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IT is plainly evident that in a country where land was to be had for the asking, fuel for the cutting, corn for the planting and harvesting, and game and fish for the least expenditure of labor, no man would long serve for another, and any system of reliable service indoors or afield must fail. Whether the colonists came to work or not, they had to in order to live, for domestic service was soon in the most chaotic state. Women were forced to be notable housekeepers; men were compelled to attend to every detail of masculine labor in their households and on their farms, thus acquiring and developing a "handiness" at all trades, which has become a Yankee trait.
The question of adequate and proper household service soon became a question of importance and of painful consideration in the new land. Rev. Ezekiel Rogers wrote most feelingly in 1656 on this subject:
"Much ado have I with my own family, hard to get a servant glad of catechizing or family duties. I had a rare blessing of servants in Yorkshire, and those I brought over were a blessing, but the young brood doth much afflict me."
The Massachusetts colonists had attempted even before starting, to meet and simplify the servant question by rigidly excluding any corrupt element. They even sent back to England boys who had been unruly on shipboard. But the number of penalties imposed on servants during the early years are a lasting record of the affliction caused by the young brood.
All the early travellers speak of the lack of good servants in the new land. The "Diary of a French Refugee in Boston," in 1687, says: "There is an absolute Need of Hired help;" and that savages were employed in the fields at eighteen-pence a day. This latter form of service was naturally the first way of solving the vexed question. The captives in war were divided in lots and assigned to housekeepers. We find even gentle Roger Williams asking for "one of the drove of Adam's degenerate seed" as a slave. Hugh Peters, of Salem, wrote to a Boston friend: "Wee haue heard of a diuidence of women & children in the baye & would bee glad of a share viz.: a young woman or girle & a boy if you thinke good." Two years later he wrote: "My wife desires my daughter to send to Hanna that was her maid now at Charlestown to know if she would dwell with us, for truly wee are now so destitute (having now but an Indian) that wee know not what to do." Lowell thus comments on such savage ministrations:
"Let any housewife of our day who does not find the Keltic element in domestic life so refreshing as to Mr. Arnold in literature, imagine a household with one wild Pequot woman, communicated with by signs, for its maid-of-all-work, and take courage. Those were serious times indeed when your cook might give warning by taking your scalp or chignon, as the case might be, and making off with it into the woods."
We frequently glean from diaries of the times hints of the pleasures of having a wild Nipmuck or Narragansett Indian as "help." Rev. Peter Thatcher, of Milton, Mass., bought an Indian in 1674 for £5 down and £5 more at the end of the year a high-priced servant for the times. One of her duties was, apparently, the care of a young Thatcher infant. Shortly after the purchase, the reverend gentleman makes this entry in his diary: "Came home and found my Indian girl had liked to have knocked my Theodorah on the head by letting her fall. Whereupon I took a good walnut stick and beat the Indian to purpose till she promised to do so no more." Mr. Thatcher was really a very kindly gentleman and a good Christian, but the natural solicitude of a young father over his firstborn provoked him to the telling use of the walnut stick as a civilizing influence.
When we reach newspaper days we find Indian servants frequently among the runaways; as Mather said, they could not endure the yoke; and, indeed, it would seem natural enough that any such wild child of the forests should flee away from the cramped atmosphere of a Puritan household and house. We read pathetic accounts of the desertion of aged colonists by their Indian servants. One writes that he took his "Pecod girle" as a "chilld of death" when but two years old, had reared her kindly, nursed her in sickness, and now she had run away from him when he sorely needed her, and he wished to buy a blackamoor in her place. Sometimes the description of the costumes in which these savages took their flitting, is extremely picturesque. This is from the Boston News Letter of October, 1707:
"Run away from her master Baker. A tall Lusty Carolina Indian woman named Keziah Wampum, having Iong straight Black Hair tyed up with a red Hair Lace, very much marked in the hands and face. Had on a strip'd rod blue & white Homespun Jacket & a Red one. A Black & White Silk Crape Petticoat, A White Shift, as Also a blue one with her, and a mixt Blue and White Linsey Woolsey Apron."
A reward of four pounds was offered for this barbaric creature.
Another Indian runaway in 1728 was thus bedizened, showing a startling progress in adornment from the apron of skins and blanket of her wildwood home.
