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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,

i Reprinted in English Garner, Vol. II, p. 429.



Colonial Woman and Religion 7

... 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 Work-
ing 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 helpmeets 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 me-
thinks our children are as cheerful, fat and lusty with



8 Woman's Life in Colonial Days

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, continues 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 accus-
tomed to the comfortable living of the middle-class
country people of England, with considerable material
wealth and even some of the luxuries of modern civiliza-
tion, 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, keep-



Colonial Woman and Religion 9

ing 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 empha-
size the impressions given above. Reading these after
the lapse of nearly three centuries, we marvel at the
strength, the patience, the perseverance, the imperisha-
ble hope, trust, and faith of the Puritan woman. Such
hardships and privations as have been desc ribed abo ve
might s eem s ufficient; but these~were by no means all
or even the greatest of the trials of womanhoocTm Ihe"
days of the nations childhood. To understand in any
meas ure at all the life of a c hild or a wife or a mother Jpf
the Puritan colonies with its strain_and suffering, we
must k now an d comprehend her religion. Let us ex-
amine this — the dominating influence of Tier life.



10 Woman's Life in Colonial Days

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: 2 " They did not attempt to
combine the sacred and the secular; they simply abol-
ished the secular and left only the sacred. The state
became the church; the king a priest; politics a depart-
ment 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 Wiggles-
worth'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

s Vol. I, p. 101.



Colonial Woman and Religion 11

forebodings. We well know that the Puritans thor-
oughly 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 tempta-
tions. 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 happi-
ness 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 Chris-
tian, 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



12 Woman's Life in Colonial Days

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."



Colonial Woman and Religion 13

" 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



14 Woman's Life in Colonial Days

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 sur-
prising, 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.) 3 " Sabbath-day, De-
cember 13th 1685. Mr. Willard baptizeth my Son lately
born, whom I named Henry." (Four days after birth.) 4
"February 6, 1686-7. Between 3 and 4 P. M. Mr.
Willard baptizeth my Son, whom I named Stephen."
(Five days after birth.) 5

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." 6 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

3 Sewall's Diary, Vol. I, p. 40.
•Ibid, Vol. I, p. 111.
*Ibid, Vol. I, p. 167.
« Diary, Vol. I, p. 116.



Colonial Woman and Religion 15

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." 7

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.

1 Diary, Vol. Ill, p. 71.



16 Woman's Life in Colonial Days

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 Wiggles-
worth'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 brim-
stone 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 mem-
ber full of racking torture, without any possibility of



Colonial Woman and Religion 17

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, inces-
santly 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



18 Woman's Life in Colonial Days

many a Puritan woman, taught to believe meekly the
doctrines of her father, and weakened in body by cease-
less 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



Colonial Woman and Religion 19

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 fore-
bodings she herself passed out into an uncertain Here-
after. 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 ostra-
cized. 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 fortu-
nate 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



20 Woman's Life in Colonial Days

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 happi-
ness 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 ;



Colonial Woman and Religion 21

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 Massa-
chusetts, 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 ma-
licious practises of Devils and those in Covenant with
them." 8

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?

8 Original Narratives of Early Am. Hist., Narratives of the Witchcraft Cases,
p. 96, 97.



22 Woman's Life in Colonial Days

There will be devils to tempt us into carnality. Are we
in our shops? There will be devils to tempt us into dis-
honesty. 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


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