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In the Classroom > Unit Overview > Lesson 2

Lesson 2
English Daily Life in Early 18th Century Deerfield

Deerfield, at the time of the 1704 attack, was not a safe or easy place to live, nor was it a wealthy town. It stood in the northwest corner of English settlement with its closest European neighbors to the west being the Dutch in Albany, in the colony of New York, and to the north, the French in Canada. Those who settled in Deerfield were primarily from further south in the colonies of Massachusetts and Connecticut and were hearty souls who did not mind the dangers and rigors of frontier life. Part of the town was enclosed within a stockade. Eleven homes, along with the meetinghouse, tavern, and other plublic buildings, were located within this stockade. More houses, farm lands, and wood lots were outside the stockade.

Homes were made of wood, unpainted. Most were small, single-story structures that contained only one or two rooms and possibly a loft. The minister, John Williams, lived in a two-story house, as did the families of the Sheldons and the Hinsdales. Ensign John Sheldon's home was what we call today a "leanto" or "saltbox" and contained 3 rooms on the first floor, two rooms on the second, and included an attic on the third floor.

Male residents were allotted farmland through a lottery system. Land designated for farming was located outside of the stockade at the edge of the settlement. These fields were individually owned and were all surrounded by one big fence. They were divided into long strips and a farmer owned more than one but the plots were communally farmed. Crops included rye, barley, corn and oats. Men and boys tended these fields with the aid of their oxen. Women, girls and smaller children tended the "kitchen" or vegetable gardens and herb patches. These were located within the stockade, on each home lot. Farm animals included cattle, sheep and hogs. Their care fell to the men and boys with women and girls responsible for milking the cows and caring for the chickens.

Aside from tending the crops and caring for livestock, men and boys were also responsible for procuring firewood, fixing tools and building structures. Participating in town governance and serving in the militia were also men's work. Men and boys on farms spent most of their workdays outside.

Women and girls spent most of their days inside as they prepared meals, preserved food, sewed, kept house, and cared for the youngest in the family. Gardening and milking were the work activities that took them outside.

Deerfield was obligated by law to hire a schoolmaster. There were "dame schools" in town as well, instructed by women. A dame school was for young children and took place in a woman's home. The children were taught reading and sums and the girls were also given instruction in sewing. Also, according to the "Satan Deluder Law", it was the responsibility of parents to provide at least minimal education for their children so that Satan could not capture their souls. As a result, most people in Deerfield could read and some (especially men) could write.

The church building was called the "meetinghouse". There was no choice of religion in Deerfield; all were Congregationalists and attendance at "meeting" on Sunday was mandatory. Services were held in the morning and afternoon, with time in between for parishioners to go home or to a nearby tavern for a noonday meal.

Although in appearance New Englanders of the early 18th century resembled colonial people from later in the century, their thoughts and philosophies were more akin to their Puritan forebears. Theirs was a world in which all were born sinful and must strive to improve. Their God had an all-seeing eye and was believed to save or condemn despite human endeavors to be saved. Calamities occurred not without cause. Deerfield's minister, the Reverend John Williams, truly believed that the 1704 attack on Deerfield occurred because his parishioners were not faithful enough. While still a captive in Canada in May of 1706, he wrote a Pastoral letter, later published under the title Good Fetch'd Out of Evil, to a group of captives who were returning to Deerfield. In it he reminded them that "Surely God has a worse Prison, than any you have yet been in, for them that will not honestly pay their Debts of Obedience to Him…. Consider how angry God was with Hezekiah, for not rendring to the Lord according to the Mercy bestowed upon him…. God manifested his Displeasure in very signal Works of Judgment upon Israel in the Wilderness for their Unthankfulness to God for his great Mercy in bringing them from Egypt; yea, destroyed many of them in the Wilderness." (1)

In everyday life hard work and frugality were encouraged whereas self-reliance and individualism were discouraged. The actions of one were considered the responsibility of all and one was encouraged to keep a watchful eye not only on one's family but on the neighbors as well. One's behavior at all times, whether in public or private, must be beyond reproach.

(1) Good Fetch'd Out of Evil, John Williams, 1706, pgs. 8 & 9

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