Early American Architecture

Making Colonial Furniture Reproductions

Customs and Fashions in Old New England

with some care in 1652, as this entry in the town records shows:

"The feoffes agreed with Daniel Welde that he provide convenient benches with forms, with tables for the scholars, and a conveniente seate for the scholmaster, a Deske to put the Dictionary on and shelves to lay up bookes."

The schoolmaster "promised and engaged to use his best endeavour both by precept and example to instruct in all Scholasticall morall and Theologicall discipline the children so far as they be capable, all A. B. C. Darians excepted." He was paid in corn, barley or peas, the value of £25 per annum, and each child, through his parents or guardians, supplied half a cord of wood for the schoolhouse fire. If this load of wood were not promptly furnished the child suffered, for the master did not allow him the benefit of the fire; that is, to go near enough the fireplace to feel the warmth.

The children of wise parents like Cotton Mather, were also taught "opificial and beneficial sciences," such as the mystery of medicine-a mystery indeed in colonial times.

Puritan schoolmasters believed, as did Puritan parents, that sparing the rod spoiled the child, and great latitude was given in punishment; the rod and ferule were fiercely and frequently plied" with lamming and with whipping, and such benefits of nature "as in English schools of the same date. When young men were publicly whipped in colleges, children were sure to be well trained in smaller schools. Every gradation of chastisement was known and every instrument from

"A beesome of byrche for babes verye fit
To a long lastinge lybbet for lubbers as meete,"

from the "thimell-pie" of the dame's school — a smart tapping on the head with a heavy thimble — to belaboring with a heavy walnut stick or oaken ruler. Master Lovell, that tigerish Boston teacher, whipped the culprit with birch rods and forced another scholar to hold the sufferer on his back. Other schoolmasters whipped on the soles of the feet, and one teacher roared out, "Oh the Caitiffs! it is good for them." Not only were children whipped, but many ingenious instruments of torture were invented. One instructor made his scholars sit on a "bark seat turned upside down with his thumb on the knot of a floor." Another roaster of the inquisition invented a unipod — a stool with one leg — sometimes placed in the middle of the seat, sometimes on the edge, on which the unfortunate scholar tiresomely balanced. Others sent out the suffering pupil to cut a branch of a tree, and, making a split in the large end of the branch, sprung it on the cultprit's nose, and he stood painfully pinched, an object of ridicule with his spreading branch of leaves. One cruel master invented an instrument of torture which he called a flapper. It was a heavy piece of leather six inches in diameter with a hole in the middle, and was fastened at the edge to a pliable handle. The blistering pain inflicted by this brutal instrument can well be imagined. At another school, whipping of unlucky wights was done "upon a peaked block with a tattling stick;" and this expression of colonial severity seems to take on additional force and cruelty in our minds that we do not at all know what a tattling stick was, nor understand what was meant by a peaked block.

I often fancy I should have enjoyed living in the good old times, but I am glad I never was a child in colonial New England — to have been baptized in ice water, fed on brown bread and warm beer, to have had to learn the Assembly's Catechism and "explain all the Quaestions with conferring Texts," to have been constantly threatened with fear of death and terror of God, to have been forced to commit Wigglesworth's "Day of Doom" to memory, and, after all, to have been whipped with a tattling stick.

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This page was last updated on 12 Sep 2005