Chronicles of America 

Habiliments And Habits

In matters of dress, as well as in those of house building and furnishing, the eighteenth century was an era of greatly increased expenditure and costly display, of taste for luxuries and elaborate adornment, which not only involved the wealthier classes in extravagance beyond their resources but also ended far too often in heavy indebtedness and even in bankruptcy. Henry Vassall of Cambridge and William Byrd, 3d, of Virginia are examples of men who lived beyond their means and became in the end financially embarrassed. The years from 1740 to 1765 represent in the history of this country the highest point reached in richness of costume, variety of color, peculiarities of decoration, and excess of frills and furbelows on the part of both sexes. The richer classes affected no republican simplicity in the days before the Revolution, and while their standards did not prevail beyond town and tidewater, there were few who did not feel in some way, for good or for ill, this increasing complexity of the conditions of colonial life.

To deal systematically with the subject of dress in colonial times, we should trace its changes from the beginning, study the various forms it assumed according to the needs of climate and environment, and describe the clothing worn by all classes from the negro to the Governor and by all members of the family from the infant to the octogenarian. But a less formal account of colonial clothing will suffice to give one a fairly complete idea of what our ancestors wore as they went about their daily occupations and what they put on for such special occasions as weddings, funerals, assemblies, and social entertainments. It is also interesting to note the peculiar garb of such men as ministers, judges, sea captains, and soldiers; for the judge on the bench wore his robe of scarlet, the lawyer his suit of black velvet, and officials in office and representatives in the Assembly donned the habiliments suited to the occasion. The royal Governors were often gloriously bedecked, their councilors be-wigged and be-frilled, and Masons in procession to their lodges "wore their clothes," as one observer put it.

These, however, were not the everyday costumes of our forefathers. The majority of the colonists, except negroes and indentured servants, wore clothing which was relatively heavy and coarse. Throughout New England, and to a lesser extent elsewhere, men, women, and children wore homespun, with linen shirts, tow cloth skirts and breeches, and woolen stockings. When they bought materials, they selected heavy stuffs, such as fustian, kersey, sagathy, shalloon, duffel, drugget, and serge.

Early Colonial Fabrics

A coarse sturdy cloth made of cotton and flax.
Any of several thick twilled cotton fabrics, such as corduroy, having a short nap.

A kind of coarse woollen cloth. It derives its name from the village of Kersey, Suffolk, having presumably originated in that region. However the cloth was made in many places. Kersey was a lighter weight cloth than broadcloth. English kerseys were widely exported to central Europe.

A mixed woven fabric of silk and cotton, or silk and wool; sayette; also, a light woolen fabric.

A lightweight wool or worsted twill fabric, used chiefly for coat linings.

A blanket fabric made of low-grade woolen cloth with a nap on both sides.

A heavy felted fabric of wool or wool and cotton.

A twilled cloth of worsted or worsted and wool, often used for suits.

By the middle of the century, however, farmers of the better class were wearing a finer quality of "shop goods," such as camblet, alamode, calamanco, and blue broadcloth. Perhaps the most widely used imported cloth was "ozenbrig, " a tough, coarse linen woven in Osnabruck, Westphalia, which they made up into nearly everything from breeches and entire suits to sheets, table covers, and carpetbags. The village parson wore broadcloth when performing the duties of his office, and two suits of this material every six years was a fair average. For every day he wore the homespun of his parishioners. Buckskin and lambskin breeches were common; and deerskin, of which much of the clothing of our early ancestors was made, was later used for coats by those who were exposed to wind and weather. Stockings, which generally came over the knee, were blue, black, or gray, and might be of worsted, cotton, or cloth. Shoes, often of the coarsest kind, double-soled and made of cowhide, were made either at home or by village shoemakers who were also cobblers, or, after the middle of the century, at such towns as Lynn. A great many of the farming people, however, went barefoot in summer.

