[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.]
WOMAN'S LIFE IN COLONIAL DAYS
Professor of English San Jose State College, California
THE WIT AND HUMOR OF COLONIAL DAYS, ENGLISH FICTION FROM THE FIFTH TO THE TWENTIETH CENTURY, A HISTORY OF SOUTHERN LITERATURE, THE WRITINGS OF COLONIAL VIRGINIA, THE CAVALIER POETS, THREE CENTURIES OF SOUTHERN POETRY, ETC.
CORNER HOUSE PUBLISHERS WILLIAMSTOWN, MASSACHUSETTS
First Printed in 1922 Reprinted in 1968 by CORNER HOUSE PUBLISHERS
PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
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.
CHAPTER I—COLONIAL WOMAN AND RELIGION
I. 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.
II. 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 Torment—Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God—Effect on Womanhood—Personal Devils—Dangers of Earthly Love—God's Sudden Punishments.
III. Inherited Nervousness—Fears in Childhood—Theological Precocity.
IV. Woman's Day of Rest—Sabbath Rules and Customs—A Typical Sabbath.
V. Religion and Woman's Foibles—Religious Regulations—Effect on Dress—Women's Singing in Church—Southern Opinion of Northern Severity—Effect of Feminine Repression.
VI. Woman's Comfort in Religion—An Intolerant Era—Religious Gatherings for Women—Formal Meetings with Mrs. Hutchinson—Causes of Complaint—Meetings of Quaker Women.
VII. Female Rebellion—The Antinomians—Activities of Anne Hutchinson—Her Doctrines—Her Banishment—Emotional Starvation—Dread of Heresy—Anne Hutchinson's Death.
VIII. 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.
IX. Religion Outside of New England—First Church in Virginia—Southern Strictness—Woman's Religious Testimony—Religious Sanity—The Dutch Church—General Conclusions.
CHAPTER II—COLONIAL WOMAN AND EDUCATION
I. Feminine Ignorance—Reasons—The Evidence in Court Records—Dame's Schools—School Curriculum—Training in Home Duties.
II. Woman's Education in the South—Jefferson's Advice—Private Tutors—General Interest in Education—Provision in Wills.
III. Brilliant Exceptions to Female Ignorance—Southern and Northern Women Contrasted—Unusual Studies for Women—Eliza Pinckney—Jane Turell—Abigail Adams.
IV. Practical Education—Abigail Adams' Opinion—Importance of Bookkeeping—Franklin's Advice.
V. Educational Frills—Female Seminaries—Moravian Schools—Dancing—Etiquette—Rules for Eating—Mechanical Arts Toward Uprightness—Complaints of Educational Poverty—Fancy Sewing—General Conclusions.
CHAPTER III—COLONIAL WOMAN AND THE HOME
I. Charm of the Colonial Home—Lack of Counter Attractions—Neither Saints nor Sinners in the Home.
II. Domestic Love and Confidence—The Winthrop Love Letters—Edwards' Rhapsody—Further Examples—Descriptions of Home Life—Mrs. Washington and Mrs. Hamilton at Home.
III. Domestic Toil and Strain—South vs. North—Lack of Conveniences—Silver and Linen—Colonial Cooking—Cooking Utensils—Specimen Meals—Home Manufactures.
IV. Domestic Pride—Effect of Anti-British Sentiment—Spinning Circles—Dress-Making.
V. Special Domestic Tasks—Supplying Necessities—Candles—Soap—Herbs —Neighborly Co-operation—Social "Bees."
VI. The Size of the Family—Large Families an Asset—Astonishing Examples—Infant Death-Rate—Children as Workers.
VII. Indian Attacks—Suffering of Captive Women—Mary Rowlandson's Account—Returning the Kidnapped.
VIII. 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.
IX. Tributes to Colonial Mothers—Judge Sewall's Noble Words—Other Specimens of Praise—John Lawson's Views—Woman's Strengthening Influence.
X. 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.
XI. 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.
XII. Women in Business—Husbands' Confidence in Wives' Shrewdness—Evidence from Franklin—Abigail Adams as Manager—General Conclusions.
CHAPTER IV—COLONIAL WOMAN AND DRESS
I. Dress Regulation by Law—Magistrate vs. Women—Fines.
II. Contemporary Descriptions of Dress—Effect of Wealth and Travel—Madame Knight's Descriptions—Testimony by Sewall, Franklin, Abigail Adams.
III. 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.
IV. 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.
CHAPTER V—COLONIAL WOMAN AND SOCIAL LIFE
I. 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.
II. Splendor in the Home—Pitman's Description of a Southern Mansion—Elegant Furnishings of the Time.
III. 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.
IV. 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.
V. 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.
VI. 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.
VII. 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.
VIII. 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.
IX. 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.
X. 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.
XI. 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.
XII. Society in Philadelphia—Social Welcome for the British—Early Instruction in Dancing—Formal Dancing Assemblies.
XIII. The Beauty of Philadelphia Women—Abigail Adams' Description—The Accomplished Mrs. Bingham—Introduction of Social Fads—Contrasts with New York Belles.
XIV. 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.
XV. 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.
XVI. 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.
CHAPTER VI—COLONIAL WOMAN AND MARRIAGE
I. 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.
II. 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.
III. Liberty to Choose—Eliza Pinckney's Letter on the Matter—Betty Sewall's Rejection of Lovers.
IV. 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.
V. Matrimonial Restrictions—Reasons for Them—Frequency of Bigamy—Monthly Fines—Marriage with Relatives.
VI. Spinsters—Youthful Marriages—Bachelors and Spinsters Viewed with Suspicion—Fate of Old Maids—Description of a Boston Spinster.
VII. Separation and Divorce—Rarity of Them—Separation in Sewall's Family—Its Tragedy and Comedy.
VIII. Marriage in Pennsylvania—Approach Toward Laxness—Ben Franklin's Marriage—Quaker Marriages—Strange Mating among Moravians—Dutch Marriages.
IX. Marriage in the South—Church Service Required by Public Sentiment—Merrymaking—Buying Wives—Indented Servants—John Hammond's Account of Them.
X. Romance in Marriage—Benedict Arnold's Proposal—Hamilton's Opinion of His "Betty"—The Charming Romance of Agnes Surrage.
XI. Feminine Independence—Treason at the Tongue's End—Independence of the Schuyler Girls.
XII. Matrimonial Advice—Jane Turell's Advice to Herself.
XIII. 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.
XIV. Violent Speech and Action—Rebellious Speech against the Church—Amazonian Wives—Citations from Court Records—Punishment for Slander.
CHAPTER VII—COLONIAL WOMAN AND THE INITIATIVE
I. Religious Initiative—Anne Hutchinson's Use of Brains—Bravery of Quaker Women—Perseverance of Mary Dyer—Martyrdom of Quakers.
II. 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.
III. 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.
IV. 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.
WOMAN'S LIFE IN COLONIAL DAYS
COLONIAL WOMAN AND RELIGION
I. The Spirit of Woman
With what a valiant and unyielding spirit our forefathers met the unspeakable hardships of the first days of American colonization! We of these softer and more abundant times can never quite comprehend what distress, what positive suffering those bold souls of the seventeenth century endured to establish a new people among the nations of the world. The very voyage from England to America might have daunted the bravest of spirits. Note but this glimpse from an account by Colonel Norwood in his Voyage to Virginia: "Women and children made dismal cries and grievous complaints. The infinite number of rats that all the voyage had been our plague, we now were glad to make our prey to feed on; and as they were insnared and taken a well grown rat was sold for sixteen shillings as a market rate. Nay, before the voyage did end (as I was credibly informed) a woman great with child offered twenty shillings for a rat, which the proprietor refusing, the woman died."
