What Was Family Life Like in Colonial New England?
What Was Family Life Like in Colonial New England?

The colonists that first arrived in New England faced harsh conditions and challenges that are hard to imagine in today's world. Yet, with the dream of what the new world could be and the strength of the family unit, they managed to settle the new world and lay the foundation for what would one day become America, as well as what would become the American family.

History

The New England colonies were settled by the Pilgrims and the Puritans in the early seventeenth century to be free from religious oppression. Unlike previous attempts at colonization by the British, which consisted of companies of men seeking resources and a passage to the Northwest, the New England colonists brought over entire families to establish a new way of life. Women and children followed the men of the family across the ocean, working, sacrificing, suffering and risking their lives to achieve their goal.

Identification

The father was the head of the household, with the mother as his main assistant. Under the father's authority, she oversaw the upkeep of the home and the raising of the children. The average colonial family had seven children. People were not permitted to live alone so grandparents, uncles, aunts, or cousins may have lived with them. Any servants the family may have had living with them were also considered a part of the family.

Features

The colonial family was very interdependent on each other, both to create a tight-knit, God-fearing household, and for their very survival in the new world. Family life was centered around religion and hard work. Unquestioned obedience was expected of children, and punishment for improper behavior was often severe. Government-run free education had not been established, so colonial children were taught at home. Education revolved around learning The Bible, and the necessary skills to provide and care for the family.

Function

Men of the family were responsible largely for farming, hunting, livestock care and working at various trades that supported the family. Women took care of the children, prepared foods, tended the family garden, and making necessary items such as soap, candles, clothing and blankets. Children were given chores from a very young age. Growing boys would work with their fathers in the fields and learning trades, while young girls were trained by their mothers to help with the domestic work.

Significance

The structure for the traditional American family as it is defined in modern times was built by the New England colonists. Colonial families developed the structure of the essentially nuclear, child-centered, loving, close-knit family that works as a unit for the benefit of all. The family bonded together by their efforts to work cooperatively, protect and shelter each other, and celebrate life together, sharing and passing on their morals and values to each new generation.