She wore off a Narrow Stript pinck Cherredary Goun turn'd up with a little flour'd red & white Callico. A Stript Homespun Quilted Petticoat, a plain muslin Apron, a suit of plain Pinners & a red & white flower'd knot, also a pair of green Stone Earrings with White Cotton Stockings & Leather heel'd Wooden Shoes."
Indian men often left their masters dishonestly dressed in their masters' fine apparel, and even wearing beribboned flaxen wigs, which must have been comic to a degree over their harsh, saturnine countenances "as brown as any bun."
A limited substitute for Indian housemaids was found at an early day in "help," as it was called even then. Roger Williams, writing of his daughter, said: "She desires to spend some time in service & liked much Mrs. Brenton who wanted." John Tinker, who himself was help, wrote thus to John Winthrop; "Help is scarce, hard to get, difficult to please, uncertain, &c. Means runneth out and wages on & I cannot make choice of my help." Children of well-to-do citizens thus worked in domestic service. Members of the family of the rich Judge Sewall lived out as help. The sons of Downing and of Hooke went with their kinsman, Governor Winthrop, as servants. Sir Robert Crane also sent his cousin to the governor as a farm-servant. In Andover an Abbott maiden lived as help for years in the house of a Phillips. Children were bound out when but eight years old. These neighborly forms of domestic assistance were necessarily slow of growth and limited in extent, and negro slavery appeared to the colonists a much more effectual and speedy way of solving the difficulty; and the Indian war-prisoners, who proved such poor and dangerous house-servants, seemed a convenient, cheap, and God-sent means of exchange for "Moores," as they were called, who were far better servants. Emanuel Downing wrote in 1645 that he thought it "synne in us having power in our hand to suffer them (the Indians) to mayntayne the worship of the devill," that they should be removed from their pow-wows, and suggests the exchange for negroes, saying: "I doe not see how wee can thrive vntill wee into gett a stock of slaves sufficient to doe all our business."
Downing had a personal interest in the gaining of Moors; for he had had almost as much trouble in obtaining servants as he did in marrying off his children. We find him and his wife writing to Winthrop for help, buying Indians, sending home more than once to England for "godlye skylful paynstakeing girles," beseeching their neighbors to send them servants "of good caridg and godly conuersation;" and at last buying negroes, to try in every way to solve the vexed question.
Though the early planters came to New England to obtain and maintain liberty, and "bond slaverie, villinage," and other feudal servitudes were prohibited under the ninety-first article of the Body of Liberties, still they needed but this suggestion of Downing's to adopt quickly what was then the universal and unquestioned practice of all Christian nations slavery. Josselyn found slaves on Noddle's Island in Boston Harbor at his first visit, though they were not held in a Puritan family. By 1687 a French refugee wrote home:
"You may also here own Negroes and Negresses, there is not a house in Boston however small may be its means, that has not one or two. Negroes cost from twenty to forty Pistoles."
In Connecticut the crime of man-stealing was made punishable by death; and in 1646 the Massachusetts General Court awoke to the growing condition of affairs and bore witness "by the first Optunity, ag't the hainous & crying sinn of man-stealing," and undertook to send back to "Gynny" negroes who had been kidnapped by a slaver and brought to New England, and to send a letter of explanation and apology with them.
Though in the beginning he refused to harbor or tolerate negro-stealers, the Massachusetts Puritan of that day, enraged at the cruelty of the savage red men, did not hesitate to sell Indian captives as slaves to the West Indies. King Philip's wife and child were thus sold and there died. Their story was told in scathing language by Edward Everett. In 1703 it was made legal to transport and sell in the Barbadoes all Indian male captives under ten, and Indian women captives. Perhaps these transactions quickly blunted whatever early feeling may have existed against negro slavery, for soon the African slave-trade flourished in New England as in Virginia, Newport being the New England centre of the Guinea Trade. From 1707 to 1732 a tax of three guineas a head was imposed in Rhode Island on each negro imported on "Guinea blackbirds." It would be idle to dwell now on the cruelty of that horrid traffic, the sufferings on board the slavers from lack of room, of food, of water, of air. But three feet three inches was allowed between decks for the poor negro, who, accustomed to a free, out-of-door life, thus crouched and sat through the passage. No wonder the loss of life was great. It was chronicled in the newspapers and letters of the day in cold, heartless language that plainly spoke the indifference of the public to the trade and its awful consequences. I have never seen in any Southern newspapers advertisements of negro sales that surpass in heartlessness and viciousness the advertisements of our New England newspapers of the eighteenth century.