That was an era of restless, adventurous spirits—men and women filled with the rich and danger-loving blood of the Elizabethan day. We should recall that every colony of the original thirteen, except Georgia, was founded in the seventeenth century when the energy of that great and versatile period of the Virgin Queen had not yet dissipated itself. The spirit that moved Ben Jonson and Shakespeare to undertake the new and untried in literature was the same spirit that moved John Smith and his cavaliers to invade the Virginia wilderness, and the Pilgrim Fathers to found a commonwealth for freedom's sake on a stern and rock-bound coast. It was the day of Milton, Dryden, and Bunyan, the day of the Protectorate with its fanatical defenders, the day of the rise and fall of British Puritanism, the day of the Revolution of 1688 which forever doomed the theory of the divine rights of monarchs, the day of the bloody Thirty Years' War with its consequent downfall of aristocracy, the day of the Grand Monarch in France with its accumulating preparations for the destruction of kingly lights and the rise of the Commons.
In such an age we can but expect bold adventures. The discovery and exploration of the New World and the defeat of the Spanish Armada had now made England monarch of sea and land. The imagination of the people was aroused, and tales of a wealth like that of Croesus came from mariners who had sailed the seven seas, and were willingly believed by an excited audience. Indeed the nations stood ready with open-mouthed wonder to accept all stories, no matter how marvelous or preposterous. America suddenly appeared to all people as the land that offered wealth, religious and political freedom, a home for the poor, a refuge for the persecuted, in truth, a paradise for all who would begin life anew. With such a vision and with such a spirit many came. The same energy that created a Lear and a Hamlet created a Jamestown and a Plymouth. Shakespeare was at the height of his career when Jamestown was settled, and had been dead less than five years when the Puritans landed at Plymouth. Impelled by the soul of such a day Puritan and Cavalier sought the new land, hoping to find there that which they had been unable to attain in the Old World.
While from the standpoint of years the Cavalier colony at Jamestown might be entitled to the first discussion, it is with the Puritans that we shall begin this investigation. For, with the Puritan Fathers came the Puritan Mothers, and while the influence of those fathers on American civilization has been too vast ever to be adequately described, the influence of those brave pioneer women, while less ostentatious, is none the less powerful.
What perils, what distress, what positive torture, not only physical but mental, those first mothers of America experienced! Sickness and famine were their daily portion in life. Their children, pushing ever westward, also underwent untold toil and distress, but not to the degree known by those founders of New England; for when the settlements of the later seventeenth century were established some part of the rawness and newness had worn away, friends were not far distant, supplies were not wanting for long periods, and if the privations were intense, there were always the original settlements to fall back upon. Hear what Thomas Prince in his Annals of New England, published in 1726, has to say of those first days in the Plymouth Colony:
"March 24. (1621) N.B. This month Thirteen of our number die. And in three months past die Half our Company. The greatest part in the depth of winter, wanting houses and other comforts; being infected with the scurvy and other diseases, which their long voyage and unaccommodate conditions bring upon them. So as there die, sometimes, two or three a day. Of one hundred persons, scarce fifty remain. The living scarce able to bury the dead; the well not sufficient to tend the sick: there being, in their time of greatest distress, but six or seven; who spare no pains to help them.... But the spring advancing, it pleases GOD, the mortality begins to cease; and the sick and lame to recover: which puts new life into the people; though they had borne their sad affliction with as much patience as any could do."
Indeed, as we read of that struggle with famine, sickness, and death during the first few years of the Plymouth Colony we can but marvel that human flesh and human soul could withstand the onslaught. The brave old colonist Bradford, confirms in his History of Plymouth Plantation the stories told by others: "But that which was most sad and lamentable, was that in two or three months' time half of their company died, especially in January and February, being the depth of winter ... that of one hundred and odd persons scarce fifty remained: and of these in the time of most distress there was but six or seven sound persons; who to their great commendations, be it spoken, spared no pains, night nor day, but with abundance of toil and hazard of their own health, fetched them wood, made them fires, ... in a word did all the homely, and necessary offices for them."
The conditions were the same whether in the Plymouth or in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. And yet how brave—how pathetically brave—was the colonial woman under every affliction. In hours when a less valiant womanhood would have sunk in despair these wives and mothers strengthened one another and praised God for the humble sustenance He allowed them. The sturdy colonist, Edward Johnson, in his Wonder Working Providence of Zions Saviour in New England, writing of the privations of 1631, the year after his colony had been founded, pays this tribute to the help-meets of the men:
"The women once a day, as the tide gave way, resorted to the mussels, and clambanks, which are a fish as big as horse-mussels, where they daily gathered their families' food with much heavenly discourse of the provisions Christ had formerly made for many thousands of his followers in the wilderness. Quoth one, 'My husband hath travelled as far as Plymouth (which is near forty miles), and hath with great toil brought a little corn home with him, and before that is spent the Lord will assuredly provide.' Quoth the other, 'Our last peck of meal is now in the oven at home a-baking, and many of our godly neighbors have quite spent all, and we owe one loaf of that little we have.' Then spake a third, 'My husband hath ventured himself among the Indians for corn, and can get none, as also our honored Governor hath distributed his so far, that a day or two more will put an end to his store, and all the rest, and yet methinks our children are as cheerful, fat and lusty with feeding upon these mussels, clambanks, and other fish, as they were in England with their fill of bread, which makes me cheerful in the Lord's providing for us, being further confirmed by the exhortation of our pastor to trust the Lord with providing for us; whose is the earth and the fulness thereof.'"
It is a genuine pleasure to us of little faith to note that such trust was indeed justified; for, continued Johnson: "As they were encouraging one another in Christ's careful providing for them, they lift up their eyes and saw two ships coming in, and presently this news came to their ears, that they were come—full of victuals.... After this manner did Christ many times graciously provide for this His people, even at the last cast."
If we will stop to consider the fact that many of these women of the Massachusetts Bay Colony were accustomed to the comfortable living of the middle-class country people of England, with considerable material wealth and even some of the luxuries of modern civilization, we may imagine, at least in part, the terrifying contrast met with in the New World. For conditions along the stormy coast of New England were indeed primitive. Picture the founding, for instance, of a town that later was destined to become the home of philosopher and seer—Concord, Massachusetts. Says Johnson in his Wonder Working Providence:
"After they had thus found out a place of abode they burrow themselves in the earth for their first shelter, under some hillside, casting the earth aloft upon timber; they make a smoke fire against the earth at the highest side and thus these poor servants of Christ provide shelter for themselves, their wives and little ones, keeping off the short showers from their lodgings, but the long rains penetrate through to their great disturbance in the night season. Yet in these poor wigwams they sing psalms, pray and praise their God till they can provide them houses, which ordinarily was not wont to be with many till the earth by the Lord's blessing brought forth bread to feed them, their wives and little ones.... Thus this poor people populate this howling desert, marching manfully on, the Lord assisting, through the greatest difficulties and sorest labors that ever any with such weak means have done."
And Margaret Winthrop writes thus to her step-son in England: "When I think of the troublesome times and manyfolde destractions that are in our native Countrye, I thinke we doe not pryse oure happinesse heare as we have cause, that we should be in peace when so many troubles are in most places of the world."
