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LEADING FACTS OF AMERICAN HISTORY
The cooking was done either over or before these open fires, or in huge brick ovens. The food was very simple, -- often nothing more than corn-meal mush with molasses for breakfast, -- but there was plenty of it, and no lack of healthy appetite.
The farmer bought little at the store. He raised his own food; his sheep furnished wool, and his wife and daughters spun and wove it into stout "homespun" cloth. In such households there were few idle days, but many happy ones; and for recreation the young people had sleighing parties, husking bees,1 general trainings,2 and other merrymakings.
149. Life in the Cities and on the Great Virginia Plantations. In the cities and large towns, and on the great plantations at the South, there was a good deal of luxury. Rich men like Washington, who was one of the wealthiest landholders in the country, sometimes lived in stately mansions, furnished with solid oak and mahogany imported from England. Their tables shone with silver plate and sparkled with costly wines. They owned their black servants instead of hiring them. Gentlemen, when in full dress, wore three-cornered cocked hats, long velvet coats, lace ruffles at their wrists, knee breeches,3 white silk stockings, and shoes with silver buckles. They kept their hair long, powdered it white, and tied it back in a twist or a queue with a black silk ribbon.
Ladies wore gowns of brocade4 and rich silk almost stiff enough to stand alone. They also powdered their hair, so that
1Husking bees: at these gatherings the young people met to husk com; there was usually quite as much fun as work on such occasions.
2 General trainings: meetings for military drill. They occurred once or twice a year, and were regarded as holidays.
3 Knee breeches: breeches coming down to the knees; before the introduction of trousers they were worn by men of all classes.
4 Brocade: cloth or stuff richly embroidered with raised flowers or other figures in silk or gold and silver thread.
LIFE IN THE COLONIES
all people of fashion, whether young or old, looked stately and venerable.
In general, life moved in somewhat the same stately way: there was no hurrying to catch trains, no rush and scramble for electric cars, no flashing of telegrams from one end of the country to the other, no newsboys shouting daily papers, no instantaneous photographs, no pushing and hustling in overcrowded streets. On Sunday every one, or practically every one, went to church; and, in New England, if a man was absent the minister of the parish told him, in a way that could not be mistaken, that he must know the reason why.
150. Travel; Letters; Hospitality; Severe Laws. People seldom traveled. When they did, they generally preferred going by water if possible, in order to avoid the bad roads. But as such traveling was wholly in sailing vessels, the time when a man reached his destination depended altogether on the wind, and the wind made no promises. Knowing this fact, some chose to go by land. To accommodate these venturesome people a lumbering covered wagon ran once a week between New York and Philadelphia, traveling at the rate of about three miles an hour. Later (1766), an enterprising individual put on a wagon which actually made the trip of ninety miles in two days. On account of its speed it was advertised as the "Flying Machine"; the cheaper conveyances, which did not "fly," took a day longer to make the journey. In the wet season of the year the passengers often worked their passage as well as paid for it, for they were frequently called on to get out and pry the wagon out of the mud with fence rails. Sometimes a wheel gave out and the wagon stuck fast.
The expense of carrying the mails made postage so high that but few letters were written. These were rarely prepaid; and as a charge of twenty-five cents on a single letter was not very uncommon, most persons preferred that their friends should think of them often but write to them seldom.
LEADING FACTS OF AMERICAN HISTORY
Yet if people rarely wrote to each other and traveled but little, they were quite sure of being hospitably entertained along the way when they did venture from home. This was especially the case in Virginia.
The rich planters in that section considered a guest a prize. He brought the latest news and the newest gossip. It was no strange thing for a planter to send out one of his negroes to station himself by the roadside to watch for the coming of some respectable-looking stranger on horseback. Then the servant, smiling and bowing, begged him to turn aside and stop over night at his master's mansion. There he was sure to be treated to the best there was in the house; and as no temperance society had then come into existence, the best, both North and South, always meant plenty to drink as well as plenty to eat, followed perhaps by a fox hunt, or some other sport, the next day.
