“Both Englands”

THROUGHOUT the seventeenth century some of New England’s best known observers described the region as a “second England,” one of the “two Englands,” or linked this New World region as one with the mother country—“Both Englands.”147 While these remarks were clearly not promotional, the Winthrops, Johnsons, and Hubbards who made them never went on to describe the parallels or close relationships they saw between the two. The countless subtleties that made up a common “English” experience on both sides of the Atlantic may have been too obvious or seemed too time-consuming to comment upon. Conversely, since these observers were not historians, comparative geographers, sociologists, anthropologists, or men who had necessarily travelled widely throughout the kingdom, such distinctions as did exist may not have been readily apparent. For the most part, then, the story of “both Englands” must come from other, less literary sources such as local records, legal material, and contemporary maps, and similar forms of documentary evidence.

At first glance, of course, the differences between seventeenth-century England and New England seem to overwhelm any similarities. Was not England overcrowded and land hungry, susceptible to a high rate of mortality, characterized by an all-embracing state church, and run at the local level by resident gentry: ingredients that were absent in New England? While overcrowding and land hunger were not universal in England, they were likely to exist in woodland-pasture areas and generally on the lands in the south and east, respectively. Yet land scarcity in seventeenth-century New England was not uncommon. Land certainly was available, but often not enough of the right kind existed, which meant, as we shall presently see, that town settlers were sometimes faced with one of two choices: either to migrate or to change their agrarian way of life. As for mortality, despite occasional and devastating harvest cycles and periodic outbreaks of epidemic disease, England’s population rose from approximately two and one-quarter million in the early 1520’s to three and one-half million by 1603 and to five and one-half million by 1688. While the rate of growth slowed down after 1640, high mortality almost ceased to exist in England at the same time. By contrast, the English population in New England did not increase during the earliest decades after settlement. Then it would quadruple during the final decades of the century. In both areas, population underwent upward growth throughout the century, a circumstance which produced comparable implications for agriculture and land use. In matters of religion, no monolithic Puritanism existed in New England, while, in England, Puritan parishes from Yorkshire and East Anglia to the West Country appear to have operated in a localistic manner—in some cases for generations—without regard to an all-embracing Anglican church. Lastly, on the importance of local, resident gentry in England (and their absence in New England), much evidence has been uncovered to suggest that few local gentry resided in many parts of the realm, particularly in areas from which the greatest numbers of Puritans emigrated. If the demographic and social fabric of old and New England was not identical, it was in many ways quite similar.148

Late sixteenth- and early seventeenth-century England was, in addition, a highly localized society. New industries, new crops, new occupations, and improved technical advances in agriculture brought growth in specialized agriculture and renewal to localities. This growth in specialization was triggered by falling or fluctuating prices for traditional farm products, livestock and grain. In turn, it helped to reestablish regional and subregional market towns as centers for many new products of English agriculture.149 At the same time that Englishmen became deeply involved in the burgeoning market agriculture, “a new complexity emerged in the social differentiation of rural communities.” As distinctions of education, religion, attitudes, and manners developed among the wealthier members of local communities, a polarization of village society took place. Higher wealth and status in communities enabled some to participate increasingly in the political and cultural life of the county and nation, while those at the middle or lower end of the social spectrum remained bound to their geography, becoming “culturally different” from their social superiors.150 For the great lot of lesser folk who, by and large, made up the Great Migration to New England in the 1620’s and 1630’s, the transatlantic move did not heighten their social and economic horizons, for they continued in New England to employ their time and energies in traditional, localized ways. National issues and wider influences may have been important to a limited extent, such as when Laudian interference intruded upon their distinctive local Puritan practices, but, for the most part, these humbler men, women, and children were caught up in the day-to-day particularities of life which marked their region or subregion and continued to do so, to a greater or lesser extent, once they came to America.151

