Puritans and Adventurers: Change and Persistence in Early America

By T. H. Breen | Go to book overview

Introduction

These essays -- two of which are published here for the first time -- explore the origins and subsequent development of quite different early American cultures, Massachusetts and Virginia. The idea for this collection occurred to me over a decade ago. At that time, I had just begun rummaging through the colonists' "cultural baggage," bundles of custom and tradition, habits of mind that the settlers carried across the Atlantic Ocean. Along with other historians working in this period, I assumed that the migrants' English background played an important role in shaping social institutions in America. My research abundantly confirmed that belief. What I had not anticipated was the complexity of the story. I discovered not one, but many English backgrounds, and where I expected to find changing values in the New World, I encountered persistence.

The comparative cultural history of these particular colonies presented problems that I would probably not have faced had I attempted to contrast the development of vastly dissimilar societies, say Virginia and Cuba or Massachusetts Bay and New France. Since England's mainland colonies cooperated in fighting a revolution and establishing a new nation, one is tempted to homogenize early American culture, to stress common elements that prepared the way for later events. From

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