But if the times were hospitable, they were also somewhat rough and even brutal. A trifling offense would often send a man to the stocks for meditation, and something more serious to the pillory, where the passers-by might stop to pelt him with a handful of mud, a rotten apple, or something worse. Imprisonment for debt was a common occurrence; petty thieves and disorderly persons were publicly whipped, while men guilty of highway robbery or murder were paraded through the principal streets and then hanged before the crowd.
151. Education; Books; Jonathan Edwards and Benjamin Franklin. Most of the colonists, especially in New England, where free schools had long been established by law (§ 80), could read and write fairly well; and a small number, particularly
FRANKLIN'S ELECTRICAL EXPERIMENTS
clergymen, were highly educated. Very few books were published, but the rich imported a stock of the best English authors, and, what is more, they read them.
The two ablest American writers of that day were the Rev. Jonathan Edwards of Connecticut, who later became a resident of Massachusetts, and Benjamin Franklin, born in Boston, but who soon became a citizen of Philadelphia. Edwards wrote his great work "On the Freedom of the Will" for that small number of readers who like a book which forces them to think as well as read. Not many can grasp Edwards's thought about the "Will," but we can all understand how nobly he used his own will when he made these two resolutions: (1) "To do whatever I think to be my duty." (2) "To live with all my might while I do live."
Franklin's best known work was his Almanac, commonly called "Poor Richard's Almanac,"1 which he published for many years. It was full of shrewd, practical wit and wisdom, and it suited a hard-working people. Men who had begun life with no help but such as they got from their own hands and their own brains liked to read such sayings as these: "Diligence is the mother of good luck." "He that can have patience can have what he will." "Heaven helps those who help themselves." Thousands of young men learned these maxims by heart, put them in practice, and found their reward in the prosperity and independence to which they led.
152. Franklin's Electrical Experiments. But Franklin did not confine himself to writing; he was also greatly interested in scientific experiments. Everybody has noticed that the fur of a cat's back, when stroked vigorously the wrong way on a winter's night, will send out a multitude of electric sparks. Franklin, who never minded the cat's claws, asked himself, Are these sparks the same as the flashes of lightning seen in a thundershower? He resolved to find out. To do this he sent up a kite during a shower, and fastened a door key near the end of the string. Touching his knuckle
1 Because Franklin represents a curious old fellow, whom he calls "Poor Richard," as uttering the sayings which made the almanac famous. Franklin later wrote his "Autobiography." See Montgomery and Trent's "Franklin" [Ginn and Company].
LEADING FACTS OF AMERICAN HISTORY
to the key, he got an electric spark from it. This, and other experiments, convinced him that his conjecture was right; electricity and lightning, said he, are one and the same thing.
That discovery, simple as it now seems, made Franklin famous. When he went to England on business for the colonies he needed no introduction, -- everybody had heard of the American who had found the "key to the clouds" and to electrical science as well. Even George III, though he heartily hated Franklin for his independent spirit, actually put up a bungling kind of Franklin lightning rod -- one with a ball instead of a point -- on his palace in London.
To-day we light our cities, propel our street cars, some of our motor cars, the trolleys on our great network of electric roads, drive machinery of various kinds, ring our fire alarms, and send our messages across continents, under oceans, and through the air, by this mysterious power. We owe the practical beginning of much of this to Franklin. He said, "There are no bounds . . . to the force man may raise and use in the electrical way." In view of what is now being done in this "electrical way," the words of the Philadelphia printer, philosopher, and statesman -- written more than a hundred years ago -- read like a prophecy.
153. General Summary. The thirteen colonies were settled, mainly by the English, between 1607 and 1733, -- Virginia was the first colony founded (1607), Massachusetts the second (Plymouth, 1620; Boston, 1630), Georgia (1733) the last. During the closing seventy years of this period (1689-1763) the colonists were engaged nearly half of the time in wars with the French of Canada, who claimed the West by right of exploration.
In these wars many Indian tribes (but not the Iroquois of New York) fought for the French. The colonists, with the aid of England, gained the victory, and thus obtained possession of the country from the Atlantic to the Mississippi. Up to that time (1763) the people had been growing in prosperity, in intelligence, and in the determination to maintain all those rights which the King had originally granted them by his written charters, and to which, as English colonists, they were justly entitled (§ 44).