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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Customs of the Colonists
By Richard Hildreth (1807–1865)
 
From the ‘History of the United States’

ACCORDING to the system established in Massachusetts, the Church and State were most intimately blended. The magistrates and General Court, aided by the advice of the elders, claimed and exercised a supreme control in spiritual as well as temporal matters; while even in matters purely temporal, the elders were consulted on all important questions. The support of the elders, the first thing considered in the first Court of Assistants held in Massachusetts, had been secured by a vote to build houses for them, and to provide them a maintenance at the public expense. This burden, indeed, was spontaneously assumed by such of the plantations as had ministers. In some towns a tax was levied; in others a contribution was taken up every Sunday, called voluntary, but hardly so in fact, since every person was expected to contribute according to his means. This method of contribution, in use at Plymouth, was adopted also at Boston; but in most of the other towns the taxing system obtained preference, and subsequently was established by law. Besides the Sunday services, protracted to a great length, there were frequent lectures on week-days,—an excess of devotion unreasonable in an infant colony, and threatening the interruption of necessary labor; so much so, that the magistrates presently found themselves obliged to interfere by restricting them to one a week in each town. These lectures, which people went from town to town to attend; an annual fast in the spring, corresponding to Lent; and a Thanksgiving at the end of autumn, to supersede Christmas,—stood in place of all the holidays of the papal and English churches, which the colonists soon came to regard as no better than idolatrous, and any disposition to observe them—even the eating of mince pies on Christmas Day—as superstitious and wicked. In contempt of the usage of those churches, marriage was declared no sacrament, but a mere civil contract, to be sanctioned not by a minister but a magistrate. The magistrates also early assumed the power of granting divorces, not for adultery only, but in such other cases as they saw fit. Baptism, instead of being dispensed to all, as in the churches of Rome and England, was limited, as a special privilege, to church members and their “infant seed.” Participation in the sacrament of the Supper was guarded with still greater jealousy, none but full church members being allowed to partake of it.  1
  Besides these religious distinctions, there were others of a temporal character, transferred from that system of semi-feudal English society in which the colonists had been born and bred. A discrimination between “gentlemen” and those of inferior condition was carefully kept up. Only gentlemen were entitled to the prefix of “Mr.”; their number was quite small, and deprivation of the right to be so addressed was inflicted as a punishment. “Goodman” or “good woman,” by contraction “goody,” was the address of inferior persons. Besides the indented servants sent out by the company, the wealthier colonists brought others with them. But these servants seem in general to have had little sympathy with the austere manners and opinions of their masters, and their frequent transgressions of Puritan decorum gave the magistrates no little trouble.  2
  The system of manners which the founders of Massachusetts labored to establish and maintain was indeed exceedingly rigorous and austere. All amusements were proscribed; all gayety seemed to be regarded as a sin. It was attempted to make the colony, as it were, a convent of Puritan devotees,—except in the allowance of marriage and money-making,—subjected to all the rules of the stricter monastic orders.  3
  Morton of Merry Mount, who had returned again to New England, was seized and sent back, his goods confiscated, and his house burned,—as the magistrate alleged, to satisfy the Indians; but this according to Morton was a mere pretext. A similar fate happened to Sir Christopher Gardiner, a Knight, or pretended Knight, of the Holy Sepulchre,—an ambiguous character, attended by a young damsel and two or three servants. Suspected as the agent of some persons who claimed a prior right to some parts of Massachusetts Bay, he was charged with having two wives in England, and with being a secret Papist. He fled to the woods, but was delivered up by the Indians and sent home, as were several others whom the magistrates pronounced “unfit to inhabit there.” Walford the smith, the old settler at Charlestown, banished for “contempt of authority,” retired to Piscataqua, which soon became a common asylum of refugees from Massachusetts. The sociable and jolly disposition of Maverick—described by Josselyn, an early traveler, as “the only hospitable man in the colony”—gave the magistrates an abundance of trouble, and subjected Maverick himself to frequent fines and admonitions. Others who slandered the government or churches, or wrote home discouraging letters, were whipped, cropped of their ears, and banished.  4
 
 
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