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Monday, May 26, 2008

A Friendly Neighbor

Social Dimensions of Daily Work in Northern Colonial New England

by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich

Feminist Studies, Volume 6, Number 2 (Summer 1980)

Anne Bradstreet expressed the essential point. In an epitaph composed in 1643 for her mother, Dorothy Dudley, she wrote:

Here lyes,
A Worthy Matron of unspotted life,

A loving Mother and obedient wife,

A friendly Neighbor, pitiful to poor,

Whom oft she fed, and clothed with her store,

To Servants wisely aweful, but yet kind,

And as they did, so they reward did find.

The poem charts a series of vertical relationships - husband to wife, mother to child, mistress to servant, rich to poor - the familiar seventeenth-century social hierarchy. Yet in the phrase "friendly Neighbor", it hints at horizontal links possible at each level. Bradstreet's poem is not just a bland rendering of traditional pieties. It is a kind of graph. Like the diagram of an anthropologist, it places one woman within the complex web of relationships that defined her position as a "worthy matron".

Focusing upon ties to husbands, servants, and neighbors, this paper examines one of the least studied yet most frequently discussed aspects of female life in early America - daily work. Other scholars have stressed the economic importance of such traditional female crafts as churning or spinning and have noted the convergence of male and female labor "in one integral economic unit, the self-sufficient agrarian household" {2}. Yet a close examination of one region - northern New England - between 1650 and 1750 suggests that the economic lives of women and men were clearly differentiated, that self-sufficient households were atypical, and that relationships between women were far more crucial than most scholars have supposed.

The social history of colonial America in the past ten years has largely been the history of communities, but of communities understood in male terms. Studies of land distribution, church government, and political life have explored conflict and accommodation between fathers and sons, ministers and laymen, magistrates and freemen. Women were a part of these early American communities, yet in a very important sense they lived and worked in less visible communities of their own. For housewives the often noted tensions in New England between communal and individual, religious and material values, were perceived and resolved not in acres and poles, but in cupfuls of malt and pounds of feathers. For this reason, their history has mostly been lost. But historians should not confuse a paucity of documents for a dearth of activity. Shards of evidence, if carefully reconstructed, provide glimpses of the community of women in early America. This female association was not "sisterhood" in the nineteenth-century sense, but neither was it a bland and semiconscious acceptance of a foreordained subjection. {3}

Northern New England (defined as Essex County, Massachusetts; Maine; and New Hampshire) was a varied but culturally and economically linked region that depended upon lumbering, fishing, and shipping, as well as agriculture. The purpose of this paper is not to delineate geographic, social, or chronological variations within the region, but to suggest certain broad patterns within which change occurred. Nor can it suggest all the cultural and social factors that affected women's lives in a century which included witchcraft persecutions, religious awakenings, and Indian wars. Rather, the paper attempts to raise important questions that have been ignored in even the most sophisticated of recent scholarship. That there is a relationship between the economic position of women and their social status seems axiomatic, but as yet few scholars have systematically examined work even at the descriptive level. Without a clearer understanding of what women actually did - and with whom - it is difficult to determine whether work actually placed them in the "mainstream" of their society, as so many scholars have supposed, or whether "economic productivity" in some sense mitigated "ritualistic inequality".

Let us begin with the first assertion - that the economic lives of women and men were clearly differentiated. Although it is quite true that most work was centered in the family and that wives often labored alongside their husbands, the responsibilities of the two spouses were distinct. In fishing and sawmill settlements as well as in agricultural villages, husbands primarily worked "abroad" - either in outlying fields, the woods, or at sea - while their wives labored in the house and homesite. Virtually all married women, regardless of social position, were responsible for cooking, washing, plain sewing, milking, tending a garden, and feeding swine. To these traditional maintenance and service chores, some women added female specialties such as cheesemaking, spinning, knitting, poultry raising, or cultivation of flax. {4}

In America, as in England, women might also be involved in a second broad category of work, tasks they performed as assistants to or surrogates for their husbands. In northern New England, for example, women, on occasion, would plant corn, gather thatch, trade with the Indians, or fill orders for planks and staves {5}. Even though these activities emerge rather vividly from the record, they do not represent the egalitarian force of the frontier, nor do they document a new role for women. They show the persistence of a traditional obligation - to provide "meet help" to one's husband {6}.

