Colonial Crafts

Early American Gardens

Customs and Fashions in Old New England


It is plainly evident that in a country where land was to be had for the asking, fuel for the cutting, corn for the planting and harvesting, and game and fish for the least expenditure of labor, no man would long serve for another, and any system of reliable service indoors or afield must fail. Whether the colonists came to work or not, they had to in order to live, for domestic service was soon in the most chaotic state. Women were forced to be notable housekeepers; men were compelled to attend to every detail of masculine labor in their households and on their farms, thus acquiring and developing a "handiness" at all trades, which has become a Yankee trait.

The question of adequate and proper household service soon became a question of importance and of painful consideration in the new land. Rev. Ezekiel Rogers wrote most feelingly in 1656 on this subject:

"Much ado have I with my own family, hard to get a servant glad of catechizing or family duties. I had a rare blessing of servants in Yorkshire, and those I brought over were a blessing, but the young brood doth much afflict me."

The Massachusetts colonists had attempted even before starting, to meet and simplify the servant question by rigidly excluding any corrupt element. They even sent back to England boys who had been unruly on shipboard. But the number of penalties imposed on servants during the early years are a lasting record of the affliction caused by the young brood.

All the early travellers speak of the lack of good servants in the new land. The "Diary of a French Refugee in Boston," in 1687, says: "There is an absolute Need of Hired help;" and that savages were employed in the fields at eighteen-pence a day. This latter form of service was naturally the first way of solving the vexed question. The captives in war were divided in lots and assigned to housekeepers. We find even gentle Roger Williams asking for "one of the drove of Adam's degenerate seed" as a slave. Hugh Peters, of Salem, wrote to a Boston friend: "Wee haue heard of a diuidence of women & children in the baye & would bee glad of a share a young woman or girle & a boy if you thinke good." Two years later he wrote: "My wife desires my daughter to send to Hanna that was her maid now at Charlestown to know if she would dwell with us, for truly wee are now so destitute (having now but an Indian) that wee know not what to do." Lowell thus comments on such savage ministrations:

"Let any housewife of our day who does not find the Keltic element in domestic life so refreshing as to Mr.

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