Puritan Family

Letters from an American Farmer

Customs and Fashions in Old New England

the autumnal corn-huskings almost reached the dignity of holidays, being conducted in a liberal fashion and with unbounded hospitality, which included and entertained whole retinues of black servants from neighboring farms, as well as the planters and their families. Apple-parings, maple-sugar makings, and timber-rollings were merry gatherings.

In Vermont and down the Connecticut valley the annual sheep-shearing was a lively scene. On Nantucket there took place annually a like sheep-shearing, which, though a characteristic New England festival, was like the scene in the "Winter's Tale." The broad plains outside the town were used as a common sheep-pasture throughout the year; sometimes fifteen or sixteen thousand sheep were kept thereon. About two miles from the town was a sheep-fold, near the margin of a pond, where the sheep could be washed. It was built of four or five concentric fences, which thus formed a sort of labyrinth, into which and through which the sheep and lambs were driven at shearing-time, and in it they were sorted out and placed in cotes or pens erected for each sheep-owner. The existence of carefully registered ear-marks, with which each lamb was branded, formed a means of identifying each owner's sheep and lambs. Of course, this gathering brought together all the sheep drivers and herders, the sheep washers and shearers. Vast preparations of food and drink were made for their entertainment, and tents were reared for their occupancy, and, of course, fiddlers and peddlers, like Autolycus, flocked there also, and much amusement and frolicking accompanied the shearing. Even the sheep, panting with their heavy wool when within the folds, and the shorn and shivering creatures running around outside and bleating for their old long-wooled companions, added to the excitement of the scene. Perhaps the maritime occupation of the Islanders made them enjoy with the zest of unwontedness this rural "shore-holiday." But it exists no longer; the island is not now one vast sheep-pasture, and there are no longer any sheep-shearings.

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