The key to economic power within the family lies not in work as such, but in management, the control of the products of that work {7}. In colonial New England, a division of responsibility for management roughly corresponded to the traditional division of labor. Thus, husbands kept account of field products and were involved in large-scale transactions involving grain, which often functioned like cash in the New England economy. Their wives, on the other hand, held the keys to the cupboards, boxes, and rooms containing household provisions. Although for most families this demarcation of responsibility was informal and some overlap was possible, in moments of conflict the underlying structure was exposed. An argument between Daniel Ela and his spouse escalated when he refused to return the cellar key after pouring a drink of cider for a friend. Angry with his wife for reminding him of an unpaid debt, Ela told her "to hold her peace and meddle with her own business", as if her intrusion in his affairs gave him license to interfere with hers. {8}

As one New England minister explained it: "The Husband is to be acknowledged to hold a Superiority, which the Wife is practically to allow; yet in respect of all others in the Oeconomical Society, she is invested with an Authority over them by God"{9}. In practical terms, this meant that an "obedient wife" might command her own henhouse and cellar. Potentially at least, this also gave her the ability to sell or barter surplus products. A woman identified in the records only as "Mistress Houlat" became so successful in the poultry business that she was able to loan money to her husband. When a friend expressed surprise at this arrangement, arguing that his wife's income really belonged to him if he needed it, Ensign Houlat replied, "I meddle not with the geese nor turkeys for they are hers for she has been and is a good wife to me". {10} To the neighbor, loaning money to one's spouse was contradictory, an assertion of individual rather than family interest. But to Ensign Houlat, no such threat was implied. His wife had "been a good wife".

Mistress Houlat's enterprise leads us to the second conclusion - that self-sufficient households were atypical. Because families in early America were neither socially nor economically self-contained, a good housewife was also of necessity a "friendly Neighbor". Consider the production of homespun woolen cloth. The Merrimack Valley Textile Museum has isolated eleven separate tasks involved - from raising the sheep to fulling and dressing the woven fabric. {11} It would have been an extremely unusual family that commanded the tools, skills, and labor to perform all of these steps at home. Herding was as much a community as a family responsibility. Weaving and fulling were skilled crafts limited to a few males in the single neighborhood or village. Even carding and spinning, the perennial fireside tasks, might be hired out to a poor neighbor or widow. {12} What was true of wool was also true of flax, for a family might grow its own flax; have it retted, swingled, and hackled by a flax dresser; bring it home for spinning and reeling; send it out to be woven; and then consign it to the bleach fields or dyer for finishing. {13}

An examination of probate inventories for the region undermines the stereotype of self-sufficiency even further. Although most families had a cow or two, fewer than one-quarter of inventories list dairy processing equipment of any kind. More than forty percent of the inventories include spinning wheels, but only seven percent have looms. Evidence of other crafts is extremely rare. Court depositions, with their frequent references to fumbling in the dark, confirm the suggestion of the probate records that candles of any sort were scarce. As for Mistress Houlat's specialty, it was lucrative because it was rare. Poultry appear in fewer than ten percent of inventories overall. It is not surprising that feather beds, valued at five pounds, are among the most expensive furnishings in many estates. Poor folk had to make do with straw, chaff, or "cat down" gathered from the marshes. {14} Inequality and interdependence - not self-sufficiency - characterized life in northern New England.

This raises the third and far more complicated issue - the relationship of women to their female neighbors. The crucial problem here is the connection between community interdependence and gender specialization. Did one reflect the other? The evidence suggests that it did. The same demarcation of responsibility apparent in the family shaped interaction in the community. The economic transactions of colonial housewives were primarily (though of course not exclusively) with other women.

