Colonial America

Early American Life

Customs and Fashions in Old New England

under the head of festivals. At the first Pilgrim Thanksgiving they "exercised their arms," and for some years they had six trainings a year; no wonder they were said to be "diligent in traynings." The all-powerful Church Militant held sway even over these gatherings of New England warriors. The military reviews and exercises were made properly religious by an opening exercise of prayer and psalm-singing, the latter sometimes at such inordinate length as to provoke criticism and remarks from the rank and file, remonstrance which was at once pleasantly rebuked by pious Judge Sewall. Religious notices were also given before the company broke line. A noble dinner somewhat redeemed the sobriety of the opening exercises, a dinner given in Boston to gentlemen and gentlewomen in tents on the Common; and the frequent firing of guns and cannon further enlivened the day.

Boston mustered a very fair military force at trainings, even in early days. Winthrop writes that at the May training in 1639 one thousand men exercised, and in the autumn twelve hundred bore arms, and not an oath or quarrel was heard and no drunkenness seen. The training field was Boston Common. At these trainings prizes were frequently offered for the best marksmanship; in Connecticut, a silk handkerchief or some such trinket. Judge Sewall offered a silver cup, and again a silver-headed pike; since he was an uncommonly poor shot himself, his generosity shows out all the more plainly. With barbaric openness of cruel intent, a figure stuffed to represent a human form was often the target, and it was a matter of grave decision whether a shot in the head or bowels were the fatal one. Sometimes the day was enlivened by a form of amusement ever beloved of the colonists—by public punishments. For instance, at the training day at Kittery, Me., in 1690, two men "road the woodin Horse for dangerous and churtonous carig and mallplying of oaths."

The training days of colony times developed into Muster Days, the crowning pinnacle of gayety, dissipation, and noise in a country boy's life in New England for over a century.

We owe much to these trainings and these trials of marksmanship. In conjunction with the universal skill in woodcraft and in hunting, they made our ancestors more than a match for the Indian and the Frenchman, and in Revolutionary times gave them their ascendency over the English.

Election Day was naturally a time of much excitement to New Englanders in olden times, as nowadays. In fact, the entire week partook of the flavor of a holiday. This did not please the ministers. Urian Oakes wrote sadly that Election Day had become a time "to meet, to smoke, carouse and swagger and dishonor God with the greater bravery." Various local customs obtained. "'Lection cake," a sort of rusk rich with fruit and wine, was made in many localities; indeed, is still made in some families that I know; and sometimes "'lection beer" was brewed. In early May the herb gatherers (many of them old squaws) brought to town various barks

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