New England settlers were also able to carry on many English local traditions because of a variety of reasons attributed to their method of migration and the conditions they found in New England. Explanations range from a conservative family organization and the lack of outside threats to their stability to the absence of such enticements as staple crop farming and mining, to name but a few.152 But of singular importance was their method of settlement. Towns in New England were often founded by a Puritan minister, his English followers, and others from neighboring parishes or regions. Of course, not all New England towns were established in this manner. Some large communities like Boston, Charlestown, and Salem were clearly heterogeneous societies filled with highly transient populations. Others were “quasi”-heterogeneous communities like Dorchester and Cambridge, peopled by homogeneous groups that settled sequentially in these towns. For example, a wave of West Country immigrants first settled Dorchester, but upon their removal to Connecticut several years later, another group, this time from Lancaster, came to inhabit the town. The transition from one group to another was evidenced in bylaws that indicated an abrupt change in certain field regulations. In 1633, the dairy farming West Countrymen had established a fencing regulation that required cattle owners to build fences around marsh land in proportion to the number of animals they owned. By 1637, after nearly all of these men had left, the few remaining cattle owners were required to fence against “the Major” part of the town, now corn or grain growers, “at [their] own perill.”153 In addition, some smaller towns, away from the main disembarkation points, such as Reading and Sudbury, appear to have had mixed or heterogeneous populations from the beginning, representing various English regions and institutional experiences.

By far the greater number of communities founded in the Bay Colony before 1650, as judged from surviving manuscript records, local histories, and genealogies, seem to have been highly homogeneous towns. To cite several examples: Wenham, Roxbury, Chelmsford, Springfield, and probably Dedham appear to have been settled and governed by men from particular areas in East Anglia; Andover by men from Wiltshire, Hampshire, and Berkshire; Haverhill by settlers from Devon, Dorset, and Wiltshire; Marblehead by townsmen from Devon, Dorset, and Somerset; and Woburn by individuals from East Anglia and counties near London. No doubt this list would include most early Massachusetts communities if others, like Medford, Lynn, Maiden, and Manchester, had records that survived from the earliest years, or if our genealogical information about the English origins of settlers was more complete than the roughly ten to twenty per cent of all emigrants for which such evidence has been found.154 Eastern Massachusetts was not, of course, the whole of seventeenth-century New England. But this rich mosaic of English regional and subregional variations of population extended to other New England colonies. While these patterns perhaps were not duplicated throughout the region, particularly in places not settled by main line Puritan groups, the distinctive characteristics noted in Massachusetts were also present in Connecticut towns—and to a more varied degree, in many respects, than has been noted previously in the Bay Colony. Although local-colony relations differed somewhat from those in Massachusetts, notwithstanding the fact that its founders were “twice purged from the complications of government in England” (to use Charles McLean Andrews’s phrase), and despite a “second sifting” (again Andrews’s words) of many who had already remigrated several times before, Connecticut settlers continued to carry on local traditions in agriculture, landholding, local government, and lawmaking with which they had long been familiar in England.155 Much of the remainder of this essay will focus upon a detailed look at Connecticut to expand some ideas about the Englishness of early New England life. A final section will explore some additional, general factors that contributed to the continuity of seventeenth-century local life in the region as a whole.

As in Massachusetts, many Connecticut communities were established during the first two decades of settlement. Here, too, they were clustered along the river valleys and coastline. A substantial number of early local records exist for communities like the two river towns of Windsor and Hartford, and two societies founded along the Sound, Guilford and Milford. Each of these communities was settled in the 1630’s by an English minister and his local followers. By the spring of 1636 Windsor had been established permanently by the Reverend John Warham; shortly thereafter, Thomas Hooker and his adherents settled in adjoining Hartford, a community begun the previous year by an advance party of East Anglians with ties to Cambridge, Massachusetts. In 1638, the Reverend Peter Prudden and his church congregation left the so-called “Hertfordshire Quarter” in New Haven to settle Milford, and, in the following year, the Reverend Henry Whitfield and his ministerial flock formed the township of Guilford.

Of course, not all of the settlers who came to live in these towns left from the same English region or subregion, but, for the most part, the ministers, substantial men, and those who would later govern the town, make land divisions, survey the lots, and participate in other major town decisions did. Wareham’s group, which settled originally in Dorchester, had come from a three-county area in the West Country including western Dorset, south-central and western Somerset, and a few communities in eastern Devon. Although Windsor had originally been settled by a small party from Plymouth Colony in 1634, the Dorchester men quickly assumed control and made the town operate along traditions and practices with which they had been accustomed. By contrast, in the adjoining town of Hartford, Hooker’s followers were primarily from mid-Essex. Prudden’s group had come from another three-county area in the east Midlands—northern Hertford, southern Bedford, and eastern Buckinghamshire. Lastly, Whitfield’s congregation hailed from yet another distinct English region, the Wealden country of Surrey, Sussex, and especially Kent.156 What marked all of these new societies as they matured throughout the seventeenth century was not their adaptation to the New World environment—that was an eighteenth-century development—but, rather, how each continued patterns of life established elsewhere in their corners of English experience (See Figure 1).

