The various essays comprising Children in Colonial America look at different characteristics of childhood in the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries. Children coming to the American colonies came from many different nations and through these essays, authors analyze children from every range of social class, race, and ability in order to present a broad picture of childhood in these times. While each essay deals with an individual topic pertaining to childhood, they all combine to provide a strong argument that children were extremely valued in society, were not tiny adults, and were active participants in society.
Children in the early colonies were valued because they were the key to the thriving future of the colonies. Marten chooses essays about Aztec Mexico and New Spain to strengthen his argument by showing evidence this is true in areas surrounding the colonies. In these areas, women dying while giving birth “were compared to the soldiers who succumbed in battle” because they were fighting to give their society new life (14). Each child was important because he or she was malleable and could be taught the society’s culture and trades that would make the society flourish.
Since children were so highly regarded for their ability to be taught, idiocy was an extreme hardship for parents, because it “represented the antithesis of Puritan parents’ aspirations for their children” (142). Idiocy blocked children from being able to be independent and competent adults, and parents who had worked hard to meet this goal for their children were embarrassed and judged by others in their community. These children would never carry on the values of their parents and religious folk were even more concerned that they would die sinners because they would not be able to profess their faith, comparing them to uneducated newborns.
Through his many inclusions of essays and primary sources documenting the illnesses and other tragedies children would encounter in the early colonies, the reader is able to realize that perhaps the most important reason children are so highly valued is because in order to pass on values they must survive, and surviving was not an easy feat. Parents in the early colonies faced high infant mortality rates, such that every family was apt to lose at least one child. By using Elizabeth Drinker’s diary, Marten allows readers to gain a first-hand account of a mother’s worries and sorrows as her children become sick and some pass away. The agony over the loss of a loved one as well as the loss of the opportunities the child could have had growing up and the ones he would have given his family, are thoroughly expressed through this diary. It strengthens the overall argument that children were highly regarded in early American colonies for their ability to pass on family values and become the future of the society. These children are so important to the history of the United States because their survival in these early colonies led to...