Home  »  A Library of American Literature  »  Manners and Customs of Connecticut in the Last Century

Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889

Manners and Customs of Connecticut in the Last Century

By Samuel Peters (1735–1826)

[From A General History of Connecticut. 1781.]

GRAVITY and a serious deportment, together with shyness and bashfulness, generally attend the first communications with the inhabitants of Connecticut; but, after a short acquaintance, they become very familiar and inquisitive about news. “Who are you, whence come you, where going, what is your business, and what your religion?” They do not consider these and similar questions as impertinent, and consequently expect a civil answer. When the stranger has satisfied their curiosity, they will treat him with all the hospitality in their power, and great caution must be observed to get quit of them and their houses without giving them offence.

If the stranger has cross and difficult roads to travel, they will go with him till all danger is past, without fee or reward. The stranger has nothing to do but civilly to say, “Sir, I thank you, and will call upon you when I return.” He must not say, “God bless you, I shall be glad to see you at my house,” unless he is a minister; because they hold, that the words “God bless you” should not be spoken by common people; and, “I shall be glad to see you at my house,” they look upon as an insincere compliment paid them for what they do out of duty to the stranger. Their hospitality is highly exemplary; they are sincere in it, and reap great pleasure by reflecting that perhaps they have entertained angels. The Rev. Mr. George Whitefield, in one of his sermons, gave them the following character: “I have found,” said he, “the people of Connecticut the wisest of any upon the continent—they are the best friends and the worst enemies—they are hair-brained bigots on all sides—and they may be compared to the horse and mule without bit and bridle. In other colonies I have paid for my food and lodging; but could never spend one penny in fruitful Connecticut, whose banks flow with milk and honey, and whose sons and daughters never fail to feed and refresh the weary traveller without money and without price.”

On Saturday evenings the people look sour and sad: on the Sabbath they appear to have lost their dearest friends, and are almost speechless, and walk softly; they even observe it with more exactness than ever did the Jews. A quaker preacher told them, with much truth, that they worshipped the Sabbath, and not the God of the Sabbath. Those hospitable people without charity condemned the quaker as a blasphemer of the holy Sabbath, fined, tarred and feathered him, put a rope about his neck, and plunged him into the sea: but he escaped with life, though he was above seventy years of age. In 1750, an episcopal clergyman, born and educated in England, who had been in holy orders above twenty years, once broke their sabbatical law, by combing a discomposed lock of hair on the top of his wig; at another time by making a humming noise, which they called a whistling; at a third time, by walking too fast from church; at a fourth by running into church when it rained; at a fifth by walking in his garden, and picking a bunch of grapes: for which several crimes he was complained of by the grand jury, had warrants granted against him, was seized, brought to trial, and paid a considerable sum of money. At last, overwhelmed with persecution and vexation, he cried out, “No Briton, nay no Jew, should assume any public character in Connecticut, till he has served an apprenticeship of ten years in it; for I have been here seven years, and strictly observed the Jewish law concerning the Sabbath, yet find myself remiss in respect to the perfect law of liberty!”

The people are extremely fond of strangers passing through the colony, but very averse to foreigners settling among them; which few have done without ruin to their characters and fortunes by detraction and lawsuits, unless recommended as men of grace by some known and revered republican protestant in Europe….

Estates in Connecticut pass from generation to generation by gavelkind; so that there are few persons, except of the laboring class, who have not freeholds of their own to cultivate. A general mediocrity of station being thus constitutionally promoted, it is no wonder that the rich man is despised, and the poor man’s blessing is his poverty. In no part of the world are les petits and les grands so much upon a par as here, where none of the people are destitute of the conveniences of life, and the spirit of independence. From infancy, their education as citizens points out no distinction between licentiousness and liberty; and their religion is so muffled with superstition, self-love, and provincial enmity, as not yet to have taught them that humility and respect for others, which from others they demand. Notwithstanding these effects of the levelling plan, there are many exceptions to be found in the province, of gentlemen of large estates and generous principles.

The people commonly travel on horseback; and the ladies are capable of teaching their neighbors the art of horsemanship. There are few coaches in the colony: but many chaises and whiskeys. In winter, the sleigh is used; a vehicle drawn by two horses, and carrying six persons in its box, which hangs on four posts standing on two steel sliders, or large skates.

Dancing, fishing, hunting, skating, and riding in sleighs on the ice, are all the amusements allowed in this colony….

The women of Connecticut are strictly virtuous, and to be compared to the prude rather than the European polite lady. They are not permitted to read plays; cannot converse about whist, quadrille, or operas; but will freely talk upon the subjects of history, geography, and the mathematics. They are great casuists, and polemical divines; and I have known not a few of them so well skilled in Greek and Latin, as often to put to the blush learned gentlemen.