Many another quotation could be presented to emphasize the impressions given above. Reading these after the lapse of nearly three centuries, we marvel at the strength, the patience, the perseverance, the imperishable hope, trust, and faith of the Puritan woman. Such hardships and privations as have been described above might seem sufficient; but these were by no means all or even the greatest of the trials of womanhood in the days of the nation's childhood. To understand in any measure at all the life of a child or a wife or a mother of the Puritan colonies with its strain and suffering, we must know and comprehend her religion. Let us examine this—the dominating influence of her life.
II. Woman and Her Religion
Paradoxical as it may seem, religion was to the colonial woman both a blessing and a curse. Though it gave courage and some comfort it was as hard and unyielding as steel. We of this later hour may well shudder when we read the sermons of Cotton Mather and Jonathan Edwards; but if the mere reading causes astonishment after the lapse of these hundreds of years, what terror the messages must have inspired in those who lived under their terrific indictments, prophecies, and warnings. Here was a religion based on Judaism and the Mosaic code, "an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth." Moses Coit Tyler has declared in his History of American Literature: "They did not attempt to combine the sacred and the secular; they simply abolished the secular and left only the sacred. The state became the church; the king a priest; politics a department of theology; citizenship the privilege of those only who had received baptism and the Lord's Supper."
And what an idea of the sacred was theirs! The gentleness, the mercy, the loving kindness that are of God so seldom enter into those ancient discussions that such attributes are almost negligible. Michael Wigglesworth's poem, The Day of Doom, published in 1662, may be considered as an authoritative treatise on the theology of the Puritans; for it not only was so popular as to receive several reprints, but was sanctioned by the elders of the church themselves. If this was orthodoxy—and the proof that it was is evident—it was of a sort that might well sour and embitter the nature of man and fill the gentle soul of womanhood with fear and dark forebodings. We well know that the Puritans thoroughly believed that man's nature was weak and sinful, and that the human soul was a prisoner placed here upon earth by the Creator to be surrounded with temptations. This God is good, however, in that he has given man an opportunity to overcome the surrounding evils.
"But I'm a prisoner, Under a heavy chain; Almighty God's afflicting hand, Doth me by force restrain.
* * * * *
"But why should I complain That have so good a God, That doth mine heart with comfort fill Ev'n whilst I feel his rod?
* * * * *
"Let God be magnified, Whose everlasting strength Upholds me under sufferings Of more than ten years' length."
The Day of Doom is, in the main, its author's vision of judgment day, and, whatever artistic or theological defects it may have, it undeniably possesses realism. For instance, several stanzas deal with one of the most dreadful doctrines of the Puritan faith, that all infants who died unbaptized entered into eternal torment—a theory that must have influenced profoundly the happiness and woe of colonial women. The poem describes for us what was then believed should be the scene on that final day when young and old, heathen and Christian, saint and sinner, are called before their God to answer for their conduct in the flesh. Hear the plea of the infants, who dying, at birth before baptism could be administered, asked to be relieved from punishment on the grounds that they have committed no sin.
"If for our own transgression, or disobedience, We here did stand at thy left hand, just were the Recompense; But Adam's guilt our souls hath spilt, his fault is charg'd upon us; And that alone hath overthrown and utterly undone us."
Pointing out that it was Adam who ate of the tree and that they were innocent, they ask:
"O great Creator, why was our nature depraved and forlorn? Why so defil'd, and made so vil'd, whilst we were yet unborn? If it be just, and needs we must transgressors reckon'd be, Thy mercy, Lord, to us afford, which sinners hath set free."
But the Creator answers:
"God doth such doom forbid, That men should die eternally for what they never did. But what you call old Adam's fall, and only his trespass, You call amiss to call it his, both his and yours it was."
The Judge then inquires why, since they would have received the pleasures and joys which Adam could have given them, the rewards and blessings, should they hesitate to share his "treason."
"Since then to share in his welfare, you could have been content, You may with reason share in his treason, and in the punishment, Hence you were born in state forlorn, with natures so depraved Death was your due because that you had thus yourselves behaved.
* * * * *
"Had you been made in Adam's stead, you would like things have wrought, And so into the self-same woe yourselves and yours have brought."
Then follows a reprimand upon the part of the judge because they should presume to question His judgments, and to ask for mercy:
"Will you demand grace at my hand, and challenge what is mine? Will you teach me whom to set free, and thus my grace confine.
"You sinners are, and such a share as sinners may expect; Such you shall have, for I do save none but mine own Elect.
"Yet to compare your sin with theirs who liv'd a longer time, I do confess yours is much less though every sin's a crime.
"A crime it is, therefore in bliss you may not hope to dwell; But unto you I shall allow the easiest room in Hell."
Would not this cause anguish to the heart of any mother? Indeed, we shall never know what intense anxiety the Puritan woman may have suffered during the few days intervening between the hour of the birth and the date of the baptism of her infant. It is not surprising, therefore, that an exceedingly brief period was allowed to elapse before the babe was taken from its mother's arms and carried through snow and wind to the desolate church. Judge Sewall, whose Diary covers most of the years from 1686 to 1725, and who records every petty incident from the cutting of his finger to the blowing off of the Governor's hat, has left us these notes on the baptism of some of his fourteen children:
"April 8, 1677. Elizabeth Weeden, the Midwife, brought the infant to the third Church when Sermon was about half done in the afternoon ... I named him John." (Five days after birth.) "Sabbath-day, December 13th 1685. Mr. Willard baptizeth my Son lately born, whom I named Henry." (Four days after birth.) "February 6, 1686-7. Between 3 and 4 P.M. Mr. Willard baptized my Son, whom I named Stephen." (Five days after birth.)
Little wonder that infant mortality was exceedingly high, especially when the baptismal service took place on a day as cold as this one mentioned by Sewall: "Sabbath, Janr. 24 ... This day so cold that the Sacramental Bread is frozen pretty hard, and rattles sadly as broken into the Plates." We may take it for granted that the water in the font was rapidly freezing, if not entirely frozen, and doubtless the babe, shrinking under the icy touch, felt inclined to give up the struggle for existence, and decline a further reception into so cold and forbidding a world. Once more hear a description by the kindly, but abnormally orthodox old Judge: "Lord's Day, Jany 15, 1715-16. An extraordinary Cold Storm of Wind and Snow.... Bread was frozen at the Lord's Table: Though 'twas so Cold, yet John Tuckerman was baptised. At six a-clock my ink freezes so that I can hardly write by a good fire in my Wive's Chamber. Yet was very Comfortable at Meeting. Laus Deo."
But let us pass to other phases of this theology under which the Puritan woman lived. The God pictured in the Day of Doom not only was of a cruel and angry nature but was arbitrary beyond modern belief. His wrath fell according to his caprice upon sinner or saint. We are tempted to inquire as to the strange mental process that could have led any human being to believe in such a Creator. Regardless of doctrine, creed, or theology, we cannot totally dissociate our earthly mental condition from that in the future state; we cannot refuse to believe that we shall have the same intelligent mind, and the same ability to understand, perceive, and love. Apparently, however, the Puritan found no difficulty in believing that the future existence entailed an entire change in the principles of love and in the emotions of sympathy and pity.
"He that was erst a husband pierc'd with sense of wife's distress, Whose tender heart did bear a part of all her grievances. Shall mourn no more as heretofore, because of her ill plight, Although he see her now to be a damn'd forsaken wight.
