Life in the early colonies was an interesting one for the earliest American settlers. Being a Puritan meant following a strict lifestyle and one that was not necessarily approved by the Church of England, which is part of the reason for the early settlement in what would become known as colonial New England. This separation of religions is what sparked Puritan life and stood as the foundation for everything they did; it wasn't just going to church regularly, it was living one's life according to God's will.
While many know that this time period is also what started the Salem Witch Trials, many don't realize the village life that occurred prior to and after them. While it's true that this was a big cause for paranoia, it was also the inspiration for novels such as The Scarlet Letter, as Puritan life had strict punishment for those who went against the church or their faith. Life was vastly different for men, women, children, and teens, and each person had a role in society as well as a role to serve in the household. Movies and plays such as The Crucible and The VVitch also drew inspiration from early Puritan life, and this is what history tells us a day in the life of a Puritan was like.
A New Beginning, Or So It Was Thought
New England was established out of a need for those separated from the English Protestant Church. In 1530, the English decided a separate from the Roman Catholic Church was necessary, and reform in belief soon followed. Roughly 30 years later, those who still believed in the 'purification' the Church - the Puritans - eventually decided to distance themselves, quite literally, from England. Thus, New England was deemed the location of the new colony and in 1630, the Puritans began a new life there.
The new way of life for the Puritans started with both God and the church at the center of their life, and in every aspect of their work, school, and family lives. Thus, it was only natural that the minister became the most influential person in the town as well, as he spoke for the church.
It soon became known that those living in the colonies would have longer lives than those who lived in England, and many even lived to watch their future generations grow up. This was nearly unheard of until that time and can be attributed to a healthier lifestyle all around (harsh winters aside) as well as better air quality and other improvements that did not come with living in England. Additionally, pregnancy rates were up and it was soon not uncommon for families to grow to large sizes, especially in Maryland and Virginia. This was so prevalent that it's said, according to ushistory.org, that New England was the 'birthplace of grandparents.'
Thanks to Massachusetts law which required a high tax, literacy rates were up as well, and the sole purpose of this was so that children would be able to read the Bible. Taxes paid for the schools that were built for communities up to 50, meaning that, for the most part, having an education was fully possible in the colonies.
However, not everyone had rights in colonial New England. It's no secret that the villages were run by men and women had little rights if any at all. They weren't permitted to attend town meetings and didn't have any power in church decisions. The minister supported this concept as well, claiming that the soul consisted of two halves - an immortal half, which was the 'masculine' half, and the mortal half, which was the 'feminine' half. This belief extended even to childbirth, where it was believed that a woman would have a nice rosy complexion should she be pregnant with a boy, and a pale complexion should she be having a girl.
Those who didn't follow the rules of the church or respect the rules society had set in place would be subject to serious consequences. Routinely missing church meant that those in defiance would be fined, as the church was a place where meetings were held and important issues were discussed. It's said that those who didn't pay attention in church were also subject to punishment, as it was the job of one man selected to carry a pole which had feathers at one end to 'tickle' the faces of those who fell asleep, and a knob at the other to prod sleeping children.
Those who didn't complete God's work were punished even more harshly and some accounts even tell of hangings in Boston Commons as a result for those who dared worship a different religion. Adulterers, as seen in The Scarlet Letter, were actually forced to wear a scarlet letter 'A,' if they weren't executed for their crimes against marriage. Public whippings and the use of a stockade were also considered adequate punishment and since the Puritans believed in the Old Testament ways of life, they figured their punishments on earth were far minor compared to what God would punish them for. While this seems incredibly harsh, it was believed that as long as God's law was followed, no one would be harmed or need punishment for their wrongdoings.