The New Englander usually possessed three suits of clothes: the durable and practical suit which he wore for working; a second-best which he put on for going to market or for doing errands in town; and his best which he reserved for the Sabbath-Day' and preserved with the utmost care. In both town and country, clothing was made at home by the women and help, or was cut out after the local fashion by the village tailor or seamstress, who brought shears and goose with them to the house, while the family provided material, thread, and board. Suits rarely fitted the wearer, alterations were common, and the same cloth was used for one member of the family after another until it

People in New England always said Sabbath or Lord's Day; Sunday came in only late in the period among "the better sort" was completely worn out. Patching and turning were evidences of thrift and economy.

Apprentices, indentured servants, and negroes in the North dressed in much the same way as did their " betters " but in clothes of poorer quality and cut, often made over from the discarded garments of their masters. In the South, what were called "plains" were imported in large quantities for the negroes, those in the house wearing blue jacket and breeches and those in the field generally white. Frequently the negroes worked with almost nothing on, and Josiah Quincy narrates how he was rowed over Hobcaw Ferry, in South Carolina, by six negroes, "four of whom had nothing on but their kind of breeches, scarce sufficient for covering. "I When a servant or negro ran away, he put on everything that he had or could steal, and such a fugitive must have been a grotesque sight. One runaway servant is described as wearing a gray rabbit-skin hat with a clasp to it, a periwig of bright brown hair, a close serge coat, breeches of a brownish color, worsted stockings, and wooden-heeled shoes. One apprentice ran away wearing an old brown drugget coat and a pair of leather breeches and carrying in addition two ozenbrig (Quincy, Southern Journal, 1773.) shirts and two pairs of trousers of the same material. An escaped negro was advertised as dressed in shirt, jacket, and breeches, woolen stockings, old shoes, and an old hat, and wearing a silver jewel in one of his ears. Earrings or bobs in one or both ears were frequent negro adornments.

The steady advance toward more ornate and picturesque dress which began to be evident in colonial life was due to closer contact with the West Indies and the Old World. The Puritans had begun as early as 1675 to protest against the follies of dress. Roger Wolcott of Connecticut, in his memoir written in 1759, speaks with regret of early times in the colony and bewails the loss of the simplicity and honesty which the people had when he was a boy. Toward the end of the seventeenth century, he says, "their buildings were good to what they had been, but mean to what they are now; their dress and diet mean and coarse to what it is now," and their regard for the Sabbath and reverence for the magistrates far greater than in his day. To the Quaker also the growing worldliness of the times was a cause of depression and lament. Peckover, writing of his travels in 1742, though proud that the Quakers in the neighborhood of Annapolis were accounted "pretty topping people in the world, " nevertheless regretted that they took so much liberty "in launching into finery," and believed that some of the children went "in apparel much finer and more untruthlike than most I ever saw in England. " The richer planters and merchants not only wore foreign fabrics but deliberately copied foreign fashions. Eddis, writing from Annapolis in 1771, was of the opinion that a new fashion was adopted in America even earlier than in England, and he saw very little difference "in the manner of a wealthy colonist and a wealthy Briton. "

A thousand and one articles from the great manufacturing towns of England — London, Bristol, Birmingham, Sheffield, Nottingham, Liverpool, Manchester, Torrington, and other centers —were brought in almost every ship that set sail for America. Scarcely a letter went from a Virginia planter or a Boston, New York, or Philadelphia merchant which did not contain a personal order for articles of clothing for himself or his family, and scarcely a captain sailed for England who did not carry commissions of one kind or another. The very names of the fabrics which the colonists bought show the extent of this early trade: Holland lawn, linen, duck, and blankets, German serge, Osnaburg linen, Mecklenburg silk, Barcelona silk handkerchiefs, Flanders thread, Spanish poplin, Russian lawn and sheeting, Hungarian stuff, Romal or Bombay handkerchiefs, Scottish tartans and cloths, and Irish linen.