"The tender mother will own no other of all her num'rous brood But such as stand at Christ's right hand, acquitted through his Blood. The pious father had now much rather his graceless son should lie In hell with devils, for all his evils, burning eternally."
(Day of Doom.)
But we do not have to trust to Michael Wigglesworth's poem alone for a realistic conception of the God and the religion of the Puritans. It is in the sermons of the day that we discover a still more unbending, harsh, and hideous view of the Creator and his characteristics. In the thunderings of Cotton Mather and Jonathan Edwards, we, like the colonial women who sat so meekly in the high, hard benches, may fairly smell the brimstone of the Nether World. Why, exclaims Jonathan Edwards in his sermon, The Eternity of Hell Torments:
"Do but consider what it is to suffer extreme torment forever and ever; to suffer it day and night, from one day to another, from one year to another, from one age to another, from one thousand ages to another, and so, adding age to age, and thousands to thousands, in pain, in wailing and lamenting, groaning and shrieking, and gnashing your teeth; with your souls full of dreadful grief and amazement, with your bodies and every member full of racking torture, without any possibility of getting ease; without any possibility of moving God to pity by your cries; without any possibility of hiding yourselves from him.... How dismal will it be, when you are under these racking torments, to know assuredly that you never, never shall be delivered from them; to have no hope; when you shall wish that you might but be turned into nothing, but shall have no hope of it; when you shall wish that you might be turned into a toad or a serpent, but shall have no hope of it; when you would rejoice, if you might but have any relief, after you shall have endured these torments millions of ages, but shall have no hope of it; when after you shall have worn out the age of the sun, moon, and stars, in your dolorous groans and lamentations, without any rest day or night, when after you shall have worn out a thousand more such ages, yet you shall have no hope, but shall know that you are not one whit nearer to the end of your torments; but that still there are the same groans, the same shrieks, the same doleful cries, incessantly to be made by you, and that the smoke of your torment shall still ascend up, forever and ever; and that your souls, which shall have been agitated with the wrath of God all this while, yet will still exist to bear more wrath; your bodies, which shall have been burning and roasting all this while in these glowing flames, yet shall not have been consumed, but will remain to roast through an eternity yet, which will not have been at all shortened by what shall have been past."
When we remember that to the Puritan man, woman, or child the message of the preacher meant the message of God, we may imagine what effect such words had on a colonial congregation. To the overwrought nerves of many a Puritan woman, taught to believe meekly the doctrines of her father, and weakened in body by ceaseless childbearing and unending toil, such a picture must indeed have been terrifying. And the God that she and her husband heard described Sabbath after Sabbath was not only heartily willing to condemn man to eternal torment but capable of enjoying the tortures of the damned, and gloating in strange joy over the writhings of the condemned. Is it any wonder that in the midst of Jonathan Edward's sermon, Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God, men and women sprang to their feet and shrieked in anguish, "What shall we do to be saved?"
"The God that holds you over the pit of hell, much as one holds a spider, or some loathsome insect, over the fire, abhors you and is dreadfully provoked; his wrath towards you burns like fire; he looks upon you as worthy of nothing else but to be cast into the fire; he is of purer eyes than to bear to have you in his sight; you are ten thousand times as abominable in his eyes, as the most hateful and venomous serpent is in ours. You have offended him infinitely more than ever a stubborn rebel did his prince; and yet it is nothing but his hand that holds you from falling into the fire every moment; it is ascribed to nothing else that you did not go to hell the last night; that you was suffered to awake again in this world, after you closed your eyes to sleep; and there is no other reason to be given why you have not dropped into hell since you arose in the morning, but that God's hand has held you up; there is no other reason to be given why you have not gone to hell, since you have sat here in the house of God, provoking his pure eyes by your sinful wicked manner of attending his solemn worship: yea, there is nothing else that is to be given as a reason why you do not this very moment drop down into hell."
Under such teachings the girl of colonial New England grew into womanhood; with such thoughts in mind she saw her children go down into the grave; with such forebodings she herself passed out into an uncertain Hereafter. Nor was there any escape from such sermons; for church attendance was for many years compulsory, and even when not compulsory, was essential for those who did not wish to be politically and socially ostracized. The preachers were not, of course, required to give proof for their declarations; they might well have announced, "Thus saith the Lord," but they preferred to enter into disquisitions bristling with arguments and so-called logical deductions. For instance, note in Edwards' sermon, Why Saints in Glory will Rejoice to see the Torments of the Damned, the chain of reasoning leading to the conclusion that those enthroned in heaven shall find joy in the unending torture of their less fortunate neighbors:
"They will rejoice in seeing the justice of God glorified in the sufferings of the damned. The misery of the damned, dreadful as it is, is but what justice requires. They in heaven will see and know it much more clearly than any of us do here. They will see how perfectly just and righteous their punishment is and therefore how properly inflicted by the supreme Governor of the world.... They will rejoice when they see him who is their Father and eternal portion so glorious in his justice. The sight of this strict and immutable justice of God will render him amiable and adorable in their eyes. It will occasion rejoicing in them, as they will have the greater sense of their own happiness, by seeing the contrary misery. It is the nature of pleasure and pain, of happiness and misery, greatly to heighten the sense of each other.... When they shall see how miserable others of their fellow-creatures are, who were naturally in the same circumstances with themselves; when they shall see the smoke of their torment, and the raging of the flames of their burning, and hear their dolorous shrieks and cries, and consider that they in the meantime are in the most blissful state, and shall surely be in it to all eternity; how will they rejoice!... When they shall see the dreadful miseries of the damned, and consider that they deserved the same misery, and that it was sovereign grace, and nothing else, which made them so much to differ from the damned, that if it had not been for that, they would have been in the same condition; but that God from all eternity was pleased to set his love upon them, that Christ hath laid down his life for them, and hath made them thus gloriously happy forever, O how will they adore that dying love of Christ, which has redeemed them from so great a misery, and purchased for them so great happiness, and has so distinguished them from others of their fellow-creatures!"
It was a strange creed that led men to teach such theories. And when we learn that Jonathan Edwards was a man of singular gentleness and kind-heartedness, we realize that it must have tortured him to preach such doctrines, but that he believed it his sacred duty to do so.
The religion, however, that the Puritan woman imbibed from girlhood to old age went further than this; it taught the theory of a personal devil. To the New England colonists Satan was a very real individual capable of taking to himself a physical form with the proverbial tail, horns, and hoofs. Hear what Cotton Mather, one of the most eminent divines of early Massachusetts, has to say in his Memorable Providences about this highly personal Satan: "There is both a God and a Devil and Witchcraft: That there is no out-ward Affliction, but what God may (and sometimes doth) permit Satan to trouble his people withal: That the Malice of Satan and his Instruments, is very great against the Children of God: That the clearest Gospel-Light shining in a place, will not keep some from entering hellish Contracts with infernal Spirits: That Prayer is a powerful and effectual Remedy against the malicious practices of Devils and those in Covenant with them."
And His Satanic Majesty had legions of followers, equally insistent on tormenting humanity. In The Wonders of the Invisible World, published in 1692, Mather proves that there is a devil and that the being has specific attributes, powers, and limitations:
"A devil is a fallen angel, an angel fallen from the fear and love of God, and from all celestial glories; but fallen to all manner of wretchedness and cursedness.... There are multitudes, multitudes, in the valley of destruction, where the devils are! When we speak of the devil, 'tis a name of multitude.... The devils they swarm about us, like the frogs of Egypt, in the most retired of our chambers. Are we at our boards? beds? There will be devils to tempt us into carnality. Are we in our shops? There will be devils to tempt us into dishonesty. Yea, though we get into the church of God, there will be devils to haunt us in the very temple itself, and there tempt us to manifold misbehaviors. I am verily persuaded that there are very few human affairs whereinto some devils are not insinuated. There is not so much as a journey intended, but Satan will have an hand in hindering or furthering of it."
