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  • Writer's pictureMaggie Meahl

Margaret Barrett Huntington Stoughton and Daily Life in 1636 Matianuck/Windsor, CT

In honor of Women's History month I thought it appropriate to take an educated guess as to what Margaret Barrett Huntington Stoughton's daily life was like during those first years in New England and specifically, Windsor, CT.

17th century Delft tile image of woman lugging milk

Image from Elizabeth McClellan's, Historic Dress in America, 1607 – 1800. Available to check out at the Cambridge Public Library!

I continue to study her, her kin group, and all the places she lived. And, am almost done writing a chapter about her for a book about some of her descendants. I am convinced that it was her family's money and influence that gave the Huntington's a tremendous boost in "making it" in New England.

By the summer of 1636 Margaret and her new blended Huntington/Stoughton family had finally moved to Windsor via water and land.* So much had happened in six short years. Since 1630, she had experienced the death of a child, an ocean voyage, the death of her first husband, an arrival into a completely new environment, a marriage to a new man in Thomas Stougton (not from her kin group), and yet another "removal" to a colonial outpost to start another new life.

A 19th century romanticized depiction of a wagon train near the Connecticut River settlements. Frederic Edwin Church, "Hooker and Company Journeying Through the Wilderness from Plymouth to Hartford, in 1636." Owned by The Wadsworth Antheneum.
The Reverend Hooker and his group settled Hartford at the same time as Windsor was settled.

Now, after settling in Dorchester with Thomas, she was forced to move again. Did Thomas inform her of this before they married? Did she think it a good idea? Roughly half of the Dorchester Group, probably the most homogenous of the early New England immigrant groups, wanted out of Winthrop's Boston and to go to the Connecticut River where grazing land was endless, forests teeming, and farming easier. As it turns out, the Stoughton/Huntington group would wait until the spring of 1636 to make their move avoiding some of the hardships the scouting parties encountered such as starvation, crop failure, and one of the most destructive hurricanes in history: The Hurricane of 1635.

What were their first shelters? Dugouts, tents, and very small houses.

Early 20th century images of "Pioneer Village" in Salem, MA. This small re-created plantation still is in operation (on summer weekends) and depicts the crude settlement from the late 1620s. Salem was one of the weaker plantations set up by the Puritans in the 1620s and 1630s. Boston, Roxbury, and Dorchester were much more successful.
Re-created 17th century interior of a typical New England "hall" or "kitchen."

Replica of a 17th century New England earth-fast structure. No stone chimney. One window. Very small. Thatched roof. This house is located in Ipswich, MA.

It was fortunate that many of this pioneer group had carpentry skills. Not only would the houses be built quickly but the seeds would be sown for a furniture-making hot spot. The Connecticut River towns would become the cabinet-making center of New England. Perhaps Thomas, but certainly his son Thomas III, and his son Thomas IV would all be a part of this cabinet-making center of early New England. Thomas III's household inventory from 1684 includes lumber, carpentry tools and an 80 acre woodlot.

Thomas Stoughton IV document box in its original red paint.
This document box is in its original red paint and attributed to the "Stoughton shop tradition." It sold for a whopping $118,000+ in 2019. Probably made by Margaret's stepson or step-grandson c. 1680.

But, this was all so different from Norwich, England! Only three years before, Margaret was living a very comfortable life in the second largest city in England with access to all the riches of Europe and the Far East. Now, she was in the middle of the Connecticut wilderness with danger and hardships. Was trust in Providence enough to guide her daily life? Let's hope so.

The Suckling House, Norwich, Norfolk, England. Margaret Barrett Huntington Stoughton's birthplace.

One of the most important duties for the New England housewife was to tend to the cows. Cows were extremely valuable in the early days of New England. Many died in steerage on the grueling trip overseas. If a New England family, like the Huntington/Stoughton clan could keep and "increase" their cow herd then their chance of family success was greater.(1) It is likely that Margaret, her step-daughters, Ann, and possibly even a servant girl or enslaved girl milked the cows twice a day--a tremendous amount of work cows were, from dark mornings to evening time. "Milking was a woman's job, along with making sure the cows were out of the gate for the keeper when he went by."(2). Cows in Windsor grazed on the Great Meadowland above the river and that their house abutted.

Depiction of Dutch farmers tending to their cattle. Cows were key to wealth in early New England settlements.

Of course the milk would be used to make English cheeses--a staple of their diet.

A 16th century Dutch woman proudly displaying the cheese she has made. Margaret would have been able to make cheese.

Living in the country meant hard work--pre-dawn chores, samp and porridges to be heated up, dinners to be prepared, beer to be brewed, clothes to be repaired (cloth was difficult to get), and so many other chores that it would make our heads spin. Everyone was asked to do their work and never be idle. An enslaved person or two (Native American or African) could have been part of the household. In fact, by 1641, Thomas' wealthier brother, Israel, had an enslaved woman named Dorcas working for him in Dorchester (3). In any case, there was plenty of work for everyone.

*original Native American name was Matianuck. Windsor was bordered by Hartford and Wethersfield on the Connecticut River.

(1) Pamela Snow, "Increase and Vantage: Women, Cows, and the Agricultural Economy of Colonial New England," The Dublin Seminar for New England Folklife, 2003, 23.

(2) Snow, 32.

(3) Deborah McNally, "To Secure Her Freedom: 'Dorcas Ye Blackmore,' Race, Redemption, and the Dorchester First Church," New England Quarterly,89,(4), 2016, 539.


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