"We look at the present through a rear-view mirror. We march backwards into the future. "
Marshall McLuhan

Mcluhan is widely accepted as proposing that the first content of any new medium is the old media and that there is a moment, a boundary, when that transition occurs. While this idea has been applied most often to the transitions between oral language, written language, the codex and various incarnations of electronic language, the idea can also be applied to the transition faced by seventeenth century English emigrants to New England. Though these colonists crossed a quite obvious geological boundary, they carried the content of their "old media" with them in the form of their presuppositions about how society is organized, how it functions, and how its participants should function within it.

The form those presuppositions took, and the alterations they underwent as colonists from different areas encountered each other, adapted to their new environment, and passed from one generation to the next, is the subject of Sumner Chilton Powell's Puritan Village: The Formation of a New England Town. The book explores the town of Sudbury, Massachusetts in its earliest years. The author suggests that even though the inhabitants came from England with specific assumptions about how their society should be organized, the fact that they came from several areas, each with its own distinct structures, led to the establishment of new, complex, societies. Many of the early settlers stated explicitly that they were interested in creating new laws and social structures that did not conform to those they left behind in England. The land granting system was such that they could attempt this on a town by town basis.

As Powell pursuasively argues, those new social structures were developed by people whose backgrounds differed in various ways. Powell traces the pre-colonist life of several of the leaders of Sudbury to explore those differences. The most important, in terms of subsequent practice in new England, was in land use. Settlers from the communal, open-field system of East Anglia organized their towns as central living space surrounded by communal fields, pastures, and woodlands. Land division and ownership were neither communal nor egalitarian, however, shared use of the land was the norm for the early Sudbury community. The process of land distribution was unlike that in England. As Powell points out: "the Bay government and the town government were accomplishing a virtual revolution in the systems of social and economic status of each community. For the first time in their lives, the inhabitants of an English town were assuming that each adult male would be granted some land free and clear." With that land came expectations of responsibility. Land grants were not sustained for those who would not settle in the town, that is, for absentee landlords and speculators, taxes were to be determined and collected by the town, decisions were to be made as a town through town meetings, and communal land practices were to continue.

In Sudbury, as in similar towns throughout colonial New England, the development of the town government was one of adaptation based on the prior experience of the participants. In addition to those with an open-field system background, early leaders came from such disparate systems as that of Berkhamstead, a market town and borough with a written charter that delineated specific rights and Sudbury, Suffolk, where parish and town government were inextricably entertwined, and town governance rotated through the hands of a few. While seventeenth century New Englanders came from a culture that accepted the communal regulation of their personal behavior, the extent of that regulation, and thus the expectations of what constituted the "correct" degree, also varied from region to region.

Despite a concerted effort on the part of colonists to work together as a community, reconciling such differing backgrounds and expectations did result in conflict. Problems related to the division, use and maintenance of the land appear to have been the subject of much of this early conflict. Powell also finds problems related to structuring town government and determining the amount of service deemed appropriate by the free townsmen, as well as implementing an appropriate tax system to cover town expenses. Other areas of conflict settled around the church, especially the responsibilities of the minister and his role in the community. Resolving intra-community relations, as well as relations with neighboring towns, the General Court, and with the indigenous population were also the purview of the selectmen.

While the first generation of colonists needed to adapt to both a different physical and social environment, the second generation brought its own challenges. Powell suggests that most Sudbury settlers, given the structure of colonization process, became landowners, a fate they may not have achieved had they stayed in England. By moving into the ranks of land owners, or, for some, by owning or acquiring rights to larger areas of land than they could have expected in England, settlers accepted for themselves the definitions, expectations, identities and responsibilities that land ownership entailed. Among these was the belief that land ownership was a family concern and that land was an inheritable item.

Powell, Demos, and Greven all look at the impact of population pressure on this system. In a society where children were valued and seen as potential contributor to the family welfare yet infant mortality was high, a large number of infant births were the norm. While the low infant mortality rates of the first years of settlement were bo doubt greeted as a blessing, that population growth, which according to Demos doubled every 15 years, was not without challenges.

Although Greven falters when attempting to adduce the reactions and motivations

Changing expectations: Lockridge, town government: younger generation has only the NE experience to guide them

The problem: second generation saw notthe English forms as they were in England but as they were filtered and transformed in New England. Thus different conclusions...land, church, leaders?

However, still accepted some practices:
  Ruddock and his townsmen were granted land that was still in Indian control. After that was resolved they divided it up fairly equally. Those with larger lots had larger responsibility to the town. No one could get land if they did not also contribute to the town's welfare.

Change of deference over time: seating; selectmen/town meetings

Powell, Demos, Lockridge, Greven, and Dinkins illuminate societal beliefs and practices of specific New England communities. In Fierce Communion: Family and Community in Early America, Helena Wall how those beliefs spanned the many communities of the English speaking New World.

The continuity between English life in England and life in New England is thrown into sharp relief when compared to the social structure and practice of the Dutch
The early English settlers, in pouring the "old medium" of their lives in England into the "new medium" of life in the colonies certainly created a new society with changing expectations. Wall notes that "colonists sought to reproduce, even freeze in time, patterns of family and community life that were already beginning to erode in Europe." (Wall, 1) Though the world they created was to become something quite different from that which they had left, they certainly, intentionally or not, eyed their English "rear-view mirror" as they "marched backwards into the future."