The men, women, and children who came to Windsor in late 1635 and early 1636 had already lived in New England for over half a decade at Dorchester, a community established even prior to Winthrop’s initial settlement at Charlestown. By 1635, if not earlier, there were indications that the agricultural economy these West Countrymen had created in Dorchester could not survive: the pasturage was severely limited and substantial pressure existed on what was available. Dorchester’s problems with land scarcity were offset by attractions that migration to Connecticut offered: not only was the amount of pasturage much larger, but settlers might even have been drawn there by reports about the red sandstone-based soils of the Connecticut River valley, not duplicated elsewhere in New England, which closely resembled in appearance, though not in chemical composition the red clay soils of their native English vales.157

Fig. 1. The English Origins of Immigrants to Windsor, Hartford, Guilford, and Milford, Connecticut.

Once the new town had been established, these West Countrymen continued to operate a town government very much like that which they had set up in Dorchester. Selectmen or “townsmen” (as they were called in Connecticut throughout most of the century) were, as judged from surviving lists of those elected, a small, close-knit group, exempted from the usual duties expected of other inhabitants. In addition, they usually promulgated local bylaws which were later confirmed (and on rare occasions, voted down) by the town in meeting. Long terms in office for these town officials was not uncommon; another officer, the Windsor town clerk, held his position for at least a quarter of a century.158 Most inhabitants received good-sized parcels of land, measured in acres and rods, during their lifetimes; nearly all of it is noted as pasture or meadowland, and much of it was subdivided from “fields” in the township, though these were not fields in the Midlands or “common field” sense of the word.159

Although the Windsor settlers came originally from a three-county area, most were clustered in western Dorset and south-central Somerset, both of which formed a single agricultural region which spread as far east as Wiltshire. This was dairying country, producing large quantities of butter and cheese on land devoted largely to pasturage and only secondarily to arable endeavors, especially the growing of fodder crops. Common fields were absent, and land was enclosed for grazing and cropping. Orchards and their produce as well as pigfattening formed minor but important activities for farmers in this region.160

Seventeenth-century inventories of Windsor’s inhabitants clearly show the continuity of this West Country agricultural economy in the New World, and as the evidence from other communities will later indicate, also the distinctiveness of Windsor’s agrarian life in seventeenth-century Connecticut. Dairy cattle were the most prominent and valuable single type of livestock. Meadowland was highly valued: eight acres in Plymouth Meadow was worth £32; seventeen acres in the Great Meadow was listed at £85; and in another section of the same meadow a sixteen and one-half acre parcel was valued at £130! Grains and crops such as corn, wheat, and peas are listed in inventories but not in great quantities, suggesting that what was produced was for home consumption, for both man and beast. Important secondary pursuits included pig raising and the cultivation of orchards. Apples, cider and cider presses, and vinegar are noted in the inventories. Butter- and especially cheese-making are also much in evidence: utensils, cheese presses, tubs, vats, and the cheeses themselves, sometimes numbering as many as twenty-three, indicate how important this activity was in seventeenth-century Windsor. Large quantities of hay, most likely produced from the more nutritious English grasses, filled Windsor barns for the winter months. Dairy cattle and swine predominated among Windsor livestock, with sheep a distant third. Horses played a minor role in the town’s agricultural economy.161

The inventory evidence of Windsor’s agricultural economy is corroborated to a great extent by extant tax rates, which reflect valuations of agricultural products made in the final decades of the century. Windsor’s 1686 list, for example, shows the persistence of the dairying economy throughout the century as presumably other lists, had they survived, would have shown the continuity of different agricultural patterns in other towns. Cows, as distinct from other types of cattle, were clearly the most numerous and valuable form of livestock in the town. Horses were conspicuous, but, except for a few cases, they appear merely to have supplied the needs of personal use. On the average, each household possessed less than one ox, which suggests that many were borrowed for plowing purposes and that Windsor men devoted less attention to farming the arable than did settlers in other towns. Lastly, pigs nearly equalled the number of cows, indicating that this activity formed an important secondary interest of Windsor farmers. These farming patterns were evident in the way in which land in the town was used. Of the acreage that was rated (and therefore in some productive use by Windsor farmers), eighteen percent consisted of home lots, in some cases extensively enlarged and enclosed from the original house lot division. Arable or “upland” contributed only twenty percent of the total rateable land, while all of the meadow divisions—land valued often in excess of twice the price of arable—comprised sixty percent of the productively used land in the town.162 As this list suggests, continuity of English agriculture persisted in Windsor throughout the seventeenth and perhaps into the eighteenth centuries. Of the four towns studied here, however, only Windsor’s lists seem to have survived; unfortunately, no lists of colony valuations of all four towns are available from the first half of the eighteenth century so that we might be able to discern the continuities or discontinuities of seventeenth-century patterns in the later colonial period.

