Not much history has been written about children because, generally, they were too young to create any history. The plight of the child is interesting, though. Throughout history, young children were not very productive and were not useful until they had attained a certain age and that age was around five years old. At some point they were used in fields, canning houses and oyster shucking houses. They would do menial work, such as snipping beans, de-heading shrimp or picking in the fields. It is hard for us to imagine now how a child of five is forced to go to work at five in the morning, but it was done. In a periodical from 1913, a federal inspector found that the children were coming in as early as three in the morning during peak canning or shucking periods. This volume of the Child Labor Bulletin from February, 1913, has many pictures of children working and their living conditions. We cannot even imagine such conditions today.
Since Salisbury was mainly an agrarian society, many hands were needed to work the large expanses of land owned by some farmers. The cheapest labor was his own children. Due to the large infant mortality rate, people on farms had many children. There was always something to do, no matter what age a child was. Taking care of the larger animals was usually taken on by the man of the farm because they were so important to the whole operation and could be dangerous for children. The children picked, fed and carried as much as their age and size would allow. There are many people around Salisbury that grew up on farms, and they can verify that there was never a dull moment. I’ll bet they never let their father hear them say, “I’m bored”, such as the children of today lament.
Education was spotty at best a hundred years ago. The number of one-room school houses that dotted the Shore covered the full extent of a child’s education. They only had one teacher, and the only qualification was that they had assisted a teacher for one year after they had finished the full nine years of formal education. Many of the students were at different stages of growth, and their “school grade” would differ greatly due to the level of knowledge attained. Many of the children had to miss a lot of time due to the planting season in the spring and the harvest season in the fall. When my grandfather decided to throw in the towel on his formal education, he was 15 in the fifth grade. Usually it was age and not graduation that determined when a child left school.
Doing genealogy on the Shore has always been difficult due to the fact that many farmers had a second wife. The first wife might have had six or seven children by the time she was worn out and died in her twenties. Since the farmer couldn’t tend his farm and the children, he would marry again. A second family might include another half-dozen children. These would include any children resulting from the second marriage and any children the second wife would bring with her.