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Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Seventeenth Century Funeral Customs in Early Massachusetts: Gloves and Mourning Rings

I recently completed another manuscript, based on the family of Anne Hutchinson, the famous dissident in early Massachusetts. While researching, I ran across some fascinating seventeenth century funeral customs. Puritan funerals were simple affairs, small and private, no sermon over the graveside, only silence. But after the funeral for the leader, John Winthrop, in 1649, they grew larger and more elaborate.
Following the traditions of England, it was customary for the family to give gifts to family and friends in honor of the person who had died. The most important guests were gifted first: family and close friends, pallbearers, and then maybe other attendees.

Funeral Gloves

The family of the deceased sent a pair of gloves as an invitation to the funeral. The more important the person, the more gloves were sent. The attendee would wear the gloves to the funeral and at the graveside. These would be kept as a remembrance of the one who had died.

Mourning Rings

Rings were also given, sometimes designed by the deceased before they died. This ring contained a lock of hair from the deceased. These became treasures that were passed down through the generations. This custom was usually reserved for the wealthy.

In 1741, in order to bring down the exorbitant cost of funerals. Massachusetts Puritan leaders placed a monetary fine of 50 pounds for the giving of rings, and only allowed gloves to be given to pallbearers and clergymen. In 1742, they banned altogether the giving of gloves and rings, and the custom began to die out.



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