Negro children were advertised to be given away in Boston, and were sold by the pound as was other merchandise. Samuel Pewter advertised in the Weekly Rehearsal in 1737 that he would sell horses for ten shillings pay if the horse sale were accomplished, and five shillings if he endeavored to sell and could not; and for negroes "sixpence a pound on all he sells, and a reasonable price if he does not sell."
Many letters still exist of advices from shipowners to ship-captains, advice as to the purchase, care, and choice of captives, "to get one old man for a Lingister; to worter ye Rum & sell by short mesuer &c. &c." Negro-stealing by Americans continued till 1864, when a brig sailing westward from Africa on that iniquitous errand, was lost at sea a grim ending to three centuries of incredible and unchristian cruelty.
The first anti-slavery tract was published in America was written by Judge Sewall in the year 1700 "The negro to God's service, and made many a noble resolve to save, through God's grace, his bondsman's soul." It is painful to read at a later date that he found his unregenerate slave "horribly arrested by spirits," by which he did not mean captured by the dreaded emissaries of the devil who pervaded the air of Boston and Salem at that time, but simply very drunk.
Slaves were more plentiful in Connecticut and Rhode Island than in Massachusetts. Madam Knight gives a glimpse of Connecticut slave life in 1704, and of awkward table traits in both master and slave as well, when she says that the negroes were too familiar, were permitted to sit at the table with the master, and "into the Dish goes the black Hoof as freely as the white Hand." Hawthorne says of New England slaves:
"They were not excluded from the domestic affections in families of middling rank, they had their places at the board; and when the circle closed around the evening hearth its blaze glowed on their dark shining faces, intermixed familiarly with their master's children. It must have contributed to reconcile them to their lot, that they saw white men and women imported from Europe as they had been from Africa, and sold, though only for a term of years, yet as actual slaves to the highest bidder."
In the main, New England slaves were not unhappy, for they were well treated, and the race has the gift to be merry in the worst of circumstances. Occasionally one would be brought to the northern land, one of higher sensibilities, more sensitive affections, greater pride; one who could not live a slave. Such a one was the haughty Congo Pomp, who escaped to a swamp near Truro on Cape Cod a swamp now called by his name and placing at the foot of a tree a jug of water and loaf of bread to sustain him on his last long journey, hanged himself from the low-hanging limbs, and thus obtained freedom. Such also was Parson Williams's slave Cato in Longmeadow, Mass. He bore repeated whippings for his high-spirited disobedience, "for speaking out loud in meeting, drinking too much cider, going on a rampage," and finally drowned himself in a well.
Waitstill Winthrop wrote thus of one suicidal Moor to Fitz John Winthrop in 1682.
"I fear Black Tom will do but little seruis. He usued to make a show of hangeing himselfe before folkes, but I believe he is not very nimble about it when he is alone. Tis good to have an eye to him & you think it not worth while to keep him eyether sell him or send him to Virginia or the Barbadoes."
William Pyncheon had also a slave who was "assiduous in hangeing." To be sold to Virginia was a standard threat to New England slaves, as work in Southern tobacco-fields was thought much more severe than in northern cornfields.
Slavery lingered in New England until after Revolutionary days. It is said that its death blow was dealt in Worcester, Mass., in 1783, when a citizen was tried for assaulting and beating his negro servant. The defence was that the black man was a slave, and the beating was but necessary restraint and correction. The master was found guilty in the Worcester County Court and fined forty shillings.
Though there were few slaves who were willing to leave life in order to be free, many were willing to try to leave their masters. The early New England newspapers abound in advertisements of runaway blacks in gay attire, with fiddles and guns, be-wigged and silk-stockinged, well dressed if not well treated.
