Halls of Massachusetts and Rhode Island

Raynham, Taunton, Norton, Malden, Seekonk & Providence

Life in the 1600’s & 1700’s in Taunton



The folks of the town most probably came from SW England (were we find similar names of surrounding towns; Norton, Dorchester, Weymouth, Wareham, Bridgewater, Plymouth, Barnstable, Somerset, Berkley). The first settlers of Taunton came primarily from Massachusetts and not the Plymouth Colony.  Most came over in the Arbella and the Mary and John and not the Mayflower or the Fortune. 


The Mary & John left England in March of 1630 and arrived seventy days later, on May 30, 1630, at the mouth of what is now Boston harbor. The ship’s captain refused to sail up the Charles River as planned, because he feared running the ship aground in waters that he had no charts for. He instead left the passengers in desolate locale miles from their intended destination. The settlers were forced to transport 150,000 pounds of livestock, provisions and equipment 20 miles overland to their final destination. No actual recorded passenger list from the Mary & John has come to light and there remain many questions as to who actually sailed on this ship and who came on subsequent ships. Some of the people on these lists have later been proven not to have traveled on the Mary & John.


By early 1630, a fleet of 12 ships was ready to take roughly 1,000 people to New England. The largest vessel, the 350-ton Arabella, carried passengers, many heads of cattle, and provisions. Bad weather delayed the ship’s departure several times; after several false starts, on April 10, 1630 the Arabella sailed into the open waters of the Atlantic. The ship reached Salem, MA on June 12th; two days later, the passengers stepped ashore as the ship’s captain fired a five-gun salute. The rest of the fleet arrived in the next few weeks. It was the beginning of what became known as the Great Migration (1630–1642), during which thousands of English families immigrated to Massachusetts.


The original deed can not be found but it is believed that the land was purchased at 2 shillings per acre from the Massasoit who’s Indian name was Ousamequin (see appendix C).


This purchase was the shape of a diamond with parallel sides but no right angles. It’s northerly corner near Mansfield was called “Cobbler’s Corner” It was 8 miles long on every side and was generally called the eight mile purchase or long square. It was 64 square miles or about 40,000 acres.


In 1640, 43, 63 & 65 various additions were made.  The second great addition in June 1668 was called the Taunton North Purchase of sixty square miles or 38,000 acres for 100 ponds.  Four years later in 1672 a tract of land along the river, 16 miles square, was purchased partially from King Phillip.  Until 1711 the area of Taunton covered the area now comprising the towns of Norton, Easton, Mansfield, Raynham, Dighton and Berkley.


To become a freeman in the colony one had to be at least 21 years of age, have the testimony of neighbors that they are sober and peacable, Orthodox in religion and own an estate valued at least twenty pounds (Ply Col Laws pg 258).  In Massachusetts the rules were stricter stating that freeman must be church members (4 Mass. Col. Rec. pg 420). 


The first meeting house was built in 1647 (or earlier) by Henry Andrews in the area of Namasket Pond at a place called Calf Pasture. A grist mill was erected in 1652/3 by Thomas Linkon on the West side of the Mill river which was afterwards owned for many years by the Crosman family.  The sawmill was built nearby in 1659 by Henry Andrews and John Macomber. 


Iron ore was discovered along the backs of the two mile river in Taunton.  George Hall, Richard Williams, Walter Deane, James Walker, Oliver Purchis, Elizabeth Poole and others formed a joint stock company with 600 pounds and built a dam across the river to enable the town to produce bar iron from bog ore in 1656. George Hall was the first clerk and manager of the company.  In 1777 it passed to the hands of Hon. Josiah Dean who converted it to a rolling mill, nail works, and making copper bolts for shipbuilding.  In 1825 it became an anchor forge and eventually the structure was demolished. 


In 1677 the free school system was established in the Old Colony.  Towns of greater than 50 families were to have a grammar school and inhabitants were to be taxed for such.


In 1699 Thomas Coram established a ship yard.


In 1709 the North Precinct was established and in 1711 it became a separate town called Norton (and included the present town of Easton and Mansfield).  In 1712, Dighton became a separate town. In 1731 another area broke off and became the town of Raynham.  In 1735 Berkley became a town.


