The Puritan Way of Death

Female Piety in Puritan New England

Customs and Fashions in Old New England


THE Puritans of the first century of colonial life—the "true New England men," not only of Winthrop and Bradford's time, but of the slowly degenerating days of Cotton Mather and Judge Sewall—thought little and cared little for any form of amusement;

              "Not knowing this, that Heaven decrees
              Some mirth t'adulce man's miseries."

Of them it may be said, as Froissart said of their ancestors, "They took their pleasures sadly—after their fashion." "'Twas no time for New England to dance," said Judge Sewall, sternly; and indeed it was not. The struggle of planting colonies in the new, bleak land left little time for dancing.

The sole mid-week gathering, the only regular diversion of early colonial life, took naturally a religious and sombre cast, and was found in the "great and Thursday lecture." "Truly the times were dull when these things happened," for so eager were the colonists for this sober diversion that it soon became a pious dissipation. Cotton said, in his "Way of the Churches," in 1639, that so many lectures did damage to the people; and the largeness of the assemblies alarmed the magistrates, who saw persons who could ill afford the time from their work, gadding to mid-day lectures in three or four different towns the same week. Young people, not having acquired that safety-valve, the New England singing-school, gladly seized these religious meetings as a pretext and a means for enjoyable communion, and attended in such numbers that the hospitality shown in providing food for the visiting lecture-lovers seemed to be in danger of becoming a burdensome expense. In 1633 the magistrates set the lecture hour at one o'clock, that lecture-goers might eat their dinner at noon at home; and they attempted to have each minister give but one lecture in two weeks, and planned that contiguous towns should offer but two temptations a week. But the law-makers overstepped the mark, and the lecture and the ministers resumed weekly sway, which they held for a century.

Hawthorne thus described the opening hours of the colonial Lecture-day:

"The breakfast hour being passed, the inhabitants do not as usual go to their fields or work-shops, but remain within doors or perhaps walk the street with a grave sobriety yet a disengaged and unburdened aspect that belongs neither to a holiday nor the Sabbath. And indeed the passing day is neither, nor is it a common week day, although partaking of all three. It is the Thursday Lecture; an institution which New England has long ago relinquished, and almost forgotten, yet which it would

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