Colonial America The era that was seventeenth century colonial America was very different from todays times. The society that existed at that time had very different views on life and how it should occur. The daily routines were very unlike ours even tough it may be hard to believe. Even families, which seem to be a non-changing faction in history, were also distinct in size and order. (Thomas XIII) John Demos commented that “the colonial family was extended rather than nuclear. False.” John Demos, who in a study of Bristol , Rhode Island, came up with conclusions about family life in early America that contradicted ideas previously accepted by historians.(Hawke 58). An extended family includes the core group of males which are a grandfather, adult sons and sons sons, their wives, and their unmarried daughters. (Brooks 27) Demoss idea is basically this one.
The house in the colonial times shaped the home. What he means by this is that you could not have an extended family that included servants, apprentices, and other non-kinfolk in a house that measured twenty feet by twenty feet and rose only a story and a half. Even if you added another room, you would only have enough livable space for a nuclear family which consisted of parents and children. This was due to the high number of children in a family. The average number was about seven to ten.
Some far exceeded that, others barely managed having two or three. (Hawke, 58-59). In the early colonial families, every member had a different “job.” The head of the family was mostly the father. He presided over family prayers and worked on the family farm. Mothers usually raised the children, acted as midwives to other women in town, and tended to household chores. (Walker 86).
Up until about the age eight, boys and girls wore the same thing. They only wore wool or linen dresses. After a boy reached the age of eight or nine, he would begin to help out with the fathers job, which was farming, and a dress would not suit the job very well. Girls usually wore their hair long, but always pulled tightly back and up under a bonnet or hat. The reason for this was that social and religious custom did not approve or look kindly upon women or girls being in public with an uncovered head. The women were given a workload since their early days.
For example, while boys were off with their fathers, girls would stay home with their mothers, mostly helping out with the cooking, sewing and laundering (89). Some daughters, however, went in to the services of families in the neighborhood, and were apprenticed to a certain skill, such as lace making or cleaning. (Smith,73) Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday were very fair sunny days, as if it had been in April, and our people, so many as were in health, were cheerful. (Brown, 56) The overall health of early Americans was far better in the Northern colonies than in the South. For example, a young male adult from Massachusetts, who had reached the age of twenty could expect to live about forty-five years more.
A female, about, about forty-two. It was a different story in the colony of Virginia. A male of twenty would expect to live about twenty-nine more years and a female, only twenty. That is a large difference, a female from Massachusetts could live to be about 62 years old, and one from Virginia could live to be forty years old. In the later half of the 17th century, though, health amongst all colonists improved, and was even better than Englands.
(Tucker 467) One of the most surprising facts about hygiene in the colonial society was the lack of oral care. John Josselyn, a visitor to the early American Colonies, noted that “the women were pitifully tooth-shaken”. He didnt know whether it was the climate or by sweet meats which were plentiful. This evidence shows that the colonists were not well advised on matters such as these and that no real dentists served of purpose(Hawke,72). Food and its preparation in colonial times was extremely different from what it is like today. It was hard enough to prepare the food.
Everyone was supposed to help and had different tasks such as grinding, hewing, and churning. The people with more money and advantages had slaves cook their meals for them. After the food was cooked and ready to eat, it wasnt that exciting. The reason for this being that foods were mostly bland and tasteless because there weren’t as many spices and other means of adding flavor available. Many people ate the same kind of meal for days straight because of lack of variety (Everyday Life in Colonies,3).
The Indians who were here long before the settlers, even though they despised them, helped them out greatly in teaching the settlers how to cook and what to cook. The colonist adapted, for example, the Boston baked beans of today. The Indians taught them how to cook the beans in earthen pots. (Hawke,76) The Native American tribes had been growing corn for thousands of years. When the colonists came to America, the Indians not only introduced them to it, but also showed them how to cook and cultivate the corn.
