Today’s topic is a little bit off beat, but I came across this interesting passage in Frances Manwaring Caulkins’ History of New London, Connecticut this past weekend. It was so interesting I thought I’d share it with you.
History of New London, Connecticut, Pages 267-268:
Obituaries of the Early Settlers.
Taking our position on the high ground at the beginning of a new century, let us pause and review the band of early settlers, who sitting down among these barren rocks, erected these buildings, planted these gardens, manned these decks, and from Sabbath to Sabbath led their children up these winding paths to worship God in that single church — that decent and comely building, plain in appearance, but beautified by praise, which sate on the hill-top, side by side with the lowly mansions of the dead. From those silent chambers let us evoke the shades of the fathers, and record some few fragments of their history, not irrecoverably buried with them in the darkness of oblivion.
There is an interest lingering about these early dead which belongs to no later race. The minutest details seem vivid and important. A death in that small community was a great event. The magistrate, the minister, and the fathers of the town, came to the bed of the dying to witness his testament and gather up his last words. It was soon known to every individual of the plantation that one of their number had been cut down. All were eager once more to gaze upon the face they had known so well ; they flocked to the funeral ; the near neighbors and coevals of the dead bore him on their shoulders to the grave ; the whole community with solemn step and downcast eyes, followed him to his long home.
Riding at funerals was not then in vogue; and a hearse was unknown. A horse litter may in some cases have been used; but the usual mode of carrying the dead was on a shoulder bier. In this way persons were sometimes brought into town for interment even from a distance of five or six miles. Frequent rests or halts were made, and the bearers often changed. These funeral customs continued down to the period of the Revolution.
Our ancestors do not often appear to us in all the homeliness of their true portraiture. Imagination colors the truth, and we overlook the simplicity of their attire and the poverty of their accommodations. Estates before 1700 were small; conveniences few, and the stock of furniture and garments extremely limited. Many of the large estates of modern times have been built up from very small beginnings.
Each man was in a great measure his own mechanic and artisan, and he wrought with imperfect tools. Most of these tools were made of Taunton iron; a coarse bog ore, which could produce only a dull edge, and was easily broken. The value of iron may be inferred from the fact that old iron was of sufficient importance to be estimated among movables. In the early inventories very few chain are mentioned. Stools, benches and forms, took their place; jointstools came next, and still later, many families were provided with the high-backed settle, a cumbersome piece of furniture, but of great comfort in a farmer’s kitchen. A broad box-like cupboard, with shelves above, where the pewter was arranged, and called the dresser, was another appendage of the kitchen. The houses were cheaply, rudely built, with many apertures for the entrance of wind and frost; the outside door frequently opening directly into the family room, where the fire-place was wide enough to admit an eight feet log, and had a draught almost equal to a constant bellows. The most finished timbers in the house, # even those that protruded as sills and cross-beams in the best rooms, were hatchet-hacked, and the wainscoting unplaned.
One of the first objects with every thrifty householder, was to get apple-trees in growth. Most of the homesteads consisted of a house, garden and orchard. Cider was the most common beverage of the country. Some beer was drank. They had no tea nor coffee, and at first very little sugar or molasses. When the trade with Barbadoes commenced, which was about 1660, sugar and molasses became common. The latter was often distilled after importation. Broth, porridge, hasty-pudding, johnny-cake and samp, were articles of daily consumption. They had no potatoes, but beans and pumpkins in great abundance.
If you’d like to see more, you can find this book at http://www.archives.org