A New England Town: The First Hundred Years: Dedham, Massachusetts, 1636-1736

A New England Town: The First Hundred Years: Dedham, Massachusetts, 1636-1736

A New England Town: The First Hundred Years: Dedham, Massachusetts, 1636-1736

A New England Town: The First Hundred Years: Dedham, Massachusetts, 1636-1736

Synopsis

The colonial New England Town is one of the myths of American history, along with such others as George Washington and the Cherry Tree and The Frontier. They are difficult to shatter, for they perpetuate the popular belief that the nation has always enjoyed universal democracy, honesty, and opportunity. The New England Town, however, deserves more than a mythical place in American history. In this industrial village society, the unique American experience had its beginnings.

In his highly original and controversial study. Professor Lockridge traces the origins of Dedham, Massachusetts, carefully examining its establishment as a utopia in 1636, the changes that occurred during the first four generations of its settlement, and the kind of community it had become by the mid-eighteenth century. In bringing to life this peculiarly American town he creates a view of all New England towns, so vital to an understanding of how the American character and society were shaped. He also gives answers to the basic questions shrouded by the myths: Was the New England Town democratic? Was it equalitarian? Was opportunity great? was society mobile? was it static or dynamic? Who had power, and who wanted it? In examining these questions Professor Lockridge has gone to the heart of the controversy surrounding the New England Town experience, finding some truth, and not a little irony, in the myth.

This enlarged edition includes an updated bibliography and an afterword in which Lockridge addresses two questions about the story of Dedham: What does it tell us about the impulses that led to American independence? The answers to these questions suggest the connections between the "new" social history and the broad political themes of the revolutionary period.

Excerpt

The New England Town is one of the myths out of which Americans' conception of their history has been constructed, along with such others as The Liberty Bell, George Washington, and The Frontier. In the way of all men, Americans have needed their myths. In the way of all myths, these have become true by convincing Americans that their nation has always enjoyed universal democracy, honesty, and opportunity. It would probably be a hopeless task to try to shatter any of the legendary building blocks of our popular history. And it might be pointless. People like them, a few professional historians sense various parts of the reality which lies beneath each—why not leave it at that? Why not, then, be satisfied to let The New England Town continue to evoke the responses, "democratic," "enduring," and especially, "American"?

At least in this case there are, however, reasons for trying to lessen a little the gulf between the knowledge of the super‐ specialized scholar and the vague popular myth. For one thing, an account of the intricate historical evolution of even a single New England town is a fine way to bring home the lesson that the past is a mixture of often contradictory events whose meaning is sometimes ambiguous. This is not a lesson that should be left for a handful of expert historians. But the New England Town commands wide attention for another reason. In its original form it embodied a way of life which prevailed both in the Old World and the New in the years when the American character first took form—the life of pre-industrial . . .

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