About Colonial Connecticut Family Life
29 SEP 2017
The Colonial period ran from the 1630s through the American Revolution. Life for colonists was hard, and they depended on their families for survival. The household may have included not only blood relations, but servants or farmhands as well. All worked together for the common welfare.
The first permanent settlers in Connecticut were English colonists who moved with Thomas Hooker from the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1633. With them came their Puritan background. In 1639, the colony adopted a set of laws called the Fundamental Orders, based on the idea that government should be rooted in the consent of the people being governed. Both the Puritan ethic and the colony's independent spirit influenced family life.
Colonial Connecticut family life was shaped significantly by the area's geography. The fertile Connecticut River Valley lent itself to farming crops such as corn and wheat. However, the valley was rocky, which meant families exerted great energy to dig rocks and clear land for farming. As a small colony, there wasn't enough land for all families to farm, but the coastline invited colonists to become shipbuilders, fishermen and whalers.
A large family meant many hands to help with the work, though childhood disease claimed a significant number of lives. Parents may have had stern expectations for their children's behavior, but they loved them and hoped to raise them to be hardworking, respectable and God-fearing.
Typically, families ate three meals together: a large breakfast, dinner at noon and a light supper in the evening. Cooking was done over an open hearth. The average meal was a meat and vegetable stew served in wooden bowls. Colonial houses did not have running water. Family members kept chamber pots near their beds or went to the toilet in small outdoor buildings. Water for cooking and cleaning was carried in from wells. People did not actually drink much water, for fear of getting sick; they often drank cider instead. Families attended church services together on Sundays. During those services, which could last half a day, men and women were seated separately. A most common form of entertainment for colonial families was simply sitting together and talking. Children had simple toys like kites, dolls and marbles. Books were expensive, so few families owned more than the Bible and a few other books.
Each member of a Colonial family had a well-defined role. Men were the head of the house. They conducted business and did most of the outdoor labor. Unless the family was wealthy and could buy such things, the man would likely have made or traded for furnishings and household implements. Women were responsible for making most of their family's clothes, food, candles and soap. They might also help with light farm work, perhaps in a kitchen garden. Children were put to work as soon as they were able. Boys helped outside, chopping wood, planting and harvesting crops, caring for livestock, and hunting or fishing. Girls usually helped inside the home, cooking, cleaning, sewing and spinning. Most, but not all, children in colonial Connecticut received at least some schooling. As of 1650, each town of 50 families or more had to provide an elementary school.