HST296A: Reading Notes, 2-Feb-2005

Dinkin, Robert J. "Seating the Meetinghouse in Early Massachusetts," in Robert Blair St. George, ed. Material Life in America.

"Dinkin draws on church records and town histories as he explores an aspect of meetinghouse design that was crucial to the reflexive representation of local social structure: 'seating' the congregation. . .[Seating] made the act of attending worship an event that drew attention to and legitimized a specific set of power relations in local society. . .New England society was always defferentaial" yet the basis of that deference changed over time from 'age, estate, and qualifications to amount of wealth. (p. 407)

Interesting: sometimes complaints were not simply to get a better seat but to get one "not too honorable for me" (p. 413) Difficulties in assigning seats,changes in construction (movement to pews), raising money for building by auctioning pews, and possibly the Revolution contributed to a disbanding of this practice in older towns, while some newer towns just began adopting it.

Kenneth A. Lockridge and Alan Kreider, “The Evolution of Massachusetts Town Government, 1640-1740,” William and Mary Quarterly, 3d Ser., XXIII (1966): pp. 549-574.  Also in Colonial America:  Essays in Politics and Social Development 1st ed.

How did New England town government operate as it evolved? England in 17th-19th cents. had a mix of common consent and religious oligarchy. What about America? The author examines town records of Dedham and Watertown and concludes that there was a shift of power from the board of selectmen to a town meeting between 1680 and 1720.

How and why? The General Court turned local power over to grantees when making grants. These groups selected a few men for the "ordering of civil affairs of the town." Townsmen met twice a year for more general questions/decisions (and in practice "existed largely as a passive veto power" p. 552). Selectmen met more often and handled the greater volume of business. Selectmen decided the timing and agendas of town meetings. They appointed offices, administered land disputes and livestock regulations, determined care for the poor and vagabonds, exercised social control (education, fines), set tax rates, and used taxes, often without reference to the towns.

"The story of the transfer of political power in Watertown and Dedham is in large measure the story of the rising creativity and assertiveness of the town meeting." (p. 557)

Town meetings and amount of business transacted increased after 1680. Few bylaws were thence made by selectmen and vetoes were greater. Town meetings began to appoint positions, and select the meeting moderator (formerly chosen by selectmen), and took over activities formerly done by selectmen (assessments, fence and gate issues, expansion of meetinghouse, division of land). Town meeting also took over creation of ad hoc committees for specific tasks (selectmen had controlled committee creation, before).

Why? Not a legal change or a change related to lower ranks aspiring to higher ranks (selectmen remained from about the same level throughout the change). Lockridge suggests that the change was "organic." As the old guard died/retired they were replaced by younger, less experienced men. The first generation had emphasized communal consensus. The second generation did not. Sectional conflict arose over decisions about location of meetinghouse, and the 'second divisions' of land. The growing population found no way into political power entrenched in a handful of selectmen.

John Demos, “Notes on Life in Plymouth Colony,”  William and Mary Quarterly, 3d Ser., XXII (1965): pp. 264-286.  Also in Colonial America 3d ed.

(Not bad for 1965 but in light of subsequent work some of his conclusions seem a bit simplistic or backwards.)

Plymouth was not as static as was thought: families moved, property was transferred. He suggests some reasons were:
1691: Plymouth colony joins Massachusetts Bay Colony, contains 21 recognized townships as well as smaller communities

General Court had some reservations about how land was distributed in towns: absentee landlording and not confined to "upright" citizens.

Young men, or older men who may finally be able to do so, move to new lands. Eventually their relatives, especially elderly parents, may join them or move nearby. Some buy land for speculation.

The population at Plymouth seems to have doubled every 15 years from 1620-1691. Demos calls this steady!!

Early (7-8 month) babies...fines for betrothed parents 1/4 of that for non-betrothed. Land was given for use by sons but not necessarily deeded to them until after parent's death. Daughters received movable goods.

