| 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 |
A NEW ENGLAND HOME IN COLONIAL DAYS
MANNER OF DRESS
 You remember how very plain the Puritans dressed at the
time of their leaving England. Then the men wore their
hair shaved so closely that they were called Roundheads.
The women, too, all dressed very plainly, in homespun
dresses and stiffly starched white aprons.
 There was a time when a fine was imposed on any man who
should wear his hair long; and if a woman wore any sort of
jewelry, she was looked upon as a most wicked creature, one
upon whom the punishment of heaven would surely
As time went on, and the Puritans mixed more and more with
other people, these severe styles gave way, and at last the
Boston folks of the Puritan colony were as gay in their
dress as were the Cavaliers of Virginia.
In a history of America, written for young people by Abby
Sage Richardson, there is such a good description of these
people as they dressed at this time, just before the
Revolution, of which we are going so soon to hear, that I
think we must stop and read it.
You remember the rude log cabin in which these first
Puritans who came to Cape Cod
 Bay lived. Compare that rude cabin with Miss Richardson's
description of Governor Hutchinson's house in Boston as it
looked in the Revolutionary time: "It was a fine brick
house, three stories high. If we enter the house we shall
find a large hall with massive staircases heavily carved,
the floor laid in elegant colored marble or different
"The walls are painted, there are fluted columns
supporting the ceiling, and there is heavy mahogany
furniture set around in stately grandeur."
Speaking of the dress of the men, she says,
"Do you see that elegant looking man? He would hardly be
laughed at now and called a Roundhead. The Puritans now
dress as the English do. They wear powdered wigs, or
else they powder their own hair and tie it in a long queue
 "Look at that gentleman standing in his doorway! He has on
a red velvet cap, with an inside cap of white linen which
turns over the edge of the velvet two or three inches; a
blue damask dressing-gown lined with sky-blue silk; a white
satin waistcoat with deep embroidered flaps; black satin
breeches with long white silk stockings, and red morocco
When he goes out into the street he will change his velvet
cap for a three-cornered hat; his flowered brocade
dressing-gown for a gold-laced coat of red or blue
broadcloth, with deep lace ruffles at the wrist; put a sword
at his side, and wear a pair of shoes with great silver
"Let us see how the women of the same time used to dress.
Here is a lady dressing for a dinner party. First the barber
 and does up her hair in frizzles and puffs and rolls, one
on top of the other, until it all looks like a pyramid or a
tower. She has on a brocade dress, green ground with great
flowers on it, looped over a pink satin skirt. Her dress is
very low in the neck, and is greatly trimmed with lace.
"It is very tightly pulled over a stiff hoop which sticks
out on both sides so far she has to go in at the door
sideways. The heels of
her low shoes are very high, and she wears beautiful silk
stockings. That is the way she dresses for a party; but how
does she dress at home?
"At home she wears a cap and a pretty gown, a neat white
apron, and a muslin kerchief over her neck.
"This is the way the rich people dress. Let us take a look
at the country people. The
 farmers' wives wear checked linen dresses in
summer, and strong home-spun woolen dresses in the winter
with clean white aprons and kerchiefs. The farmers wear
stout leather breeches, checked shirts and frocks. Every
day but Sunday the working-men wear leather aprons, and are
not at all ashamed of them either."
The very early houses of these colonists
were rudely built structures, usually of roughly hewn
logs from the forests. To keep the houses warm, the spaces
between the logs were stuffed with dried leaves, and the
whole wall was then plastered over with mud.
Sometimes the houses of the less industrious
colonists were very carelessly built, and little pains
were taken to fit the logs together.
There is a story
told of one colonist who,
lying in his bed on the floor against the side
 of his log house, felt in the dead of the night a sharp bite
at his ear, and starting up he saw the fierce head of a
wolf pushed in through the space between the logs, close by
It was some little time before there was any window glass
used in the colonies. Indeed glass was as yet very rare
even in England. "Bring oiled paper for your windows,"
wrote a Massachusetts governor to his friends in England
who were about to sail for the colonies.
"You need not bring oiled paper for your windows," wrote
a New York colonist to his friends; "oiled paper is used
colonies, but here we have found in the
rocks sheets of mica which make most excellent windows."
But, by and by, when comfortable houses began to be built
and window glass had become less rare, we find the dwellings
fash-  ioned after the old English style of houses.
The more wealthy colonists built great square buildings; the
rooms arranged, as it seemed, around a great central
chimney in the middle of the house. "They built the
chimney," says one writer, "and then fitted the
rooms to the chimney." Perhaps they did; it might seem
so. At any rate each room had its own great open
fireplace, the warm red flames from which leaped and
sprang up into the secret places and out of
this one great chimney. It was a long time before stoves
were invented; and a long time again before a kind was
invented that would really warm the rooms and be of use. The
very first stoves, it is said, were built into the walls;
and when wood was to be put on the fire, some one had to go
out of doors to do it, the door of the stove being on the
outside of the house.
 But the old open fireplaces with their cheerful fires were
one of the very best features of colonial life. Here in the
long winter evenings the families would sit talking
wonderful stories, roasting chestnuts and apples, and
having just the very best of social times. You will not
wonder that they lingered around their cheerful fires and
were inclined to make the evening long when you hear what
crude beds they often had in these same comfortable
Of course among the very wealthiest of the colonists at this
time there were great bedsteads, and warm feather beds,
such as one often sees now in country places, where the
people are wise enough to still cling to their rich,
old-fashioned furniture. But among the less favored classes
the beds were not, I am afraid, the most comfortable things
 world, and certainly they were not very handsome pieces
of furniture by any means.
One way of building up a sleeping place was to make two
holes in the wall and into these
to drive two poles. These poles served for the sides of the
bed-frame. Then two upright posts were erected, with holes
in them into which the side poles were driven. A cross
beam from post to post and the bed-frame was complete.
Then slats were laid across, or, when possible, ropes
were woven in and out, a great bag of hay or straw,
sometimes pine boughs, were laid on this—then the bed
was complete. But simple and easy to make as these
beds and bed-steads were, many strange stories are told of
the scarcity of beds in the little taverns here and there
at which travelers from town to town must stop over night.
"In England," wrote one colonist, "we were
 accustomed at the tavern to have a room and a bed and a
privilege of bolting our door; it will be so here by and by
when we have grown a little more settled in our new land,
and have had time and means to make more furniture.
At present, however, if we go to bed alone in a tavern, it is
by no means sure that some fellow-traveler will not, when we
awake, be found sleeping soundly in the same bed, having
thrown himself down by our side or perhaps across the foot
of the bed."
Furniture, too, of all kinds, was not common in the very
first years of colonial life. The wealthiest people had
their furniture brought from England; but in those days of
slow sailing vessels such importation was far too
expensive for poor families. The chairs and tables were
accordingly home made, like the bedsteads, and were rude and
rough, not very
 comfortable, but "good enough for now," as the patient,
hardworking people would say to each other as now and
then they would recall their more comfortable English
homes. "Our chairs and tables were better, no doubt, in
England," some father would say, "but we can forego
all that for the blessed liberty of this country and by and
by we shall have them all again."
A few long boards laid across carpenters' horses for a
table, some long boards arranged bench-fashion around the
room against the walls, and the house was ready for a
husking party or a quilting bee or any other good time;
and the "time" was nowise any less "good" that the
furniture and preparations were so simple.
Carpets were rarely seen then, even in the finest houses. The
floors were sanded; and
 in the best room, as they called their parlors, the sand was
lined off into squares or diamonds which suited the proud
housekeeper's ambition quite as well as a real carpet
with its squares and diamonds.
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