In general, noticeable differences existed in adjoining Hartford. Here, as in the pastoral town of Windsor, a small group of townsmen dominated local government and quickly assumed control of decisionmaking in the community.163 Landholding practices, however, varied somewhat. “Messuages” and other divisions of land, measured out in acres, roods, and perches, were modestly parcelled out of small enclosed fields, though none of these fields were apportioned among the proprietors equally, as was usual in classic common fields. Despite the fact that many of the colony’s wealthy and influential leaders lived in Hartford, land distribution was not highly stratified, but moderate, like such East Anglian communities as Watertown in Massachusetts. And like East Anglian towns, sales in lands and indications of consolidation and further enclosure became numerous after the first few years of settlement.164

The agricultural economy of Hartford reflected the woodland-pasture pursuits of mid-Essex, from where most of the town’s inhabitants originated.165 For whatever religious and political reasons Hooker and his followers left Massachusetts, Hartford families, like their neighbors in Windsor, seem to have come to Connecticut less for tillable land and more for its rich meadows. Inventories reveal much activity in stock breeding and raising, primarily of cattle, but also of hogs, some horses, and some sheep. Hartford farmers did devote more attention than did Windsor men to the raising of grains, especially wheat, some barley, and oats and malt, but the significance of this activity was only slightly greater than that shown by the West Country men. Clothmaking, however, was an important byemployment—more so than in Windsor but much like that demonstrated in Guilford inventories. For instance, Richard Butler’s estate contained quantities of “cloath & serge not made up,” while John White’s indicated yards of “hoom mead cooten cloth.” William Wadsworth’s inventory listed 117 pounds of cotton wool. Numerous others contained spinning wheels, cards, and flax and hemp in sizeable quantities.166

By way of contrast, Milford created and developed a society at the mouth of the Hoosatonic River which was very different from the predominantly pastoral towns of Windsor and Hartford. Settled by Englishmen from the east Midlands, Milford exhibited many of the classic characteristics of Midland common-field mixed agriculture.167 Here the town meeting, or “General Court,” as it was called, seems to have decided all important questions. Apparently no independent powers were given to the townsmen. The primary concern was over the ordering of the fields, a process accomplished by the same constellation of actions, procedures, and people seen in other common-field towns like Rowley, Massachusetts.168

The fields in Milford were, however, much larger than those in Rowley. East and West fields, for instance, were divided up into numerous “shots” or furlongs, then subdivided into smaller parcels, measured in acres, roods, and poles, for inhabitants. The “Creek Shott” of West Field, for instance, measured forty-two and one-half acres and was divided up into sixteen parcels with an average size of less than three acres. The “Cove Shott” of the same field contained thirty and one-half acres and was divided into seven parcels averaging about four acres in size (See Figure 2). Lot layers were obliged by the town to place at least half of an individual’s arable land in the field nearest his house. The town also required that land could not be sold unless it had first been entered into the town book. Noncompliance brought a fine equal to twice the price of the land. If the sale was not approved within twenty days, the town was required to buy the property.169

Fig. 2. Land Divisions in Early Milford, Connecticut. (From Leonard W. Labaree, Milford, Connecticut: The Early Development of the Town as Shown in its Land Records [New Haven, Conn., 1933], p. 12.)

