How They Lived

15_13I’ve always been as interested in the day-to-day lives of people in other times as I have in the dramatic events of history.  So I spend a good deal of time researching domestic details.  Here are a few of the many facts I uncovered about the lives of the New England Puritans:

  • Rooms were lit by tallow-candles, made by dipping spun wicks of cotton or tow into melted tallow. Tallow is made from beef or mutton fat, and can be stored for long periods of time without decaying.
  • Wheeled vehicles, except for ox carts, were rare. While there were coaches in Boston in the late 1600’s, stage-coaches, carriages, and “riding chairs” (a chaise body without a top) didn’t appear until the early 18th century.
  • Women did not wear jewelry, not even wedding rings.
  • The first shelters for the colonists were not log cabins but caves or modified wetus. The homes they constructed were modeled on English houses of time.  Depending on the wealth of the owner, they ranged from single-room wattle-and-daub cottages with thatched roofs to two or four room frame houses with an entry room and staircase.
  • Two of the seventeen capital crimes in Massachusetts Bay Colony were for speech: blasphemy and cursing a parent. The penalty was death.
  • Breakfast usually consisted of leftovers or other foods that were quickly prepared. A typical breakfast was corn mush or milk, though a large breakfast could also include cheese, bread, beer, and leftover meat.
  • For over fifty years, it was a crime to celebrate Christmas in Massachusetts Bay Colony. Even though that law was repealed in 1681, disapproval of Christmas celebrations continued until after the Civil War.
  • First marriages required parental permission. The Puritans did not consider marriage a sacrament and prohibited ministers from performing wedding ceremonies. Instead they were informal events which took place in the bride’s home and were presided over by a magistrate.
  • In 1647, the Old Deluder Satan Law required towns with 50 families to provide for the education of children.
  • Everyone drank alcoholic beverages, including hard cider, ale, rum, and wine. There were more arrests for public drunkenness than for any other crime.


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