It’s the seventeenth century in early America. I’m Peter Fuller, me and my family of four have come overseas from London, England to start a new life in the colony of Massachusetts. Back in London we were just your average middle class family who worked very hard to make money. We were not poor but we were far from wealthy. I worked as a shopkeeper and my wife was a school teacher. While we were content with our lives in England we wanted a chance to start over and have a chance to get wealthy quickly. We aren’t very young so we want to enjoy life and give our children a chance to be well off once my wife and I are gone.
I have two children, one is a six-year-old boy named Jonathan and the other a four-year-old little girl named Adeline. When my family first arrived here, the area was quite different from London but we found the surrounding community to be a little similar to home. There were lots of other middle class families who were in their thirties and forties, and there were lots of farmers. When we first arrived we were amazed at how rich the land was but we soon learned that it required a great deal of work to farm it. Only people with an incredible work ethic and persistency could take on the task of farming the land here.
One of the toughest parts of farming was clearing the land, this task proved to be almost as difficult as actually farming the land itself. In our area each farmer had their own private plots of land; as you can imagine there were often disputes about who owned what land. So we marked our territory with a post and rail fence. Making that post and rail fence required one to be handy with an ax and to be somewhat physically strong. Once we had the land cleared and tilled it was time to begin planting crops. This was a pretty arduous task to we needed as many hands as possible.
My wife and my oldest son helped with the planting of crops and harvesting them. One of our main crops was tobacco, this was a crop that was very high in demand and was pretty easy to grow because our land was perfect for it. Tobacco became our cash crop, we used the money we earned from this to purchase horses and oxen. Another crop we planted was corn, this was a very important crop because it was very nourishing and pretty easy to grow. Also, it was very resistant to most diseases and it took at most 50 days out of the year to plant and harvest.
Some of the other crops we grew included: turnips, onions, peas, and carrots. Everyday we spent a total of 4-5 hours working on the land and sometimes more when we were planting or harvesting. In the beginning you could imagine we ran into some problems that we had never encountered back in England. One of the major problems the we encountered were pests and wild animals. Everything from gnats, tobacco flies, black bears, wolves, and even worms would show up on our fields often. These pests could easily wipe out entire crops if not promptly taken care of.
One other thing that we had to be careful of was the by-product of growing tobacco. After three or four years the process of growing tobacco wore out the land; so you had to be very diligent about fertilizing the land after harvesting every year. Growing the tobacco plant was by far the most arduous crop to grow; it took a great deal of work and consumed lots of time. The entire season for the tobacco plant lasted from February to late November. This left very little free time to do other things that did not have to do with farming. When it was time to sell the crop we really had no control over the price.
It was all up to how much in demand tobacco was at the time. If we were lucky and got a high price the money would usually go towards paying off debts or some material things for the wife or me. While farming was a big part of surviving it would all be of no use without proper shelter. We obviously needed something that protected our family from the harshness of Mother Nature, especially during the winter; we also needed shelter that would protect us from human and animal enemies. We came to the colonies with little money so we couldn’t afford to build a very nice or big home.
Our home had to be relatively cheap and easy to build; I wasn’t as handy as some of the other colonists around so the design that I choose to stick with was a log cabin. Since I had never had experience in building a house from the ground up I had help from an experienced carpenter. This of course cost a good bit extra; since this was a log cabin though I was able to afford the extra expenses. After it was all said and done our house wasn’t anything special but it did all we needed and a little more. It consisted of a fireplace, a place for the wife to do all the cooking, and two rooms.
We had little furniture and silverware; our bathroom was a little outhouse in the backyard. We had few places to store things as well; everything in the house was pretty close to each other so there was little room to be alone when the time came for it. With the house being a log cabin, it wasn’t as drafty as some of the huts that some of the colonists stayed in and they were a little more stable under harsh weather conditions as well. In the area where we lived we didn’t have many other colonists that were very nearby but the ones that lived somewhat close we all formed a little community. We formed what were often referred to as “clans”.
We looked after each other and acted towards each other as if we were all blood relatives. In our own household, everyone had daily duties that had to be carried out. Most of them were carried out by the wife and me. Here in colonial America women were treated a little differently and had to carry out different tasks than they did back home in England. Aside from doing her womanly tasks like preparing meals, washing clothes and dishes, and dealing with the kitchen garden (the herbs, and plants that we used to cook with). The wife now had to help me out in the fields when ever planting and harvesting time came around.
