
harvest of that vegetable; but I do not complain.
I have always been able to
sell them or exchange them, and thus I have been supplied
with the necessary things of life."
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