Joseph B. (Joseph Barlow) Felt.

The customs of New England online

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died 86 B. C, had the first gold one, so far as known, among
them. About this period, only their men of the highest rank
were allowed to appear with an ornament of so rich a metal.
This distinction narrowed down with the progress of time,
until it became so modified, that knights might wear gold
rings, the people silver, and slaves iron ones. While these
articles were plain, they were used on either hand at pleasure.
But when they were fitted with valuable stones, they appeared
altogether on the left. This was probably owing to the
fact, that, if placed on the right, generally employed much
more than the other, they would have been in greater danger
of being injured.

In different periods, there were changes among the Ro-
mans, as there have been in modern nations, as to the num-
ber of rings worn. Sometimes there was one, then one on
each finger, and, at length, several on every finger. The
practice of wearing from three to six has been in vogue,
more or less, for the twenty years just elapsed, among a large
portion of our New England ladies.

However ornaments of this sort have been worn, or what-
ever trains of thought or emotion they may have produced,
they have always appeared on some of both sexes in our

EINGS. 125

countiy, though much more on ladies than gentlemen, as
well as in many other countries. There was one in the
Winthrop family, of interesting though unexplained associa-
tions. It fell to the younger Winthrop, who became govern-
or of Connecticut, and who gained the favor of Charles 11.
by presenting it to him as the gift of Charles I. to his worthy
grandmother on some special occasion. The ring was used,
in 1679, as the sign of a contract. Matthew Solely, of Bos-
ton, testifies, that when Robert Lisley, of the same place, had
agreed to pay him for the board of his wife from Barbadoes,
he, as a confirmation of the bargain, took off his ring from
his finger, and gave it to the deponent. The portrait of a
Boston lady, painted about 1700, has two gold rings, set with
stones, on the third finger. Cotton Mather received a doctor-
ate of divinity from the University of Glasgow, in 1710,
and with it a ring, having the words Glascua rig'avU, " Glas-
gow watered it" On this keepsake, used as his signet, he
had the emblem of a tree, with the passage, from Psalm i. 3,
" He shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that
bringeth his fruit in his season ; his leaf also shall not
wither." Edward Winslow, goldsmith, notifies, in 1711, that,
during a fire in Boston, a silver box of his was taken away,
containing, among other articles, two " stone rings" and sev-
eral plain ones. When Daniel Rogers, of Ipswich, on his
judicial circuit as a magistrate, perished in a snow storm in
1722, on Hampton Beach, it was suspected, before his body
was found, that he had been murdered for his gold ring, as
well as for his horse and clothing. An inventory of Eliza-
beth, widow of Colonel John Livingston, of New London,
Connecticut, in 1736, specifies one silver, one stone, and four
gold rings. It mentions another ring with live diamonds,
valued at thirty pounds.

It used to be a custom to wear rings on the thumb, besides
those on the fingers. The New England Weekly Journal,
of 1729, advertises "a large thumb ring" as being picked
up at Rumney Marsh.

Down to 1770, it was common for families of wealth to
give pall bearers and particular friends, at funerals, a gold


ring apiece. Elizabeth, the widow of Captain Nathaniel
Davenport, of Boston, killed in the capture of Narraganset
Fort, in 1675, had the subsequent item in her account of
charges : " To twenty-one rings to his and my relatives, and
to two or three, who took care to bring him off when slaine,
eight pounds ten shillings." For a similar disbursement,
the Province of Massachusetts was at much expense, in
1729, when Governor Burnet was buried. The Rev. Andrew
Eliot, of Boston, who died 1778, left a " mug full " of such
articles, which had been presented to him on such occasions.

It is very probable that the dislike of our Puritan ances-
tors to the mode of marrying by a ring among Episcopalians
rendered this article far less fashionable than it would other-
wise have been. An influence of this kind, as a matter of
course, must have diminished as the latter denomination
gained in popular approval. Whatever may have been its
power, or that of any other cause, they have become much
diminished within the last twenty years. Not only have
many ladies, particularly young, abounded, in this period,
with finger rings in fancy forms, substances, and sizes, but
not a few men have followed their example in a degree.
Even boys and girls, some of whom, scarcely out of their
leading strings, appear as easy with them, as though they
had grown like nails on their hands.

