The homes at Plymouth were built close together for safety and had broad streets between. These homes were small and sided with wide boards or narrow clapboards. The floors were made of wood or were just bare earth soaked with water and flattened smooth. The rooms were of wood and tended to be dark except for the light to the fire. The roof of the homes were shingled or thatched with sun-dried reeds. Windows in these homes were small, allowing in some light. In winter, they covered the windows with cloth soaked in linseed oil; in summer, the windows were left open. Just imagine the bugs and rain this allowed in!
Inside the homes, there was very little furniture. The husbands were the ones to have a good chair generally and the others sat on long benches. For eating, there was a table made of one long board set on two barrels (picture). For plates they used what was called a “trencher” made of wood or pewter (picture). Although they did use spoons, “the most useful utensil is our Hands.”
Pilgrims of Plymouth
, MacMillan, New York, 1986, p.49). Beds in Plymouth were straw or feather mattresses put on the floor. Cradles however were placed near the hearth for added warmth. Additional furnishing might have included trunks, a cupboard and a
or stool set around the room.
The hearth was not only used for warmth, but also cooking. This was done by the women and the fireplace was well furnished with lugpoles and andirons, pot hooks and trammels, spits and kettles, pipkins and potties used for all occasions. (These terms are explained in the vocabulary section. There are also slides and pictures.) Some typical foods were the
, under-growing crops such as potatoes that were gathered and stored, fish that was gutted, dried and salted (see slide),
that were pickled and preserved—a favorite for kids was
that were cut into pieces, strung and hung from rafters to dry along with onions, corn and herbs for medicine and seasoning,
which are yellow flowers and used to color butter, flavor food and strengthen hearts.
Children in Plymouth did not go to school, but that did not make their lives easy. They learned obedience from their parents, and if the child got into trouble, the father was punished by being put into the stockade (picture).
If children did not go to school, how did they spend their days? What did colonial children do during the day and what did they play with if not TV, VCRs, Nintendo, bikes and computers? Could our first graders of today do without their sophisticated games and toys? Would they be happy to sit quietly and sew or play cats-cradle? Interesting questions to ponder! Pictures and comparison charts will show children how different life is now.
What were the days like then? In spring, summer and fall, men and boys rose at sunlight and worked until sunset to get ready for winter. Men hunted, planted, caught fish; stronger boys gathered thatch for roofing, learned to work wood for fence clapboards, spoons and bowls, tubs and troughs. At dawn, children took buckets and got water from the spring, they fed the hens, milked cows and goats and took them to the meadow to graze. Some days they had to clean the animal pens. In springtime they helped poke seeds into the ground, they chased the crows from the seeds and they weeded. What they planted in the springtime, they harvested in the fall. In fall also the swine were killed for the women and girls to scald, scrape and cure. The fat from the swine was made into soap.
The girls at this time were taught
They learned to grind corn, barley and wheat into flour. Then they learned to measure flour in their hands for bread baking. (Can our girls do this? We can try to measure specific amounts.) They were taught the difference between a warm and hot fire. To do this, put the hand into the oven and try to count to ten without getting burned. If you could do this, the oven was hot enough to cook, but not so hot as to burn pies or bread. They also learned how to cook outdoors, how to scour, scald and cook meats, dry fish, use herbs for cooking and cures. To add to this, they had to learn to spin wool and to knit, to do all types of stitchery, make samplers and mend clothes. Does this sound like a typical day for our New Haven children?
The Sabbath Day was the one day nothing was done except for Bible reading and tending livestock. Only on the few special days, or when all work for the season was complete, did they play. Some games are still played today! Hide and seek, blindman’s bluff, tug of war (played by men and women, not kids), kite flying, rolling hoops and foot races, ice skating, coasting, doll playing and cat in the cradle. By use of pictures, we can easily see how different our skates, dolls and sleds look. Kites were made by the children not store bought. A trip to the New Haven Historical Society would be even more visual. One game I found intriguing was called
it was played by two young women who stood on a log high off the ground. They then pounded away at each other with pillows until one fell off the log. For a fun afternoon, we could spend time playing some of the games Colonial children played (or we can get the gym teacher involved)!