Extant account books give a clear picture of the village barter economy as it affected literate males. The accounts of Abraham How of Ipswich are typical. A farmer as well as a weaver, How traded cider, apples, oats, rye, hay, and meat to Daniel Foster, who paid him in tobacco, the hire of a boat, and in carpentry work. For Daniel Ray, How did extensive weaving and was paid in corn, cash, rum, earthenware, sugar, salt, and molasses. How's book also shows occasional transactions with women. In May of 1688, for example, "Old Mother Pearly" paid for the weaving of twenty-five yards of linsey-woolsey with seven pounds of butter and some fresh pork. {15} Her cow was undoubtedly producing well on the May grass, while her pigpen probably teemed with the spring litter. Yet such accounts are infrequent. How's book is representative of other weavers' and shoemakers' accounts and is similar to most general store records from the region. Almost all ledgers include a few female names, but most accounts are with men. The commodities listed reflect the dominant products in each community. Ipswich farmers traded grain, farm labor, and animal products for shoes, weaving, rum, tobacco, skillets, and cotton wool. Householders from Marblehead paid for the same items in cash and fish, while those from Exeter usually offered pine, oak, and hemlock boards as well as labor. {16}

A male name at the top of a page is not in itself evidence that a husband did the actual trading, only that he was ultimately responsible for family debts. But the fact that occasional entries specify "by your wife" strongly suggests that the usual practice was otherwise, that men did the reckoning if not the initial bargaining in almost all cases. What is most interesting about these records, however, is the infrequency of entries for the products of female craft. Most sustained accounts for butter and cheese, sewing, or spinning are listed under the names of widows.

One might conclude, then, that married women seldom engaged in trade if other evidence did not point to extensive involvement in less formal, largely oral trade networks that paralleled and only occasionally intersected the channels reflected in written accounts. A court record of 1682 provides an interesting example. When a single woman named Grace Stout appeared to answer to several charges of theft, the witnesses against her included thirty-four persons, among them twenty-one housewives who were able to give precise account of the monetary value of work performed or goods received. {17} These were petty transactions - kneading bread for one woman, purchasing stockings knitted by another - not the sort of thing to turn up in colonial trade charts, but nevertheless an essential part of the fabric of New England life.

In evaluating female trade, what is not present in the records is often more suggestive than what is. In accounts dating from the second quarter of the eighteenth century, Thomas Chute, one of the first settlers of New Marblehead in Maine, occasionally noted the activities of his wife. Mistress Chute knitted stockings and mittens for several neighbors and for rather short periods kept school. But her husband's scanty entries must have touched only the fringes of her industry. In May of 1737, Chute reckoned with Joseph Griffin, matching his own charges for tailoring against eight pounds debited in Griffin's book, finally balancing the whole with four pounds pending "By you[r] wives accoumpt with mine". A similar entry appears thirty years later, in 1766, when Chute added to a twenty-five pound total accumulated by John Farrow the sum of three pounds, "By yr wifes & mines acoumpts".{18} Mistress Chute's own accounts have not survived. Perhaps they were never written down at all or were scratched on a pantry wall.

Informal, oral, local, petty - female enterprise appears as the merest flicker on the surface of male documents. That it existed seems clear enough; the problem is in determining its value to the participants. Consider the case of Mary Hunt of Portsmouth whose encounter with Samuel Clark suggests both the opportunities and the limitations of female enterprise. When she found a cheese missing from her house after the fast day in October of 1675, she suspected Clark, who was a near neighbor. Storming into his house, she opened a drawer. There, between two pieces of biscuit was the evidence she needed, an uneaten morsel notched, as she later testified, "with the very same marke which I put upon my best cheeses". Mary Hunt's accusation was brash, for Clark had once served on a jury that convicted her of stealing from the prominent Cutt family when she lived with them as a maidservant. {19} Her new status as a housewife and as a cheese dealer had obviously given her a sense of power as well as an opportunity for revenge.