Ear and other Rings. — These, of the richest material,
down to the cheapest imitation, have long been among the ap-
pendages of dress. The Scriptures speak of the earring which
the faithful servant of Abraham presented to the fair Rebckah.
They inform us, that, when Jacob resolved to visit Bethel,
and there consecrate an altar to God, accompanied by his
household, they committed to him all their earrings, and he
hid them under the oak near Shechem.

Ornaments of this kind have long been made an occasion
of distorted appearance among original inhabitants of both
continents. In the East Indies, men and women have had
their ears lengthened, and the holes of them enlarged by put-
ting in pendants " of the size of saucers set with stones."
Among the coasts of the West Indies, discovered by Colum-
bus, was one which he named Oreja, because he saw the


people there with such holes, large enough for an egg to pass
through them. Augustine informs us that the Moors had
rings for their noses, as well as ears, like many of the Orien-
tals, who, also, have had them on their lips, cheeks, and chins.
The Mexicans and other nations had their lips and nostrils
similarly discommoded, as we should say, while they, un-
doubtedly, considered them as ornamented. Indeed, we think
fashions of this sort very absurd and inconvenient, because
they have never appeared in our country. Still, were they to
be introduced and prevail among us, they would soon con-
quer our aversion and confirm the remark, not unfrequently
made, that there is hardly an absurdity of attire, as well as
of opinion arid action, which custom will not only render tol-
erable, but even agreeable.

Earrings have had their periods of abundance and scarcity
with the females of " both Englands." For the last five
years, after a general retirement from public notice for a
quarter of a century, they have increasingly come into use,
and are now extensively worn by such patrons. Formerly
they were fashionable with men of rank and others in our
fatherland. Villiers, Duke of Buckingham, and favorite of
James I., appeared with them to set otf his person. We are
told that Charles I. had a pair in his ears when executed.
In our country, a practice of this kind has been very limited
among men. As occasionally seen on males, they have been
small, setting close to the ears.

Such rings of gold have been long considered, by a por-
tion of the world, as beneficial to weak eyes. Whatever
may be our impression of their belief, we should all be
agreed, that there is an indispensable ornament of soul, shin-
ing out upon life, which is more precious than rubies — is
the only cordon sanitaire for moral diseases, whether in ex-
cess of fashion or any other undue indulgence.

From the following passage it appears that the Romans
indulged themselves, as some of the Californian adventurers
have, in heavy rings. Addison remarked, " I have seen old
Roman rings so very thick about, and with such large stones
in them, that it is no wonder a fop should reckon them a
little cumbersome in the summer."


With regard to the " Episcopal ring," it is one of the in-
signia of the office held by Roman Catholic bishops. The
fourth council of Toledo, in 1633, decreed that if a person
of such rank should be condemned, the ring should be taken
from him ; but if subsequently proved innocent, it should be
returned to him with other official badges.

Among the most interesting usages in relation to rings is
the giving of them by males when they are betrothed and
married. With regard to the first of these two actions, it
appears to have been done for Isaac by his servant, who gave
Rebekah jewels of silver and gold, which very probably in-
cluded a ring of promise. It is true that some authors have
taken ground opposite to this inference. Home says that an
ensraerement of this kind among the Jews was made " some-
times by writing, sometimes by the delivery of a piece of
silver to the bride, in presence of witnesses." However the
question particularly stands, it is evident that a pledge was
given, which is, very likely, the origin of the custom that has
long prevailed among various denominations for the lover to
give his beloved a valuable ring, as evidence of their plighted
faith. Concerning the marriage ring, there has been a dis-
crepancy of opinion as to its antiquity. Selden says that
the Jews, at one period, gave it at marriage, instead of the
piece of money previously given on similar occasions. The
same practice prevailed among the Greeks and Romans.
The early Christians adopted it ; for Tertullian and ancient
liturgies give the " form of blessing the nuptial ring." This
interesting custom, though omitted by nonconformists, is still
observed by the Catholics and Episcopalians. The cere-
mony, in part, is described as follows : " The man shall give
unto the woman a ring. And the minister, taking the ring,
shall deliver it unto the man, to put it on the fourth finger of
the woman's left hand. And the man, holding the ring there,
and taught by the minister, shall say, ' With this ring I thee
wed.' " The occasion of these words is one either for the
weal or woe of the parties united, according to their disposi-
tion and principles, and preeminently needs divine assistance,
that it may lead to the former, and not to the latter, of so im-
portant an alternative.



