I am in the midst of writing a historical fiction novel in which I am striving for accuracy. Luckily for me I love history and research
At any rate, my current work in progress (WIP) is titled Fall From Grace. It is a story of an accused witch’s survival during the Salem Witch Hangings.
The more I learn about the Puritan’s and their daily life, the more I realize how much the history books in school left out.
Normally when we think of the Puritan’s we think of all black clothes, highly religious, and down to earth. Not to mention reserved and dour. In my research (thank you Google), they were so much more than that. The Puritans took their religious beliefs from the Geneva bible which was written in 1658.
Let’s start with clothing and jewelry. Yes, jewelry was seen as adornments that weren’t to be worn for fear of you forgetting your place before God. Their clothing on the other matter was a whole different matter. Very rarely was black worn. As colorful as their clothing was it was simple in design so as not to forget one’s station in life. The Puritan’s wore every color they could derive from natural dyes. It being that cloth was expensive they would mend their clothes until the couldn’t any longer.
Those natural dyes were boiled down wood, berries, grasses, and vegetables. Woad was used for blue dye and madder root for red bases. Weld was used to produced the color yellow.
The colors in their wardrobe had meaning. Servants wore all blue which denoted servitude and heavenly grace. Black and brown stood for humility. Orange and red represented courage while yellow and green meant renewal.
Among the many laws that the Puritans had were sumptuary laws. These laws forbade poorer people to dress like ladies and gentlemen of means.
The reason that they puritans didn’t have grand celebratory feasts was that they believed that everyday was reason for a feast. History may have recorded the Puritans as a somber group, but their food was anything but. They tended to eat three meals a day.
They were a highly religious group of people who felt that one shouldn’t dress above their station in life less it lead to corruption of the immortal soul. Attendance at Church was mandatory twice a week. Anything less and you risked being excommunicated or worse – accusations of witchcraft were known to happen to those who abstained from attendance. For the Puritans their soul was the most important part of their lives. They believed that there were two groups of people, the Chosen and the Unchosen. It was the job of the Chosen to lead the others to God’s Grace.
Amongst the many reasons that the Puritans left England was that they didn’t agree with the Anglican/Catholic stances in the church. The Puritans felt that the earthly church was to decadent and heavy handed, they also despised Rome as it was the embodiment of the ecclesiastical church and therefore far too rich and bold for their tastes.
The church in England felt that the Puritans were to harsh in their thoughts and manners. The Church even had insults for the Puritans. One of these insults was the term “round-head”. They were called this due to the fact that the Puritan males shaved their heads bald. They shaved as a way to keep head lice under control.
Upon arrival in the “new world” the Puritans wished to found a “shining city on the hill” – a city that would be admired by all. While the Puritans wished to outlaw drinking it was realized that they couldn’t. This was due to the fact that the tavern was essential to their survival in this new land. In fact the first building to be raised in any new city was the tavern. On colder days when the church wouldn’t warm up enough the tavern often substituted as a place of worship.
On a side note all legal business was handled in the tavern until the capitol building of a city was built. After the capitol building went into use it was acceptable to put a jury summons on the door of the tavern for jury duty. It was thought that since everyone went to the tavern they would see the summons and appear.
Another side note is that Puritans tended to accept their fate if they went to jail and most often would not try to escape.
Though drinking was legal, drinking in excess was illegal and frowned upon. Alcohol and the tavern were considered a necessary evil. Then as now, the more money you had the more you can get away with.
Many researchers feel that the Witch Trials were used as a form of retribution on those who had too much money or were too far removed from the daily life of the church – the tavern owners. This is, in part, born out by the fact that one of the first accused witches was Sarah Bishop who owned “The Ship” tavern. Of the many side notes in this article, I should mention that the songs sang in the taverns were as raunchy as anything we could come up with today. *insert full body blush*
A member of her husband’s family married into the powerful Putnam family and felt that she was owed some of the profits of her late brother’s business. The Putnam family was a prominent member of the Puritan Church and was a main accuser in the Trials.