"...'Tis to be supposed, that there is a sort of arbitrary, even military government, among the devils.... These devils have a prince over them, who is king over the children of pride. 'Tis probable that the devil, who was the ringleader of that mutinous and rebellious crew which first shook off the authority of God, is now the general of those hellish armies; our Lord that conquered him has told us the name of him; 'tis Belzebub; 'tis he that is the devil and the rest are his angels, or his soldiers.... 'Tis to be supposed that some devils are more peculiarly commission'd, and perhaps qualify'd, for some countries, while others are for others.... It is not likely that every devil does know every language; or that every devil can do every mischief. 'Tis possible that the experience, or, if I may call it so, the education of all devils is not alike, and that there may be some difference in their abilities...."
What was naturally the effect of such a faith upon the sensitive nerves of the women of those days? Viewed in its larger aspects this was an objective, not a subjective religion. It could but make the sensitive soul super-sensitive, introspective, morbidly alive to uncanny and weird suggestions, and strangely afraid of the temptation of enjoying earthly pleasures. Its followers dared not allow themselves to become deeply attached to anything temporal; for such an emotion was the device of the devil, and God would surely remove the object of such affection. Whether through anger or jealousy or kindness, the Creator did this, the Puritan woman seems not to have stopped to consider; her belief was sufficient that earthly desires and even natural love must be repressed. Winthrop, a staunch supporter of colonial New England creeds as well as of independence, gives us an example of God's actions in such a matter: "A godly woman of the church of Boston, dwelling sometime in London, brought with her a parcel of very fine linen of great value, which she set her heart too much upon, and had been at charge to have it all newly washed, and curiously folded and pressed, and so left it in press in her parlor over night." Through the carelessness of a servant, the package caught on fire and was totally destroyed. "But it pleased God that the loss of this linen did her much good, both in taking off her heart from worldly comforts, and in preparing her for a far greater affliction by the untimely death of her husband...."
Especially did this doctrine apply to the love of human beings. How often must it have grieved the Puritan mother to realize that she must exercise unceasing care lest she love her children too intensely! For the passionate love of a mother for her babe was but a rash temptation to an ever-watchful and ever-jealous God to snatch the little one away. Preachers declared it in the pulpit, and writers emphasized it in their books; the trusting and faithful woman dared not believe otherwise. Once more we may turn to Winthrop for proof of this terrifying doctrine:
"God will be sanctified in them that come near him. Two others were the children of one of the Church of Boston. While their parents were at the lecture, the boy (being about seven years of age), having a small staff in his hand, ran down upon the ice towards a boat he saw, and the ice breaking, he fell in, but his staff kept him up, till his sister, about fourteen years old, ran down to save her brother (though there were four men at hand, and called to her not to go, being themselves hasting to save him) and so drowned herself and him also, being past recovery ere the men could come at them, and could easily reach ground with their feet. The parents had no more sons, and confessed they had been too indulgent towards him, and had set their hearts overmuch upon him."
And again, what mother could be certain that punishment for her own petty errors might not be wreaked upon her innocent child? For the faith of the day did not demand that the sinner receive upon himself the recompense for his deeds; the mighty Ruler above could and would arbitrarily choose as the victim the offspring of an erring parent. Says Winthrop in the History of New England, mentioned above:
"This puts me in mind of another child very strangely drowned a little before winter. The parents were also members of the church of Boston. The father had undertaken to maintain the mill-dam, and being at work upon it (with some help he had hired), in the afternoon of the last day of the week, night came upon them before they had finished what they intended, and his conscience began to put him in mind of the Lord's day, and he was troubled, yet went on and wrought an hour within night. The next day, after evening exercise, and after they had supped, the mother put two children to bed in the room where themselves did lie, and they went out to visit a neighbor. When they returned, they continued about an hour in the room, and missed not the child, but then the mother going to the bed, and not finding her youngest child (a daughter about five years of age), after much search she found it drowned in a well in her cellar; which was very observable, as by a special hand of God, that the child should go out of that room into another in the dark, and then fall down at a trap-door, or go down the stairs, and so into the well in the farther end of the cellar, the top of the well and the water being even with the ground. But the father, freely in the open congregation, did acknowledge it the righteous hand of God for his profaning his holy day against the checks of his own conscience."
There was a certain amount of pitiable egotism in all this. Seemingly God had very little to do except watch the Puritans. It reminds one of the two resolutions tradition says that some Puritan leader suggested: Resolved, firstly, that the saints shall inherit the earth; resolved, secondly, that we are the saints. A supernatural or divine explanation seems to have been sought for all events; natural causes were too frequently ignored. The super-sensitive almost morbid nature resulting from such an attitude caused far-fetched hypotheses; God was in every incident and every act or accident. We may turn again to Winthrop's History for an illustration:
"1648. The synod met at Cambridge. Mr. Allen preached. It fell out, about the midst of his sermon, there came a snake into the seat where many elders sate behind the preacher. Divers elders shifted from it, but Mr. Thomson, one of the elders of Braintree, (a man of much faith) trod upon the head of it, until it was killed. This being so remarkable, and nothing falling out but by divine providence, it is out of doubt, the Lord discovered somewhat of his mind in it. The serpent is the devil; the synod, the representative of the churches of Christ in New England. The devil had formerly and lately attempted their disturbance and dissolution; but their faith in the seed of the woman overcame him and crushed his head."
There was a further belief that God in hasty anger often wreaked instant vengeance upon those who displeased Him, and this doctrine doubtless kept many a Puritan in constant dread lest the hour of retribution should come upon him without warning. How often the mother of those days must have admonished in all sincerity her child not to do this or that lest God strike the sudden blow of death in retribution. Numerous indeed are the examples presented of sinners who paid thus abruptly the penalty for transgression. Let Increase Mather speak through his Essay for the Recording of Illustrious Providences:
"The hand of God was very remarkable in that which came to pass in the Narragansett country in New England, not many weeks since; for I have good information, that on August 28, 1683, a man there (viz. Samuel Wilson) having caused his dog to mischief his neighbor's cattle was blamed for his so doing. He denied the fact with imprecations, wishing that he might never stir from that place if he had so done. His neighbor being troubled at his denying the truth, reproved him, and told him he did very ill to deny what his conscience knew to be truth. The atheist thereupon used the name of God in his imprecations, saying, 'He wished to God he might never stir out of that place, if he had done that which he was charged with.' The words were scarce out of his mouth before he sunk down dead, and never stirred more; a son-in-law of his standing by and catching him as he fell to the ground."
And if further proof of the swiftness with which God may act is desired, Increase Mather's Illustrious Providences may again be cited: "A thing not unlike this happened (though not in New England yet) in America, about a year ago; for in September, 1682, a man at the Isle of Providence, belonging to a vessel, whereof one Wollery was master, being charged with some deceit in a matter that had been committed to him, in order to his own vindication, horridly wished 'that the devil might put out his eyes if he had done as was suspected concerning him.' That very night a rheum fell into his eyes so that within a few days he became stark blind. His company being astonished at the Divine hand which thus conspicuously and signally appeared, put him ashore at Providence, and left him there. A physician being desired to undertake his cure, hearing how he came to lose his sight, refused to meddle with him. This account I lately received from credible persons, who knew and have often seen the man whom the devil (according to his own wicked wish) made blind, through the dreadful and righteous judgment of God."