other Ornaments, Doublet, Jerkin, Jacket, Waistcoat, Smallclothes, Panta-
loons, Spatterdashes, Gaiters, Sliders or Overalls, Spencer, Coats, Great-
coats, Surtouts, Sack, Mandillion, Cloaks, Go\vns, Kails, Skirts, Small

Ornaments. — By these, such are meant as have not been
previously or particularly named. They go far back into the
history of human attire. The servant of Abraham presented
jewels of silver and gold to Rebekah on the consent of Be-
thuel and Laban that she might become the wife of Isaac.
Stubbs remarked of women in England, " Their fingers
must be decked with gold, silver, and precious stones ; their
wrists with bracelets and armlets of gold and costly jewels."

Made of so valuable metals and other substances, they
were not extensively worn in the first age of New England.
The greater part of ovir ancestors had so much toil to per-
form that necessary supplies might be obtained, and so strong
a belief that " bravery " of attire was unlit for their design
to promote a religious commonwealth, they did not indulge
themselves with many expensive decorations. Still these ulti-
mately made their way to general favor over the obstructions
to their progress. With his eye on a change of this kind,
Urian Oakes, in his election sermon of 1G73, observed,
" When persons spend more time in trimming their bodies
than their souls, then you may say of them, as a worthy di-
vine wittily speaks, that they are like the cinnamon tree —
nothing good but the bark." Some instances in which or-
naments are met with follow: In 1656, glass, amber, bone,
coral, and jasper beads and necklaces; in 1665, pearl neck-
lace ; in 1729, bugle and wax earrings and pendles ; in 1765,
paste, topaz, French, black, white, green, and purple stone
necklaces. In 1771, J. Coolidge, Jr., of Boston, offers the
subsequent articles, from London, for sale. Though some of



them belong to other parts of our general subject, yet it may
not be considered an unpleasant excess, if the whole of them
be named. " A variety of paste, enameled, pearl, garnet, and
black earrings, neatly set with marquasctts, necklaces, soli-
tars, sprigs, and pens set with marquasetts, marquasetts for
ladies velvet collars, paste hair combs, shoe, knee, and stock
buckles, rings, broaches, lockets, watch trinkets of all kinds,
seals, chrystal, paste, enameled pearl, gilt, moco, pebble, and
cornelian sleeve buttons, mock garnet earrings, also watch
chains, coral beads, and tovtois shell hair combs."

Necklaces of gold and other materials continued fashion-
able, more or less, till a half century ago. Since, elderly fe-
males and families of the old school iiave not consented to
appear without them. For a dozen years coral and corne-
lian ones have been considerably worn by young women at
social parties and on public occasions.

As a substitute for necklaces, during the last period, females
have appeared with gold chains as part of their attire. Par-
ticularly those denominated safety chains, for the neck, have
been increasingly used by both sexes, for the past twenty
years, attached to the watch, especially so since the facilities
of travel by steam have flooded our cities with pickpockets.

For ladies to set off their hair with jewels, pearls, and am-
ber of various forms, as well as with artificial flowers, is a
custom which has arisen and fallen in different periods of
New England's continuance. It has been in vogue the last
dozen years.

Bracelets have experienced similar changes. Thirty-seven
years since, and also twenty-two years ago, they were in
their culmination. Since then, they have been more or less
fashionable. Some of them, for the last two years, have
been made of handsomely wrought bogwood, scented and
black, being quite a new article.

Pendles of various kinds, for the ears, have gone through
a like series of mutability. These were much more common
about and after 1700 than previously. They began to
abound among us fifty years since, and appeared in profusion
for half of this period. For the last fifteen years, they have


increasingly come into favor, and at present are generally
worn, but more particularly by young women.

The fact that such garnitures for the organs of hearing
have long been of the largest size and in the greatest plenty
among nations but partially civilized, should lead us to in-
quire whether a people of this standing ought to be our ex-
emplars in matters of attire. The well-principled and virtu-
ous female '• needs not the aid of foreign ornament." When
unadorned with it, she " is adorned the most."