This would be my early introduction to the Unit. It focuses on the Pilgrims daily life at Plymouth. From this starting point, we will begin our journey down into Connecticut. We will trace the journey from England to Holland to the Cape area (Map lesson). Now will trace the Puritan Journey into Connecticut.
Life in Colonial Connecticut
The Dutch knew of Connecticut as early as 1613 when Adrian Block and Henrick Christiansen explored the QUA-NEH-TA-CUT (Connecticut River; Indian name, Long Tidal River). It was not until 1631 when the leader of the Podunk tribe of Indians invited the English of Plymouth and Massachusetts Bay Colony to visit that any real growth in the area of Connecticut began.
In 1633, Thomas Hooker, a Puritan, decided to leave Massachusetts. One reason he gave was that he wanted religious freedom. (Wasn’t this why the Pilgrims came?) Another reason given was the need for more land for the cattle. A third reason to leave, they didn’t want the Dutch to claim the land. The earliest settlers began coming in 1633 reaching Windsor, Wethersfield in 1634 and 1635 Hartford. In May of 1635, Hooker left with 100 people and 160 head of cattle. They ate cornmeal mush and milk as their hot meal. The Indians were friendly and helped lead them to the trails. It took two weeks and they landed in Hartford.
By using our map, we can see why these were the first areas settled by the Puritans.
The families who came were rich and powerful, but they did share land with poorer families based on goods, services and needs. (Goods—money and possessions; Services—contribution to community; Needs—family size.) Using our social studies books, we can see how these terms have changed or not changed: (Needs—things families must fill in order to live such as food, clothing, shelter, Wants—what people wish for, Goods—things themselves, Services—jobs.)
In November 1963, Reverend John Davenport, a Puritan minister, founded New Haven. (Point out that Davenport Avenue was named for this person and that many street names came from people of this period. I will not make too much of this, since we are not studying New Haven history.) New Haven Colony was bought for 12 coats, 12 brass spoons, 12 hoes, 24 knives, 12 porringer dishes, 4 cases of French knives and forks. The colony was purchased from the Indians of the area. In 1664 they had the choice of joining New York Colony or Connecticut Colony. Being English themselves they chose Connecticut over Dutch New York.
The Connecticut Colony was very independent, a land made up basically of farms. The settlers lived in close harmony and their behavior was similar. The colony became known as the
Land of Steady Habits
. Because of their strong belief in the Church, the desire to keep English ways, the Dutch called them JANKINS, but because they couldn’t pronounce J they became Yankee, which survives today.
How did these early Connecticut people live? What were the homes and furniture like? What did they do for games and learning? These questions now become my comparison’s of today’s families to those of our colonial ancestors.
A walking tour of our school area will show the children that homes are not alike even in their own areas. They could discuss their relatives or friends home if they live in a different area. We would compare how homes differ on the outside and the inside from number of rooms and floors, to the types of furniture they have. A field trip to an Early American home such as Whitfield Home (Guilford), Pardee (New Haven) or Dickerman (Hamden) would help them better understand how different our homes would have become today. If money becomes available, a trip to Mystic would be an excellent source of discovery. Otherwise my slides and additional information from Mystic (and Sturbridge) would provide very good visuals.
The first homes in Connecticut were mainly made of logs; frame homes were only for the important and wealthy. The important people also tended to build their homes near the churches. Many homes in the area were made from stones. A number of homes had cellars not a storage area in the back. These cellars not only were for storage, but served to keep the house warmer. The cellar floors were dirt, but the walls were stone since those could be gotten free for the gathering. Since cement was not known, mud was used to keep the stone in place. (We could try doing this in the room to see how it works.)
The Puritans often had house raising times when the framework was fitted together and put up around the hearth and chimney. Then the family could continue building the rest of the walls of the house. (See picture of house raising.)
