Puritan Village. The formation of a New England Town / Sumner Chilton Powell / 1963 / Middletown CT: Wesleyan University Press

    This is an interesting short book, which uses the 17th century town records of Sudbury MA, letters from and about its first English settlers, and English records from the areas of origin of those settlers to explain what the settlers were doing, and why. It focuses, as it must, on the more prosperous men.

        Take home lessons for me:

    The leaders were fairly prosperous men in England, involved in their village affairs, but from different farming traditions (open vs closed field), different town types (feudal village, incorporated borough, church-run village), and professions (farmers, merchants, minister).

    They resented the feudal system, and established their new town without reference to that system. In particular, land was typically granted as a freehold, rather than rented from the state or king or lord. This was a radical change, tho the radicalism faded later in the century. Landowners had duties to maintain roads, to fence in and "improve" their land, to pay voted taxes.

    The new town was a democracy for the landed men (not for landless men, servants, and women), which was also a major change from English precedent. However, land distribution was based partly on wealth and status.

    In contrast to modern mythology about "the good old days", there were legal and social constraints to land use, and the town's permission was needed to settle. Undesirables ("masterless men", speculators, heretics, etc.) were required to keep on moving.

    Sudbury apparently worked well as an open-field village for a generation. Towns were very free to experiment with land distribution and government. [Related to this, part of standard history is that the English did not understand the Indians' holding land in common. But the common is very much a part of English history and custom. I think the problem was a combination of racism and Puritan thought - that land belonged more to those who "improved" it than to casual users. And also, they disapproved of the aristocracy and its slothful habits and its ownership of large unproductive hunting parks.]

    The minister had high status, but did not run the town, and gradually lost status. Puritan nosiness was as noxious in many English villages as it was in New England.

    The next generation generally did not have access to the best land, and its voting rights were questioned. When the town was granted land to expand west, the conservatives insisted on splitting it among the first-comers and friends proportionately to wealth and status, and the upstarts insisted on an equal share for every free man. This caused a major schism, with factions gaining and losing several close votes and control of the town government.

    The upstarts asked for permission from the colony, and were granted land, to settle Marlborough.

Picture from Plimoth Plantation web site:

 Pilgrim planters

8/14/99 David Kew
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