III. Inherited Nervousness
In all ages it would seem that woman has more readily accepted the teachings of her elders and has taken to heart more earnestly the doctrines of new religions, however strange or novel, than has man. It was so in the days of Christ; it is true in our own era of Christian Science, Theosophy, and New Thought. The message that fell from the lips of the fanatically zealous preachers of colonial times sank deep into the hearts of New England women. Its impression was sharp and abiding, and the sensitive mother transmitted her fears and dread to her child. Timid girls, inheriting a super-conscious realization of human defects, and hearing from babyhood the terrifying doctrines, grew also into a womanhood noticeable for overwrought nerves and depressed spirits. Timid, shrinking Betty Sewall, daughter of Judge Sewall, was troubled all the days of her life with qualms about the state of her soul, was hysterical as a child, wretched in her mature years, and depressed in soul at the hour of her departure. In his famous diary her father makes this note about her when she was about five years of age: "It falls to my daughter Elizabeth's Share to read the 24 of Isaiah which she doth with many Tears not being very well, and the Contents of the Chapter and Sympathy with her draw Tears from me also."
A writer of our own day, Alice Morse Earle, has well expressed our opinion when she says in her Child Life in Colonial Days: "The terrible verses telling of God's judgment on the land, of fear of the pit, of the snare, of emptiness and waste, of destruction and desolation, must have sunk deep into the heart of the sick child, and produced the condition shown by this entry when she was a few years older: 'When I came in, past 7 at night, my wife met me in the Entry and told me Betty had surprised them. I was surprised with the Abruptness of the Relation. It seems Betty Sewall had given some signs of dejection and sorrow; but a little while after dinner she burst into an amazing cry which caus'd all the family to cry too. Her mother ask'd the Reason, she gave none; at last said she was afraid she should go to Hell, her Sins were not pardon'd. She was first wounded by my reading a Sermon of Mr. Norton's; Text, Ye shall seek me and shall not find me. And these words in the Sermon, Ye shall seek me and die in your Sins, ran in her Mind and terrified her greatly. And staying at home, she read out of Mr. Cotton Mather—Why hath Satan filled thy Heart? which increas'd her Fear. Her Mother asked her whether she pray'd. She answered Yes, but fear'd her prayers were not heard, because her sins were not pardoned.'"
We may well imagine the anguish of Betty Sewall's mother. And yet neither that mother, whose life had been gloomy enough under the same religion, nor the father who had led his child into distress by holding before her her sinful condition, could offer any genuine comfort. Miss Earle has summarized with briefness and force the results of such training: "A frightened child, a retiring girl, a vacillating sweetheart, an unwilling bride, she became the mother of eight children; but always suffered from morbid introspection, and overwhelming fear of death and the future life, until at the age of thirty-five her father sadly wrote, 'God has delivered her now from all her fears.'"
According to our modern conception of what child life should consist of, the existence of the Puritan girl must have been darkened from early infancy by such a creed. Only the indomitable desire of the human being to survive, and the capacity of the human spirit under the pressure of daily duties to thrust back into the subconscious mind its dread or terror, could enable man or woman to withstand the physical and mental strain of the theories hurled down so sternly and so confidently from the colonial pulpit. Cotton Mather in his Diary records this incident when his daughter was but four years old: "I took my little daughter Katy into my Study and then I told my child I am to dye Shortly and she must, when I am Dead, remember Everything I now said unto her. I sett 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. I gave her to understand that when I am taken from her she must look to meet with more humbling Afflictions than she does now she has a Tender Father to provide for her."
Infinite pity we may well have for those stern parents who, faithful to what they considered their duty, missed so much of the sanity, sweetness and joy of life, and thrust upon their babes, whose days should have been filled with love and light and play, the dread of death and hell and eternal damnation. It is with a touch of irony that we read that Mather survived by thirty years this child whose infant mind was tortured with visions of the grave. Yet a strange sort of pride seems to have been taken in the capacity of children to imbibe such gloomy theological theories and in the ability to repeat, parrotlike, the oft-repeated doctrines of inherent sinfulness. One babe, two years old, was able "savingly to understand the Mysteries of Redemption"; another of the same age was "a dear lover of faithful ministers"; Anne Greenwich, who, we are not surprised to discover, died at the age of five, "discoursed most astonishingly of great mysteries"; Daniel Bradley, when three years old, had an "impression and inquisition of the state of souls after death"; Elizabeth Butcher, when only two and a half years old, would ask herself as she lay in her cradle, "What is my corrupt nature?" and would answer herself with the quotation, "It is empty of grace, bent unto sin, and only to sin, and that continually." With such spiritual food were our ancestors fed—sometimes to the eternal undoing of their posterity's physical and mental welfare.
IV. Woman's Day of Rest
It is possible that the Puritan woman gained one very material blessing from the religion of her day; she was relieved of practically all work on Sunday. The colonial Sabbath was indeed strictly observed; there was little visiting, no picnicking, no heavy meals, no week-end parties, none of the entertainments so prevalent in our own day. The wife and mother was therefore spared the heavy tasks of Sunday so commonly expected of the typical twentieth-century housewife. But it is doubtful whether the alternative—attendance at church almost the entire day—would appear one whit more desirable to the modern woman. The Sabbath of those times was verily a period of religious worship. No one must leave town, and no one must travel to town save for the church service. There must be no work on the farm or in the city. Boats must not be used except when necessary to transport people to divine service. Fishing, hunting, and dancing were absolutely forbidden. No one must use a horse, ox, or wagon if the church were within reasonable walking distance, and "reasonable" was a most expansive word. Tobacco was not to be smoked or chewed near any meeting-house. The odor of cooking food on Sunday was an abomination in the nostrils of the Most High. And we should bear in mind that these rules were enforced from sunset on Saturday to sunset on Sunday—the twenty-four hours of the Puritan Sabbath. The Holy Day, as spent by the preacher, John Cotton, may be taken as typical of the strenuous hours of the Sabbath as observed by many a New England pastor:
"He began the Sabbath at evening, therefore then performed family duty after supper, being longer than ordinary in exposition. After which he catechized his children and servants, and then returned to his study. The morning following, family worship being ended, he retired into his study until the bell called him away. Upon his return from meeting (where he had preached and prayed some hours), he returned again into his study (the place of his labor and prayer), unto his favorite devotion; where having a small repast carried him up for his dinner, he continued until the tolling of the bell. The public service of the afternoon being over, he withdrew for a space to his pre-mentioned oratory for his sacred addresses to God, as in the forenoon, then came down, repeated the sermon in the family, prayed, after supper sang a Psalm, and toward bedtime betaking himself again to his study he closed the day with prayer."
To many a modern reader such a method of spending Sunday for either preacher or laymen would seem not only irksome but positively detrimental to physical and mental health; but we should bear in mind that the opportunity to sit still and listen after six days of strenuous muscular toil was probably welcomed by the colonist, and, further, that in the absence of newspapers and magazines and other intellectual stimuli the oratory of the clergy, stern as it may have been, was possibly an equal relief. Especially were such "recreations" welcomed by the women; for their toil was as arduous as that of the men; while their round of life and their means of receiving the stimulus of public movements were even more restricted.
