Massasoit: A Story of the Indians of New England - Alma H. Burton

Church and School

In every village of Puritan New England, the minister was the most important personage.

Very few were honored with the title of Mr. or Mrs., but the minister and his wife were always called Mr. and Mrs.

In church, the elders sat in great state just below the pulpit, facing the congregation, and the deacons sat a step lower, noting well any sign of laughing among the young folks. The men and women sat apart. The men who faced the minister wore long jackets, with a belt at the waist, and loose trousers reaching only to the knee, where they were tied, and coarse, square-toed shoes, adorned with enormous buckles. Their hair was combed straight back, and tied with black ribbon.

The women wore short gowns, stiff petticoats, and white aprons. The sleeves of the gowns were short, and long mittens came above the elbow. Their cloaks were short, with the hoods thrown back in meeting.

The boys and girls sat in separate places, sometimes on the gallery stairs, and sometimes on the steps leading up to the pulpit, and were under the charge of the tithing-man.

Everybody had to sit very straight, and listen without a smile, or going once to sleep. The tithing-man carried a long rod, with a fox-tail on one end; and if a man or a boy was so unlucky as to fall asleep, he rapped him over the head with the hard end, but when a girl or a woman nodded, he tickled her face with the soft, furry end.

The Sabbath day began at six o'clock on Saturday evening, when the people became sour and sad. All work was laid aside, and the old Bible was brought out, to prepare the family for the devotions of the morrow. On Sabbath, each man appeared to have lost his best friend. The town records show fines for combing a wig on Sabbath, and humming a tune, and walking too fast.

The rolling of wheels through the streets, was a great breach of respect to the Lord's day; and Samuel Brown, of Norwich, was fined for riding in a chaise to meeting; some one else was fined for running into church when it rained.

Next to the meeting-house was the school. There were many highly-educated men in New England, who had brought libraries with them, and were determined that their children should have good educations. In almost every town a school was established, which should be free for the rich and the poor alike.

The little log school-house had a wide fireplace, and windows with oiled paper, instead of glass windows.

And on the rude benches, hacked by many a jack-knife, sat the "hopes of the future" with shining, morning faces. They were clad in the linsey-woolsey, which their mothers had spun.

The young men and young women were in the far end of the room, and the smallest children sat near the teacher, and studied aloud, to be sure they were learning their lessons aright.

The birch rod was thought a great help in getting the lessons, and hung on the wall over the teacher's seat.

The primers were religious rhymes, and the readers were Bibles.

It was not unusual for a little five-year-old to quote Scriptures, like the preacher himself, and as for catechism, if any child did wrong, it was from sheer wickedness, because he had learned every step of the way to be good; so there was no excuse for the culprit, and he was punished accordingly.

The teachers were paid in corn, or barley, or other produce from the farms. Each child was required to furnish, through his parents, a cord of wood, and if this were not brought, he was not allowed to sit near enough to the fire to keep warm.

Because of the openings between the logs, the room was always very cold, except near the fire. So there sat the delinquent, off by himself, his little body covered with goose-flesh, and his toes stiff, under the frozen leather.

This seems a very strict rule; but wood was everywhere to be had for the getting, and idleness was despised by these people of New England.

You will remember how the Puritans cut down the May-pole at Merrymount, and refused to celebrate May-day, because it was a festival of the heathen. They also refused to call the days of the week as we do, because the names had been taken from the heathen gods. So they called Sunday, First-day, Monday, Second-day, and so on.

There were always more fast days than feast days.

There were fasts, to ward off pests in the grain, and withering droughts, and killing frosts, and attacks from the Indians.

But there were also thanksgiving days for the blessings received; and sometimes the New World was compared to the Land of Goshen, to which they had escaped from bondage, like the Israelites of old.

There was an abundance of maize, and all grains and vegetables flourished.

Fruit-trees were much improved over the varieties they had brought with them to plant.

Besides the thanksgiving days, there were other times when the Puritans were merry.

There were fishing-parties, when the fish came up the rivers from the sea; there were husking-bees, when the corn was ripe; and log-rollings, when all the neighbors helped to build a new house; there were spelling-schools, and quilting- f bees, and strawberry and raspberry-pickings among the rocky glens and pastures.

Dancing was forbidden, but no laws in the world could keep young feet from tripping nimbly in and out among the trees in the nutting season, when the joyous laugh resounded through the autumn forest.

On training-day, there was a great muster of men from sixteen to sixty for drill. The arms were muskets, swords and pikes. The muskets had match-locks, or flint-locks, and a rest for taking aim. Pikes were ten feet long, and the tallest men were always chosen, to carry these. There were twice as many musketeers as pikemen. There was no regular uniform. Some wore corslets of steel, and some thick wadded coats of cotton. Some wore beaver hats, and some felt hats, and some caps knit by their sisters or sweethearts.

Training-day was a holiday for everybody, and generally came around once a month. There was a great baking, and an extra setting of traps for a feast.

The women and children were proud of their soldiers with weapons of all sizes and shapes, and followed them along the line of march with baskets of gingerbread and bottles of harmless drinks.

Sometimes prizes were offered for the best shot on these occasions. A dummy was set up, and whoever hit the spot most likely to kill, was awarded the medal; but there was often much dispute as to where the fatal spot, in a dummy, might be!

"Put right hands to fire-lock! Put gun on left shoulder! Hoo!" shouted the captain, as he maneuvered his men on the green.

Many a boy learned in this target practice, to speed straight his bullet.

And you will find that in the years to come there was need of skill at arms.