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While it secured the best kind of settlers, when they did come, it prevented that general rush which took place in other districts, where land could be had almost for the asking. In this, Medford was peculiar; and these facts explain why the town went so long without public schools and churches. Surely, in some respects, Medford had a small beginning ; but Governor Dudley, speaking on the subject, says, “Small things, in the beginning of natural and political bodies, are as remarkable as greater in bodies full grown.”
The following records give the town's population at several epochs :
1707: Medford had 46 ratable polls; which number, mul. tiplied by five, gives 230 inhabitants.
In 1736, it had 133; which gives 665.
In 1763, it had 104 houses ; 147 families ; 161 males under sixteen ; 150 females under sixteen ; 207 males above sixteen ; 223 females above sixteen. Total, 741 inhabitants.
In 1776, it had 967; in 1784, 981; in 1790, 1,029; in 1800, 1,114; in 1810, 1,443; in 1820, 1,474; in 1830, 1,755; in 1840, 2,478; in 1850, 3,749.
In 1854, 1,299 residents in Medford were taxed.,
MANNERS AND CUSTOMS.
The law-maxim, Consuetudo pro lege servatur, expresses what we all feel, — that custom is law; and is it not stronger than any statute? A free people project themselves into their customs and manners as a part of their freedom. So was it with our Medford ancestors. The children of our first settlers, removed from the sight and dread of European aristocracy and social oppression, grew up as the iron circumstances of a pioneer life moulded them. Individualism seemed forced upon them; and, if a state organization existed, they felt that it existed by them, and not they by it. An intellectual and moral manliness grew out of this fact.
Some of the customs of our ancestors were inconceivably puerile, some were needlessly severe, and some gloriously noble. The Puritan idea of religion was woven, like a golden thread, through the entire web of human life; and nothing but their religion would have enabled them to accomplish what they did.
It was the custom in Medford for the selectmen to appoint a thanksgiving day on hearing of any victory gained by British arms in any quarter of the world. They ordered a town-fast if a case of smallpox was reported among them, or if the weather was unfavorable, or if sickness prevailed, or if Quakers threatened to come to their plantation. But there were some physical and social evils which they did not go to God either to prevent or remedy: they took the administration into their own hands. A Commissioner's Court, composed in part of the selectmen of Medford, had jurisdiction within the town, and could issue warrants and enforce judgments. This easy terror proved effective in restraining lawless conduct. The agency of this judicial and executive power may be seen in our account of crimes and punishments. We turn to more agreeable customs.
Marriages. — Whether it was from jealousy of ministerial rights, or hatred of Episcopal forms, or from considering the nuptial tie as a mere civil bond, or from any other cause, we know not; but the General Court early deprived clergymen of the power of solemnizing marriages, and bestowed it on magistrates. This legislation was in direct hostility to English usage. May 29, 1686, the General Court made proclamation, authorizing clergymen to solemnize marriages; but it was a long time before it became common to apply to them.
If a man made “a motion of marriage” to his chosen one, without first gaining the permission of her parents, he was fined severely. Before they could be legally married, they must be “ cried” three times in some public place, each announcement being seven days apart.
Weddings were occasions of exuberant jollity. Pent-up nature leaped forth with an hilarious spring, proportioned to the social duress in which it had been held. To show how much was thought of these red-letter days in Medford, there were instances where provisions for them were made in wills. The entire day was devoted to one; and every form of youthful frolic and maturer joy came in turn. The house of the bride was open for all the invited guests of both parties; and rural games were all the fashion. The cake and wine, though abundant, did not prevent the offer of more substantial viands. A custom like this would be apt to run into extremes; and this became so apparent as to call forth from the ministers of Boston a “ testimony against evil customs” in 1719. They called them “ riotous irregularities."
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Funerals. — As the Established Church of the mother country made a formal service over the remains of its members, it was deemed expedient and Christian, by the Puritans, not to imitate such examples; and, accordingly, they buried their dead without funeral prayers. Neither did they read the Scriptures! What they could have substituted for these simple, rational, and impressive rites, we do not know, but presume it must have been a sermon and a hymn. The first prayer made by a clergyman at a funeral, which we have heard of, was made by Rev. Mr. Wilson, of Medfield, at the funeral of Rev. Mr. Adams, of Roxbury, Aug. 19, 1685. The first one made at a funeral in Boston was at the interment of Dr. Mayhew, 1766. The pomp and circumstance of grief were certainly not forgotten on this side of the Atlantic. At the burial of a rich man, a magistrate, or a minister, there was great parade and much expense. Mourning-scarfs, black crapes, pendulous hat bands, common gloves, and gold rings, were gratuities to the chief mourners. The officers accompanying the funeral procession bore staffs or halberts, robed in mourning. The dead body was carried, not by hired men, but by the near friends of the deceased; and the funeral train was often stopped to allow fresh bearers to take their turn. When a female was buried, females walked first; when a male, the men. At the grave, the coffin was opened, to allow the last look. On the return to the house, a repast was served ; and there were eating and drinking on the largest scale. In a town near Medford, the funeral of a clergyman took place in 1774; and the record of charges runs thus: “For twelve gold rings, £8; Lisbon wine, Malaga wine, West India rum, £5. 16s. 8d. ; lemons, sugar, pipes, and tobacco, £3. 8s. 6d. ; gloves, £40. ls. 6d.; death's-head and cross-bones, 15s." The funeral of Captain Sprague (1703) cost £147. 16s.