I know no records that show more fully, though wholly unconsciously, the vast simplicity of our ancestors than these advertisements of runaway servants. Fancy giving as a possible means of identification of any human being such an item of descriptions as this: "When he gets drunk or drinks much he is red in the face" as if that were an extraordinary or pecrtiar trait in any drunken man! Another runaway is said to have had "sometimes a sly look in his eye and wears the button of his hat in front;" another to have been a liar; another to have been "somewhat impudent if crossed, and has a leering look under his eyes." Others were "awkward in manners," "somewhat morose in countenance," "had long finger-nails," "had one or two pimples on the face," "is too fond of talking." It seems almost incredible that intelligent persons should have given such childish and easily obliterated or varied particulars of description.
Diverse names were applied to these runaways: "Sirrinam Indianman Slave," "Mustee-fellow," "Molatto," "Moor," "Maddαgerscar-boy," "Guinyman," "Congoman," "Coast-fellow," "Tawny," "Black-a-moor" all apparently conveying some distinction of description universally comprehended at the time. We have a few records of worthy black servants who remind us of the faithful, loving house-servants of old Southern families. Such a one was Judge Sewall's man, Boston a freeman to a master who deserved faithful service, if ever master did. The entries in the Judge's diary, meagre as they are, somehow show fully to us that faithful life of service. We see Boston taking the Sewall children out sledding; we see him carrying one of the little daughters out of town in his arms when the neighbors were suddenly smitten with that colonial plague, the small-pox. We find him, in later years, a tender nurse, sleeping by the fire in languishing Hannah Sewall's sick-chamber; and, after her death, we hear him protesting against the removal of her dead form from her chamber; and we can see him weeping as he sat through the lonely nights with his dead and dearly loved mistress, till she was hidden from his view. It is pleasing to know that though he lived a servant, he was buried like a gentleman; he received that token of final respect so highly prized in Boston a ceremonious funeral, with a good fire, and chairs set in rows, and plenty of wine and cake, and a notice in the News Letter, and doubtless gloves in decent numbers.
Other black men led noble lives in service, if we can trust the records on their tombstones.
This elegant epitaph is upon a gravestone in Concord, Mass.:
"GOD WILLS US FREE; MAN WILLS US SLAVES
I WILL AS GOD WILLS, GODS WILL BE DONE.
HERE LIES THE BODY OF
A NATIVE OF AFRICA, WHO DIED
MARCH 1773 AGED ABOUT SIXTY YEARS.
THOUGH BORN IN A LAND OF SLAVERY
HE WAS BORN FREE
THOUGH HE LIVED IN A LAND OF LIBERTY
HE LIVED A SLAVE.
TILL BY HIS HONEST (THOUGH STOLEN) LABORS
HE ACQUIRED THE CAUSE OF SLAVERY
WHICH GAVE HIM FREEDOM
THOUGH NOT LONG BEFORE
DEATH, THE GRAND TYRANT
GAVE HIM HIS FINAL EMANCIPATION
AND PUT HIM ON A FOOTING WITH KINGS.
THOUGH A SLAVE TO VICE
HE PRACTISED THOSE VIRTUES
WITHOUT WHICH KINGS ARE BUT SLAVES."
At Attleborough, Mass., near the old Hatch Tavern, may be seen this epitaph:
"HERE LIES THE BEST OF SLAVES
NOW TURNING INTO DUST,
CΖSAR THE AETHIOPIAN CLAIMS
A PLACE AMONG THE JUST.
HIS FAITHFUL SOUL HAS FLED
TO REALMS OF HEAVENLY LIGHT,
AND BY THE BLOOD THAT JESUS SHED
IS CHANGED FROM BLACK TO WHITE.
JAN. 15TH HE QUITTED THE STAGE
IN THE 77TH YEAR OF HIS AGE
Besides slaves, Indians, and help, a species of nexal servitude also existed in all the colonies. At the beginning of colonization bound or indentured white servants were sent in large numbers to the new land. Thirty came to the Bay Colony as early as 1625. Some of the terms of service were very long, even for ten years. These indentured servants were in three classes: "free-willers," or "redemptioners," or voluntary emigrants; "kids," who had been seduced through ignorance or duplicity on board ships that carried them off to America; and convicts transported for crime. The latter expatriated vagabonds were sent chiefly to Virginia. The "kids" were trapanned, by the fair promises of crimps or, "spirits," in Scotland, Ireland, and England, where kidnapping formed an extensive and incredibly bold business. The Scots were brought over and sold at the time of English wars. At one time "Scots, Indians, and Negars" were not allowed to train in the militia in Massachusetts. Many curious and romantic stories are told of these kidnapped servants. One day, in 1730, a number of Boston gentlemen went to the Long Wharf to examine a cargo of Irish transports then offered for sale. Among the lads who ran up and down the wharf to show his strength and condition was one who had gone to sea on another ship. The captain, his uncle, died at sea, and the crew sold the boy to this transport-ship, which chanced to pass them. The boy faithfully served out his time to his purchaser, and became a gallant officer in the wars with the Indians.
