Early New England Towns; a Comparative Study of Their Development

By Anne Bush MacLear | Go to book overview

CHAPTER I
THE TOWN IN GENERAL

THE New England town of the seventeenth century was a village community settled for purposes of good neighborhood and defense. Its most characteristic features resulted from the topography of the country, and from the ideas of the nature of a town which the colonists brought from England. Forced by the geographical features of New England and by the necessity of protection, the colonists, already acquainted, settled in groups, and at once began organizing their settlements in accordance with the type familiar to them--the old English manor. Between this and the New England town many analogies may be drawn, showing the Germanic origin, not only of the government with its democratic features, but of the form of settlement--a compact town with outlying fields--and of the land system, with "the houses and home lots fenced in and owned in severalty, with common fields outside the town, and with a surrounding track of absolutely common and undivided land used for pasturage and woodland under communal regulations."

The initiative in founding a town was usually taken by the General Court. It fixed the boundaries of the town and gave the land within these bounds "to men of good repute" upon condition that within two years "they should erect houses for habitation thereon and go on to make a town there."1 In 1635, the court decreed that "the major part" of

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1
Edward Johnson, Wonder Working Providence, p. 176.

-13-

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