Doublet^ Jerkin, and Jacket. — The first of these has for
ages been a garment in the East. It was the chitone of
both Jews and Greeks. It resembled the tunic of the Ro-
mans, which, in the decline of their empire, they wore hanging
down to the ankles, with sleeves reaching to the hands. It
was common in Europe before our fathers came to this
country. Shakspeare observes, " What a pretty thing a
man is, when he goes in his doublet and hose, and leaves off
his wit! "

During the reign of Henry VIII. and his successor, and
part of Elizabeth's, doublets were puffed, in several circum-
ferences, round the sleeves and body part, and these protrud-
ing circles were much slashed. This fashion, which subsided
in the reign of the last sovereign, was revived at the time of
New England's settlement. The noted author last quoted
wrote of them, —

"What! this s. sleeve?
There's snip and nip, and cut, and slish and slash.
Like to a censor in a barber's shop."

Passing, for a moment, from the sterner sex, we look at a
remark of Stubbs as to their helpmeets : " The women also
have doublets and jerkins, as the men have, buttoned up to
the breast, and made with wings, welts, and pinions, on the
shoulder points, as men's apparel in all respects." We have
no evidence that this custom ever prevailed among the fe-
males of this country, notwithstanding the attempts of
Bloomerism within two years.

When emigrants were about to embark from England for
Massachusetts, in 1629, a large number of doublets made of


leather, and fastened with hooks and eyes, were provided for
them. Such articles of attire were very large towards the
shoulder, with much cut work, so as to show the linen which
covered the arms. Hence, in 1634, the authorities of the
Bay colony ordered, that " immodest great sleeves and
slashed apparel " should not be worn, but with the allowance
of one slash in each sleeve, and one in the back. This legis-
lative swoop also applied to the wardrobe of women. Per-
ceiving, in 1639, that their injunction was disregarded, the
like rulers resolved that no clothes should be made with short
sleeves, so as to expose the arms, nor any sleeve should be
over a half ell in the widest part.

The doublet was mentioned by a writer as worn in 1776
in Boston. Then, as previously, it had sleeves, and in cold
weather was covered with a great coat. The boys who had
on the former and latter would throw off this when they
wrestled or engaged in other athletic exercises. The fre-
quency of the doublet's being specified among personal prop-
erty diminished from 1673, and was succeeded generally by
the vest or waistcoat. Its name is not heard in common
conversation as to the dress of our day, though it is preserved
in our dictionaries, as a thing of the past, which anciently
figured with eclat.

While the doublet was spoken off and used, so were the
jerkin and jacket, among the Old and New Englanders. The
two last of these garments, as to length, form, and sleeves,
had a general likeness to the first. The jerkin was made of
leather and various sorts of cloth. We are told that Henry
Vin. had one in his wardrobe of " purple velvet with purple
satin sleeves, embroidered with Venice gold, and another of
crimson velvet, with wide sleeves, of the like colored satin."
Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford, in the reign of Elizabeth,
brought several articles from Italy, among which was a leath-
er jerkin perfumed. Of clothes brought into Boston about
1638, and belonging to Peter Branch, who died on his pas-
sage, was a similar garment. The will of Edwin Skinner,
in 1641, designates one, and another of 1654, mentions one
of cloth. Though this article, suited to the laboring class


of men, is continued to be used by them in England, and
still retains its name there, it seems to have ceased from hav-
ing its distinctive appellation, in our country, about the time
that the doublet did. Like this, its name was familiar as
itself to our ancestors, but has not been to their descendants.

With regard to the jacket, Strutt remarks, that it " origi-
nated from the military jaque or g-amberson.'^ He informs us
that it appeared in Europe about the middle of the foruteenth
century. Among our probate accounts of 1645, it is named
as of cloth, and in the will of Coytmore, who died the same
year, it is specified as of silk, and it is mentioned, in 1662,
with its accompanying attire. This garment, convenient in
the storm and active employment, has kept its ancient name,
and bids fair to hold such possession among the many who
follow laborious callings either on sea or land. There is no
real degradation, but an appropriateness of taste, in wearing
clothes fitted to the occupation of the owner.