Also in 1735 some of the townsmen petitioned to establish a town in Vermont which called itself New Taunton and is now named Westminster. The petitioners included Capt. Joseph Tisdale, James Williams, James Leonard, William Hodges, Joseph Wilbur, Ebenezer Dean, James Walker and others. 


In 1746 an act was passed to make Taunton a shire-town and the first County Court was held on December 9, 1746.  The first jail was erected in 1747.


New England 1700[2]


The population in New England in 1700 is roughly estimated to be 106,000.  In Massachusetts and Maine there were 70,000, New Hampshire had 5,000, Rhode Island 6,000 and Connecticut 25,000. The people were almost 100% from England with a small infusion of Norman’s, Welsh, Scottish-Irish and Huguenots. 


Social distinctions were related to birth, ancestral or individual service, ability, education and wealth.  The recognized classes in order of importance were: gentlemen (who held public offices and professions), yeomen, merchants and mechanics and at church people were seated according to this classification.  There was also a distinction between old-comers and new-comers, the old families being socially superior.   


Slaves were few in number and the majorities were house servants who were not harshly treated, however the race in general was despised.  In 1700, Judge Samuel Sewell was the first to denounce slavery in a pamphlet calling it “the wicked practice”. 


There was a full system of courts ranging from colonial judges down to the justices of the peace.  The clergy was very popular had great influence on the colony and impressed their character upon the laws and institutions of the community.  It was a time of medical “quackery”.  Most physicians had little medical knowledge and they were primarily “herb doctors”.  The first medical school was not established until 1760 in Philadelphia.  


The important industries included fisheries, lumber and iron mining.  There was abundant water power, saw and grist mills, tanneries and distilleries.  Colonists made linens and course woolens and beaver hats and paper were manufactured on a small scale.  The people were mainly dressed in home spun cloth and there was a spinning wheel found in every farm house.  By 1750 there was a large export business – dried fish, timber, hay, grain and cattle. New Englanders manufactured and exported rum made from West Indies sugar and molasses.


The people were in moderate financial circumstances and fairly educated.  Young and old worked hard, were frugal, thrifty and rigid in morals.  While coldly ridged towards strangers they were kind and hospitable.   The men wore long stockings, knee breaches with buckled shoes.  Homes had great open fireplaces and kitchens were noted for brasses and pewter.  Cider and rum were favorite drinks but drunkenness was less of a problem than in other colonies.  The general tone of life was sedate.


The young people enjoyed simple amusements: house raisings, dance parties, husking, spinning, quilting, and apple paring bees. 


Outside of large towns, wheeled vehicles except for heavy loads were uncommon. Horseback was the typical mode of travel.  A tavern was found in each town with good lodgings at reasonable rates. 


By 1649 each town had its own school and education was compulsory (except in Rhode Island).  Harvard was established in 1636 and Yale in 1700. 


There was little crime.  Doors and windows were seldom locked and young women could travel alone safely.  Great publicity was given to those who did commit crimes and every town had stocks, gibbets, ducking-stools, pillories and whipping posts.  Criminals might be branded or forced to wear colored letters sewed to their garments which represented their crime.


The town meeting was a primary assembly where all local affairs were addressed.  The colonial government addressed general interests. 


New England 1750[3]

In 1750 New England was still a new world now with a population of nearly 400,000 —a world dominated less by human beings than by the natural environment. Towering forests of pine, oak, maple, elm, beech, and chestnut covered most of eastern North America. These forests were home to tens of thousands of deer and other wildlife. An intricate network of streams, rivers, and lakes crisscrossed the landscape, draining the land and providing homes for millions of beaver and freshwater fish.

A unique social order developed in New England, an area that included the colonies of Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and New Hampshire. English Puritans who were members of a radical Protestant sect that followed the teachings of the Swiss theologian John Calvin, settled the region between 1620 and 1640, seeking freedom from religious persecution. A century later the descendants of these first settlers formed the overwhelming majority of the population and made New England the most culturally and religiously homogeneous of the three colonial regions. Because of its cold climate and rocky soils, New England was also the poorest region. Unlike the other regions of North America, its farms could not grow valuable export crops to ship to markets in Europe.

