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
. 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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