Marriage age: from those born 1600 to those born 1700: men: average declines from 27 to 24.6; women: average increases from 20.6 to 22.3. He concludes that early settlers were mostly men and later as men moved away to open new areas, more women were left behind in towns. So population balance shifted. Marriage being the "normal" state, people usually remarried after death of spouse. Oddly, if a widow remarried her children did not necessarily follow her to her new home, nor did the stepfather necessarily provide for them.
Married siblings did not share homes. If a father died, young children might remain with their mother, older children would be bound out, and the inheritor would have to buy out his siblings' interest in the property. Aging parents would often bequeath property only with proviso that they be cared for in old age.

Demos looks at children who were bound out but can find no specific, single purpose for this practice. Perhaps he should look at similar custom in England. He guesses that between 1/3 and 1/2 of all children in Plymouth were not living with their parents.

Philip J. Greven, “Family Structure in Seventeenth-Century Andover, Massachusetts,William and Mary Quarterly, 3d Ser., XXIII (1966): 234-256.   Also in Colonial America, 3d ed.

Another 60s article at the transition point between genealogical/antiquarian studies and social/cultural studies, this is a family study of two generations of Andover, Mass.

Original grant divided between 36 men, open field division, 1660s. Second division, and subsequent dispersal from central village of half the families, in 1680s. Population growth as expected, with boom in 50-60s and decline thereafter. 15% infant mortality rate. And they lived a long time, too! Marriage ages similar to Demos, above. Eldest sons married earlier than later sons. Fathers held on to sons for their labor. (p. 243)

"The psychological consequences of this prolonged dependence of sons are difficult to assess, but they must have been significant." (p. 244) (Why must? What was the expectation based on prior tradition? Is Greven reacting to the evidence of the 1680s or to the 1960s!!?))

Is it "reluctance to hand over control" or something else? (p. 246) He's making an assumption that the sons saw this as a bad thing. He assumes that it was 'personal ownership' not familial stewardship that was prized.

He mentions an exception case where land was deeded to the son early, and that a major portion of the land despite the presence of brothers. Could this be one of Powell's non-open-field families?

Modified extended family: family ties are strong though married siblings do not reside together

Donna Merwick, "Dutch Townsmen and Land Use:  A Spatial Perspective on Seventeenth-Century Albany, New York,” William and Mary Quarterly, 3d Ser., XXXVII (Jan. 1980): 53-78.

Merwick explores the "town" as we more commonly define it--not an aggregate of rural farms but as a centralized, non-farming group by looking at the Dutch, who did not have the same aristocratic land-prizing mentality of the English. Property was not a sign of status.

1624: Dutch West India Company attempts settlement (few details) by fort, abandoned two years later except for small garrison and some traders
1629: Kiliaen van Rensselaer establishes claim to surrounding area. Is accidentally given fort land as well. He finances/rents out farm settlements to support fur trading. He also competes with his grantors, DWI Co. It's not great for farming. He starts granting trading rights to the inhabitants, competing with the fur traders in the fort. Tensions grow between town and colony.

Stuyvesant establishes Albany in the midst of this in 1652. Divides into houselots. Small, surrounded by Beverwyck, not meant for farming but for artisans and traders, subsequently subdivided. The Dutch settlers were used to this model, as well as to subdividing and selling, which they did. Housing was dense.

1664; English rule: It's a furtrading town. Select houselots close to gates for best trade.  ("walking in the woods" - going out to trade illicitly with Indians, so area not cleared for farming)

Tradesmen in the towns owned appropriate land outside the town: peat bogs (brewers and bakers), brickmakers (claylands). Values are family and town-based, home, moderate architecture, interior scenes, not landscapes or large land areas. The settlers were bourgeoisie townsmen. The landowner, van Renssalaer never even visited. His youngest son Jeremias was in charge, though did not fare excessively well. They measured well-being by "the number of capital ventures [they]could maintain simultaneously." (p. 70)

After 1652: fur trade declines, Indians bring fewer, expeditions go out to trade. Land ownership as a means of capital becomes more important. Governor of NY, Dongan, recognizes the potential and grants more land by city charter. English and Dutch land ownership practices conflict. English: land is payment for loyalty, land ownership denotes standing.