Colonel Thomas Jones in 1726 sent in one order for four pairs of " Stagg" breeches, one fine Geneva serge suit, one fine cloth suit lined with scarlet, one fine drab cloth coat and breeches, one gray cloth suit, a drugget coat and breeches, a frieze coat, and several pairs of calamanco breeches and cloth breeches with silver holes. William Beverley, at different times, ordered a plain suit of very fine cloth, a summer suit of some other stuff than silk, with stocks to match, a winter riding suit, a suit of superfine unmixed broadcloth, a pair of riding breeches with silk stockings, a great riding coat, three Holland waistcoats with pockets, round-toed pumps, a pair of half jack boots, a beaver hat without stiffening, a light colored bobwig, knit hose to wear under others, and many pairs of kid and buckskin gloves. Later, he sent back the hose, " damnifyed in the voyage, " to be dyed black and another pair that were too large in the calf, "I having but a slender body as you know by my measure." He also found fault with the boots, remarking, "I am but slender and my leg is not short. "

For his wife Beverley ordered a suit of lutestring appropriate for a woman of forty years, a whalebone coat, a hoop coat, a sarsenet quilted coat of any color but yellow, white tabby stays, a suit of " drest night cloaths or a mob, ruffles, and handkerchief, " pairs of calamanco shoes, flowered stuff damask shoes, and silk shoes with silk heels, colored kid gloves and mittens, straw hats, thread, worsted, and pearl-colored silk hose, paduasoy ribbons, and crewels for embroidering suit patterns. For his daughter he wished a whole Holland frock, a plain lutestring coat, a genteel suit of flowered silk cloth or "whatever is fashionable," a quilted petticoat, a cheap, plain riding habit, a head-dress, but if head-dresses were no longer fashionable then a mobcap with ribbons. For other children he wanted calamanco or silk shoes in considerable variety, sometimes ordering fine thin black calf-skins or skins of white leather to be made up into children's shoes on the plantation, hats with silver laces, colored hose, and colored gloves. Even members of the fair sex tried their own hand at foreign purchase, for we are told that Sarah Bulfinch of Boston sent five pounds sterling in silver and one pound seventeen shillings in pennies to pay for purchases in London by a captain who was to buy the goods himself or to send the order to some London merchant.



Worn by Mrs. Mary (Lynde) Oliver, of Salem, about 1765. In the Essex Institute, Salem, Mass.

Such an account of purchases could easily be extended, but enough has been said to show the general character of the orders and the dependence of the colonial planter and his family on the captain or the English merchant for fit, style, and color. The suits, which were made as a rule in London by a special tailor or dressmaker who had the measures, could never be tried on or fitted beforehand nor could their suitability in the matter of color and style be determined with any degree of satisfaction. The English correspondents in their letters interspersed their comments on trade with frequent suggestions regarding dress and fashions, and one remarked, for example, that "the French heads are little wore, mostly English, the hoops very small, upper petticoats of but four yards, the gowns unlined. " These old country correspondents and the obliging captains must at times have indulged in some puzzling shopping expeditions in London. Orders for a hat, "genteel but not very gay," and for hats and shoes for children of certain ages but with the material and shape unspecified would call for the exercise of considerable discretion on a man's part,' and one is not surprised that complaints usually followed the receipt of the goods in America. Stockings were said to be too large, boots too small, hats too stiff or too soft or wrongly trimmed, leather rotten, and quality, colors, and patterns different from what was wanted. Only to those who frequented the colonial stores where pattern books sent from England were to be found was satisfaction guaranteed. Goods were often damaged on the voyage, and Beverley once wrote, "Goods received last spring damnified and (to cap the climax) have filled my house with cockroaches."