V. Religion and Woman's Foibles
The repressive characteristics of the creed of the hour were felt more keenly by those women than probably any man of the period ever dreamed. For woman seems to possess an innate love of the dainty and the beautiful, and beauty was the work of Satan. Nothing was too small or insignificant for this religion to examine and control. It even regulated that most difficult of all matters to govern—feminine dress. As Fisher says in his Men, Women and Manners in Colonial Times:
"At every opportunity they raised some question of religion and discussed it threadbare, and the more fine-spun and subtle it was the more it delighted them. Governor Winthrop's Journal is full of such questions as whether there could be an indwelling of the Holy Ghost in a believer without a personal union; whether it was lawful even to associate or have dealings with idolaters like the French; whether women should wear veils. On the question of veils, Roger Williams was in favor of them; but John Cotton one morning argued so powerfully on the other side that in the afternoon the women all came to church without them."
"There were orders of the General Court forbidding 'short sleeves whereby the nakedness of the arms may be discovered.' Women's sleeves were not to be more than half an ell wide. There were to be no 'immoderate great sleeves, immoderate ... knots of ryban, broad shoulder bands and rayles, silk ruses, double ruffles and cuffs.' The women were complained of because of their 'wearing borders of hair and their cutting, curling, and immodest laying out of their hair.'"
Petty details that would not receive a moment's consideration in our own day aroused the theological scruples of those colonial pastors, and moved them to interminable arguments which nicely balanced the pros and cons as warranted by scripture. One of John Cotton's most famous sermons dealt with the question as to whether women had a right to sing in church, and after lengthy disquisition the preacher finally decided that the Lord had no special objection to women's singing the Psalms, but this conclusion was reached only after an unsparing battle of doubts and logic. "Some," he declares, "that were altogether against singing of Psalms at all with a lively voice, yet being convinced that it is a moral worship of God warranted in Scripture, then if there must be a Singing one alone must sing, not all (or if all) the Men only and not the Women.... Some object, 'Because it is not permitted to speak in the Church in two cases: 1. By way of teaching.... For this the Apostle accounteth an act of authority which is unlawful for a woman to usurp over the man, II, Tim. 2, 13. And besides the woman is more subject to error than a man, ver. 14, and therefore might soon prove a seducer if she became a teacher.... It is not permitted to a woman to speak in the Church by way of propounding questions though under pretence of desire to learn for her own satisfaction; but rather it is required she should ask her husband at home."
Thus we might follow Cotton through many a page and hear his ingenious application of Biblical verses, his carefully balanced arguments, his earnest consideration of what seems to the modern reader a most trivial question. To him, however, and probably to the women also it was a weighty subject, more important by far than the cause of the high mortality among both mothers and children of the day—a mortality appallingly high. It would seem that the fevers, sore throats, consumption, and small pox that destroyed women and babes in vast numbers might have claimed some attention from the hair-splitting clergyman and his congregation. We must not, however, judge the age too harshly. It is utterly impossible for us of the twentieth century to understand entirely the view point of the Puritans; for the remarkable era of the nineteenth century intervenes, and freedom from superstition and blind faith is a gift which came after that era and not before.
From time to time the colonists to the south may have sneered at or even condemned the severity of New England life, but in the main the merchants of New York and the planters of Virginia and Maryland realized and respected the moral worth and earnest nature of the Massachusetts settlers. For example, the versatile Virginia leader, William Byrd, remarks sarcastically in his History of the Dividing Line Run in the Year 1728: "Nor would I care, like a certain New England Magistrate to order a Man to the Whipping Post for daring to ride for a midwife on the Lord's Day"; but in the same manuscript he pays these people of rigid rules the following tribute: "Tho' these People may be ridiculed for some Pharisaical Particularitys in their Worship and Behaviour, yet they were very useful Subjects, as being Frugal and Industrious, giving no Scandal or Bad Example, at least by any Open and Public Vices. By which excellent Qualities they had much the Advantage of the Southern Colony, who thought their being Members of the Establish't Church sufficient to Sanctifie very loose and Profligate Morals. For this reason New England improved much faster than Virginia, and in Seven or Eight Years New Plymouth, like Switzerland, seemd too narrow a Territory for its Inhabitants."
Those early New Englanders may have been frugal and industrious, giving no scandal nor bad example; but the constant repression, the monotony, the dreariness of the religion often wrought havoc with the sensitive nerves of the women, and many of them needed, far more than prayers, godly counsel and church trials, the skilled services of a physician. Two incidents related by Winthrop should be sufficient to impress the pathos or the down-right tragedy of the situation:
"A cooper's wife of Hingham, having been long in a sad melancholic distemper near to phrensy, and having formerly attempted to drown her child, but prevented by God's gracious providence, did now again take an opportunity.... And threw it into the water and mud ... She carried the child again, and threw it in so far as it could not get out; but then it pleased God, that a young man, coming that way, saved it. She would give no other reason for it, but that she did it to save it from misery, and with that she was assured, she had sinned against the Holy Ghost, and that she could not repent of any sin. Thus doth Satan work by the advantage of our infirmities, which would stir us up to cleave the more fast to Christ Jesus, and to walk the more humbly and watchfully in all our conversation."
"Dorothy Talby was hanged at Boston for murdering her own daughter a child of three years old. She had been a member of the church of Salem, and of good esteem for goodliness, but, falling at difference with her husband, through melancholy or spiritual delusions, she sometime attempted to kill him, and her children, and herself, by refusing meat.... After much patience, and divers admonitions not prevailing, the church cast her out. Whereupon she grew worse; so as the magistrate caused her to be whipped. Whereupon she was reformed for a time, and carried herself more dutifully to her husband, but soon after she was so possessed with Satan, that he persuaded her (by his delusions, which she listened to as revelations from God) to break the neck of her own child, that she might free it from future misery. This she confessed upon her apprehension; yet, at her arraignment, she stood mute a good space, till the governour told her she should be pressed to death, and then she confessed the indictment. When she was to receive judgment, she would not uncover her face, nor stand up, but as she was forced, nor give any testimony of her repentance, either then or at her execution. The cloth which should have covered her face, she plucked off, and put between the rope and her neck. She desired to have been beheaded, giving this reason, that it was less painful and less shameful. Mr. Peter, her late pastor, and Mr. Wilson, went with her to the place of execution, but could do no good with her."
VI. Woman's Comfort in Religion
Little gentleness and surely little of the overwhelming love that was Christ's are apparent in a creed so stern and uncompromising. But the age in which it flourished was not in itself a gentle and tolerant era. It had not been so many years since men and women had been tortured and executed for their faith. The Spanish Inquisition had scarcely ceased its labor of barbarism; and days were to follow both in England and on the continent when acts almost as savage would be allowed for the sake of religion. In spite, moreover, of all that has been said above, in spite of the literalness, the belief in a personal devil, the fear of an arbitrary God, the religion of Puritanism was not without comfort to the New England woman. Many are the references to the Creator's comforting presence and help. Note these lines from a letter written by Margaret Winthrop to her husband in 1637: "Sure I am, that all shall work to the best to them that love God, or rather are loved of him. I know he will bring light out of obscurity, and make his righteousness shine forth as clear as noonday. Yet I find in myself an adverse spirit, and a trembling heart, not so willing to submit to the will of God as I desire. There is a time to plant, and a time to pull up that which is planted, which I could desire might not be yet. But the Lord knoweth what is best, and his will be done..."
