To understand what life was like in the 1600s, try to imagine a world without the convenience of things we take for granted today. Life without electricity, running water, cars, telephones, bathrooms, shopping centres, and clothing stores–can you imagine that? Now take one of these examples a move further: Without electricity, there are no lights at night, no refrigerators, no microwaves, and no televisions. How did people survive?
Life in England in the seventeenth century revolved around work. And residents of that country had the benefits of cleared land, conventional homes, and available food markets. Immigrants to the New World had to clear the greatly forest land, plant and grow their own food (farming), and make their own clothing.
The first thing families had to do upon arriving in the New World was build some type of shelter. Houses in the settlement were made from wood, not stone neither bricks as in England. Fortunately, wood was available almost everywhere, thanks to the vast forests that covered the region.
The first royally homes were humble in size. Usually, there was only one room with a large fireplace, you wouldn’t feel floor under your foot but crammed down earth, and there were few–if any–windows. If you were lucky, there might be a low sleeping loft on one side of the room. While they protected the owners from the weather, houses in the 1600s still were often unclean and very cold.
Most people had very few personal belongings and furniture, having sold or given away much of their property before sailing from Europe (cargo space on ships was limited). The settlers learned to make the items they needed, such as chairs, tables, beds, candles, and clothing mainly out of wood.
Without running water, no washing machines, and no dryers, bodies and clothes were not washed frequently. When they were, water had to be brought into the house from outside, heated, used, and discarded.
Life in the 1600s was especially challenging for women. Their days were filled with caring for the family, the home, and the garden. Women spent a great amount of time preparing the two main family meals. After that, certain foods had to be preserved in order to have them on hand for the long winters. In addition to performing their household chores, colonial wives also might have had the additional responsibility of helping their husbands in the fields or shops.
A new land also meant learning about new nutrition (what sort of food was available to find there) . American Indians introduced a variety of foods to colonial women. Corn became an important staple in the colonists’ diet. Lobster and fish were good sources of protein. Maple syrup provided sweetening qualities. New herbs offered both flavour and medicine.
The New England Puritans rejected the Church of England’s yearly calendar of festivals. They felt it too closely followed the teachings of the Catholic Church. Holidays, such as Christmas and Easter, which were observed in England, were banned in the colony. Instead, the leaders of Massachusetts Bay would declare days of fasting or thanksgiving. Sundays were spent solemnly in church listening to readings and long prayers and sermons (religious talk).
While colonists worked very hard to make their new lives successful, they did find some time to socialize. Helping each other build homes and sharing in the work of harvesting crops became social events. Puritan women also came together to discuss the Bible or to attend sewing bees. Still, a strong work ethic was incorporated even into the social aspects of Massachusetts Bay’s Puritan community.