Colonial America BookNotes
John Putnam Demos
A Little Commonwealth:
Family Life in Plymouth Colony
NY: Oxford UP, 1970. xvi + 201 p. Ill.: 15 photos (btw. 108-09). Appendix: demographic tables (191-94). Bibliographical footnotes, index (195-201). ISBN: 0195128907 (1999 ed.)
"A familie is a little Church, and a little commonwealth, at least a lively representation thereof, whereby triall may be made of such as are fit for any place of authoritie, or of subjection in Church or commonwealth. Or rather it is as a schoole wherein the first principles and grounds of government and subjection are learned: whereby men are fitted to greater matters in Church or commonwealth." --- Epigraph by William Gouge, Of Domesticall Duties (London, 1622)
Henretta, James A. "The Morphology of New England Society in the Colonial Period." Journal of Interdisciplinary History 2.2 (Autumn 1971): 379-398.
The dominant historiographical theme since about 1900 has been the declension of English traditions in the New World "wilderness." Frederick Jackson Turner and Perry Miller formulated the declension theory that English customs, institutions, and ideas were disintegrating in America, a theory with nationalist implications. The declension theory proposes that the English colonists were religious peasants who instituted medievalistic communal plantations that were necessarily transformed by the American environment, a social change that culminated in the American Revolution. In A Little Commonwealth, Demos provides "barren artifacts" to demonstrate the transforming social existence of the 1620 Plymouth settlement until its demise in the 1691 Massachusetts charter incorporating Plymouth. Demos describes the small rustic houses and presents some court cases involving families, then discuss the effects of the crowded conditions on the large families. He suggests that the colonists were forced by these conditions to displace their natural aggression onto their neighbors.
Isaac, Rhys. American Historical Review 76.3 (June 1971): 728-37.
"We are presently confronted by fundamental questions concerning the nature of order and authority in a traditional society, and these questions have been given added point by researches into the ideological transformations wrought by adaptation to growth and expansion in the New World environment and by the first great secular revolution of our era." Historical demography reveals the "evolution of basic patterns of everyday life, providing social history with the sense of movement that history at large has lost since the idea of progress was discredited." John Demos has employed historical demography techniques first developed in France, then transmitted to American historians through the English historians Peter Laslett and E. A. Wrigley, but adapted to the American perspective transcending demography to encompass...