HST296A: Reading Notes, 2-Feb-2005
Dinkin, Robert J.
Meetinghouse in Early Massachusetts,"
in Robert Blair St. George,
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.
Lockridge and Alan Kreider, “The
Evolution of Massachusetts
Town Government, 1640-1740,”
William and Mary Quarterly, 3d Ser.,
(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
- economic gain: new arrivals in Mass Bay colony created demand for
cattle and corn: increase to supply these markets
- "the land beckoned" prospects for land ownership
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
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,
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
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
1624: Dutch West India Company attempts settlement (few details) by
fort, abandoned two years later except for small garrison and some
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.
the Little Communities of America"
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
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.
"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,
"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
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???
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