' That men shopped in America as well as in England appears from the following letter sent by a New England minister to his betrothed one week before the wedding:


"I received a line from you by Mrs. Shepard with your request of purchasing a few small articles. I have bought 3¼ dozen of limes — and gauze for ruffles, but not plain. I asked Miss Polly Chase which was the most fashionable and best for Ladies ruffles and she told me that pink ruffled gauze was preferable, — and as she is acquainted with such little feminine matters, I bought what she recommended, and hope it will please you. I have got no edging for trimming them because there is no need of it with such flowered gauze. I have got some narrow silk ribbon to trim your apron with, but I did not know whether it should be white or black, nor what kind of an Apron you were about to trim. But I hope I have got that which will be agreeable to your gauze, or whatever your apron is to be made of." (From a MS in private hands.)

The colors worn by the men were often varied and bright. Cuyler of New York ordered a suit of superfine scarlet plush, with shalloon and all trimmings, a coat and vest of light blue hair plush with all trimmings, and fine shalloon suitable for each. One merchant wanted a claret-colored duffel, another a gay broadcloth coat, vest, and breeches, and still another two pieces of colored gingham for a summer suit. All clothes, even those which were fairly simple and worn by people of moderate means, were adorned with buttons made of brass and other metals, pearl, or cloth covered.

In addition to damask and silk stuffs, the women wore calico and gingham printed in checks, patterns, and figures — dots, shells, or diamonds —which on one occasion Stephen Collins complained were too large and flaunting to suit the Philadelphia market. Sometimes a pattern was stamped on the cloth in London and was worked with crewel or floss in the colonies. Women's hats were made of silk or straw, their hoods of velvet or silk, and their stockings of silk thread, cotton, worsted, and even "plush." Shoes were often very elaborate, with uppers of silk or damask, and those for girls were made of leather — calfskin, kid, or morocco — with silver laces and heels of wood covered with silk. Gloves, which were worn from infancy to old age partly for reasons of fashion and partly to preserve the whiteness of the skin, were sometimes imported and sometimes made by the local tailor, who like the blacksmith was a craftsman of many accomplishments.

As for minor adornments, the ladies carried fans and wore girdles with buckles; but as a rule they possessed little jewelry except necklaces and a variety of finger rings either of plain gold or set with diamonds or rubies, and an occasional thumb ring. The men also wore rings, commonly bearing a seal of carnelian cut with the wearer's arms or some other device. Many of the mourning rings were realistically made with death's heads. As can be seen from the advertisements of the jewelers, the wearing of jewelry became much more common after 1750, earrings appeared, and even knee buckles and shoe buckles tended to become very ornate.

Underwear and lingerie in the modern sense were almost unknown and, though "nightgowns" are mentioned, it is uncertain whether they were designed for sleeping purposes or, as is more likely, for dressing gowns or my lady's toilet. For outside wear for the men there were great coats; and for the women coats and mantillas, often scarlet and blue; and for children, older folk, and soldiers, there were splatterdashes, a legging made of black glazed linen and reaching to the knee to protect the stockings. Men wore oilcloth capes when traveling in the rain, and the women put on a protective petticoat, sometimes called a weather skirt, and wore clogs or pattens against the mud. Umbrellas are mentioned early in the century, but they were probably only carriage tops, awnings, or sunshades. Parasols were used by a few, but sunbonnets — calashes — were customary on sunny days. Wigs were worn by men of all ranks, even by servants, and wig and peruke makers were to be found in all the large towns. Wig blocks frequently appear among the invoices, and before the queue came in many of the fashionable folk used bags for the hair. Lasts for making shoes, liquid blacking, and shoebrushes as well as hairbrushes were usually imported.



Born in Plymouth, Mass., in 1641, showing the head-dress, stomacher. and puffed sleeves of the period of about 1660-1670. Painting in Pilgrim Hall, Plymouth, Mass.

In traveling, men carried clean shirts, waistcoats, and caps, and — most interesting of all —clean sheets, but only occasionally clean stockings and handkerchiefs. Soap was frequently included in invoices, much of it made in New England. All Southern plantations had soap houses, with large copper vessels and other utensils in which soap was made for laundry purposes. Wash balls were imported possibly for domestic use, but they were also an important part of the barber's outfit. Men had their own razors and hones and shaved themselves, but those of the richer classes either went to the barber, at so much a quarter, or had the barber come to their houses.

