A Day in the Life of a Puritan Woman


Last week I wrote about marriage in the Puritan community and it might seem backwards to write about love after marriage.  But for many couples it was expected that love would be a product of marriage, not the cause of it.   Love as an ideal was not supposed to be a romantic passion as we understand it, but a rational love; a state to be entered into thoughtfully and soberly. 

Once a man had decided to give up his bachelorhood, one of his first considerations was usually towards the social and economic rank of his prospective partner.    Many a young man, and an older widower, looked with the cold calculating eye of an accountant regarding his future wife.   One mother wrote, regarding her son James and his hopeful intended, Rebecca, that “her person (was) tollerable and the estate very convenient”—meaning that the young woman was a wealthy widow.

But people have not changed so much in the last 300 years and the Puritans did marry for passion’s sake.   A Mr. Wigglesworth (his true name—I kid you not) living in Massachusetts lost his wife and ended up marrying his serving maid.  This was so scandalous that a former pupil, Increase Mather, one of the most famous theologians of his day, chastised his old teacher in a letter, “The Report is, that you are designing to marry with your servant mayd, and that she is one of obscure parentage, and not over 20 years old. . .”  (source: The Puritan Family, E. Morgan)   After reading that, I found myself hoping that the old boy and the new bride were happy for a good long while after their marriage.

It was evidently not uncommon for a couple, once they had made their engagement official and posted the banns, to engage in sexual relations.  The marriage, in a sense, was just a formality.  They had made a binding pledge to their community, and to their church, to live the rest of their lives together exclusively and affectionately.  Martha Carrier, my grandmother back nine generations, was believed to have been some months pregnant when she married her husband, Thomas. in 1674.

And college life has not changed that much either over the centuries.  Seaborn Cotton, a minister’s son, was a student at Harvard College and kept a notebook with some very explicit passages from Elizabethan and Cavalier love poems.  After he himself became a minister in New Hampshire, he saw no harm in using that same notebook for taking sermon notes!  One of his contemporaries bought a garter for his lady love and wrote to her, “I do not say I am fond of the happynes to kiss her hands, but her feet, having interest in her legs till my Garters be payd. . .”


“You ask what makes a woman comely?”  He tapped one finger lightly against her temples and said, “Thoughts, missus.  It’s thoughts that make a woman so.”    Thomas Carrier from The Traitor’s Wife.

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