The story does not end there, however. Although Hunt won her case in the fall, Clark successfully appealed in June, standing upon his dignity as a man never before suspected of "any crime much less so base a crime as theft and for so sorry a matter as cheese". Part of his defense was that Goody Hunt sold her products to "one and another" and was apt to do so without her husband's knowledge, crying theft if called to reckon. The informal nature of female trade might work to the advantage of a woman who wanted a little extra income independent of her husband. Yet, ultimately, the economic power ofa woman was inseparable from the web of social relationships described in Bradstreet's poem. A wife's ability to produce and sell cheese was linked to the quality of her relationship with her husband, as well as to the nature of her reputation in the neighborhood. Producing well-flavored butter or raising fat hens was only a beginning. To succeed, a woman must also establish herself as an "obedient wife" and a "friendly neighbor".

Thus far we have focused upon trade. Yet the multitude of transactions that sustained life in early New England can range along a continuum from international commerce to simple sharing. The activities of most women were probably concentrated at the "sharing" end of economic life where material and social needs often blurred. Many of the gaps in the household inventories, for example, were filled by borrowing rather than by trade. Sometimes shared use of equipment was spelled out, as in the inventory of Benjamin Gage of Haverhill, which lists "halfe a brass kettle and half a great iron pot", but usually such arrangements were casual. When young Constance Oliver of Portsmouth opened the door one morning, she found her neighbor Mary Richards asking to borrow a kettle. Because her mother wasn't home, she asked Goody Richards to wait awhile, in the meantime going herself to another neighbor's house to fetch a coal of fire. {21}

Women not only shared commodities, they also shared the work that produced them. Dropping in on a neighbor, a woman quite easily joined in the task at hand. Johannah Green counseled her married daughter to become more involved with her neighbors, telling her "that she might do up her work and go to another bodys house better than they that have a great family can go to hers". {22}

Shared work in this form derived from the same needs and offered some of the same rewards as the more visible "huskings" and "quiltings" common to village life. Berrying, washing, or spinning were female specialties that brought neighbors together. Sharing work, women shared other responsibilities as well. When a little girl named Hannah Hutchinson was finishing her mother's wash at a neighbor's house, two other housewives were on hand to catch her in a lie. {23}

Borrowing tools and commodities, working in other women's kitchens and yards, exchanging products and children, early American housewives were bound to each other through the most intimate needs of every day. We should resist the temptation to romanticize this interdependence, however. The premodern world was hierarchical. Horizontal relationships always developed within a larger pattern of vertical authority. Anne Bradstreet's "friendly "Neighbor" was also of necessity "pitiful to poor,/Whom oft she fed, and clothed with her store". Obviously there were clear gradations in the informal exchanges that sustained daily life. When Rebecca Symonds of Ipswich rode into town to arrange for the funeral of a friend and found herself short of butter to give to the baker, she went two doors away to the minister's house and borrowed it from Mistress Cobbitt.{24} In this case, the transaction was between equals; Mistress Symonds could reciprocate in kind. Far different might be the relationship between a poor woman and her prosperous neighbor. As the sermon literature of the period makes clear, a godly and prosperous matron could not in good conscience turn a poor neighbor away from her door {25}, yet too frequent appeals or too visible poverty might arouse suspicion as well as pity, and because a poor woman was more likely to go to the back door than the front and to deal therefore with a servant rather than the mistress, there was greater room for misunderstanding. When Anis Hoare was accused of possessing goods stolen from her minister's wife, she denied it. She did have a handful of hops, she testified, but she had sent for that herself by her daughter. {26} In this case, dependence both created and strained a bond between neighbors.

Even more complex was the interdependence of mistress and servant. When Anne Bradstreet wrote that her mother was "To Servants wisely aweful, but yet kind", she expressed a concept of hierarchy that the first settlers inherited from England - obedience by inferiors was always to be balanced by kindness from superiors. Even in the earliest years, this ideal was difficult to attain. A male servant in the Bradstreet household once justified stealing from the pantry by informing neighbors that the bread he had been given for his dinner was "furry, ropey, and moldy".{27} Locked cupboards and cellars show how difficult it often was to define the limits of "obedience" and "kindness" in a world of limited resources.

