Monday, September 3, 2012

Colonial Facts and Stats: Culture and Life Part 2

The last installment of this topic involves less statistical information and is more focused on the roles within the family unit. Again, this is just a small portion of the wealth of useful information from Family Life in 17th and 18th Century America.

  • Family feasts were popular to celebrate common milestones and events of life; there were feasts for a lying-in, births, baptisms, churchings, starting school or an apprenticeship, betrothals, weddings, anniversaries, house-warmings, recovery from an illness, and even after the setting of a gravestone. On the other hand, many Protestant sects were "hostile" to seasonal or annual feasts related to Catholicism like saints days but some could not be suppressed. 
  • Younger sons were often able to follow their own path in life when the father could only afford to send one or two sons to college. However, it often meant they could only find work in "less desirable" careers like sailing, tailoring, blacksmithing, or carpentry. 
  • In very rural areas, many children had only very basic writing skills with little more ability to spell out much more than their own name. In more populated areas, there were often laws requiring public schooling: in Connecticut every town of 80 families had an elementary school, and those with 500 families had to establish the equivalent of a high school. Similarly, Massachusetts required every town of 50 families to appoint a schoolmaster. Under Dutch rule, public schooling was not common in New York but under English rule the Dutch were more motivated to establish their own schools in attempts to maintain their culture in light of the increase in English residents. Higher education was still needed though and so college's began to be founded: In the northern and middle colonies were Harvard (1636), Yale (1701), Princeton (the College of New Jersey, 1746), the University of Pennsylvania (1751), Columbia (King's College, 1754), Brown (1764), Rutgers (1766), and Dartmouth (1770). In the south, there were William and Mary (1693), Hampton-Sydney College (1776), and Transylvania College (1780). 
  • Prior to the American Revolution, Philadelphia had some of the best schools with the most comprehensive curricula. However, Quaker families were suspicious of any government-run organization and preferred to home school their children, providing them with adequate fundamental education.
  • In the south, planters and merchants commonly hired private tutors or sent their children to private schools, often even shipping them back to England to attend private school.
  • Just like today, college students would often explore their new freedom by behaving badly and binge drinking, even breaking the law. They would sometimes harass local women in town (the school body was all male) or take up with prostitutes. Students and sometimes entire classes could be expelled or dismissed for a term because of riots, abuse of the faculty, or vandalism.
  • Unlike in some homes today where children are always welcome in their parent's home, once colonial children, particularly sons, left the home and established their own household, they would be expected to pay for room and board if they ever returned.
  • A teacher's annual salary could range from around £75 to £150 depending on the level of instruction required.
  • Men were expected to work to support their family and those who relied entirely on allowance or inheritance were often viewed with suspicion.
  • The society was broken down into four classes: 
    • Upper class, who were mostly politicians and plantation owners.
    • Middle class, consisting of skilled workers such as tradesmen, craftsmen, and farm owners (not to be confused with large plantation owners).
    • "Laboring poor" or lower class, who did mostly unskilled work (often on farms) such as digging ditches, rolling wheelbarrows, carrying timber, pitching manure and hay, etc but it also included sailors and fishermen. 
    • "Miserable poor" or the unemployed, were often criminals and prostitutes. 
  • The most abundant crop grown in the south was not cotton but corn (maize). However, the most profitable was sugar, adding about £3 million to Britain's wealth annually. Also common was tobacco, rice, and indigo. 
  • Plantation owners, though members of upper class, were often cash poor and in debt, all of their money being tied up in their plantations.
  • On average, farmers tended about 18 acres of crop per 100 acres. The rest was used as pasture and woodlots or left to recuperate after many seasons of over-farming.
  • To solve the issue of coin shortage, each colony produced it's own paper money, Maryland's being most successful.
  • Under Dutch law, marriage was an equal partnership with equal claim to their combined wealth. Upon the death of a spouse, the surviving spouse was entitled to half the estate and the right to administer the other half for heirs.
  • Quaker women did not deal with business, economic, or legal matters but did carry authority in the community such as being responsible for approving marriage applications as a group.
  • In English culture, a widow was entitled to 1/3 of the household goods and income of real estate but a husband could will her more. If he willed her less, it was often contested in court for the standard 1/3 and usually ruled in favor of the widow.
  • Childbirth was the leading cause of death among women.
  • 1 in 10 infants died within their first year and 4 out of 10 died before age 6.
  • Once past toddlerhood, children spent the most time with their same gender parent, sons learning the occupational skills of their father and daughters learning domestic skills with their mothers. Girls as young as three were expected to help with the household chores and were taught to knit from age four.
  • Diarying and gardening were among the most important of a farm woman's tasks (diary, especially cheese, was a more common source of protein than meats).
  • Farm housewives spend their morning milking cows so breakfast was usually very simple and included toast and cheese or leftovers from meals of the previous day. Dinner, what we'd call lunch, was the biggest meal of the day and served at noon. Supper, an evening meal, was similar to breakfast. Southern plantations had bigger breakfasts with cold meats, fowl, game, hominy and hot breads.
  • While many parents disciplined with physical punishment, not all parents condoned it.
  • Many free black girls were apprenticed with another family to perform household chores where they would also learn to read. The indenture served as proof of their freedom, safeguarding them against being sold into slavery.
  • Some indentured servants were criminals who were indentured for life, essentially an enslavement but one which did not pass on to their descendants. 
  • Indentured servants had rights that slaves did not. When ill, they were entitled to care and the time of service lost could not count against them. They could not be sold out of the colony in which they arrived and could not be cheated out of the items due them at the end of their service. They could take their masters to court for neglect (not providing food or clothing). In many ways, they had a similar legal status to children.
  • Colonial jails usually served only as temporary holding cells, not long term confinement. Whipping, flogging, branding, ear cropping, etc were preferred methods of criminal punishment than confinement.

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