The inventories of our primitive settlers describe the color
of the doublet as prevalently red. A gentleman of Plym-
outh colony, in 1643, left a black one. Among the fore-
handed, it was sometimes fringed, and frequently edged with
silver and gold lace. Such costly additions were forbidden
by the Bay authorities, in 1651, except to men worth two
hundred pounds. Several prosecutions on this account fol-
lowed the next year.

Persons of rank and property, and some who were not,
wore silver and gold buttons, closely set on their doublets and
other garments. When a vessel of Sir Richard Saltonstall
was cast away at Cape Sable, in 1633, Razilly, governor
there, paid the captain of her, for sails and cables, seven or
eight hundred gold buttons, taken from his clothes. The
legislature of Massachusetts, in the same year they restrict-
ed the wearing of lace trimmings to individuals of two hun-
dred pounds, did the like as to such buttons.

The diversities of high and low collars, which the waist-
coat has had, have appeared on the doublet, jerkin, and jacket.
To the ancient ones of these garments, wdiich have long
ceased to be named as articles of our wearing apparel, we



pay our parting respects, and wish them a retirement of
peace and dignity.

Waistcoats. — These garments, often called vests and wider
jackets, and distinguished from the doublet by being sleeve-
less, were coeval with this, and have outlasted it in continu-
ance. They resembled the tunica of the Romans. They
were worn by the wealthier people within doors and abroad
under the gown. The poorer class could not afford to buy
the toga, and therefore they appeared with the tunica.
Hence Horace used the phrase populus tunicatus.

Among the attire of Henry VHL was a waistcoat of silver
cloth, quilted with black silk and stuffed out with line cam-
bric. Stowe relates that, when the Earl of Essex was exe-
cuted, he put oft" his doublet, and his scarlet v/aistcoat ap-
peared. He states that Sir Thomas Wyat, being brought
to the same untimely end, " put oft' his gown, untrussed his
points, and plucked oft" his doublet and his waistcoat." He
further informs us, that William Lee wove silk waistcoat
pieces in his stocking frame.

One hundred waistcoats, made of green cotton and bound
with red tape, were ordered, in 1629, for men about to sail
from England for our shores. They became short by 1660,
and so continued till 1684. From this to 1714, they grew
in length so as to be very long. One of this kind is seen on
the likeness of Governor Yale, who died in 1721, in the
Trumbull Gallery at New Haven. Till about 1760, its top
was low, so that the neckcloth was visible all round. It Y\^as
worn thus low, as well as long, till fifty-seven years since by
elderly men, and considerably by their juniors. When sus-
penders were adopted, a half century since, the waistcoat
kept diminishing upward till it was very short. After that,
it came down so as to be a comfortable garment. A dozen
years ago, its longitude was on the decrease, but w^ithin two
yeeirs, it has greatly increased. As manufactured of leather,
it was common for laboring men, from the beginning of New
England till after the revolution.

In all its ups and doivns, the waistcoat has been generally
accommodated with two front pockets, right and left, at its


bottom part, as depositories of money, penknives, combs, and
formerly, as a common thing, of tobacco and snuffboxes.

We have no proof that females have worn such a garment
in New England, except a few respectable young ladies of
Boston, who appeared with it, the past winter, in another
city. It was probably fashionable among their sex in Eng-
land, when they used tiie doublet and jerkin as parts of their

Adventures similar to those which have betided the doub-
let, as to rich lace and buttons, have also come upon the
waistcoat. Legislative restrictions of the Bay authorities,
were formerly appointed with regard to the one as well as
to the other of these appendages. Sir Charles Henry Frank-
land, after his residence in Boston, noted in his memoranda
book, in 1763, " It will take seven yards of lace to each
waistcoat." Joseph Northup, of North Kingston, Rhode
Island, gave notice, in 1748, that he had stolen from him
fourteen silver buttons and one jacket. In June, of 1833,
while digging up the foundation of St. Peter's Church, in
Salem, for the erection of a new one, the workmen discov-
ered the remains of Jonathan Pue, his majesty's surveyor and
searcher of the port, who died in 1760. Of these remains
were some silver buttons, the mementoes of another age, the
insignia of more than common rank. Among the items con-
tained in a memorandum of what Governor Hutchinson lost
by a mob, in 1765, we have the following relative to the
waistcoat and other garments : " One suit of French gray,

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Online LibraryJoseph B. (Joseph Barlow) FeltThe customs of New England → online text (page 11 of 18)