In our ignorance, we often refer to the early days as "the good old days." But when we consider everything, the good things about yesterday were never distributed evenly because back then the laws of the province were harsh, inflexible and strictly enforced. An individual could be taken to court for the most trifling of acts, for some minor indiscretion or for yielding to some frivolous spur-of-the-moment idea.
Though most people tried to avoid facing a tribunal composed of stiff-necked justices, at least one of Marblehead's first settlers was not intimidated. He was taken to court shortly after the Bay Colony enacted a law stating that wearing "long hair after the manner of ruffians and Indians" was contrary to God's law and therefore, forbidden.
So, the truculent John Gatchell, who stubbornly refused to shear his shoulder-length locks, was summoned to Salem to stand trial for ignoring this all-important law. But Gatchell's illegal hairdo was not his only offense; the Marblehead Selectmen were also suing him for willfully disregarding several orders to remove a building that he had built on town-owned land.
Fortunately for Gatchell, the court magistrates and provincial authorities by then had had their fill of cases involving obstreperous and ungovernable Marbleheaders. In an attempt to cool things down, Gatchell was offered a deal:
"If you cut off ye long hair off your head into a sevil frame and remove your building from the town's land, your fine of 10 shillings will be reduced to 5 shillings."
Not surprisingly, that stubborn Marbleheader refused to yield an inch. And till the end of his life, he always wore his hair Indian style, down to his shoulders!
Wearing one's locks in unusual style was judged to be a wile of the devil. And hair which fell below the neck or over the collar was not allowed under any circumstances, except during the winter months when men were allowed to grow their hair long enough to cover their ears for warmth.
Mr. Gatchell was not the only person found guilty of ignoring the General Court's ruling forbidding men from wearing "hair long like a woman's hair." And oddly enough, an unnamed youngster was tried for sporting a hairdo destined to become the vogue three centuries later! The boy's hair did not cascade over his shoulders or dangle in a manner that powers of the time usually considered disgusting. Instead, the younger violator's hair was combed straight back. To the horror of his hidebound seniors, it was also parted down the middle and worn ducktail fashion!
Had he been an adult, the boy would have been fined-even whipped. But fortunately for him, inasmuch as he was a mere stripling, and inasmuch as the magistrates had had to contend with the quirky behavior of their own offspring, the boy got off relatively easy. He was given a severe scolding and ordered to comb his hair as decreed by His Majesty's Great and General Court!
Historically, the ways of the young have always been inclined to baffle their parents. Moreover, if anything of an untoward nature happened, the answer was clear: God was chastising elders for their children's sins and shortcomings! For example, a minister, deeply disturbed by the behavior of the younger generation, asked his congregation in 1657 if they could truthfully say that their children were growing more godly each day.
"I, myself," he stated, "find the greatest troubles and grief among the rising generation. The young are little stirred here, although they do strengthen one another in evil by example and counsel." He also confessed that he, too, was having his troubles, that his own children were a bit out of hand!
It was the same here, there and everywhere. In Boston, the Reverend Cotton Mather was so bothered by their behavior that he urged every parent to walk among the children at play and listen to the wicked language they used. All they wanted to do, he said, was to play, frolic, romp and engage in rough and tumble games.
To make sure that his 10-year-old son would never "indulge in such unwholesome diversions," the renowned pastor prepared a set of rules:
"I will have Sammy write some sentences in Latin so that I can prepare for him the true and right Intent of Play and how to make good use of it. And I shall also think of some exquisite and obliging ways to abate Sammy's inordinate love of play which wounds his faculties."
And to make doubly certain that his son would not be seduced by the "sillier diversions of childhood," Sammy was also required to study history, geography and astronomy!
Cotton Mather's views were also shared by scores of his contemporaries. One of whom plaintively asserted that "there is little hope of a happy generation after us, when many among us scarcely know how to teach our children manners." This may have been true in certain quarters, but there were exceptions. In many households, no child was permitted to take a seat at the table until invited, and not before his parents had said grace. Once seated, they were required to eat silently and to never utter a word, hum, sing, wiggle or fidget. They were to speak only when spoken to, never ask for a second helping, and never ever question a remark made by an elder. And should one have to
burp, belch or spit, he or she must immediately repair to a convenient corner!
In short, life was far from easy three-and-a-half centuries ago. To survive, our forefathers had to strain every nerve and sinew. To keep their heads above water they had to meet all sorts of trials and tribulations head-on, as well as a veritable host of mishaps and misadventures. But in spite of the frowns of fortune, they came out on top, their spirits buoyed by an intriguing witch, the fanciful complaints of her victims, the ministrations of Parson Barnard's mysterious Angel from Heaven, and the marvelous deeds initiated by Old Dimond and his kelpies.
* * *
A businessman from nearby Lynn met a casual acquaintance at a waterfront taproom.
Unable to recall the acquaintance's name, he hesitated, then asked, "Tell me, sir, was it you or your brother who was drowned in the harbor a while back?"
* * *
"Jumpin' Jehosophat!" exclaimed the stranger, as he stood atop the Old Burial Hill. "Why this here town is nothin' but a mass of ledges, cliffs, boulders, rocks and stones. What in Heaven's name do you people raise here?"
"Men," the caretaker replied. "Nothin' but men ... the kind that made this country what it is!"
* * *
A midwesterner, overawed by the weatherworn, age-encrusted gravestones gracing Marblehead's Old Burial Hill, approached a caretaker.
"Sir," the midwesterner asked, "can you tell me if any of the town's Revolutionary War Heroes are buried here?"
"I sure can," replied the caretaker. "All of them."
* * *
A midwesterner, clutching the guard rail atop the ledges at Crocker Park, peered downward at the murky waters beating against them. Though awed by the roiling tide, he was also noticeably disturbed by the way the water churned, surged and battered the rocky, unyielding shore.
Turning to a sweater-clad benchwarmer, he asked:
"Tell me, mister. If I was to fall from here into your harbor, would I drown?"
"Nooooo," the benchwarmer replied. "That is ... unless you was to stay there."