The servant problem was complicated in America because there was no definable "servant class". Although a few women had indentured servants or slaves, most household helpers were not strangers from another land, but neighbors. They might be day workers engaged for a specific task or "maidservants", local girls who usually lived with the family but were free to leave at will. "Hannah Downing was a good maid", said her mistress, "and would make a poor man a good wife".{28} The normal sequence was clear, for in America almost all women married and married somewhat earlier than in England. This placed an obvious strain upon the labor supply available to housewives. "You may be sensible by your own experience how unsteady servants are and therefore little encouragement to keep a great dairy", Elizabeth Saltonstall of Haverhill wrote her newly married daughter in April of 1689, adding, "I have according to your desire sent the flax and hemp seed but I almost wish I had not ... you will find it difficult to hire any help in season". {29} Two decades later, housewives in Salem Village faced the same problems. Joseph Green listed, among the "remarkable providences" in his commonplace book, the fact that the family had been able to survive the winter without "any boy or maid because we could not procure any". {30}

The young women who lived with Matthew Patten's family in Bedford, New Hampshire, in the mid 1700s came and went with the same predictable irregularity. Jean Macmurphy stayed five weeks, Lyda Roby four. A girl known only in the diary as "Vilot" lasted four months; Jenny Cleary set the record for tenure at six. Supplementing this erratic service was occasional day work. "11 September 1761 proved a rainy day and we had some Wool broke by some of the Girls in the neighborhood", Patten noted in his diary. For Elizabeth Patten, household help was an almost random affair subject to the availability of the young women even more than to her own needs. {31} In such a setting, a mistress who managed to be "wisely aweful" deserved a poet's praise. Servants were dependent upon their mistresses, but mistresses were even more dependent upon their servants.

Thus, the economic productivity of early American women was related at almost every turn to the social relationships described in Anne Bradstreet's poem. A good housewife was "obedient" to her husband, "friendly" to her neighbors, and "wisely aweful" to her servants. Yet none of these roles can be understood in isolation. Family relationships and community relationships were part of a single organic system - a tug in one direction was usually met by a pull in another. Two seventeenth-century court records show how horizontal bonds with neighbors interacted with vertical links between husband and wife, mistress and servant, rich and poor. In the home and in the neighborhood, inequality colored interdependence, and interdependence tempered inequality.

The cases of Goody Quilter and Mistress Denison of Ipswich are unusual only in the richness of the surviving depositions. Feelings as well as facts spill from documents hastily written by justices or their clerks as ordinary women told their stories. Such cases touch the texture of daily life, demonstrating that the close association of women in the premodern world was both conservative and supportive, reinforcing the traditional distribution of authority even as it guarded against its abuse.

Mark Quilter, an Ipswich man, was fined in Essex County Court not only for beating his wife, but also for striking a neighbor. Goody Quilter had often urged Rebeckah Shatswell to "sit and work with her to bear her company", and she was there one morning when Quilter came home and demanded something to eat. The three-way exchange that followed emerges vividly from the record.

"Why are you so hasty?" said the wife.

"It may be he had not his breakfast", said the neighbor.

"Yes, two hours before he ate meat", the wife countered, but the husband merely groaned, "A poor deal".

"Thus, look here of my pottage", said the wife to the neighbor. "(See) whether I did not boil a good deal of meat".

"It may be you might boil a good deal and eat it up yourself", the neighbor answered, whereupon the husband turned upon her.

"Hold your prating", he said.

"I prate no more than you", she replied, when to her great surprise, he struck her and threw her out his door.

"I wonder folk will come to my house", he said. {32}

The neighbor's role in this family argument shifted rapidly. Rebeckah Shatswell came to the house as a friend, but her position shifted as the bickering began. Goody Quilter appealed to her first as a defender and then as a judge. She perhaps saw herself as neutral, but to Mark Quilter, Rebeckah Shatswell was simply an intruder. Even though she supported his right to a good breakfast, he became furious that she was in his house at all. To acknowledge her help would have been to accept her right to intervene in the internal affairs of his family. Horizontal lines between housewife and housewife might form a counterweight to vertical relationships between husband and wife. Mark Quilter's resentment showed that that he recognized this, as well he might, for it was the testimony of neighboring wives that eventually brought his conviction in court.