As they settled New England, the Puritans created self-governing communities and religious congregations composed of independent landowning farmers, or yeomen, and their families. The Puritan political leadership granted large areas of land to groups of male settlers, known as the proprietors, who then divided the land among themselves. Men of higher social standing usually received larger portions, but every male received enough land to support a family. Equally important, every male had a voice in the town meeting. As the main institution of local government, the town meeting levied taxes, built roads, and elected officials to manage town affairs.

Because of Puritan beliefs that God singled out only a few specific people for salvation, the residents of New England did not automatically become part of the Congregational Church, the church the Puritans founded. Instead, membership was limited to those who could testify convincingly before members of the church that they had experienced religious conversion, or had been saved. Those who had been saved were known as “the elect,” or “Saints,” and they represented less than 40 percent of the New England population. Because of the power wielded by Saints and men of high status, the New England system of landowning and politics was not fully democratic, but it gave ordinary people more autonomy than their ancestors in England had enjoyed.

The overwhelming majority of New England families lived on farms. Within these farm families, and English families in other regions as well, husbands had virtually complete legal power over the property and person of their wives. At marriage English women lost their maiden names and their legal identity; in general, they could not own property, file legal suits, or participate in political life. The prescribed social role of wives was to bear and nurture healthy children and to work as helpmates to their husbands. Most women diligently carried out these duties. In the mid-18th century, New England women usually married in their early 20s and bore six to eight children, most of who survived to adulthood. Farm women also provided nearly all of the goods used by their families—spinning yarn from wool and knitting it into sweaters and stockings, making candles and soap, and churning milk into butter and cheese.

Most New England parents tried to help their children establish farms of their own. As sons and daughters reached the age of marriage, fathers provided them with gifts of land, livestock, or farm equipment. Parents also selected the marriage partners of their children, so that their children would have hard-working spouses who would maintain or increase the family’s farm property. Despite this custom of arranged marriages, parents usually allowed their children to refuse an unacceptable match.

Partly because of the abundance of trees, New England yeoman families usually lived in wooden houses. The typical house was one-and-a-half stories in height and had a strong frame (usually of large, square timbers) that was covered by wooden clapboard siding. A large stone chimney stood in the center of the house, providing cooking facilities and heat during the long winters. One side of the ground floor contained a hall, a general-purpose room where the family worked and ate. On the other side was the parlor, which contained the best furniture and the parents’ bed and was used to entertain guests. The children slept in the loft above the main rooms, while the kitchen was either part of the hall or in an attached shed along the rear of the house. Because colonial families were large, there was much activity and little privacy in these small dwellings.

New England families worked on their own farms. The family and its livestock consumed most of the crops that the family farm produced; any surplus was exchanged for needed manufactured goods. The first settlers grew the traditional English crops of wheat and barley (for bread and beer), but over time they adapted their production to the new environment. After 1700 many New England farmers grew mainly corn and raised cattle and hogs. The ears of corn offered food for humans, and corn stalks and leaves furnished feed for cows, bulls, steers, and pigs. The cows, in turn, provided milk products, and steers and pigs were slaughtered and sold in the form of preserved meat.

By the middle of the 18th century this way of life was facing a crisis. The region’s population had nearly doubled each generation—from 100,000 in 1700, to 200,000 in 1725, to 350,000 by 1750—because farm families had many children and most people lived until they were over 60 years old. As colonists in long-settled areas of Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island divided and then subdivided their lands, the farms increasingly became too small to support single families, threatening the New England ideal of a society of independent yeoman farmers.

Farm families responded creatively to this challenge to their traditional way of life. To provide land for the next generation, some farmers obtained land grants in undeveloped parts of Massachusetts and Connecticut or bought land from speculators in New Hampshire or in what later became Vermont. Other farmers became agricultural innovators. They planted nutritious English grasses such as red clover and timothy, which provided more forage for their livestock, and they planted potatoes, whose high yield partially offset the disadvantage of smaller farms. Finally, many of these farm families increased their productivity by exchanging goods and labor among themselves. They loaned draft animals and grazing land to one another and worked cooperatively to spin yarn, sew quilts, and shuck corn. These creative measures—migration, agricultural innovation, and economic cooperation—preserved New England’s yeoman society until the 19th century.

