A Little Commonwealth: Family Life in Plymouth Colony

A Little Commonwealth: Family Life in Plymouth Colony

A Little Commonwealth: Family Life in Plymouth Colony

A Little Commonwealth: Family Life in Plymouth Colony

Synopsis

The year 2000 marks the thirtieth anniversary of the publication of A Little Commonwealth by Bancroft Prize-winning scholar John Demos. This groundbreaking study examines the family in the context of the colony founded by the Pilgrims who came over on the Mayflower. Basing his work on physical artifacts, wills, estate inventories, and a variety of legal and official enactments, Demos portrays the family as a structure of roles and relationships, emphasizing those of husband and wife, parent and child, and master and servant. The book's most startling insights come from a reconsideration of commonly-held views of American Puritans and of the ways in which they dealt with one another. Demos concludes that Puritan "repression" was not as strongly directed against sexuality as against the expression of hostile and aggressive impulses, and he shows how this pattern reflected prevalent modes of family life and child-rearing. The result is an in-depth study of the ordinary life of a colonial community, located in the broader environment of seventeenth-century America. Demos has provided a new foreword and a list of further reading for this second edition, which will offer a new generation of readers access to this classic study.

Excerpt

Books of history have their own histories. And this one's is more peculiar than most. From doubtful and problematic beginnings, to an unexpectedly wide reception, through a remarkably extended publishing life, it has surprised me again and again. Now, it springs a further surprise: At the venerable age of thirty, it will be reborn in a new edition.

At first, I had no thought of a book at all. A graduate seminar paper (1963) grew modestly into a scholarly article (1965) which, in turn, caught the eye of the staff at Plimoth Plantation (the fine outdoor museum near the site of the famous "Pilgrim" settlement of 1620). Plantation officials then proposed a further stage: to extend the published article into a piece for their pamphlet series on early Plymouth history. The work they envisioned would directly engage the questions of Plantation visitors, around the general topic of "domestic life."

These outward inducements were mixed, of course, with an author's own, more interior, intentions. My initial focus (in the seminar paper) had been the demography of Plymouth families. To that end I had canvassed large heaps of vital records, performed the analytic technique known to scholars as "family . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.