The earliest homes had one room, usually with the chimney in one corner. This room was generally the kitchen, since it served as the center of all home life. Windows were small in order to conserve heat and were made of oiled paper (another thing to try to see how these worked for letting in light). When glass was finally imported, it tended to be small and expensive. A question for the class—who used glass then? Windows made of glass were fitted together and shaped like diamonds. Doors were double oak planks and doubly fastened to keep out wild animals and Indians. Ceilings were made low, also to conserve heat and because people were not as tall. But the fireplaces were large for warmth and cooking. A connecting shed between the house and barn helped the families care for their animals even in the heaviest snowstorm.
When a house added on a second room, the new room became a parlor and the original room (Keeping Room) remained for cooking, eating and often sleeping. As families grew, often the house grew. Additional rooms were added onto the back (pantry, kitchen, bedroom) and a low attic over it all. This became known as a “salt box”. (Get picture to see shape and design.) Children often ask “Where’s the bathroom?” In our study of the house they’ll learn there was no plumbing for sinks, tubs or toilets. Can they picture going out on a cold rainy night to use the Privy or outhouse? Or washing outside in a spring? Or bringing in water from a spring or well to use for cooking, drinking and cleaning? Baths and clothes washing was not a daily occurrence.
Inside the home, furniture was practical, not comfortable. Chairs were still mainly for men. Tables were long and narrow and some converted into benches. Since men used the chair, the rest of the family used the benches (Forms) or stools. Another bench type was the
, long and narrow and hard to sit on. Its one advantage was its high back that served as protection, especially from drafts (see picture). Sometimes families ate standing up and often they ate directly from the pot or they used the trencher, their hands and lots of linen napkins. The food they ate and drank was what was available; what they hunted, grew and stored. Floors were bare, as only the wealthy had tapestry rugs, and these were hung on walls, not walked on. Rag rugs and braided rugs were popular in colonists homes when wood floors were laid down. Rag rugs are exactly what the name implies—rugs made of rags.
Beds were called “jack-beds” and were built into one corner of the main room. The head of the bed and one side used existing walls for support. Beds were high up and short since no one lay down flat to rest. Under most jackbeds was a
for a child and it was pulled out at night. Since most homes still had only one or two rooms, the bed occupied a corner of the room with the hearth for warmth. Babies cradles were still set near the fire. These beds are an improvement from the Pilgrims straw mattress.
Early homes had no closets—pegs set on the wall were used to hang extra clothing and capes. Linens and blankets were put into chests, not drawers.
Most popular in the winter was the warming pan used to keep beds warm during cold Connecticut winters. It was not enough to have many blankets—beds were still cold and the warming pan run over the entire bed made it warm. Of course, you had to be careful and not burn the sheets.
A typical day of food is not like ours. A comparison chart will show how different when we make it. Breakfast was often a soup of salt meat, beans and herbs and called
. There was no tea or coffee at this meal. Dinner was served at noon, and usually an Indian pudding with a sauce, plus a dish of beef or pork. Wild game with potato, turnip, or any vegetable was also a dinner. Many dishes were made of pumpkin, cooked, dried, fried or in soup. I often make pumpkin cookies, so we can try out other recipes too. Supper or tea was a cold meal, usually a cake made of corn meal, rye or buckwheat—similar to pancakes. How do these compare to our meals? How do we get our food if we don’t go out and hunt or fish grow it? How do we store our food and how did we cook it? Early Americans feared the
, the last weeks of winter. Therefore they found methods to keep foods until spring growing-time. One way was to preserve foods, since there was no refrigeration. Foods were smoked, salted, dried, pickled or made into jam.
Smokehouses were extremely popular for storing meat. They often held venison, 500 turkeys, and a popular food of the day—pigeon. Families tried to own horses, hogs, cattle, cows and sheep so that everything they needed was near. How was each animal used? If there was no refrigeration how did they keep from having their food spoil? One way for the colonists to do this was to keep a pot of stew simmering on the fire day and night. As long as the stew stayed hot, it wouldn’t spoil and the family could eat it all week, just adding a new vegetable or two. Another popular method was to make a trough in a nearby stream (this water being cold all the time). Here they put leftover food, milk and vegetables that were bunched in crocks and pans. Remembering that this is the same stream they used to get all the water, even for bathing, I wonder how our modern first graders would feel about this. Children did get sweets such as rock candy and licorice from England, plus prunes, figs, raisins, apples, pears and berries which were plentiful. In February and March when sap was gathered from maple trees and boiled into syrup, some was made into maple sugar which supposedly tasted like candy. Here is another recipe to try out, maybe not in the fall, but in the winter when we have fresh snow as the Colonists did.