It then became one of the staple foods of North American colonists. Without all the help and instruction from the Native Americans, colonists would have never survived. (Brooks 291) The Southern ideal was country life. Instead of a meeting house being the center of the community, the waterways and roads became a place of social life A brief moment for colonists to sit back and relax was very rare and very savored. It was usually on holidays that people would invite family and friends over to get together and just have a good time.
At Christmas time, much like today, families would have a feast and exchange gifts at dinner. They would have such activities as husking bees, greased pole climbing, greased pig chasing, hopscotch, jump rope, marbles, or tag. (Walker 102) Hunting was a very popular pastime in colonial America. There were all kinds of animal hunts, like for instance, hare hunts, fox hunts, raccoon bunts, and opossum hunts. Other animal-related included horse racing, cock fighting, and bull baiting.
In the winter, when outdoor sports that involved animals didnt come in to play, colonists, found other means of entertainment. They danced, played cards, and sang. There wasnt too much of this on though, because dancing, singing, and gambling were shunned by religious leaders. Some other winter recreation involved ice skating, sledding, and sleighing (Hawke,96-99) One of the most important traditions that settlers brought from their native countries was courtship and marriage. Girls were expected to marry at thirteen and boys at fourteen.
At this point, they were considered adults. If a girl was twenty five years old, and still was not married, it was considered a disgrace to her family. Marriages were arranged by the parents and couples. In almost every case, the couple that was married didnt love each other, they were supposed to just grow on each other. Most of the time, they didnt . This is why the wife, especially was so unhappy.
Her husband often beat her if she “misbehaved” in his eyes. He had control over all of her possessions. If her husband did not want to separate, the court wouldnt allow it, and the couple would go on fighting forever because they couldnt divorce. (Stevens 14) In the colonies, death is very common. This is because of so many diseases attained, so many cold winters, and the lack of medicine to help solve these problems. Some common killers were, diphtheria, yellow fever, scarlet fever, and smallpox.
Mostly its children that die because their little weak bodies cannot stand too much. Funerals are attended by family and close friends. It gives those with wealth a chance to show off, sort of a social event. Besides all of this, though, it was a time to grieve ad show pity and respect for the dead. (147) Settlers who had come from England had been in different classes or ranks.
When they came to America, they still kept classes and titles, but changed them a bit. For example, a farmers wife was known as “good wife” or “goody” and her husband was “goodman”. But if Goodman Smith was to be chosen for a justice of the peace, which did not exist in England. He became “Mister Smith”. If he moved up to an even higher office, he would be “Mr.Smith, Esq.” and his wife might call herself madam.
(Everyday Life in Colonies). Some others stood by more strict class distinction. They were as follows: highest class was also known as gentry. These people were rich, as they held jobs such as judges, governors, and plantation owners. They were treated with utmost respect and had good education.
Middle class had jobs like silversmiths, ironsmiths, blacksmiths, and other kinds of skill and trade. They were treated with some respect and lived in comfortably nice homes. Lower class people were mostly slaves, Indians, and poor whites. Neither had large homes or money. They had to work for other people to barely survive. They had no education whatsoever.
I think that we are all grateful that we were able to learn from the mistakes and discoveries of early Americans. We kept many traditions, and altered other according to our present-day society. Most importantly, we greatly benefited from those who lived in the very early stages of this great country, which is also known as colonial America. In addition, I extremely appreciate the road that they paved for us. (Colonial Family Life” The First English Settlers 1) Just think of all the set-backs we would have had if they hadnt thought of certain things before we did.
It wouldve taken us more time to realize important factors, when it comes to subjects such as dental hygiene. They also gave us a foundation in which social classes were to be built, which recently has caused the poor to become poorer, and the rich to become richer. (Everyday Life in Early America 283) What I greatly disapprove of, is the unfair treatment that women received during those times. It seems to me that males, had more “rights” than the females. Unfortunately, this also set up a foundation for a somewhat male-dominated country, which still hasnt given women an equal chance at success. (Payton 347) In concluding with the discussion on the everyday trials and tribulations of colonial America, it is easy for one to note the very extreme differences between that time and todays modern society.
Deep down inside, though, their values and traditions are still the same.