Yet the triangle thus formed was far from simple, as Goody Quilter knew. Attacked by her husband in front of her friend, she became defensive about her cooking. In some sense, neighbors formed an informal jury of one's peers. Only by living up to the cluster of responsibilities dictated by custom did one earn the respect - and the potential support - of other women. The broth left in the kettle was proof that Good Quilter had not wasted her morning, that she was indeed an "obedient wife".

The power of neighborliness was manifest in a somewhat different way in the case of another Ipswich woman, Patience Denison, who appropriately enough was Anne Bradstreet's sister. As the wife of Major General Daniel Denison, she had both wealth and prestige. Yet she had considerable difficulty in dealing with at least one of her servants. In March of 1665, the Denisons prosecuted Sarah Roper, who had been stealing from family supplies for months. Most of the stolen provisions had found their way into the kitchen of Mary Bishop, an impoverished neighbor. When Goody Bishop lacked milk to make a posset, Sarah gave it to her; when her brother came to town, Sarah provided beer for his entertainment. Meeting Mary Bishop at the well, she gave her cider from the Denison cellar, and on other occasions gave her apples for her children, suet for a pudding, and pork. In return, Goody Bishop gave Sarah some mackerel, which Sarah said they did not have at the Denison house. {33}

Like friendships between other women in the same community, the bonds between Sarah and Goody Bishop were cemented with small favors. The difference, of course, was that Patience Denison supplied the goods. Mary Bishop's defense is revealing, not so much of her own situation, but of the community norm of charity that underlay her plea. She begged clemency on account of her low condition, another woman testifying that the Bishop family would have starved on their scanty diet "had not Sarah Roper helped them with provisions". Such testimony carried a subtle reproach to Mistress Denison. More pointed was the evidence of another neighbor who said she had heard Sarah Roper call her mistress "an old Jew and hobling Joane". {34}

What is most surprising about this case is not the thievery of the servant, but the reluctance of Patience Denison to invoke the law. Sarah Roper carried away more than ten pounds in household provisions and clothing before she was finally prosecuted in Ipswich court. The Denison household was a wealthy one, yet it is doubtful that these thefts had gone entirely unnoticed. When she finally took Sarah to court, Mistress Denison was able to present an itemized list of everything taken, from a coif worth one shilling to apples and chicken pies worth ten. Sarah was a brazen thief, not content to fill a teacup or a pocket. In one year, she carried away nine bushels of wheat, trading it to neighbors for clothes and shoes. Sarah's slander of her mistress suggests one source of her success, for she had recognized and exploited Patience Denison's own anxieties.

As a wealthy and socially prominent member of her community, Patience Denison, like her mother, Dorothy Dudley, was expected to be "a friendly Neighbor, pitiful to poor". Sarah Roper implied that she was in fact stingy, "an old Jew", insensitive to the serious distress of Mary Bishop. As a household administrator, Patience Denison was supposed to be in firm command of her establishment, "to Servants wisely aweful, but yet kind". According to Sarah, she was really little more than a "hobling Joane", incapable of dealing with flagrant misbehavior in her own kitchen and pantry. To prosecute Sarah Roper, to reveal to the world the full range of her servant's manipulations, would be to expose her own inadequacies. Measured by the inherited ideal, she had failed. Had she really been "charitable", "wise", and "kind", none of this would have happened. Or so she may have believed.

Patience Denison prosecuted her servant and collected damages. But as long as Sarah Roper continued to live in the neighborhood, in fact, as long as her reputation survived in the memories of Ipswich housewives, she could never be entirely rid of her. Nine years later, an Ipswich busybody named Elizabeth Hunt suspected Sarah of stealing her bodkin after it fell to the floor during church. Standing by the gate of the Denison property, she told another neighbor that she had been inside to talk to the Major General about it, but that he would have nothing to do with it even though he was a magistrate. Sarah Roper could not come there to be examined, Goody Hunt reported, because Mistress Denison was "afraid of her". {35}

Though the cases of Goody Quilter and Patience Denison occurred in one Puritan town in one decade of the seventeenth century, the patterns they etch were not unique. Because the boundaries of authority and responsibility were largely defined by custom rather than law, casual watching and warding by neighbors was far more significant to most women than the power of magistrates. Neighborliness, in all of its ramifications, is one of the most important and neglected aspects of female history in early America.

