Sex in Middlesex: Popular Mores in a Massachusetts County, 1649-1699

Sex in Middlesex: Popular Mores in a Massachusetts County, 1649-1699

Sex in Middlesex: Popular Mores in a Massachusetts County, 1649-1699

Sex in Middlesex: Popular Mores in a Massachusetts County, 1649-1699

Excerpt

The county of Middlesex in Massachusetts was instituted in May 1643, along with Suffolk and Essex. They replicated in the new world the major unit of local government and law enforcement in England, though their populations were comparatively minute. Middlesex covered the area to the north and west of Boston and originally included the towns of Cambridge and Charlestown (which alternated as the seats of the county court), Sudbury, Chelmsford, Reading, Concord, Woburn, and Watertown. By the end of the century Malden, Marlborough, Lancaster, Billerica, Groton, Framingham, Dunstable, Newton, Stow, Sherborn, Tyngsborough, Dracut, Worcester, and Medford had been incorporated or settled. It was, of course, predominantly agricultural, but Charlestown, the largest town in the county, had a good harbor and Cambridge was the seat of Harvard College and, from 1639 to 1675, of the only printing press.

Various geographic, social, and economic factors during the period 1649 to 1699 led to the dispersal of the county's population away from its original base along the north bank of the Charles River to increasingly far-flung inland settlements. The relative shortness of the rivers in the bay area, the pressure of population, the need for good mixed farming land (meadow, arable, upland, and timber), the search for beaver pelts, and disagreements about town policies, all conditioned this process. Concord in 1635 was the first foundation away from the Charles River, and Sudbury, on the great trail westward to the Connecticut Valley, continued this process in 1637. By the end of the century the original three river settlements had subdivided into eight, while inland settlements had swelled to eleven. In 1690 their estimated populations totaled . . .

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