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

The United Colonies of New England

In 1643 the colonies of Massachusetts, Plymouth, Connecticut and New Haven, joined together in a confederation called the United Colonies of New England. A General Assembly was formed of two delegates from each colony, which was to make laws for the public welfare.

Maine and New Hampshire were at that time a part of Massachusetts, and had a few straggling settlements along the coast.

Rhode Island desired admission to the confederation, but ever since the exile, Roger Williams, planted Providence, the country around Narragansett Bay had been the home of people with hobbies, and so it was thought best by the sister colonies to put Rhode Island on probation, before taking her into the Union.

Under the new union each colony had its governor as before; and when the delegates met at Boston they elected a president.

About fifty thousand English-speaking people now dwelt on the shores of the beautiful rivers and bays. They seemed contented and happy in their new homes, and said that a sup of New England's air was better than a whole draught of old English ale. There was no time to grieve for the friends across the sea. Work began before sunrise and ended when candles were snuffed out.

The women cooked, tended hens, geese and calves, scoured the brass warming-pans and pewter dishes, spun yarns, and wove them into cloth, and pieced quilts. But the Indians called these white women "lazie squaes," when they saw them embroidering, instead of hoeing in the fields, as their own wives did.

The children were never idle. The "chores" kept them busy most of the time, and when an idle moment came, there were the samplers for the girls to work in verses and letters of the alphabet; there were traps for the boys to set, and flocks to watch from the prowling wolves. Many an exciting story was told of how "the wolves sat on their tayles and grinned" at them from the cover of the forest.

The men were their own carpenters, coopers and blacksmiths, and were kept busy from morning till night.

In early spring, the herrings were to be pickled and dried, and hung in strings in the barn loft, the sheep were to be sheared, the corn to be planted, the gardens to be tended.

In autumn, the salt grass was to be cut, the rye was to be threshed with the flail, the shell-fish to be gathered, the cider to be cared for.

In winter there were fences to make, nails to hammer, bullets to mould, and timber to cut on the decrease of the moon.

These forefathers of ours had great faith in the moon. They would plant and reap, set hens and shear sheep, when the signs were right by the moon.

They were in such constant fear of the Indians, that they kept close to the sea and soon became shipbuilders and traders.

Farmers built scows for transporting wood, and sloops for freighting it to market; and crafts with one and two masts for fishing and whaling. The launch of a vessel, from the woods where they had been built, was a great event.

It was loaded on wheels, and hauled by oxen to the landing-place, where the wheels were run out into the water till the vessel floated off.

At the time of the union of the colonies, there had been five large vessels built, besides one hundred and ninety-two smaller sloops for the coasting trade; and an export trade had been commenced.

Fish and furs, corn, cattle, butter, turpentine, pitch and tar, were sent in home-made vessels to the sister colonies of Virginia and Maryland.

Home-made vessels carried to England, fish cured with salt made from the sea. They sailed to the Bermudas for potatoes, cotton and sugar, and then spread their sails to carry their cargoes into the ports of Spain, to bring back the luxuries of Europe.

At first, there was a great lack of money for the home trade. Then Indian wampum was used. The beads could be easily divided up, and were convenient.

About the time of the Pequod war, some of the colonies made the law that bullets should pass as money, and the casting of bullets kept everybody busy.

Until this time there had been little travel between the settlements.

There was no road between Plymouth and Boston.

A Pilgrim took a boat to Weymouth, and then followed an Indian trail, in and out among the salt marshes, to Boston.

One dignified alderman lost his way, and wandered three days and nights without food, and returned home at last with his clothes nearly torn off by the underbrush.

The trail was so difficult to trace, that, after a time, trees were cut down to make a bridle-path; then a tax was laid on the colonies to improve the travel, and many good roads were built through the hills and over hollows, and bridges were thrown across streams, which, a few years before, had been forded on the shoulders of the Indians.

At this time, almost every town had its church, fort and prison.

Many of the houses in the larger towns were brick or stone; but most of the people were content with log cabins of one or two rooms.

There was always a great fireplace at one end of the large room, where the mush kettle hung on a crane. When the men and boys brought in the back log for the fire, it was so heavy that the timbers and rafters fairly creaked with their footsteps.

There were blocks of wood for children's seats at the corners of the fireplace, and a large settle, with a high back, kept off the cold air.

Tin candlesticks hung on nails over the chimney, and also bundles of catnip, herbs and roots, supposed to be cures for almost any disease.

The walls were adorned with raccoon and fox skins, lobster's and bear's claws.

Bundles of red peppers, strings of dried apples, sausages, and flitches of bacon, festooned the rafters. The long clock hung in many homes, and the spinning-wheels stood in the corners.

There were a few precious books from dear Old England, among which was always the family Bible, with its records of births, marriages and deaths.

Of course in the best houses there was some show of rugs, and silver plate, and fine furniture.



And to a visitor from the country, Boston seemed a splendid city, with its brick houses and pleasant gardens. The streets were paved with cobblestones, and crowded with hackney coaches, sedan chairs, and four-horse shays, in which the gentry rode, with negro slaves for drivers.

The gentry were dressed in embroidered coats, satin waistcoats, silk hose and wigs; some, like Winthrop, wore stiff ruffs, and some wore broad, flat collars. The ladies were gay in bright silks and gauze scarfs, and put black patches on their cheeks to improve their beauty.

All this citified splendor made the farmer or fisherman from a little country settlement feel very timid and ill at ease, as he walked up the crowded street, which led down to the wharf of the capital city. But when he saw a fine coach followed close by flocks of sheep, and ox-carts filled with cordwood or hay, he began to feel more at home; and when, behind the mincing lady of fashion, he saw rosy-cheeked farmers' wives in homespun, bringing baskets of butter and eggs, he stepped along as briskly as the next one; and when at last this backwoodsman found himself comfortably seated in the Bunch of Grapes tavern, with many others just like himself, and heard the latest news from Old England, he felt, as he sipped his ale, that there was nowhere in the world a city like Boston, and no nation quite so full of promise as the United Colonies of New England.

Each town had its own selectmen to make laws, to exterminate foxes and crows, to protect oyster fishing, to look after yoking the hogs on the common, to see that bridges were built and marshes drained.

Then there was the constable, who was a very important personage, and carried a black staff, tipped with brass as a badge of his office.

He was always busy. The drunkards were to be found out, fined and flogged, and marked with a large red D. Liars were to be put in the stocks, scolds to be ducked in the ponds.

One man, who charged too much for making a pair of stocks, had the privilege of sitting an hour in them himself. It was death for a child to strike a parent, except in self-defense. There were laws against wearing the hair long, or dressing too gayly, or laughing too loudly.

There were laws which made the bachelors so miserable, that they soon took wives in self-defense; there were laws for widows, and laws for maids; and of course the more laws there were, the busier the constable and the tithing-man were kept to see that these laws were obeyed.