Images de page

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 coelestial 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 négroes 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, flos 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

« PrécédentContinuer »