By 1750 a variety of artisans, shopkeepers, and merchants provided services to the growing agricultural population. Blacksmiths, wheelwrights (wagon makers), and furniture makers set up shops in many rural villages, where they built and repaired the equipment and goods needed by farm families. Traders also established stores that stocked imported English manufactures such as cloth, iron utensils, and window glass, as well as West Indian products such as sugar and molasses. The storekeepers exchanged these imported goods for farm crops and other local products, including shingles, potash (ashes used to make glass), and barrel staves, all of which they shipped to towns and cities along the Atlantic Coast. To service this transportation system, enterprising men set up horse stables and taverns along the wagon roads.

When these local products arrived in major seaport towns such as Boston and Salem in Massachusetts, New Haven in Connecticut, and Newport and Providence in Rhode Island, merchants there exported them to the West Indies, where they exchanged them for sugar, molasses, gold coins, and bills of exchange (credit slips). They carried the West Indian products back to the New England colonial factories, where the raw sugar was refined into loaves of granulated sugar and the molasses was distilled into rum. The merchants sent the gold and credit slips to England and traded them for manufactures, which they carried back to the colonies and sold along with sugar and rum to rural farmers.

Other New England merchants exploited the rich fishing areas along the northeastern coast of North America, financing a large fishing fleet and transporting its catch of mackerel and cod to markets in southern Europe and the West Indies. Still other entrepreneurs took advantage of the abundant supplies of timber along the coasts and rivers of northern New England. They financed sawmills that provided low-cost wood for houses and shipbuilding. Hundreds of New England shipbuilders, sail makers, and blacksmiths built oceangoing ships, which they sold to British and American merchants.

As merchants grew wealthy by providing commercial services to the farm population, they eventually came to dominate the societies of the seaport cities. Unlike the yeoman farming families, these wealthy merchants imitated the upper classes in England by building large two-and-a-half-story houses designed in the popular new Georgian style. A Georgian house had a symmetrical façade, or front face, with equal numbers of windows on each side of the central door. The interior consisted of a passageway down the middle of the house with specialized rooms—library, dining room, formal parlor, and master bedroom—off to the sides. Each of these rooms served a separate purpose, unlike the multipurpose halls and parlors of yeoman houses. In a Georgian house, men primarily used certain rooms, such as the library, while women frequented others, such as the kitchen. Georgian houses also boasted separate bedrooms on the second floor that gave privacy to the parents and children.

The Puritans who settled New England were intensely religious men and women. All of these Puritans had experienced a conversion; they had felt God’s grace and were “born again.” Consequently, they tried to make their new society into a holy commonwealth. Following a rule outlined in the Bible, Puritans in Massachusetts divided inheritances among all children, with a double portion going to the oldest son. ‘Where there is no law,’ the government advised local magistrates, they should rule ‘as near the law of God as they can.’ Moreover, these devout Christians believed that God intervened constantly in their lives, and they saw signs of God’s (or Satan’s) power in blazing stars, deformed births, and other unusual events. Always on the outlook for wizards or witches, who acted at the command of Satan, civil authorities in Massachusetts and Connecticut accused scores of people of witchcraft during the 17th century and hanged 35 alleged witches.

By the mid-18th century many members of Puritan churches had lost the religious fervor of their ancestors, and their “deadness of soul” worried their ministers. Influenced by resurgences of religious enthusiasm in Germany and Britain, New England ministers led a religious revival known as the Great Awakening. Evangelical ministers traveled through the colonial countryside and made emotional appeals for sinners to repent in order to attain salvation. In the mid-1730s the Puritan minister Jonathan Edwards began a revival in the churches in the Connecticut River valley. Then, in 1739, George Whitefield, a young English preacher, sparked a major revival throughout the British colonies. ‘Hearing him preach gave me a heart wound,’ confessed one Connecticut farmer, who became convinced that he had sinned and must seek the new light of God’s grace.

