American Colonial Life: North Vs. South


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North vs. South

The northern colonies badly needed the services their isolation denied them. The people needed doctors and surgeons and carpenters and blacksmiths. And although they could survive without many of the manufactured goods available only at high prices, they dreamed of owning these things. They dreamed also of luxury items-perfume, spices, silk cloth.

It became obvious very early in the colonial experience that Spain would not make goods available to the northern colonies. It was, therefore, natural that the colonists should welcome foreigners who might provide them with the things they wanted. Thus began the first really severe threat to Spanish sovereignty in the American possessions.

In the northern colonies the settlers made most of the things they needed. They did not have the money or credit to import items from England. The southern colonists exported tobacco and more of them had credit with England and were able to import much of what they needed.

In the North they learned to supply their own needs. Grease was saved--it was used for lighting and making soap.

They learned to use wood in place of iron for many years. Clothing was made in the North, which involved weaving the cloth as well as fitting, cutting, and sewing the garments. In the South they imported garments from England (although some feared catching the bubonic plague from hidden fleas).

In the New England colonies, where the Puritans were, the church was the center of everything. The clergy was in complete political control.

The Puritans believed in punishing sin. When someone was caught in sin they were publicly punished. Puritans believed strongly in humiliation. They locked the guilty people in the stocks or the pillory (a frame with holes for head and hands) with a sign on them describing the sin--where everyone could see it. This was a big event. Schools were let out and people came from all around to see such sights. They would also dunk a person who was a gossip (or guilty of other such sins) from the end of a long log into a pond or lake.

Other more cruel punishment was carried out--not only in the North, but throughout the other colonies as well. The idea was that the criminal should be marked and humiliated. Whipping posts were used, flesh was branded with hot irons, and ears and hands were cut off.

One sad series of events of the early colonists involved the Puritans and their "witch hunts".

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They believed men and women could sell themselves to the devil and receive powers in return. They would blame unusual events, sicknesses, blemishes on people, anyone who seemed a little odd, and many other things on witchcraft. Many were convicted in New England courts and put to death. In 1693 nineteen Salem "witches" were put to death. One of the judges who had helped pass the death sentence on these people later confessed his sin.

Childhood in colonial times was not easy. In fact, children in those days did not have much time for play at all. Children had to work hard, study, and be obedient and respectful. Strict discipline could determine the survival of a complete family. A boy was a man at sixteen, and girls often married at the same age.

Boys and girls in those days worked as hard as their mother and father. The boys did all the work that the father did--caring for the animals, cutting firewood, building fires, shoveling snow, getting water, sowing and weeding crops--and then he would go to school! The girls learned all the household chores that her mother did--weaving, sewing, making brooms, candles, soap, doing laundry, knitting, cooking, etc. All girls had samplers (an embroidered picture).

Playtime came after chores were done if at all. It seems that girls usually had a doll of some kind. Sometimes these were made of corncobs when there was nothing else to use. Boys had homemade carved toys. Many boys had jackknives from which they could whittle various things.

Children in colonial times dressed like "little adults". Clothes were not designed for children's needs. Babies wore long dresses and petticoats (girls AND boys) even up to five and six years old.

The northern colonist's education consisted of schooling at home, or at a "dame school". This was a group of children that met at someone's home where they were taught reading, writing, and simple arithmetic. Books were hard to find. When actual public schools had their start only boys were expected to attend. Girls were not included until after the Revolution.

Education in the southern colonies was not considered a priority. Some did want to have schooling and established "field schools" (parents would get together and hire a teacher for the white children). Some wealthy families would pay for a private tutor for their children. People in the South were afraid to let their slaves be educated (they were fearful of an uprising). Laws were passed making it illegal for black people to learn to read.

The northern colonies were very strict about doing things just for recreation. They felt that these things took attention away from religion. The southern colonies, on the other hand, enjoyed and encouraged recreational activities.

Children in the South were taught to ride horses at a young age. Activities for boys included hunting, playing cards, and racing horses. People enjoyed attending plays, dances, and parties. They liked to celebrate special occasions--weddings, holidays, etc. Even the slaves were allowed an occasional party to help keep them content.

Life in colonial times was hard. As more people came and the colonies began to prosper things got somewhat easier. Tradesmen and craftsmen came to the towns and things needed for everyday life became more readily available.

It took courageous men and women to succeed in this new land. Yet they did succeed. And they set a precedent for others, with dreams of their own, to follow.


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