Other studies have emphasized the economic significance of domestic labor and have stressed the integration of male and female work in the colonies. This paper has argued that in northern New England, even the most important crafts were limited to a minority of women and that their economic value was in part related to their rarity. Although women had authority over the internal distribution of family resources, their external economic power was limited. Though wives spun the yarn that clothed the family, their husbands reckoned with the weaver and paid him in corn or labor. But this same evidence points toward another theme - the relationship of colonial housewives to their female neighbors. If women were largely excluded from the more formal channels of colonial trade, even on the village level, they were involved in less visible, less formal networks, in which women predominated. The bounds between the worlds of men and women were not rigid, but neither were they as casual or as fluid as they may sometimes appear. Because common enterprise helps to shape a common identity, even in colonial America the social dimensions of daily work are of greater significance than the economic.


{1} Anne Bradstreet, "An Epitaph On my dear and ever honoured Mother Mrs Dorothy Dudley", first printed in Several Poems (Boston: 1678), page 220.

{2} Mary P Ryan, Womanhood In America From Colonial Times to the Present (New York: New Viewpoints, 1975), page 20. Other studies that have stressed the importance of early American "huswifery" include William H Chafe, Women and Equality: Changing Patterns in American Culture (New York: Oxford University Press, 1977); Ann Douglas, The Feminization of American Culture (New York: Alfred A Knopf, 1977); and Nancy F Cott, The Bonds of Womanhood, "Woman's Sphere" in New England, 1780-1835 (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1977). All these authors stress the separation of female and male domains in the early nineteenth century and a consequent loss in economic status for women. They all build upon the "myth of the golden age" which Mary Beth Norton and Carol Ruth Berkin summarize and attack in Women of America (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1979).

{3} Both Cott, Bonds of Womanhood, page 201, and Chafe, Women and Equality, page 7, see the colonial period as a primitive stage in the development of female consciousness, an understandable emphasis given the nineteenth-century focus of most recent scholarship.

{4} This division of labor is clearly described in English prescriptive literature for the period, much of which is well summarized in Jay Allen Anderson, "A Solid Sufficiency: An Ethnography of Yeoman Food ways in Stuart England" (PhD dissertation, University of Pennsylvania, 1971). I have mentioned only those tasks for which I have found clear and frequent references in the northern New England records. Other female specialties such as lacemaking or even beekeeping occasionally appear.

{5} For winding quills, see Records and Files of the Quarterly Courts of Essex County, Massachusetts, 8 volumes (Salem, Massachusetts.: The Essex Institute, 1911-1919), 6: 298. These records are hereafter cited as Essex Files. For the other activities, see Essex Files, 2: 422; 2: 295-97; 2: 407-409; 6: 412, and New Hampshire Court Papers, New Hampshire State Archives, Concord. New Hampshire, 7: 23.

{6} This aspect of female economic life is more fully described in my dissertation, "Good Wives: A Study In Role Definition In Northern New England, 1650-1750" (University of New Hampshire, 1980), chapter two.

{7}Joan W Scott and Louise A Tilly emphasize this anthropological insight in "Woman's Work and the Family in Nineteenth-Century Europe", in The Family in History, edited by Charles E Rosenberg (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1975), page 160.

{8} See, for example, Essex Files, 6: 438; N.H. Court Papers, 1: 353; and Province and Court Records of Maine (Portland: Maine Historical Society, 1928-1975), 6: 86. Testimony in Essex Files, 7: 43, casually refers to a husband who recorded hogsheads of peas in his account book but didn't recognize a key to the cellar which he assumed to be his wife's. For the Ela case, see Essex Files, 8: 272-73.

{9} Samuel Willard, A Complete Body of Divinity in Two Hundred and Fifty Expository Lectures (Boston, 1726), page 610.