These indentured servants were just as trying as the Indians and the negroes, and in particular showed a lawless disregard for their masters' property, an indifference to the authority of the weal-public, and a lazy disinclination to work; one writer describes them as "tender fingered in cold weather." The Mt. Wollaston lot that followed Morton to Merry Mount were but the forerunners of hundreds of others. The Bradstreets' servant, John, may be taken as a type of many refractory bound servants. He was brought to trial in 1661, for "stealing several things as pigges, capons, mault, bacon, butter, eggs, etc., and breaking open a seller door several times." John, when pulled up for trial, affirmed that he had really a very small appetite, but the food furnished by that colonial blue-stocking, Anne Bradstreet, was not fit to eat, the bread being black and heavy and sour, and he only took an occasional surreptitious bite to keep himself from starvation. But it was proved that he had feasted not only himself, but comrades, and that a neighbor, who had a "great fat Turkey against his daughter's marriage" hung up in a locked room, was relieved of it by the hungry and agile John, who got some of his fellows to let him down the chimney to steal the turkey and good store of beer, with which they all caroused; and he was fitly punished.
The laws were strict enough at first as to the behavior of servants, and occasionally a topping young maid felt their force. In Hartford, "Susan Coles for her rebellious cariedge towards her mistris is to be sent to the house of correction and be kept to hard labour and course dyet, to be brought forth the next Lecture Day to be publicquely corrected and so to be corrected weekly until Order be given to the contrary."
In York, Me., in 1645, "Alexander Maxwell for his grosse offence in his exorbitant and abusive carriages towards his master Mr. George Leader shall be publicly brought forth to the Whipping Post, where he shall be fastened till 30 lashes be given him upon his bare skin." Maxwell was ordered to satisfy his master for the money paid for his board in prison, and, if he further misbehaved, Mr. Leader could sell him to Virginia.
In later days New England housewives must have longed for the good old times of the whipping-post and coarse diet and hard work for disorderly and insubordinate redemptioners. Hear what gentle Mary Dudley endured with one of her maids. She had written many pathetic entreaties to her mother, Madam Winthrop, to send her a "good girle, a strong lusty servant," one "vsed to all kind of work who would refuse none," and we learn what she got, from a letter written a few months later, with a newborn babe by her side:
"A great affliction I have met withal by my maide Servant and now I am like through God his mercie to be freed from it; at her first coming me she carried her selfe dutifully as became a servant; but since through mine and my husbands forbearance towards her for small faults, she hath got such a head and is growen so insolent that her carriage towards vs especialle myselfe is unsufferable. If I bid her doe a thinge she will bid me to doe it myselfe, and she sayes how she can give content as wel as any servant but shee will not, and sayes if I love not quietnes I was never so fitted in my life for she would make mee have enough of it. If I should write to you of all the reviling speeches and filthie language she hath vsed towards me I should but grieve you. My husband hath vsed all meanes for to reforme her, reasons and perswasions, but shee doth profess that her heart and her nature will not suffer her to confesse her faults. If I tell my husband of her behavior towards me, vpon examination she will denie all she hath done or spoken, so that we know not how to proceed against her."