There were no matches in those days, so a flint and steel was used. Fires were not allowed to go out since it was so difficult to restart. The fireplace was still well stocked with pots and kettles “implements for pre-historic giants, rather than for a frail woman”
Corner House, Mass., 1958, p.108). The brass or copper kettles often held 15 gallons; iron pots weighed 40 pounds (maybe the weight of some first graders). Could the kids imagine a fire going all year round in their kitchens without fans or air conditioners, or pots as heavy and as full as the ones the colonists used? I even have a hard time with this idea.
Although families were large and children worked hard, they did play. Many games were the same as the Pilgrims including kite flying and skating, as well as just old time hopping, skipping and jumping, swimming, hopscotch (called Scotch-hopper), marbles and dancing around the Maypole. Dolls were a favorite for the girls and were often rag dolls, corn husk dolls or apple dolls. (A dolls head was carved from an apple and allowed to dry then it was dressed in rag clothing. We may attempt this, but it is not easy to carve the heads. Corn husk dolls are not that easy to do unless we use our fifth grade buddies for both activities.) There were also singing games, including some familiar ones today: “Here we go round the mulberry bush,” “Oats, pease, beans and barley grows,” “Ring around the rosy,” and “London Bridge is falling down.” Great to play these and realize how old they are!
Clothing for the early Connecticut residents were not colorful and took a long time to make. Often they were patched or for children added onto to save time and material. By studying the pictures and slides of early clothing and visiting either the Historical Society or Art Gallery, we can get an idea of the clothing people wore. Children wore the same types of clothing after the age of six, when they were no longer thought of as babies. Until then boys and girls wore “petticoats” or skirts and “pinners” (aprons) and “hanging sleeves.” Hanging sleeves were not true sleeves, but rather was material attached to the shoulders and reached the ground. Their purposes was to act as a “handle” to help the children as they learned to walk. They also were a major reminder of babyhood. Vocabulary words explain the rest. The materials for the clothing came from animals and plants and when yarn was woven it did not have bright colors, but were rather dull tan or gray. Linen for sheets, napkins and curtains came from the flax plants and wool came from sheep which were protected by laws and could only be used for wool.
Young girls learned how to use spinning wheels early. The spinning wheel was used to turn fluffy pieces of flax or wool into thread. A Loom was used to knit or weave large pieces. Most often men did the weaving as a loom required much strength. Or they waited for the traveling weaver, who stayed with the family until all the yarn was woven. Sometimes it took as long as a year from start to finish to complete the process. To dye the yarn, women gathered barks, roots, berries and plants, they then boiled and strained them to make dyes. Browns, yellows and some reds and greens were most common. This is one of the projects I will outline in lesson plans as an activity to try.
When you think how long it took to make the material, one understands why no material was wasted or discarded. Clothes were patched, rag rugs made, rag dolls were made. Many times thread was unraveled, dyed again and rewoven into new pieces. One common item made from rags and scraps was the Quilt. Odd pieces were sewn together and decorated with embroidery. Pieces were put together to make squares and were even given names (Log Cabin, Tail of Ben’s Kite, Shoo Fly, Garden of Eden—see pictures). Small girls began sewing by stitching together small patchwork pieces with tiny, even stitches. All winter, women and girls worked on
or making the top layer. In spring and summer these were made into quilts using a large quilting frame set up outdoors. The frame was too large to set up indoors. Girls and women of the area gathered to help QUILT. (Quilting bee) Quilting helped turn the pieces into a warm bedcover. The back was plain fabric stretched across the frame, over this was laid the stuffing material. Then the quilt piece was put in place, pinned and everyone sat around the frame sewing tiny stitches. This is another activity that is included in the lesson plan section and will become a permanent room decoration.