It may be amusing and entertaining to have some account of the customs and manner of living, of the people, sixty-five, seventy, and seventy-five years ago [i.e. 1760’s]. As to what took place in sea-port towns, and places which had a dense population, I can give no account; but in the town where I was brought up, (which I suppose was not materially different from the general state of other country towns) I will attempt to describe.
In the winter season the dinners were generally uniform. The first course was a dish of broth, usually called porridge. This generally had a few beans in it, and some dry summer savory scattered in. The second course, was an Indian pudding with sauce; the third was a dish of boiled port and beef, with round turnips, and a few potatoes for sauce. Potatoes were then a scarce article, three bushels being considered as a very large crop; and I was a considerable lad before I ever saw a potatoe as large as a hen’s egg. For suppers and breakfasts, they commonly had a dish of the same. Those who had milk, (which was not many in the winter) had that with toasted brown bread, or roasted apples for breakfast, and hasty pudding for supper. For an exchange, they sometimes had a basin of sweetened cider, with toasted bread in it, and a piece of cheese. On the Sabbath morning, they generally had chocolate, coffee or bohea tea–the chocolate and coffee sweetened with molasses–the tea with brown sugar. With it they had pan-cakes, dough-nuts, brown toast, some sort of pie–some, or all of them. Dinners they had none; but immediately after the afternoon service, they had a supper, a roast goose, or a turkey, a roast spare-rib, or a stew pie,–and this was the common course through the winter season. In the spring and the summer, they generally had milk for supper and breakfast. For dinner (then potatoes were generally gone, and round turnips were too pithy to eat) they used French turnips till greens came, and then greens were used for sauce till peas and beans were ready for use. As for flour, it was a thing unknown. At that time, I doubt there ever having been a barrel of flour in the town. Every farmer broke up a piece of new ground and sowed it with wheat and turnips. This wheat, by the help of the sieve, was a substitute for flour.
In general, men, old or young, who had got their growth, had a decent coat, vest and small clothes, and some kind of fur hat. These were for holiday use, and would last half an age. Old men had a great coat and a pair of boots. The boots generally lasted for life. For common use they had a long jacket, or what was called a fly coat, made something like our surtouts, reaching down about half way to the thigh; striped jacket to wear under a pair of small clothes like the coat. These were made of flannel cloth, fulled but not sheared; flannel shirts and stockings, and thick leather shoes; a silk handkerchief, for holidays, which would last ten years. In the summer time a pair of wide trowsers, (now out of use) reaching half way from the knee to the ancle (sic). Shoes and stockings were not worn by the young men, and by but few men in farming business.
As for boys, as soon as they were taken out of petticoats, they were put into small clothes, summer or winter. This continued until long trowsers were introduced, which they called tongs. They were but little different from our present pantaloons. These were made of two cloth, linen, or cotton, and soon were used by old men and young, through the warm season. At least they were made of flannel cloth, and were the general costume of the winter. Young men never thought of great coats, and surtouts were then unknown. I recollect a neighbor of my father’s, who had four sons between 19 and 30 years of age. The oldest got a pair of boots, the second a surtout, the third a watch, and the fourth a pair of silver buckles. This made a neighborhood talk, and the family were on the high road to insolvency.
As for women, old and young, they wore flannel gowns in the winter. The young women wore in the summer, wrappers or shepherdress; and about their ordinary business did not wear stockings and shoes. They were usually contented with one calico gown, but they generally had a calimanco gown, another of camlet, and some had them made of poplin. The sleeves were short, and did not come below the elbow. On holidays, they wore one, two, or three ruffles on each arm–the deepest of which were sometimes nine or ten inches. They wore long gloves, coming up to the elbow, secured by what was called glove-tightens, made of black horse-hair. Round gowns had not then come into fashion; so they wore aprons, made of checked linen, cotton, and for holiday use, of white cotton, long lawn, or cambric. They seldom wore caps when about their ordinary business, but they had two kinds, one of which they wore when they meant to appear in full dress. One was called strap-cap, which came under the chin, and was there tied; the other was called round-cord cap, and did not come over the ears. They wore thick leather, thin leather, and broad-cloth shoes, all with heels an inch and a half high, with picked toes turned up in a point at the toes. They generally had small, very small muffs, and some wore masks.
The principal amusements of the young men were wrestling, running and jumping, or hopping three hoops. Dancing was considered a qualification of the first importance, especially step tunes, such as Old Father George, Cape Breton, High Betty Martin, and the Rolling Hornpipe. At their balls, dancing was their principal exercise; also, singing songs, and a number of pawn plays, such as breaking and setting the pope’s neck, find the button, &c.
At the time I allude to, a young woman did not consider it a hardship or a degradation to walk five or six miles to meeting. There was no chaise, or any sort of wagon or sleigh in the town. I recollect the first chaise that passed through; and it made a greater wonderment than the appearance of a mammoth. People were puzzled for a name: at last they called it a calash. A horse that would fetch forty dollars was considered as of the first quality; and more than nine years old was considered as of little or no value. A half cord of wood was then considered a monstrous load for an ordinary team. A farmer generally killed from three to five swine which would weight from five to eight score each, but it was an extraordinary hog that would weight nine score.
Acute fevers then were much more frequent than at this time. The principal fevers then were called the long or slow fever, which would run thirty-five, forty, or fifty days before it formed a crisis. There was also the slow nervous fever, which ran generally longer than the long fever. But consumptions were much less frequent then than now, unless it was with very old people. In the year 1764, a young man fell into a consumption. He was between twenty and thirty years of age, and it passed for a wonder that a young man should fall into a consumption.–Old Colony Memorial
–from Collections of the New Hampshire Historical Society, Volume 5, Concord; Printed by Asa McFarland, for the Society, 1837 [Internet Archive]
Everyday Dress of the American Colonial Period
“Colonial Life in New Hampshire,” by James H. Fassett, 1899.