Friday, July 30, 2010


1727 marked the deaths of both England’s monarch George I and the English scientist, astronomer, and mathematician Sir Isaac Newton. Born this year were signers of the U.S. Constitution, William Ellery and William Samuel Johnson. In 1727 midwives delivered most babies and the new vaccine against small pox vaccine was still considered daring and controversial. In 1727, the nature of lightening was still undiscovered. Stocks and the pillory were in ordinary use. Stagecoach lines were not yet established

Colonial Society
Colonial society was composed of several social classes. One’s social class determined political and legal rights, personal attire, even church seating. The wealthiest, best-educated, and most influential class was the gentry. The gentry owned large farms or plantations. Other gentry class members were merchants, doctors, lawyers, or ministers. Most community leadership positions were held by the gentry. The middle class farmed small landholdings, ran small stores and businesses, or worked at ordinary skilled crafts, such as shoemaking or woodworking. Women of the middle class made their own cloth, candles, cheese, soap, and other goods. Excess supplies were sold to augment the family income. Men of the middle class could vote and a few held public office. The lower class was composed of day laborers, apprentices, sailors, servants, and slaves. Very few owned any property at all nor could they read, write, or vote. The lower class was often very mobile, moving from place to place in search of work.

Colonial Family
Colonial family size was typically nine people, though a household often included stepchildren, grandparents, aunts, and cousins also. The head of the house was the father; the mother was his companion and helper; the children were expected to obey both their parents and all other authority figures without hesitation. Unruly or belligerent behavior was dealt with so harshly that the instruments of discipline would easily be categorized as instruments of torture by modern society.

Colonial Homes
Colonial homes were lit with fireplaces, candles, and lamps that burned animal fat. Most families did not use individual plates, but instead ate from a common trencher. Spoons of wood or pewter were often the only utensils on the table. Household furnishings were most often local versions of European goods, four poster beds, feather mattresses, etc. The rocking chair is the exception. Benjamin Franklin invented it.

Colonial News
Colonial news was exchanged chiefly by word of mouth on the grapevine, which met at least every Sunday morning. Official notices were read at church or posted on the doors of public buildings. Cities paid a crier who read announcements to those who couldn't read for themselves. Often, the only source of news from out-of-town would be visitors who either bore letters or could directly relate the news themselves. This informal system of distributing letters was not formalized into a federal service until 1753 when Benjamin Franklin became the deputy Postmaster General for the colonies. Boston had a weekly newspaper by 1704, but newspapers were not generally available until 1775.

Colonial Education
Colonial education was parent-sponsored, not tax payer supported. "It was not until about the time of the revolution that the modern signification of the word ‘free’- a school paid for entirely by general town taxes -- could be applied to the public schools of most Massachusetts towns, and when the schools of Boston were made free, that community stood alone for its liberality not only in America, but in the world” (Earle, 1935, p. 69).

Most schools required parents to participate in providing for the physical needs of the teacher by whatever means available, be that produce, furs, firewood, or chores. In some areas of strong religious persuasion, education was not seen as beneficial. "The Quakers did not encourage absolute illiteracy, but they thought knowledge of the ‘three R's’ was enough; they distinctly disapproved of any extended scholarship, as it fostered undue pride and provoked idleness” (Earle, 1935, p. 71).

Much of what children needed to learn was taught at home. Farming, hunting, building, and repairing things were considered the necessary skills for a colonial boy. Colonial girls were taught how to garden, sew, spin, cook, and care for the animals. Trades and professions were taught on the apprentice system which has been described as “one of the earliest forms of adult education” (Smith). Under the apprentice system, young people and adults were taught a craft or a trade by working alongside an accomplished master for a set period of time. It was not unusual to set up the apprenticeship contract to include reading and writing as part of the expected training.


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