Town Born: The Political Economy of New England from Its Founding to the Revolution

Town Born: The Political Economy of New England from Its Founding to the Revolution

Town Born: The Political Economy of New England from Its Founding to the Revolution

Town Born: The Political Economy of New England from Its Founding to the Revolution

Synopsis

In a closely observed and well-researched narrative that ranges from the birth of town meetings in England to the whipping posts of early Boston to the creation of the Scituate shipbuilding common, Town Born reveals how New England town political economies created the foundation for a relatively egalitarian American society.

Excerpt

In 1760, some fifteen years before the American Revolution, the young John Adams witnessed and became fascinated with, though somewhat frightened by, the exuberance of autonomous workers at play. Taking a break from his legal studies, Adams “rode to the Iron works landing” in Weymouth, Massachusetts, “to see a vessel launched.” These happy affairs symbolized the viability of the New England economy, the skill and cooperation of the empowered workers, and—assuming the ship floated—the profitable completion of a long job. Afterward, the workers and town folk celebrated nearby at Thayer’s tavern: “The rabble filled the house,” noted Adams, and “every room, kitchen, chamber was crowded with people.” He observed “negroes with a fiddle” and “young fellows and girls dancing in the chamber as if they would kick the floor thro.” the scene was untamed and joyous. Adams spent “the whole afternoon in gazing and listening.” “Fiddling and dancing, in a chamber full of young fellows and girls, a wild rabble of both sexes, and all ages in the lower room, singing, dancing, fiddling, drinking flip and toddy, and drams—this is the riot and reveling of taverns and of Thayer’s frolics.” As an intellectual worker Adams was both with, and apart from, the male and female mechanics in the scene, yet he admired them and spent the whole day. These workers had many natural advantages: they were young, well paid, drunk, and animated by music. Yet much of their frolic stemmed from their political power. At least on this Tuesday evening, New England town democracy seemed to agree with its practitioners.

Early American workers rarely frolicked gloriously around their completed work. in Virginia, slaves did not celebrate the tobacco harvest. in Pennsylvania, workers drank their rum during the wheat harvest, not after it. Elsewhere, in “townless” America, many people lived in secular heaven, or hell, with a clear, often intimate, view of the other condition. Outside of New England, as Allan Kulikoff has shown, white males had more good . . .

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