Colonial America

     The era that was seventeenth century colonial America was very different
from todayís 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 Ďextendedí 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 sonsí sons,
their wives, and their unmarried daughters. (Brooks 27) Demosís 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
fatherís 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 Englandís. (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 didnít 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 itís 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
wasnít 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 didnít come in to play, colonists, found other means of
entertainment. They danced, played cards, and sang. There wasnít 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
didnít love each other, they were supposed to just grow on each other. Most of
the time, they didnít . 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
wouldnít allow it, and the couple would go on fighting forever because they
couldnít 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 itís 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 farmerís 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 hadnít thought of certain things before we did. It wouldíve 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 hasnít
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
todayís modern society. Deep down inside, though, their values and traditions
are still the same