Early Customs

latchstring

The latchstring is out.

The following excerpt from Jesse Green’s memoir shows the changes that appear in a frontier society as the population increases:

“I think it may truthfully be said, that in no sphere, or stage of progressive civilization and advancement is the Scriptural Injunction obeyed with a fuller realization of its import and importance, than in the early settlement of a New Country. Namely, “do unto others as you would that they should do unto you.”

Circumstances all combine to make each and every one feel his dependence upon others and consequently this injunction is obeyed not merely as a duty but as a pleasure, as this dependence is felt in so many different ways. A cabin has to be built requiring the assistance at the entire neighborhood, harvesting will not admit of delay and a neighborhood joins teams in order to do it to better advantage, and a hundred and one little acts of kindness are rendered and gladly reciprocated through a higher and more exalted motive than we usually see in older settled countries, but with increased prosperity or wealth men become more selfish, and selfishness begets strife, and strife puts the big man on top with the little one whineing at his heels. Such seems to me, to be the tendency of the age in which we live. It is fast coming, and now is to an alarming extent, that man’s worth is measured by his dollars and cents. No man of ordinary means can think of filling any high office of honor and trust, the moneyed man has got on top, and the others qualifications of honor, honesty and fitness in every respect avail not against dollars and cents.

It used to be the custom of the country that no matter who chanced to reach your home at night, the stranger was made perfectly welcome to share your scanty fare “without money and without price”.  In the morning the guest offering to settle his bill for entertainment, usually the only charge was “go and do likewise.”

This generous and hospitable spirit prevailed for a number of years in the infancy of this new, great and prosperous country. We had no pennies, nothing less than six and a fourth cent pieces (five and ten cent pieces came later) and sixpence then was more readily given in making change than a penny is today. With greater immigration from all parts this generous and hospitable disposition began gradually to die out and we begin to see the big sign swinging high in the air announcing entertainment  the latch string now pulled in, free entertainment was no longer expected and from this time on a more selfish and acquisitive disposition began to take root and grow among all classes of society.

And here commenced the race for money making gradually all seemed to enter vs with each other first to see who could get the most land, and then to see who could raise the most wheat, the most corn, the most cattle and the most hogs. It required great production of everything raised, or grown in those days, to bring a little money, pork was sold at $l.50 per hundred, wheat when hauled to Chicago our only market except in a small way at the mill, would not bring over 40 to 50 cents requiring a week to make the trip with ox teams, and in order to raise their tax money, the settlers could not afford to put up at Hotels, but were obliged to carry their own grub, which the hardy women knew well how to prepare for such a trip and they were obliged to camp out. Tax money bothered the pioneers for a number of years. They did not require much of either gold or silver for anything else as all seemed to understand the rule of barter, and it supplied most of their wants or needs.”

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