Of indoor bathing it is difficult to find any trace. There were bathing pools on some of the Southern plantations, and swimming holes abounded then as now, but probably bath tubs were entirely unknown and " washing " was as far as the colonists' ablutions went.

The toothbrush had not yet been invented, but tooth washes and tooth powders were in use as early as 1718. We read, for instance, of the Essence of Pearl, guaranteed to do everything for the teeth; of the Dentium Conservator; and of another preparation, of which the name is not given but which was to be rubbed on with a cloth once a day, with the injunction, however, that "if you'd preserve their beauty use it only twice a week. " Salt and water was the commonest dentifrice. That these prophylactics were not very successful is evident from the prevalent toothache and decay which necessitated frequent pulling and an early resort to false teeth. There were many individuals in the colonies who made such teeth and fastened them in, though dentistry was as yet hardly a vocation by itself. The apothecaries, the doctors, and even the barbers pulled teeth, and some of them posed as dentists. The goldsmiths advertised false teeth for sale. Spectacles or " spactickels," as one writer spells them, were ordinarily used when necessary, and ear trumpets were occasionally resorted to by the deaf.

Interesting and picturesque as are these manifold details of household equipment and personal use in the old colonial days, it is the color and energy of the daily life of the people of that time which make a deeper appeal to the reader of the twentieth century. Among the poorer colonists, who composed nine-tenths of the colonial population, life was a humdrum round of activities on the farm and in the shop. In the houses of the rich, women concerned themselves with their household duties, dress, and embroidery of all kinds. In some instances they managed the estate, engaged in business, and even took part in politics. In the towns many of the retail stores were conducted by women. Ruth Richardson of Talbot County, Maryland, carried on her husband's affairs after his death, and Martha Custis, before her marriage with George Washington, continued the correspondence and administered the plantation of her first husband, who died in 1757. Madam Smith, wife of the second landgrave, was another famous manager. In 1732, Mrs. Andrew Galbraith of Donegal, Pennsylvania, took part in her husband's political campaign, mounted her favorite mare, Nelly, and with a spur at her heel and her red cloak flying in the wind scoured the country from one end to the other. Needless to say, Andrew was elected.

Colonial marriages took place at even so early an age as fourteen; and the number of men and women who were married two, three, and four times was large. Instances of a thrice widower marrying a twice or thrice widow are not uncommon. Girls thus became the mothers of children before they were out of their 'teens. Sarah Hext married Dr. John Rutledge when she was fourteen and was the mother of seven children before she was twenty-five. Ursula Byrd, who married Robert Beverley, had a son and died before she was seventeen; Sarah Breck was only sixteen or seventeen when she married Dr. Benjamin Gott; Sarah Pierrepont was seventeen when she married Jonathan Edwards; and Hannah Gardiner was of the same age when she married Dr. McSparran. Large families, even of twenty-six children of a single mother, are recorded, but infant mortality was very great. John Coleman and Judith Hobby had fourteen children, of whom five died at birth, and only four grew up and married, one to the well-known Dr. Thomas Bulfinch of Boston. Though Sarah Hext lived to be sixty-eight, many mothers died early, and often in childbirth. An instance is given of a burying ground near Bath, Maine, in which there were the graves of ten married women, eight of whom had died between the ages of twenty-two and thirty, probably as the result of large families and overwork. Second marriages were the rule, though probably few were as sudden as that of the Sandemanian, Isaac Winslow, who proposed to Ben Davis's daughter on the eve of the day he buried his wife and married her within a week.