Rutman, Darret B., "Assessing the Little Communities of America" William and Mary Quarterly, 3rd Ser., Vol. 43, No. 2 (Apr., 1986), pp. 163-178.

Can we generalize anything about colonial New England towns from the multiple community studies of recent (before 1980) years? "It is not that social historians have no point to make--the charge of their critics--but that the point of change within the apparently unchanging is so very difficult to make." (p. 178)

"Individual scholars, moreover, have tended to muddy this melange, for they have brought to their work subjective understandings of what "community" is and, more often than not, have attempted to assess its presence or absence in particular places by counting and measuring the easiest things to count and measure--persistence and continuity, for example, equality and inequality, dissension and peaceableness--and then interpreting the results according to what they think makes a place a community." (p. 165)

"Simply put, both the real differences between places and the interpretive differences between the authors describing those places tend to disappear when we consider all places as no more that potential social "fields"--territories, patches of ground, if you will--occupied by people who may or may not be interacting with one another." (p. 165) This allows historians to ask who is interacting with whom, what kind of interaction, questions. Thus we can look at the "fundamental social arrangements of the small place in Anglo-America." (p. 166)

(NB: So, this approach fits in quite well with Donahue's Great Meadow in a more contemporary way. He is looking at interactions between the people and the land. So, different interactions but same kinds of questions.)

Anglo-America: nuclear families (or modified extended families, see above), comfortable subsistence, neighborhood networks, small scale, face to face, daily life, materially constrained and direct relationships mean small scope. (Of course, I bet in the last 10 years there have been studies that show they were not as "local" as preciously supposed.)

Reciprocal exchanges with neighbors; see Pruitt, "Self-Sufficiency and the Agricultural Economy of Eighteenth-Century Massachusetts," William and Mary Quarterly, 3rd Ser., XLI (1984), 333-364.

Also, good neighborliness was probably an aspect of the mentalité of the neighborhoods due to the necessity for interdependence. (p. 169) This generalization cuts across many areas America into the 19th cent.

Historians might mistakenly assign these general "small" characteristics to a specific group: Puritan, peasant, traditionalist, etc. This is not only inaccurate but ineffective: it can lead to misinterpretation and confusion as well as unhelpful generalizations. And:
"because the characterizations more often than not carry implications of a particular state of mind, the social historians are led all too frequently to attempt to explain behavior in terms of motivations that they themselves have invented. (!!! see Greven, above!!)

"Rather than chance such tautological games, allow me to suggest that historians' efforts to characterise early American life should be directed not by an assumption about the mind of Anglo-America and its small communities--or at least the studies of them--testify. And these processes, it seems to me, begin to come into focus when we move from generalizing about early American communities to generalising about the things that differentiated them both among themselves and, in terms of single communities, across time." (p. 172)

Population: rises sharply due to immigration, continues due to fertility, trails off (Marvin Harris - perpetual encounter between belly and womb) Lockridge: population/land pressure will lead to rise of proletariat; Rutman: no because the safety valve of  mobility is used first) Plenty of studies have looked at the particulars, Rutman says "look at the overall pattern: it's similar from place to place, jostling followed by accommodation.

internal structures: societies are stratified, yes the stratifications are different from study to study but are they different in patterned ways?

distributive system: how is a specific place embedded in a larger place: trade, doctrinal ideas (sermons), literature and ideas, virtual communities (associating one's self with others of like-mind or status from another place rather than of different status from same geographical area). It is through the virtual communities that ideas pass into the physical communities (farmer reading horticulture book from England, doctor reading medical book from Philadelphia, etc.)

Wouldn't it be cool to have a social history GIS-type system where you could slice and dice ideas instead of just maps???

hope.greenberg@uvm.edu, created/updated 2-February-2005
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