We must not forget that the Winthrops had the best opportunity of any in the land to have good servants; for not only were help placed in their families, but the best of English servants were consigned to them; yet neither the Governor's sister, Madam Downing, nor his daughter, Madam Dudley, could be "suited." And hear the plaint of John Winthrop to his father in 1717:
"It is not convenient now to write the trouble and plague we have had with this Irish creature the year past. Lying and unfaithfull; w'd doe things on purpose in contradiction and vexation to her mistress; lye out of the house anights and have contrivances w'th fellows that have been stealing from o'r estate and gett drink out of ye cellar for them; saucy and impudent as when we have taken her to task for her wickedness she has gone away to complain of cruell usage. I can truly say we have used this base creature wth a great deal of kindness and lenity. She w'd frequently take her mistresses capps and stock-ins, hankerchers etc., to dresse herselfe and away without leave among her companions. I may have said some time or other when she has been in fault that she was fitt to live nowhere but in Virginia, and if she w'd not mend her ways I should send her thither tho I am sure nobody w'd give her passage thither to have her service for twenty yeares she is such a high-spirited pirnicious jade. Robin has been run away neare ten dayes as you will see by the inclosed and this creature know of his going and of his carrying out 4 dozen bottles of cyder, metheglin and palme wine out of the cellar among the servants of the town and meat and I know not Wt. The bottles they broke and threw away after they had drunk up the liquor, and they got up o'r sheep anight, killed a fatt one, roasted and made merry wth it before morning."
This wild Irish girl was indentured to the unfortunate Winthrop and his more unfortunate wife for four years, and was to have fifty shillings and some other start in the world when her time was up.
Out-of-the-way plantations fared no better in the question of service. John Wynter, the head agent of the settlement at Richmonds Island in Maine, wrote thus resentfully in 1639, to Mr. Trelawny, of the London company, of his maid, one Priscilla Beckford:
"You write of some yll reports is given of my Wyfe for beatinge the maide: yf a faire waye will not doe yt, beatinge must sometimes vppon such Idlle girrels as she is. Yf you think yt fitte for my Wyfe to do all the work, and the maide sitt still, and she must forbear her hands to strike, then the work will ly vndonn. She hath bin now 2 1/2 yeares in the house & I do not thinke she hath risen 20 tymes before my Wyfe hath bin vp to Call her, and many tymes light the fire before she comes out of her bed. She hath twice gone a mechinge in the woodes which we have bin fain to send all our Company to seek her. We can hardly keep her within doors after we are gonn to bed except we carry the kay of the door to bed with vs. She coulde never milke Cow nor Goate since she came hither. Our men do not desire to have her boyl the kittle for them she is so sluttish. She cannot be trusted to serve a few piggs but my Wyfe must commonly be with her. She hath written home I heare that she was fain to ly vppon goates skinns. She might take some goates skinns to ly in her bedd but not given to her for her lodginge. For a yeare & quarter or more she lay with my daughter vppon a good feather bed; before my daughter being lacke 3 or 4 days to Sacco the maid goes into bed with her cloths & stockins & would not take the paines to pluck off her Cloths; her bed after was a doust bedd & shee had 2 Coverletts to ly on her, but Sheets she had none, after that tyme she was found to be so sluttish. Her beatinge that she hath had hath never hurt her body nor limes. She is so fatt & soggy she can hardly do any worke. Yf this maide at her lazy tymes when she hath bin found in her yll aceyons do not deserve 2 or 3 blowes I pray you who hath the most reason to complain my Wyfe or maide. My Wyfe hath an Vnthankefull office. Yt does not please me well, being she hath taken so much paines and care to order things as well as she could, and ryse in the morning rath & go to bed soe latte, and have hard speeches for yt."
We can well imagine his exhausted patience, and that of poor overworked Mistress Wynter, at that fat soggy thing, that lag-last, so shiftless and useless about the house, lazing from rath to latte, and then to complete their exasperation, miching off into the woods to shirk her work so that the whole company had to turn out with a mort of trouble to hunt for the leg-trape. We cannot marvel at the beating, but simply wonder at its being remarked in those days of many and hard beatings, when scholars, servants, soldiers, and college students were well whipped, and, in Old England, wives also.
Wynter had no better fortune without doors with his men-servants and workmen; they proved kittle cattle. He found them not "plyable" or "condishionabell," that they "spoke Fair to the Face and Colloged behind the back." Of one malcontent he wrote,
"He is verry vnwilling to do vs servize, he is alwaies too hard labored, he cares not what Spoyle he makes, and will not be commanded but when he list. He is such a talkinge Fellow as makes our company worse than would be."
He says his bound servants ran away at their pleasure, worked when they pleased, and led others off to their lure, and should be punished if they had returned to England. One only was "frace" of his ways and promised to do better. Not only do we gain from Wynter's letters a knowledge of the pains of colonial domestic service, but I know among New England historical collections no other such well of good old English words and phrases.