The marriage ceremony generally took place at home instead of in the church, and in many of the colonies was followed by a bountiful supper, cards, and dancing. There were often bridesmaids, diamond wedding-rings, and elaborate hospitality. In New England the festivities lasted two or three days and visitors stayed a week. In the South one proposing to marry had to give bond that the marriage would not result in a charge on the community, and usually the banns were read three times in meeting and a license was obtained and recorded. In Virginia, where the county clerks granted licenses, children under age could not marry without the consent of their parents, and indentured servants could not marry during their servitude. In Connecticut the banns were published but once and protests against a marriage were affixed to the signpost or the church door. Blanks for licenses were distributed by the Governor and could be obtained of the local authorities. A curious custom was that of " bundling " (sometimes also called "tarrying, " though the practices seem to have been different), which Burnaby describes as putting the courting couple into bed with garments on to prevent scandal, when "if the parties agree, it is all very well; the banns are published and [the two] are married without delay." Another curious custom, which prevailed from New England to South Carolina, made the second husband responsible for the debts of the first, unless the bride were married in her chemise in the King's Highway. In one instance the lady stood in a closet and extended her hand through the door, and in another, well authenticated, both chemise and closet were dispensed with.



Worn by Dorothy, granddaughter of Governor Leverett of Massachusetts, at her wedding in 1719, to Major John Denison, of Ipswich. In the Essex Institute, Salem, Mass.

Divorces were rare: the Anglican Church refused to sanction them, and the Crown forbade colonial legislatures to pass bills granting them. The matter was therefore left to the courts. As New England courts refused to break a will, so, as a rule, they refused to grant a divorce, though there are a number of exceptions, for divorces were allowed in both Massachusetts and Connecticut.' In the case of unhappy marriages, separation by mutual agreement was occasionally resorted to. Sometimes the lady ran away; and, indeed, advertisements for runaway wives seem almost as common in Southern newspapers as those for runaway servants. Marriages between colonial women and English officials, missionaries of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, and even occasional visitors from abroad were not infrequent. Sir William Draper, Knight of the Bath, who made an American tour in 1770, wooed and won during his journey Susanna, daughter of Oliver De Lancey of New York.

" I was at court al day about geting Sister Mary divorced & obtained it." (Hempstead, Diary, p. 147.)

Family life in the colonies was full of affection, though the expression of feeling was usually restrained and formal. Colonel Thomas Jones, for example, addressed his fiancée, Elizabeth Cocke — a widow, and a niece of Mark Catesby the naturalist — as " Madam " or "Dearest Madam" during their engagement, though after their marriage his greeting was "My dearest Life." One of his wife's letters the gallant and devoted Jones read over "about twenty times, " and his correspondence with her contains such gems of solicitude as this: "If my heart could take a flight from the imprisonment of a worthless carcasse little better than durt, it should whisper to you in your slumbers the truth of my soul, that you may be agreeably surprised with the luster of ccelestial visions surrounding you on every side with presents of joy and comfort in one continued sleep, till the sparkling rays of the sun puts you in mind with him to bless the earth with your presence. " Richard Stockton, writing to his wife Emilia from London in 1760, said that he had "been running to every American coffee-house to see if any vessels are bound to your side of the water, " and added : "I see not an obliging tender wife but the image of my dear Emilia is full in view; I see not a haughty, imperious, and ignorant dame but I rejoice that the partner of my life is so much the opposite."

