The modern interpretation of many 17th century Puritan customs ranges from strange and strict, to extreme and possibly evil. Even so, many people lived by these beliefs and honoured them in the same ways that we currently do ours. Some of the more unusual, or surprising, customs in their societies were:
Thimbles as Tokens
Always trying to increase the efficiency of the society, Puritan men gave their promise to the love of their lives in the form of thimbles. These ‘engagement rings’ were practical and significantly more useful to the women in creating items for their new homes. As the wedding drew closer the bottom of the thimble would be cut off, creating a ring which the bride would wear after the ceremony.
Christians without Christmas
Puritans believed that many of the events that were celebrated in Europe and her colonises were to be banned, including the massive emphasis celebration which took place in honour of Christ’s birth. Leaders in the Massachusetts Bay Colony went as far as to begin charging a fine of 5 shillings for anybody found practising the custom. To the Puritans, Christmas was synonymous with unchristian like behaviour and disorderly conduct.
During the years when the Americas were being colonised there was a widespread fear and belief in spirits and other forms of supernatural influences. Much of this was due to the fact that people were unable to explain occurrences scientifically. Anything that was not understood was believed to be caused by magic. Puritans were no different than other members of society, where this was concerned, believing in fairies and even allowing spectral evidence to be used in court trials.
Appreciation of Alcohol
Based on their reputation and the way in which they viewed celebrations and merriment, it is surprising that Puritans even allowed alcoholic beverages into their communities but they enjoyed them frequently. In addition to wine and beer, which were commonplace during the times, they also indulged in gin and brandy. Taverns became very popular in communities and homemade alcohol was brewed from a variety of crops including carrots, tomatoes, onions and beets. Puritan leaders spoke of alcohol as a gift from God, believing that it was to be enjoyed without overindulgence to avoid wasting this glorious product bestowed on them.
In an era when women were believed to be inferior and were placed in roles of limited authority, Puritan woman were surprisingly well educated. One of the most important reasons for this custom was the fact that they would use their knowledge to raise more religious children. Mothers were in charge of reading scriptures to their young and teaching them the ways of the bible. Wives were also allowed to run the finances of the household and deal with legal affairs for their husbands, on many occasions. This was a bittersweet privilege for many, however, as it meant they were put under additional scrutiny by the community.