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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

The Meek Wives of the New World

By William Wood (fl. 1629–1635)

[From New-England’s Prospect. 1635.]

TO satisfy the curious eye of women readers, who otherwise might think their sex forgotten, or not worthy a record, let them peruse these few lines, wherein they may see their own happiness, if weighed in the woman’s balance of these ruder Indians, who scorn the tutorings of their wives, or to admit them as their equals; tho’ their qualities and industrious deservings may justly claim the preëminence, and command better usage, and more conjugal esteem, their persons and features being every way correspondent, their qualifications more excellent, being more loving, pitiful, and modest, mild, provident, and laborious, than their lazy husbands. Their employments are many: First, their building of houses, whose frames are formed like our garden-arbors, something more round, very strong and handsome, covered with close wrought mats of their own weaving, which deny entrance to any drop of rain, tho’ it come both fierce and long, neither can the piercing north wind find a cranny, through which he can convey his cooling breath; they be warmer than our English houses; at the top is a square hole for the smoke’s evacuation, which in rainy weather is covered with a pluver. These are such smoky dwellings, that when there are good fires, they are not able to stand upright, but lie all along under the smoke, never using any stools or chairs, it being as rare to see an Indian sit on a stool at home, as it is strange to see an Englishman sit on his heels abroad. Their houses are smaller in summer, when their families be dispersed by reason of heat and occasions. In winter they have some fifty or threescore feet long; forty or fifty men being inmates under one roof; and as is their husbands’ occasions, these poor tectonists are often troubled, like snails, to carry their houses on their backs, sometimes to fishing-places, other times to hunting-places; after that to a planting-place, where it abides the longest.

Another work is their planting of corn, wherein they excel our English husbandmen, keeping it so clear with their clam shell hoes, as if it were a garden, rather than a cornfield; not suffering a choking weed to advance his audacious head above their infant corn, or an undermining worm to spoil his spurns. Their corn being ripe, they gather it, and dry it hard in the sun, convey it to their barns, which be great holes digged in the ground, in form of a brass pot, ceiled with rinds of trees, wherein they put their corn, covering it from the inquisitive search of their gormandizing husbands, who would eat up both their allowed portion and reserved seed, if they knew where to find it. But our hogs have found a way to unhinge their barn doors, and rob their garners. They are glad to implore their husbands’ help to roll the bodies of trees over their holes, to prevent those pioneers, whose thievery, they as much hate as their flesh. Another of their employments is their summer processions to get lobsters for their husbands, wherewith they bait their hooks when they go a-fishing for bass or codfish. This is an every day’s walk, be the weather cold or hot, the water rough or calm, they must dive sometimes over head and ears for a lobster, which often shakes them by their hands with a churlish nip, and bids them adieu. The tide being spent, they trudge home two or three miles, with an hundredweight of lobsters at their backs; and if none, an hundred scolds meet them at home, and an hungry belly for two days after. Their husbands having caught any fish, they bring it in their boats as far as they can by water, and there leave it; as it was their care to catch it, so it must be their wives’ pains to fetch it home, or fast; which done, they must dress it and cook it, dish it, and present it, see it eaten over their shoulders, and their loggerships having filled their paunches, their sweet lullabies scramble for their scraps. In the summer, these Indian women, when lobsters are in plenty and prime, they dry them to keep for winter, erecting scaffolds in the hot sunshine, making fires likewise underneath them, by whose smoke the flies are expelled till the substance remains hard and dry. In this manner they dry bass and other fish, without salt, cutting them very thin to dry suddenly, before the flies spoil them, or the rain moist them, having a special care to hang them in their smoky houses, in the night and dankish weather.

In summer they gather flags, of which they make mats for houses; and hemp and rushes, with dyeing stuff, of which they make curious baskets, with intermixed colors and portraitures of antique imagery. These baskets be of all sizes, from a quart to a quarter, in which they carry their luggage. In winter they are their husbands’ caterers, trudging to the clam banks for their belly timber, and their porters to lug home their venison, which their laziness exposes to the wolves till they impose it upon their wives’ shoulders. They likewise sew their husbands’ shoes and weave coats of turkey feathers, besides all their ordinary household drudgery which daily lies upon them….

For their carriage, it is very civil, smiles being the greatest grace of their mirth; their music is lullabies to quiet their children, who generally are as quiet as if they had neither spleen nor lungs. To hear one of these Indians unseen, a good ear might easily mistake their untaught voice for the warbling of a well-timed instrument; such command have they of their voices. These women’s modesty drives them to wear more clothes than their men, having always a coat of cloth or skins wrapped like a blanket about their loins, reaching down to their hams, which they never put off in company. If a husband have a mind to sell his wife’s beaver petticoat, which sometimes he doth, she will not put it off till she have another to put on. Commendable is their mild carriage and obedience to their husbands, notwithstanding all this their churlishness and savage inhumanity; not seeming to delight in frowns or offering to word it with their lords, nor presuming to proclaim their female superiority to the usurping of the least tittle of their husband’s charter, but rest themselves content under their helpless condition, counting it the woman’s portion. Since the English arrival comparison hath made them miserable; for seeing the kind usage of the English to their wives, they do as much condemn their husbands for unkindness, and commend the English for their love, as their husbands commending themselves for their wit in keeping their wives industrious, do condemn the English for their folly in spoiling good working creatures. These women resort often to the English houses, where pares cum paribus congregatæ,—in sex, I mean,—they do somewhat ease their misery by complaining, and seldom part without a relief. If her husband come to seek for his squaw, and begin to bluster, the English woman betakes her to her arms, which are the warlike ladle, and the scalding liquors, threatening blistering to the naked runaway, who is soon expelled by such liquid comminations.

In a word, to conclude this woman’s history, their love to the English hath deserved no small esteem; ever presenting them something that is either rare or desired, as strawberries, hurtleberries, raspberries, gooseberries, cherries, plums, fish, and other such gifts as their poor treasury yields them. But now it may be that this relation of the churlish and inhuman behavior of these ruder Indians towards their patient wives, may confirm some in the belief of an aspersion, which I have often heard men cast upon the English there, as if they should learn of the Indians to use their wives in the like manner, and to bring them to the same subjection, as to sit on the lower hand, and to carry water, and the like drudgery. But if my own experience may out-balance an ill-grounded scandalous rumor, I do assure you, upon my credit and reputation, that there is no such matter; but the women find there as much love, respect, and ease, as here in Old England. I will not deny, but that some poor people may carry their own water. And do not the poorer sort in England do the same? Witness your London tankard-bearers, and your country cottagers. But this may well be known to be nothing but the rancorous venom of some that bear no good will to the plantation. For what need they carry water, seeing every one hath a spring at his door, or the sea by his house.

Thus much for the satisfaction of women, touching this entrenchment upon their prerogative, as also concerning the relation of these Indian squaws.