Affection for children was not often openly expressed in New England, though ample testimony shows that it existed. Children were repressed in mind as well as in body, and their natural and youthful spirits were generally ascribed to original sin. Toward their parents their attitude was decorous in the extreme. Deborah Jeffries addressed her father as "Hond Sir" and wrote: "I was much pleased to hear my letters were agreeable to you and mama, I shall always do my endeavour to please such kind and tender parents." Education and punishment in colonial days went frequently hand in hand, and servants and children were often treated with extreme harshness. Whipping was the universal remedy for misbehavior and was resorted to on all occasions in the case of children in their early years, of servants throughout the period of their indenture, and of negroes during their whole lives. Yet one cannot read Colonel Jones's reference to "these two dear pledges of your love," in a letter to his wife, or William Beverley's lament for his son who died, as he thought, for lack of care when away from home, without realizing the depth of parental love in colonial times. Sickness, death, and the frailties of human life were perennial subjects of conversation and correspondence and few family letters of those days were free from allusions to them. From infancy to old age death took ample toll — so great was the colonial disregard for the laws of sanitation, so little the attention paid to drainage and disinfection. The human system was dosed and physicked until it could hold no more. Governor Ogle of Maryland said of his predecessor that he took more physic than any one he had ever known in his life, and Maria Byrd was accustomed to swallow "an abundance of phynite, " whatever that was. Every home had its medicine chest, either made up in England at Apothecaries' Hall or supplied by some near-by druggist, who furnished the necessary " chymical and galenical medicines." Joseph Cuthbert of Savannah, for example, fitted up boxes of medicines, with directions for use on the plantation. Medicinal herbs were dispensed by Indian doctors, and popular concoctions were taken in large doses by credulous people. Madam Smith wrote that the juice of the Jerusalem oak had cured all the negro children on the plantation of a distemper and that several negroes had drunk as much as half a pint of it at a time. Nostrums, quack remedies, and proprietary medicines made by a secret formula were very common. We read of Ward's Anodyne Pearls to be worn as necklaces by children at teething time, of the Bezoar stone for curing serpent bites, of Seneca Snake Root, Bateman's Pectoral Drops, Turlington's Original Balsam, Duffy's Elixir, Countess Kent's Powder, Anderson's Pills, Boerhaven's Chymical Tincture, and other specifics to be given in allopathic doses. Jesuits' bark, salt wormwood, sweet basil, iron, treacle, calomel, fibs unguent, sal volatile salts, and rhubarb were on the family lists; and here and there were resorts where people drank medicinal waters or used them for bathing.

The prominent place which death occupied in colonial thought and experience gave to funerals the character of social functions and public events. They were objects of general interest and were usually attended by crowds of people. Children were allowed to attend, often as pallbearers, that they might be impressed with the significance of death as the inevitable end of a life of trial and probation. Everywhere, before the reaction of the sixties, funerals were occasions of expense and extravagant display. It was unusual to find Robert Hume of Charleston declaring in his will that his funeral should not cost over ten pounds, that the coffin should be plain and not covered by a pall, and that none of his relatives should wear mourning. Occasionally a colonist expressed the wish to be buried without pomp or funeral sermon, but such a preference was rare. The giving of gloves, rings, and scarves was provided for in nearly every will, and it is easy to believe the report that some of the clergy accumulated these articles by the hundred. Drinking, even to the point of intoxication, at funerals became such a scandal that ministers in New England thundered at the practice from the pulpit, and Edmund Watts in Virginia was moved to declare in his will that "no strong drinke be provided or spent " when he was buried. But the custom was too deep seated to be easily eradicated.

The dead were buried in the burying ground or churchyard, though private burial places were customary on the plantations and in many parts of northern New York and New England. At Annapolis a lot in the churchyard was leased at a nominal rent, but interment within the church was allowed for a consideration which was possible only to people of wealth and which went to the rector. A potter's field seems hardly to have been known in colonial times, for we are told that the poorer classes and negroes in Baltimore buried their "deceased relations and acquaintances in several streets and allies" of the town, and that not until 1792 was a special section set apart for their use. A suicide was interred at a crossroads and a stake was driven through the body. Usually, except among the Quakers, stones, table monuments, and headpieces were erected over the dead and often bore elaborate and curious inscriptions and carvings more or less crude. The commonest materials, freestone, syenite, and slate, were usually quarried in the colonies, though marble was always brought from England. Martha Custis procured in London a marble tomb for her first husband, and William Beverley directed that a stone of this material be imported for his father's grave. Vaults were constructed by those who could afford them and were widely used in the North in the eighteenth century.

Back to: Colonial Folkways