This made her daily life pretty grueling, she had to do everything from running a home, rearing children, and now helping out in the fields too. Although the wife held a very strong voice in the household, legally the wife remained inferior to men and did not have the privilege to partake in public affairs and functions. As far as my children, since they were of age to start doing labor around the house they have pretty rigorous days as well. Since my wife was a school teacher back home in London, she was a very educated person herself and chose to educate our children right here in our own home.
Religion was a big part of our lives so we wanted to let our children know the ultimate punishments that awaited in hell for acting unholy. Although we were strict on our children we also showed an unconditional love for our children. We felt that our children needed to know that we would do anything to protect them and wanted nothing but the best for them. Our children did duties around the house such as helping the wife with cleaning (this was mostly done by our little girl), and our son helped me with hunting and working in the fields.
I had to teach my son how to provide for our family as one day when I’m no longer able to provide for my family as I do now I want him to be able to takeover and take care of his mother and sister. With the way we live, working outside a lot and coming in contact with wild animals one could easily contract deadly diseases. So health was something that was treated with great regard. Early on here in the Chesapeake area Typhoid and Dysentery were major killers of the population. Whilst the health care of people here wasn’t perfect it was just as good if not better than it was in England; we believed in a lot home emedies to get rid of common sicknesses. Eating certain foods and drinking certain beverages were common cures for sicknesses. Many people were either always sick or generally healthy because of one thing; their diet. Also the way certain foods were prepared, especially meats, affected ones health. If meat was not properly prepared or cooked one could fall very ill. As far as beverages go we never really drank too much water unless absolutely necessary. The first choice was milk, and when we had a little spare money occasionally beer or wine.
Eventually whiskey came into play and was a very popular drink for sometime. It was also easy to get access to because it was made from the mash from corn. Consuming alcohol was not an uncommon thing here. Up here hard cider and beer were the drinks of choice and often consumed in great portions everyday. The overall health of my family was pretty good, even through the times when smallpox and influenza were killing off thousands in horrible deaths. My family was lucky and no one fell victim to any of these new diseases. Seeing a doctor here was a very costly thing so my family rarely ever had the chance to see one.
The colonies did very little to control the fees for doctors so it wasn’t uncommon to see prices from 1000 to 2500 pounds of tobacco for attending to patients. Just to give a sense of how expensive that was, it cost around 600 pounds of tobacco to hire a carpenter which was a pretty expensive thing to acquire as it is. With all this work going on one might ask; what do you do for recreation? Where my family lived there was much wilderness so hunting for game as a common thing to do in our off time. This was mostly only done by me and my son.
The wife and daughter did activities such as weaving, sowing, and card playing. During the winter common activities included skating, sledding, and if you had a horse sleighing. Since we live here in Massachusetts we get pretty cold winters so a lot of the activities are inside; probably the most popular inside activity was dancing. I wasn’t a big dancing man myself, but the wife and the kids seemed to enjoy it. Although during this time period there are a lot of hectic things happening going on in the world, we have to try to stay sane. Right now slavery and conflict with the British consume our government.
Most of the fuss that is going on right now has to do with slavery. With the south being very heavy with slaves and the north being mostly free you could expect there will be difference in views. I personally like the Idea of accomplishing things for myself and self-fulfillment. I try to instill this in my children as well, while yes it would be nice to have someone else whose sole purpose is to carryout tasks that I deem arduous, I like knowing that I’m providing for my family. Another big problem that is often run into is slaves escaping from the south and running here to the north.
I have had a few runaway slaves come through here but I do know want to be involved with all of that so I turn my head when they come through. I personally do not have a problem with blacks, if they don’t bother me I am ok with them. Although a lot of the colonists around here don’t feel the same way as I do; they look down on them and treat them as nothing but mere animals. There are very few blacks who live in this area, and even though these northern colonies are free states the blacks have little to no liberties at all.
While my family has only been here for a few years, we feel we have adjusted quite well to life here in the colonies. It’s definitely different from life back home in London, but I feel I have more freedoms here and my children will have a better chance to succeed. We still live in the countryside but have had pretty good crop seasons the last few years so we have been generating a little more revenue than usual. The wife and I are thinking about once the children get a little older moving into one of the port towns like Boston or New York, as these cities more closely resemble London back home.