GenToday-L Archive

Manner of Dress

by Rev. Enoch Pratt

PUBLISHED WITH PERMISSION in the November 1998 edition of GenToday-L

In general, men old or young had a decent coat, vest, and some small clothes as well as some kind of fur hat. Old men had a great coat, and a pair of boots; the boots were substantially made of good leather and lasted for life; they were long and reached to the knee. For every day they had a jacket reaching about half way down the thigh, striped vest, and the small clothes, like the jacket; made of home spun flannel cloth, fulled at the mill, but not sheared; flannel shirts, and knit woolen stockings, with leather shoes, and a silk handkerchief for holidays. In the summer they wore a pair of wide petticoat trowsers, reaching half way from the knee to the ankle. Shoes and stockings were not worn in summer when at work on the farm. Boys, as soon as they left their petticoats, were put into small clothes, summer or winter. These were made of home manufactured cloth for common, and everlasting for meeting dress. The oldest son had a pair of the latter cloth, and when he had outgrown them, the next took them, and so down to the tenth son, if there were so many of the family. This manner of dress continued till long trowsers were introduced which were called tongs, and did not differ much in shape from those now in use. They were made of tow cloth, linen and cotton, in the summer, and in the winter of flannel, and were soon worn by old men, as well as by young men and boys. Young men never wore great coats. I recollect, says a writer of those past times, a neighbor of my fathers, who had four sons between nineteen and thirty 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 shoe buckles. This made a neighborhood talk, and the family was supposed to be on the high road to insolvency.

The women, old and young, wore home made flannel gowns in the winter, and in the summer, wrappers, or shepherdess; it was without a waist, and gathered round the neck. They were usually contented with one calico gown; but generally had a calimanco or camlet, and some had them made of poplin. The sleeves were short, and came only to the elbow; on holidays, they wore one, two, or three ruffles on each arm, sometimes ten inches wide. They wore long gloves, coming up to the elbow secured by what was called tightens, made of black horse hair; round gowns had not come in fashion, so they wore aprons, made of checked linen, cotton, and for Sunday, white cotton, long lawn, or cambric. They seldom wore caps, only when they appeared in full dress; they had two kinds; one, was called strap cap, which was tied under the chin, and the other, round cord cap, which did not come over the ears. They wore thick and thin leather and broadcloth shoes, with wooden heels covered with cloth or leather, an inch and a half high, with peaked toes which turned up. They generally had very small muffs, and some wore masks.

The manner of living, and the mode of dress, was much more favourable to health than at the present time. Acute fevers were frequent, the principal of which were called the long or slow fever, which ran thirty-five, forty, and sometimes fifty days before it formed a crisis; and the slow nervous fever, which ran generally longer than the former. Pulmonary complaints, or consumptions were much less frequent than now; indeed a young person was rarely visited with this disease. The duty of the sexton of the church, was not only to ring the bell, and sweep the house, but keep the hour-glass, and turn it at the commencement of the minister's sermon, who was expected to close at the end of the hour; if he went on, or fell short of the time, it was sufficient cause of complaint.

Their dinners in the winter season were generally the same. First they had a dish of broth, called porridge, with a few beans in it, and a little summer savory; then an Indian pudding with sauce; and then a dish of boiled pork and beef, with round turnips, and a few potatoes. Potatoes were then a scarce article; three of four bushels were considered a large crop, and these not larger than a hen's egg. Their suppers and breakfast were generally the same; those who had milk ate it with toasted bread; if not, sweetened cider, with bread and cheese. Sabbath mornings, they generally had chocolate, or bohea tea; the first sweetened with molasses, and the last with brown sugar, and with them, pancakes, dough-nuts, brown toast, or some sort of pie. They had no dinners till after meeting; when they had a roast goose, or turkey, or spare rib, or a stew pie; in the spring and summer, they generally ate bread and milk for supper and breakfast.

At that time, no family had a barrel of flour; the farmers broke up a piece of new ground and planted with wheat, and turnips; this wheat, by the help of the sieve, was their flour. A writer of years gone by, says "the chiefest corn they planted, was Indian grain, before they had ploughs; and let no man make a jest at pumpkins, for with this food the Lord was pleased to feed his people, to their good content, till corn and cattle were increased." Their corn before they had built mills to grind it, was pounded with a wooden or stone pestle in a mortar made of a large log hollowed out at one end. They cultivated barley, much of which was made into malt for beer, which they drank instead of ardent spirit. They raised flax, which they rotted in the water, and then manufactured it in their families into thread and cloth.

By an order of the Massachusetts General Court, corn and beans were required to be used in voting for counsellors; the corn to manifest elections, the beans the contrary, on the choice or refusal of a candidate; the law imposed a heavy penalty, if more than one corn or bean was used by one person.

The first houses which they built were very coarse rude structures. They had steep roofs covered with thatch, or small bundles of sedge or straw, laid one over another. The fireplaces were made of rough stones, and the chimneys of boards, or short sticks, crossing each other, and plastered inside with clay. In a few years houses of a better construction began to appear. They were built with two stories in front, and sloped down to a low one in the rear; the windows opened outward on hinges, and were small. The glass was small, and in the shape of a diamond, and set in sashes of lead. The fireplaces were hugely large, and could receive a four foot log besides seating the family of children in the corners, where they could look up and count the stars. They were uniformly placed, so as to front to the south, on whatever side of the road they might be, and the object was that, when the sun shone on it, the house might serve as a sundial.

It is said to have been the custom of the first settlers to wear their beards so long, that in the winter, it would sometimes freeze together so that it was difficult to get their vessels to their mouths, from which they took their drink.

The common address of men and women was Goodman and Goodwife; none but those who sustained some office of dignity, or belonged to some respectable family were complimented with the title of Master or Mistress; in writing they did not use the capital F, but two small ones as ff.

In those days the young women did not consider it a hardship, nor a disgrace, to walk five or six miles to meeting on the Sabbath, or on lecture days; in the country towns, scarcely a chaise, or any other vehicle was used. The common conveyance was by horses fitted out with saddles and pillions. A man and woman rode together on the same horse, and sometimes a little boy rode before the man, and an infant in the lap of the woman: no inconsiderable journeys were made in this way. Horses then were made to pace, that they might carry their riders more gently. It was not until a little before the revolutionary war, that they were learned to trot. A horse that would sell for forty dollars was considered as of the first quality, and one more than nine years old, was considered of little value.

In those days every body went to meeting on the Sabbath and lecture days, however distant they lived. Those who owned horses, did not consider them any more their own, than their neighbors, on that day. It was the custom in many, if not all country towns, for the owner, with his wife, to ride half way to a horse block made for that purpose, and there hitch his horse, and walk on, for his neighbor to ride who set out on foot, and so when they returned.

A Comprehensive History of Eastham, Wellfleet and Orleans, pub 1844.


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