Though woman might not speak or hold office in the Church, yet she was not by any means denied the ordinary privileges and comforts of religious worship, but rather was encouraged to gather with her sisters in informal seasons of prayer and meditation. The good wives are commended in many of the writings of the day for general charity work connected with the church, and are mentioned frequently as being present at the evening assemblies similar to our modern prayer meetings. Cotton Mather makes this notation in his Essays to do Good, published in 1710: "It is proposed, That about twelve families agree to meet (the men and their wives) at each other's houses, in rotation, once in a fortnight or a month, as shall be thought most proper, and spend a suitable time together in religious exercises." Even when women ventured to hold formal religious meetings there was at first little or no protest. According to Hutchinson's History of Massachusetts Bay, when Anne Hutchinson, that creator of religious strife and thorn in the side of the Elders, conducted assemblies for women only, there was even praise for the innovation. It was only when this leader criticised the clergy that silence was demanded. "Mrs. Hutchinson thought fit to set up a meeting for the sisters, also, where she repeated the sermons preached the Lord's day before, adding her remarks and expositions. Her lectures made much noise, and fifty or eighty principal women attended them. At first they were generally approved of."
Only when the decency and the decorum of the colony was threatened did the stern laws of the church descend upon Mistress Hutchinson and her followers. It was doubtless the riotous conduct of these radicals that caused the resolution to be passed by the assembly in 1637, which stated, according to Winthrop: "That though women might meet (some few together) to pray and edify one another; yet such a set assembly, (as was then in practice at Boston), where sixty or more did meet every week, and one woman (in a prophetical way, by resolving questions of doctrine, and expounding scripture) took upon her the whole exercise, was agreed to be disorderly, and without rule."
Among the Quakers women's meetings were common; for equality of the sexes was one of their teachings. In the Journal of George Fox (1672) we come across this statement: "We had a Mens-Meeting and a Womens-Meeting.... On the First of these Days the Men and Women had their Meetings for Business, wherein the Affairs of the Church of God were taken care of." Moreover, what must have seemed an abomination to the Puritan Fathers, these Quakers allowed their wives and mothers to serve in official capacities in the church, and permitted them to take part in the quarterly business sessions. Thus, John Woolman in his Diary says: "We attended the Quarterly meeting with Ann Gaunt and Mercy Redman." "After the quarterly meeting of worship ended I felt drawings to go to the Women's meeting of business which was very full." What was especially shocking to their Puritan neighbors was the fact that these Quakers allowed their women to go forth as missionary speakers, and, as in the case of Mary Dyer, to invade the sacred precincts of the Massachusetts Bay Colony to proselyte to Quakerism.
VII. Female Rebellion
But those Puritan colonists had far greater troubles to harass them than the few quiet Quaker women who were moved by Inner Light to speak in the village streets. One of these troubles we have touched upon—the Rise of the Antinomians, or the disturbance caused by Anne Hutchinson. The other was the Salem Witchcraft proceedings. In both of these women were directly concerned, and indeed were at the root of the disturbances. Let us examine in some detail the influence of Puritan womanhood in these social upheavals that shook the foundations of church rule in New England.
While most of the women of the Puritan colonies seem to have been too busy with their household duties and their numerous children to concern themselves extensively with public affairs, there was this one woman, Anne Hutchinson, who has gained lasting fame as the cause of the greatest religious and political disturbance occurring in Massachusetts before the days of the Revolution. Many are the references in the early writers to this radical leader and her followers. Some of the most prominent men and women in the colony were inclined to follow her, and for a time it appeared that hers was to be the real power of the day; great was the excitement. Thomas Hutchinson in his History of Massachusetts Bay Colony, told of her trial and banishment: "Countenanced and encouraged by Mr. Vane and Mr. Cotton, she advanced doctrines and opinions which involved the colony in disputes and contensions; and being improved to civil as well as religious purposes, had like to have produced ruin both to church and state."
Anne Hutchinson was the daughter of Francis Marbury, a prominent clergyman of Lincolnshire, England. Intensely religious as a child, she was deeply influenced when a young woman by the preaching of John Cotton. The latter, not being able to worship as he wished in England, moved to the Puritan colony in the New World, and Anne Hutchinson, upon her arrival at Boston, frankly confessed that she had crossed the sea solely to be under his preaching in his new home.
Many of the prominent men of the community soon became her followers: Sir Harry Vane, Governor of the colony; her brother-in-law, the Rev. John Wheelwright; William Coddington, a magistrate of Boston; and even Cotton himself, leader of the church and supposedly orthodox of the orthodox. That this was enough to turn the head of any woman may well be surmised, especially when we remember that she was presumed to be the silent and weaker vessel,—to find suddenly learned men and even the greatest clergymen of the community sitting at her feet and hearing her doctrines. It is difficult to determine the real state of affairs concerning this woman and her teachings. Nothing unless, possibly the witchcraft delusion at Salem, excited the colony as did this disturbance in both church and state. While much has been written, so much of partisanship is displayed in all the statements that it is with great difficulty that we are able really to separate the facts from jealousy and bitterness. During the first few months of her stay she seems to have been commended for her faithful attendance at church, her care of the sick, and her benevolent attitude toward the community. Even her meetings for the sisters were praised by the pastors. But, not content with holding meetings for her neighbors, she criticised the preachers and their teachings. This was especially irritating to the good Elders, because woman was supposed to be the silent member in the household and meeting-house, and not capable of offering worthy criticism. But even then the matter might have been passed in silence if the church and state had not been one, and the pastors politicians. Hutchinson, a kinsman of the rebellious leader, says in his History of Massachusetts Bay:
"It is highly probable that if Mr. Vane had remained in England, or had not craftily made use of the party which maintained these peculiar opinions in religion, to bring him into civil power and authority and draw the affections of the people from those who were their leaders into the wilderness, these, like many other errors, might have prevailed a short time without any disturbance to the state, and as the absurdity of them appeared, silently subsided, and posterity would not have known that such a woman as Mrs. Hutchinson ever existed.... It is difficult to discover, from Mr. Cotton's own account of his principles published ten years afterwards, in his answer to Bailey, wherein he differed from her.... He seems to have been in danger when she was upon trial. The ... ministers treated him coldly, but Mr. Winthrop, whose influence was now greater than ever, protected him."
Just what were Anne Hutchinson's doctrines no one has ever been able to determine; even Winthrop, a very able, clear-headed man who was well versed in Puritan theology, and who was one of her most powerful opponents, said he was unable to define them. "The two capital errors with which she was charged were these: That the Holy Ghost dwells personally in a justified person; and that nothing of sanctification can help to evidence to believers their justification."
Her teachings were not unlike those of the Quietists and that of the "Inner Light," set forth by the Quakers—a doctrine that has always held a charm for people who enjoy the mystical. But it was not so much the doctrines probably as the fact that she and her followers were a disturbing element that caused her expulsion from a colony where it was vital and necessary to the existence of the settlement that harmony should prevail. There had been great hardships and sacrifices; even yet the colony was merely a handful of people surrounded by thousands of active enemies. If these colonists were to live there must be uniformity and conformity. "When the Pequots threatened Massachusetts colony a few men in Boston refused to serve. These were Antinomians, followers of Anne Hutchinson, who suspected their chaplain of being under a 'Covenant of works,' whereas their doctrine was one should live under a 'Covenant of grace.' This is one of the great reasons why they were banished. It was the very life of the colony that they should have conformity, and all of them as one man could scarcely withstand the Indians. Therefore this religious doctrine was working rebellion and sedition, and endangering the very existence of the state."