“ The Grand American Continental Congress," assembled at Philadelphia, 1774, agreed with regard to funerals thus: “On the death of any relation or friend, none of us, or any of our families, will go into any further mourning-dress than a black crape or ribbon on the arm or hat, for gentlemen ; and black ribbon and necklace, for ladies; and we will discountenance the giving of gloves and scarfs at funerals." This resolve suddenly changed the New England customs; and the new customs then introduced continue to hold their place.
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Festival Days. — These were too fashionable in the mother * country to be popular here. There were some holidays, of American origin, which were celebrated with enthusiasm. Election-day was hailed with drums, guns, and drinking. Commencement-day at Cambridge College was a great festival, uniting the church and the state ; and each one of the whole community seemed personally interested in it. Small detachments of bors from Medford went under the care of trusty slaves. Seal says, “The people were as cheerful among their friends as the English are at Christmas.” Ordination-days came not very often; but, when they did, the occasion demanded great outlays in food and drinks; and, in the evening, there were what the ministers called “unbecoming actions," – probably blindman's-buff, and such other tolerable frolic as took place at huskings. Pope-day, though of English origin, was noticed by our ancestors; and the 5th of November brought the gunpowder-plot, sermons, and carousing, into the same twenty-four hours. It was the season for bonfires, and for replenishing the mind with hatred of the Catholics.
Of the European holidays which our fathers rejected, there was Christmas. If any one observed it, he was fined five shillings! Increase Vather (1687), in his “ Testimony against several Profane and Superstitious Customs now practised by some in New England,” says Candlemas-day had “superstition written on its forehead.” “ Shrove Tuesday was the heathen's shrove-tide, when the pagan Romans made little cakes as a sacrifice to their gods, and the heathen Greeks made pancakes to their idols.” Drinking healths, and making New-Year's gifts, were discouraged, as paganish customs. The drama was thus forbidden: “Baptized persons are under obligation to renounce all the pomps of Satan, and therefore to abhor and abandon stage-plays, which have a principal part in the pomps of the Devil.” For equally valid reasons, May-day was anathematized; and when, in Charlestown, they thought of erecting a May-pole, Mr. Mather, in 1686, said, “ It is an abominable shame, that any persons, in a land of such light and purity as New England has been, should have the face to speak or think of practising so vile a piece of heathenism.” Dancing was dangerous because the daughter of Herodias danced John the Baptist's head off.” But Mr. Mather says, in 1685, that, within the last year, promiscuous dancing was openly practised, and too much
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countenanced, in this town." He further says, “I can remember the time, when, for many years, not so much as one of these superstitious customs was known to be practised in this land. Ask such of the old standers if it were not so. Alas! that so many of the present generation have so early corrupted their doings ! Methinks I hear the Lord speaking to New England as once to Israel: 'I planted thee a noble vine, wholly a right seed. How art thou turned into the degenerate plant of a strange vine unto me!'”
It is very clear, from these facts, that the minds of our fathers were magnetized by predilections which could not tolerate innovation.
We would now descend to particulars and personalities, and speak minutely of some of the domestic customs of our ancestors. We will begin with —
Dress. — The costume of our early settlers had the peculiarities of their day. There was then, as now, a rage for something new; but the range in variety was very small. Nevertheless, female extravagance had gone so far, that an interdict of legislation was called for to arrest the destructive expenditures ; &nd, Sept. 3, 1634, the General Court said,
“The court hath ordered, that no person, either man or woman, shall hereafter make or buy any apparel, either woollen, silk, or linen, with any lace on it, silver, gold, silk, or thread, under the penalty of forfeiture of said clothes. Also all gold or silver girdles, þatbands, belts, ruffs, beaver-hats, are prohibited. Also immoberate great sleeves, slashed apparel, immoderate great rayles, long wings, &c."
It took only five years for the modistes of this centre of transatlantic fashion to change the forms so as to make another legislative interference necessary. Accordingly, on the 9th of September, 1639, the General Court forbade lace to be sold or used ; and they say, —
“Hereafter, no garment shall be made with short sleeves, whereby the nakedness of the arm may be discovered in the wearing thereof; and, hereafter, no person whatsoever shall make any garment for women, or any of their sex, with sleeves more than half an ell wide in the widest place thereof; and so proportionable for bigger or smaller persons."
In this forbidding of bare necks and naked arms (the very opposite of the dress à la sauvage), there was neither studied humility nor conspicuous poverty, but the recom