New England Living - 17th Century Style

In October, we went to the Rebecca Nurse Homestead in Danvers, Massachusetts. Back in the early colonial days, Danvers went by another name, Salem Village; a name you might recall from the famous witch trials, since most of the accused witches lived in Salem Village. What is called Salem today was once known as Salem Town, and that is where the trials and hangings occurred. Salem Village (Danvers), however, was where all the supposed witchcraft activity happened, and this is where the Reverend Parris, his slave, Tituba (first accused of witchcraft and first to confess), and all the original accusers lived. Salem Village was where the hysteria began, and this homestead once belonged to Rebecca Nurse, who was hanged as a witch in July of 1692.

Back fence of the homestead.

All along the property.

Rebecca Nurse's home was built around 1678, though some parts of it may have been built as early as the 1630's. Not old by European standards, this is about as ancient as you're likely to find in North America. Our 17th century homes were much different, however, than their European counterparts.  At this time, all of America was a wilderness, life was about surviving and taming the land. The homes were more rustic and rough here, and there is something in their austere, primitive, and unrefined way that beckons me.

Front door

There is something very comforting in the old, 17th century homes for me. Maybe it's in their smallness or darkness or crudeness. Maybe it's in their simplicity. I hold no romantic notions of what life was like back then. I would not trade my modern-day life, full of conveniences and cleanliness, for that life of drudgery and, very likely, an early death. But I do hold an appreciation for the basics of design back then; the ingenuity that stems from living simply.

A table set in the homestead's great hall.

The cupboard in the kitchen area, and back in that day a cupboard literally meant a cup-board, a simple board to put cups, etc upon.

I do love the comfort that small, intimate rooms bring me, very un-American of me, I know. Contrary to popular belief, ceilings were not so low back then because the general populace was much shorter than we are today. Yes, the average height was slightly shorter, but not dramatically so. The short ceilings were done, intelligently, because it cost so dearly to heat a home back then, and open spaces would have been a waste of wood and fuel. In the book, New England Icons, Bruce Irving says, "...the sheer amount of firewood needed to heat a typical eighteenth-century New England house boggles the mind. Farm accounts and other estimates put it in the twenty- to thirty-cord-per-winter range, equal to about an acre of forest..." That truly does boggle my mind! Life today seems a breeze in comparison. Though I do wonder if the ease of living now has led us to fill our time with an overabundance of complicated, stress-inducing activity that has no lasting value.

A bedroom window.

17th century bedroom

The past-season kitchen garden

Herbs left to dry by the walk-in fireplace.

Life was difficult for everyone back then, including children, but it also must have taken much less to amuse and entertain themselves.When every day was practically a battle between life and death, the little things meant so much more. Tragedy and toil was a part of their daily existence.

For Thanksgiving, we went to Plimoth Plantation in Plymouth, Massachusetts. That was a generation or two before most of this homestead was built, and life was truly basic, much cruder than even in this house. Like I said, I would never trade this life for that, but at least for me, there is something that longs for that simplicity for that life.


  1. If you like small, intimate rooms then you should move to London, plenty of them here ;-) It looks like quite a nice place, though it must be rather freaky too to think about its history. Looks like you had a lovely break for Thanksgiving. Have a great weekend xo

  2. Mademoiselle - I remember the small, separated rooms in England and I love them! :) It would be interesting to live a house with such a history, and see if it effects the feel of the place in any way.

  3. A lovely post Alyson, can only agree with you that there is a growing yearning for simplicity out there. We have over-complicated our lives and manufactured far too much plastic. If you are ever down near Philadelphia, there is a place you might enjoy, the colonial plantation in Ridley Creek State Park, more info here : http://www.colonialplantation.org/

    The Salem witch trial story is fascinating, and I'd like to learn more about it. Thanks for these excellent photos which give us a glimpse.

  4. Owen - Thank you!

    I would love going to Ridley Creek! One of these days I will! :)

  5. That's awesome! I love history so this post is super cool! And Plymouth for Thanksgiving? What an amazing thing that you have all of these locations in your backyard to experience!

  6. I can't imagine how unhealthy those fires in the fireplaces would have been. I saw an amazing painting of smoke permeating out of a thatched roof, for they had no chimney. Crazy!

    I can't imagine if they saw our daily schedules today. Would they think us totally absurd with all our computer time and rushing kids to dance classes?

    Your photos are lovely - I love the New England architecture. Interestingly, Ive met many English who would like to visit there for the fall color and to see its quaintness. The architecture really is quite different, although you would think it would be the same.

  7. Leeann - Thanks! I'm totally in love with history too, so living here is like a dream come true.

    HH UK - Thank you! Yes, the architecture is quite different. I definitely see certain English elements to what they built out here, especially in the very early days. You see those old thatched roofs and diamond-shaped leaded glass windows. But it's obvious they adapted to the harsher climate they found here, hotter summers and colder winters. They also built their homes very basically, and added a wing here or a room there over the years and centuries.

  8. What a neat place! I'd love to go there sometime. I agree with you; while I wouldn't trade places to live back then, I really love the simplicity of colonial times.

  9. A most thoughtful post.
    Yes, life, in many ways, must have been grim back then
    but it did look more attractive (to my eyes at least!)
    since I'm a huge fan of simplicity.
    Super photos!

  10. Donna - You should definitely go there this summer. I've been there a couple of times, and it's awesome!

    Elizabeth - Thank you! And I totally agree, it does look more attractive.

  11. What a charming and beautiful place – all the more special for it’s fascinating history. When we got our first place in London, we lived in a converted flat from the 1800s and the layout and lack of space drove me totally nuts! I never really appreciated what space and open-plan living could do for your quality of life!

  12. I love your blog :) I agree I wouldn't want to trade lives with that time period...but how funny now that we are completely out of touch with basics...like our food, nature...I mean, our houses are built out of plastic these days! I saw the candles hanging in the corner of one of your photes and I thought about them making soap, candles etc....I wonder what they used to wash their hair :) Thanks for the post!

  13. A much more difficult and imaginative time, for adults and children. Great photos Alyson!