Support for the new religious message of these evangelists reached its peak during the early 1740s. Thousands of fallen-away Christians returned to their churches, taught moral principles to their children, and vowed to reform their personal lives. The revivalists’ emphasis on “enthusiasm” divided many colonial churches. To some extent, these divisions followed existing lines of occupation and wealth. The revivalists, or New Lights, found many followers among ordinary farmers and artisans, and they supported a more open or democratic approach to religion. Conversely, many wealthy New England merchants became religious traditionalists, or Old Lights, who believed the new movement threatened established religion. In contrast to the New Lights, Old Light ministers preferred church services that were calm and restrained. Like the minister Charles Chauncy of Boston, the Old Lights condemned the ‘cryings out, faintings and convulsions’ produced by the emotional preaching of the New Lights, especially when these sermons were delivered by traveling evangelists who had no formal education.

The Great Awakening changed religious life throughout the colonies, but its impact in New England was especially profound. New Lights condemned tradition-minded church members as unconverted sinners and challenged the authority of their ministers. In a much-read pamphlet of 1740, The Dangers of an Unconverted Ministry, Presbyterian clergyman and New Light Gilbert Tennent argued that any person who had received the saving grace of God was as qualified to preach as the most-educated minister. Dozens of ordinary men and women heeded Tennent’s words, roaming the countryside and preaching to anyone who would listen.

In response, Old Lights in Connecticut won the passage of a law restricting the activities of traveling preachers, and tradition-minded ministers spoke out strongly against enthusiasm. Soon, many churches split in two: New Lights left established churches and founded new churches or joined existing Baptist congregations which, with their emphasis on equality and community and their focus on individual spiritual rebirth, appealed to the revivalists. Equally significant, they refused to pay taxes to support the Congregational Church, which was the official church in Connecticut and Massachusetts. Instead, they argued in favor of the voluntary support of religion and a greater separation between church and state.

In New England, unlike other colonial regions, elementary education was widespread. The first Puritan settlers believed that everyone should be able to study the Bible, so they taught their children to read at an early age. They also required every town to pay for a primary school. As a result of this law, most boys in New England had some formal schooling, and about ten percent enjoyed secondary education in publicly financed grammar schools in the larger towns. Most boys learned their skills by helping their fathers at farm tasks or as apprentices to artisans. Only a few girls attended local primary schools, but many more received some education at home or in so-called dame schools, where women taught basic writing and reading skills in their homes. In 1750 nearly 90 percent of New England women (and virtually all men) could read and write, giving this region a higher literacy rate than any other area in Europe or America. Many churches in New England also established colleges to train ministers. For example, Puritans founded both Harvard College (now Harvard University) in Massachusetts in 1636 and Yale College (now Yale University) in Connecticut in 1701. Later, Baptists set up the Rhode Island College (now Brown University) in 1764 and a Congregationalist minister received a royal charter to establish Dartmouth College in New Hampshire in 1769. However, only a few people—no women and a very small percentage of men—attended college.

New England produced more literary works—mostly histories, sermons, and personal journals—than the rest of the colonies combined. Many of these writings were either created by ministers or inspired by religion. For example, the Boston minister Cotton Mather published Magnalia Christi Americana (The Great Works of Christ in America, 1702), an epic account of the Puritans’ experience in America, while the great revivalist Jonathan Edwards wrote an impressive philosophical work, A Careful and Strict Enquiry Into…Notions of…Freedom of Will…(1754). Most music was also religious in nature, primarily taking the form of the singing of Psalms. Because of New England’s strong religious character, colonies banned those artistic endeavors that lacked religious content or were too “worldly” in their concerns, such as drama and other forms of theatrical entertainment

[1] Quarter Millennial Celebration of the City of Taunton, Prepared-by S.H. Emery, W.E. Fuller and J.H. Dean, committees on publication of proceedings.

[2] The Colonies, 1492-1750 By Reuben Gold Thwaites


June 3, 2008 - Posted by | 0. General


  1. I enjoyed reading this blog on Taunton Hall. My ancestor is George Hall and then Samuel Hall.

    Comment by Konne | February 18, 2013 | Reply

    • Glad you enjoyed it! We have proven through DNA that we are not related to George or Samuel…but they did all live in the same area.

      Comment by Linda Hall-Little | July 1, 2013 | Reply

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