Colonial Houses

Williamsburg Christmas

Customs and Fashions in Old New England


When New England was colonized, the European emigrants were forced to content themselves with the rude means of transportation which were employed by the aborigines. The favorite way back and forth from Plymouth to Boston and Cape Ann was by water, by skirting the shore in birchen pinnaces or dugouts -hollowed pine logs about twenty feet long and two and a half feet wide-in which Johnson said the savages ventured two leagues out at sea. There were few horses, and the few were too valuable for domestic work to be spared for travel, hence the journeyer must go by water, or on foot. When Bradstreet was sent to Dover as Royal Commissioner, he walked the entire distance there, and back to Boston, by narrow Indian paths.

The many estuaries and river-mouths that intersected the coast also made travel on horseback difficult. Foot-passengers, however, could cross the narrow streams by natural ford-ways, or on fallen trees, which were ordered to be put in proper place by the colonial government ; and the broader rivers by canoe ferries. We see, through the record of one journey, the dignified Governor of Massachusetts carried across the ford-ways pick-a-pack on the shoulders of his stalwart Indian guide.

But soon the settlers, true to their English instincts and habits, turned their attention to the breeding of horses. They imported many fine animals, and the magistrates framed laws intended to improve the imported stock. The history of horse-raising in New England is akin to that of any other country, save in one respect. In Rhode Island the breeding of horses resulted in that famous and first distinctively American breed-the Narragansett Pacers.

The first suggestion of horse-raising in Narragansett was, without doubt, given by Sewall's father-in-law, Captain John Hull, of Pine Tree Shilling fame, who was one of the original purchasers of the Petaquamscut Tract, or Narragansett, from the Indians. He wrote, in April, 1677:

"I have often thought if we, the partners of Point Judith Neck did fence with a good stone wall at the north end thereof, that no kind of horses or cattle might get thereon, and also what other parts thereof westerly were needful, and procure a very good breed of large and fair mares and horses, and that no mongrel breed might come among them, we might have a very choice breed for coach horses, some for the saddle and some for draught ; and in, a few years might draw off considerable numbers and ship them for Barbadoes Nevis or such parts of the Indies where they would vend."

These pages are © Laurel O'Donnell, 2005, all rights reserved
Copying these pages without written permission for the purpose of republishing
in print or electronic format is strictly forbidden
This page was last updated on 12 Oct 2005