Monday, November 2, 2015

20C Historians look at the 17C New England Puritan Family

Henry Mosler (1841-1920) Pilgrim's Grace

Historian Edmund S. Morgan 1916-2013, writes in his revised 1966 study The Puritan Family, that early New England families operated on the Puritan principle of on hierarchy & order, but that many also attempted to reflect the Puritans believed in consent & reciprocity. Husbands, fathers, & masters were the top of the hierarchy, but members of each household had certain rights as well as duties. Generally, Puritan women married men they chose.  There were few arranged marriages.  Still, wives & children were basically the property of the patriarch. Morgan wrote that Puritan belief in the sanctity families influenced New England’s religious development. 

Historian John Putnam Demos b 1944, writes in his book A Little Commonwealth (1970), basically a study of family life & homes in Plymouth Colony, that Puritan families, usually large because the Puritans did not approve of doing anything to prevent pregnancy, that the small interior space of houses forced family members packed into a crowded living situation, to repress feelings of anger toward one another. Instead, Puritan family members' pent-up hostilities manifested themselves in recurring quarrels over civic & religious matters & an eagerness to to take neighbors to court over trivial matters.

Rutgers' historian Philip Greven's 1970 book Four Generations, portrays New England fathers as stern, controlling patriarchs who leveraged their property holdings to control & manipulate even their adult male children. But the sway of Puritan patriarchy began to fade in the 18C, as the family farms became parceled out to male children & then to their male children reduced the original acreages that ruling, patriarchal fathers owned & could distribute among their offspring. And as paternal control over the economic futures of their male offspring weakened, young 18C New Englanders became more autonomous & assertive, willing to challenge the authority of both their natural fathers & their parent country, England.

A few more glimpses into the minds & lives of New England Puritans from Edmund Morgan:

The Diary of Michael Wigglesworth, 1653-1657: The Conscience of a Puritan (1965)

The Gentle Puritan: A Life of Ezra Stiles, 1727-1795. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1962.

“The Historians of Early New England.” In The Reinterpretation of Early American History: Essays by Ten Leading Historians of Colonial America. Edited by Ray Allen Billington. San Marino: The Huntington Library, 1966.

The Puritan Dilemma: The Story of John Winthrop. Boston: Little, Brown, 1958.

The Puritan Family: Religion and Domestic Relations in Seventeenth-Century New England, Boston Public Library, 1944, new edition, Harper, 1966.

“The Puritan Ethic and the American Revolution.” The William and Mary Quarterly, Third Series 24 (1967): 3–43.

Puritan Political Ideas, 1558-1794. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1965.

Roger Williams: The Church and the State. New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1967.

Visible Saints: The History of a Puritan Idea. New York: New York University Press, 1963.

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