The Declaration of Independence did not better the aspect of the servant question. The Providence Gazette advertised in 1796 that a reward of five hundred dollars and the "warmest blessings of abused householders" would be given to any restoring the conditions of the good old times, or rather what they fancied was
"The constant service of the antique world
When service sweat for duty not for need."
The notice opens thus:
"Was mislaid or taken away by mistake, soon after the formation of the abolition society, from the servant girls in this town all inclination to do any kind of work, and left in lieu thereof an independent appearance, a strong and continued thirst for high wages, a gossiping disposition for every sort of amusement, a leering and hankering after persons of the other sex, a desire of finery and fashion, a never-ceasing trot after new places, more advantageous for stealing, with a number of contingent accomplishments that do not suit the wearers."
President Dwight wrote that the servants of that day were "distinguished for vice and profligacy;" so the nineteenth century opened no more promisingly than the eighteenth.
The pious colonists felt that great spiritual, as well as temporal responsibility rested upon them in regard to their bond-servants. We find in contemporary letters frequent reference to the souls of the indentured ones; Englishmen at the old home wrote to the settlers to remember well their religious, their proselyting duties; and they faithfully reminded each other of their accountability for souls. For instance, when a smart young Irishman came over with some Irish hounds, his consigner besought the New Englanders to remember that it was as godly to "winne this fellowes soule out of the subtillest snare of Sathan, Romes pollitick religion, as to winne an Indian soule out of the Dieuells clawes;" and he urged them to watch the Papist narrowly as to his carriage in Puritandom, his attitude toward Protestantism. This was the same religious zeal that led the Boston elders to send missionaries from New England to convert the heathen of the Established Church in Virginia.
The moral and religious condition of these servants was truly of great importance in the preservation of such a theocracy as was New England, since few of them returned to England, but after serving out their time became freemen with homes and land and votes of their own; and the commonwealth could not live as a religious organization unless it thrived through the religious spirit of its citizens.
One other form of domestic service existed until this century. A limited amount of assistance was given in some households by those unhappy wights, the town-poor. These wretched paupers were sold to the lowest bidder. Sometimes the buyer received but a few shillings a year from the town for the "keep" of one of these helpless souls. We may be sure that he got some work out of the pauper to pay for his board. We read of one old Dimbledee, of Widow Bump and Widow Bumpus, degenerate successors in name as well as in estate of the Pilgrim Bompasse, who were sold from year to year from one farm to another and given a grudged existence, till at last we find the town paying for their welcome coffins and winding sheets. Two curious facts are to be noted in the poor accounts: that the women paupers were almost invariably "very comfortable on it for clothes," as were other women of that dress-loving day; and that liquor was frequently supplied to both male and female paupers by the town. Sometimes ten gallons apiece, a very consoling amount, was given in a year. I have also noted the frequent presence on the poor-list of what are termed "French Neuterls." These were Acadians the neighbors and compatriots of Evangeline feeble folk, who, void of romance, succumbed in despair to exile and homesickness, a new language and a new manner of living, and yielded weakly to work as servants when they had no courage to maintain homes. New England paupers lived to a good old age. I have been told that the unhappy fate of one of these town-poor an Acadian was traced for over thirty years in the town records of her sale. In 1767 there were twenty-one paupers in Danvers, Mass., and their average age was eighty-four years, thus apparently offering proof of good rum and good usage from the town. There was also an hereditary pauperism. In Salem a certain family always had some of its members on the list of town-poor from the year 1721 to 1848; and perhaps they found better homes through "living around" than in trying to support themselves.
Criminals were also sold into service to work out their sentences. Thus did the practical settlers attempt to carry out one of Sir Thomas More's Utopian notions. Upon the whole, I think I should rather have a Nipmuck squaw cooking in my kitchen, or a Pequot warrior digging in my garden, than to have a white burglar or ruffian in either situation.
It is well to observe in passing that no gingerly nicety of regard in calling those who served by any other name than servant, was shown or heeded in olden times. They believed with St. Paul, "Art thou called being a servant? Care not for it." All hired workers in the house, hired laborers in the field, those contracting to work under a master at any trade for a period of time, apprentices, and many whom we should now term agents or stewards, were then called servants, and signed contracts as servants, and did not appear at all insulted by being termed servants.