Colonial Revival Furniture

The Puritan Experiment

Customs and Fashions in Old New England

Arnold in literature, imagine a household with one wild Pequot woman, communicated with by signs, for its maid of-all-work, and take courage. Those were serious times indeed when your cook might give warning by taking your scalp or chignon, as the case might be, and making off with it into the woods."

We frequently glean from diaries of the times hints of the pleasures of having a wild Nipmuck or Narragansett Indian as "help." Rev. Peter Thatcher, of Milton, Mass., bought an Indian in 1674 for £5 down and £5 more at the end of the year—a high-priced servant for the times. One of her duties was, apparently, the care of a young Thatcher infant. Shortly after the purchase, the reverend gentleman makes this entry in his diary: "Came home and found my Indian girl had liked to have knocked my Theodorah on the head by letting her fall. Whereupon I took a good walnut stick and beat the Indian to purpose till she promised to do so no more." Mr. Thatcher was really a very kindly gentleman and a good Christian, but the natural solicitude of a young father over his firstborn provoked him to the telling use of the walnut stick as a civilizing influence.

When we reach newspaper days we find Indian servants frequently among the runaways; as Mather said, they could not endure the yoke; and, indeed, it would seem natural enough that any such wild child of the forests should flee away from the cramped atmosphere of a Puritan household and house. We read pathetic accounts of the desertion of aged colonists by their Indian servants. One writes that he took his "Pecod girle" as a "chilld of death" when but two years old, had reared her kindly, nursed her in sickness, and now she had run away from him when he sorely needed her, and he wished to buy a blackamoor in her place. Sometimes the description of the costumes in which these savages took their flitting, is extremely picturesque. This is from the Boston News Letter of October, 1707:

"Run away from her master Baker. A tall Lusty Carolina Indian woman named Keziah Wampum, having long straight Black Hair tyed up with a red Hair Lace, very much marked in the hands and face. Had on a strip'd red blue & white Homespun Jacket & a Red one. A Black & White Silk Crape Petticoat, A White Shift, as Also a blue one with her, and a mixt Blue and White Linsey Woolsey Apron."

A reward of four pounds was offered for this barbaric creature.

Another Indian runaway in 1728 was thus bedizened, showing a startling progress in adornment from the apron of skins and blanket of her wildwood home.

"She wore off a Narrow Stript pinck Cherredary Goun turn'd up with a little flour'd red & white Callico. A Stript Homespun Quilted Petticoat, a plain muslin Apron, a suit of plain Pinners & a red & white flower'd knot, also a pair of green Stone Earrings with White Cotton Stockings & Leather heel'd Wooden Shoes."

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This page was last updated on 12 Oct 2005