The first American historian to chronicle everyday life of the colonial era, Alice Morse Earle conducted years of research, based on letters, official records, diaries, and other accounts. A vivid portrait emerges, depicting a child's world of hornbooks and primers; lessons in manners and religion; methods of discipline; and toys, pastimes, and other amusements. The author offers a broader perspective by comparing conditions in America with those of England. More than 120 illustrations include reproductions of images by the era's finest artists, including Copley and Peale. "The book is one of historical interest and value," declared The New York Times, praising it as "beautifully illustrated [and] a charming book for old or young."
The General Court of Massachusetts at an early date took decisive measures with regard to houses of common entertainment. No one was permitted to keep without license “a common victuallyng house,” under a penalty of twenty shillings a week. Soon the power of granting licenses was transferred to the County Courts, as the constant increase in the number of ordinaries made too constant detailed work for so important a body as the General Court.
Consideration for the welfare of travellers, and a desire to regulate the sale of intoxicating liquors, seemed to the magistrates important enough reasons not only to counsel but to enforce the opening of some kind of a public house in each community, and in 1656 the General Court of Massachusetts made towns liable to a fine for not sustaining an ordinary. Towns were fined and admonished for not conforming to this law; Concord, Massachusetts, was one of the number. The Colonial Records of Connecticut, in 1644, ordered “one sufficient inhabitant” in each town to keep an ordinary, since “strangers were straitened” for want of entertainment. A frequent and natural choice of location for establishing an ordinary was at a ferry. Tristram Coffyn kept both ferry and ordinary at Newbury, Massachusetts; there was an ordinary at Beverly Ferry, known until 1819 as the “Old Ferry Tavern.”
Great inducements were offered to persons to keep an ordinary; sometimes land was granted them, or pasturage for their cattle, or exemption from church rates and school taxes. In 1682, Hugh March, of Newbury, Massachusetts, petitioned for a renewal of his license to keep an ordinary, saying thus: “The town of Newbury, some years since, were destitute of an ordinary, and could not persuade any person to keep it. For want of an ordinary they were twice fined by the county, and would have been a third time had I not undertaken it.” In 1668 the town had persuaded one Captain White to “undertake an ordinary” on high moral grounds; and it is painful to record that, though he did so unwillingly, he found the occupation so profitable that he finally got into disgrace through it.
Widely read when it was first published in 1898, this fascinating and wonderfully readable guide was instrumental in promoting a renewed interest in everyday life of bygone times. Today, it offers history buffs, collectors, and other interested readers a feast of delightful information.