Another reason for the Trials was that the Pastor in Salem, Samuel Parris, was persecuting those that had voted against his becoming the leader of their church and were therefore not paying their portion of his salary.
Other researchers believe that what started the accusations was ergot of rye. Ergot is known to cause hallucinations and body contortions that the original accusers were noted as having.
These accusations also occurred in a particularly cold winter which is, historically, when most accusations of witch craft and trials happened. These trials were more than likely the darkest period in Puritan history.
When it came to education the Puritans were truly a society to marvel at. If a village had more than eighty residents they were to establish a school that was funded by the taxes collected. Both sexes were taught to read – primarily so they could read from the bible or help in the house hold, but at least they were all literate. This puts them ahead of many other societies at the time.
They were also the ones to print the first bible in the New World. The first was actually written in Algonquin by John Eliot. After taking the time to learn the language in hopes of converting the Natives, Mr. Eliot realized that certain words did not exist in the Algonquin language. This can be seen in the passages regarding the birth of Christ.
Though their clothes were bland and they were a reserved bunch of people one thing about them that was neither, was food. Much of what they ate would be on par with some of today’s top chefs. Food was prepared in the European or African styles and was enjoyed by all.
Meals were served three times a day with breakfast usually being stew and bread, lunch being a left over with some type of fruit and dinner was usually bread and cheese. All of this was accompanied with either cider or beer.
To get an idea of the type of foods they ate, the first “Thanksgiving” consisted of eel, mussels, lobster and other assorted meats. Squash, potatoes, corn, asparagus and other greens were also on the menu. And lest I forget the sweet aspect of nature strawberries, blackberries, and sweet grapes were also to be had. This type of meal would have been eaten on any day of the week as the Puritans didn’t need a particular reason to hold a feast since being alive was celebration enough.
On a side note I should mention something about lobster. It was considered cruel and inhumane to feed it to a prisoner – there are records of a jailer asking that it not be sent to the prisoners for this reason. This was because at the time lobster was piled up to two feet high on the beeches and could be picked up easily. When they did cook the lobster it was already dead. Therefor when it came out of the pot it was disgusting. The only reason they ate it at all is because it was so plentiful a food source. That is a massive change from what lobster is considered today.
Their beliefs on marriage came as the largest surprise to me. Puritans did not believed in arranged marriage. Men tended to marry by the age of twenty-six and women at twenty-three. A marriage was based on love. There were courtship rules and men would often by small gifts for the family of the girl he was courting. A woman was free to turn down an offer of courtship.
Obviously sex was reserved for marriage but it was not frowned upon. Puritans believed that sex was an act of love and a healthy part of a marriage.
Women were expected to be obedient and be able to be a help to the husband in his daily life. Women were expected to be what they are by nature, a help mate.
While frowned upon, a divorce was granted in certain circumstances. Those circumstances were abuse and neglect. A man convicted of either was often fined, imprisoned, or executed. Women were also allowed a divorce if a man proved impotent. In this last way, the views of Puritans seem extremely modern.
While children were a blessing, they were also essential to keeping a colony afloat. Aside from life older children were also able to contribute to the work force – a thought that makes many modern minds shudder.
All of this research leads me to wonder how far removed we are from the beliefs of our ancestors. In one way, I would say not very. In another, drastically so. If the only way to understand the modern world is through religion than maybe we should ask ourselves why we still believe that an institution has more sway over our lifestyles than we as humans do. I personally don’t believe that an institution of any sort should dictate what I, or you, can do. I do believe that we should all respect one another. But my beliefs are not what I am questioning; and that doesn’t make me different from anyone else.
In conclusion I would say that in one form or another the Puritan beliefs still exist to this day, what we see in reference to them is up to us. They have different names, but as a whole are generally classified as the Religious Right. They are often considered old-fashioned in their views and beliefs but they aren’t necessarily wrong. Just different and in my personal opinion, close minded.