{10} Essex Files, 8: 10.

{11} Their exhibit on hand production of cloth includes pictures, descriptions, or live demonstrations of the eleven tasks: sheep raising, shearing, sorting, scouring, picking, carding, spinning, weaving, fulling, napping, and shearing. Merrimack Valley Textile Museum, North Andover, Massachusetts.

{12} For an example of community concern about sheep grazing, see George Wingate Chase, The History of Haverhill, Massachusetts (Haverhill, 1861 ), page 146. Weaving was a well-defined male specialty in America as in England; see T H Breen and Stephen Foster, "Moving to the New World: The Character of Early Massachusetts Immigration", William and Mary Quarterly 3rd ser, 30, number 2 (April 1973): 197, 209, 214-15. I have found much evidence that men wove, but no evidence that women wove in the seventeenth century, although weaving had obviously become a female occupation by the end of the eighteenth century, perhaps because the invention of the spinning jenny left girls with free hands or simply because the earlier craft organization of textile work had broken down. See Elizabeth Faulkner Baker, Technology and Woman's Work (New York and London: Columbia University Press, 1964), pages 4-5. For hired spinning and carding see Maine Court, 4: 47, and Essex Files, 8: 277.

{13} Grace Rogers Cooper, The Copp Family Textiles (Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1971), pages 52-53.

{14} These statistics are based upon an analysis of ninety-seven inventories from volume 2 of the printed Essex County Probate Records for the years 1670-1675; ninety-five inventories taken from Book 307 (1700-1702), and ninety-two from Book 321 (1730), manuscript probate records, Essex County Court House, Salem, Massachusetts; thirty-eight inventories for the years 1670-1675 printed in Maine Court Records, volume 2; forty-one inventories from volumes 1, 2 (1700-1709) and thirty-seven inventories from volume 4 (1730), York County Court House, Alfred, Maine.

{15} "Abraham How Account Book", Ipswich Historical Society, Ipswich, Massachusetts, pages 48, 49, 1.

{16}Typical farm accounts can be found in "John Burnham Account Book", Chebacco Parish, Ipswich, Mass., 1697-1707, Essex Institute, Salem, Massachusetts. Contrasting products in two towns can be seen in the "Nicholas Perryman Ledger", New Hampshire Historical Society: Concord, New Hampshidre. Perryman's accounts include those from Marblehead, 1725-1727, and others from Exeter, 1723-1725.

{17} Essex Files, 8: 279-83.

{18} Account Book of Thomas Chute, Maine Historical Society, Portland, Maine, pages 6, 99, 148, 152, 168, 171, 172, 177, 194, 195.

{19} New Hampshire Court Papers, 3: 223, 228, 235; 1: 2, 427, 429; State Papers of New Hampshire 40: 255, 263, 323-24.

{20} The Probate Records of Essex County (Salem, Massachusetts: The Essex Institute, 1916-1920), 2: 302.

{21} New Hampshire Court Papers, 5: 309.

{22} Essex Files, 3: 140.

{23} Essex Files, 3: 275.

{24} Essex Files, 3: 244.

{25} See for example Cotton Mather's eulogy for Mary Brown, Eureka The Vertuous Woman Found (Boston; 1704), printed as a broadside. Mrs Brown gave "banquets" at her door and old clothes to the poor.

{26} Essex Files, 7: 43.

{27} Essex Files, 2: 307-308.

{28} Essex Files, 5: 353.

{29} The Saltonstall Papers, 1607-1814, edited by Robert E Moody (Boston: Massachusetts Historical Society, 1972) 1: 189-90.

{30} "Joseph Green His Book", Publications Colonial Society of Massachusetts 24 (1943): 252.

{31} The Diary of Matthew Patten of Bedford, New Hampshire (Concord, New Hampshire, 1903), pages 61, 62, 69, 44, 48, 42, 98.

{32} Essex Files, 3: 141.

{33} Essex Files, 3: 244-46.

{34} Essex Files, 3: 246.

{35} Essex Files, 4: 239-42.

Bill Totten


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