Milford inventories indicate what can only be described as a community teeming with many different agricultural activities, a situation which also characterized the mixed-farming practices of the English Midlands. Like its east Midland counterpart, Milford was committed to livestock raising, including horse raising, but also was equally devoted to the products of tillage. Inhabitants produced larger quantities and a wider assortment of crops than in other Connecticut towns, though sizeable amounts were grown for fodder, such as oats and peas. For instance, before his death, George Clark had planted five acres of Indian corn, seven of winter wheat, four of peas; three and one-half acres of peas, oats, and flax were growing in the “new field,” and six acres of wheat and three acres of oats had been sown in another location. Milford livestock was both diverse and plentiful. John Baldwin’s typically average but highly detailed estate contained white-faced, red-faced, black, and brown cattle; heifers, yearlings, calves, and steers; and “horseflesh” in both barn and the woods. There were also large numbers of sheep and lambs. Horses were noted in almost every estate and many, apparently, were raised for export. The town was widely known for its exporting activities. Inventory takers for Richard Baldwin, for example, listed a horse, valued at £14/15/09, sent to the Barbadoes. There is evidence of clothmaking activity as well as an occasional churn or other dairy implement, but neither was a substantial pursuit and at best satisfied little more than home consumption, As in other common-field towns, the products of the land—the corn and cattle—figured more significantly in the inventories than did the land itself. In Milford, the value of land amounted to approximately one-third of the estate in comparison to one-half to two-thirds in many pastoral town inventories.170

Few other Connecticut towns so literally were founded on such a rocky foundation as was Guilford. Of all early Connecticut towns only a few can be said to have been established on such poor soil. But even in these few cases—the towns of Saybrook, New London, and Stonington—the rationale for settlement was largely military or political. About three-quarters of Guilford’s territory was either very stony or mountainous land or stony, hilly terrain of light-textured glacial till soils. About half of it was unsuitable even for pastureland and another twenty percent was only marginally productive. While most New England settlers might shun this kind of land, at least during the early years of colonization, Guilford’s inhabitants, derived largely from the densely wooded and populous Wealden country of Surrey, Sussex, and especially Kent, were used to the conditions of poor soils and operated an agricultural society largely based on byemployment.171

While Milford’s agricultural economy fostered an array of activities, Guilford’s economic life, as suggested in inhabitants’ inventories, appears to be almost lacking in diversity. According to the town’s “book of the Terryers,” settlers received small- to medium-sized parcels of upland and meadow which were often enclosed by a cooperative group effort of several farmers, as in such similar eastern English regions as Kent and East Anglia. Upon their land they raised some grain, engaged more extensively in stockraising (cattle and sheep) and dairying, and grew some vegetables, hops, apples, and tobacco. As in Kent, crop farming was not a primary focus of Guilford men; indeed, the town finally required that each owner of upland lots had to “subdue” a half acre of land per year or else forfeit ten shillings. This appears to have followed the practice in Wealden Kent, where tenants were usually required by covenant in their leases to improve the land by rotting down the remains of the grain harvest and to manure the land.172

By and large, however, clothmaking and its products and equipment were featured prominently in Guilford estates. John Scranton’s inventory lists eleven and one-half pounds of wool yarn, twenty-one of linen, twenty-five of “toe” yarn, and eight pounds of cotton “yearn,” as well as some other scattered quantities of material found in different places in his house—linen yarn, eight more pounds of cotton wool, and three and one-half pounds of flax, as well as the cloth-making equipment. Still other inventories list as much as thirty-two pounds of flax and varieties of cloth, including kerseys, serges, and “home made cloaths.” Yet perhaps the most unusual features of these inventories are the frequent references to woodworking tools and, especially, to iron and ironmaking: pairs of bellows, large supplies of “old iron” or scrap, and a surplus of iron tools—handsaws, broad and narrow axes, scythes, pitchforks, hoes, spades, and hoops, as well as substantial numbers of nails. The Guilford economy, which relied heavily upon byemployment, seems to have carried on intact iron-making activities which had been a part of the Wealden society for over one hundred years.173

The overall impression left by such details of individual lives and the activities of like-minded men in the same community is one of a more varied local life than we have previously assumed. For instance, settlers seem to have come to the Connecticut Paver valley not for tillable lands, as some contemporaries and nearly all historians have long contended, but rather to create several pastoral economies on adjoining, if not almost identical land. Our insensitivity to the workaday world of seventeenth-century New England farmers is largely attributable to our misuse or nonuse of data from ordinary and relatively accessible data, such as inventories. Earlier attempts to use such information were hasty and inaccurate: less than a dozen and a half have been studied to determine the agricultural character of the whole Connecticut colony! It is not surprising, therefore, that one recent writer concluded that throughout the seventeenth century, Connecticut agriculture “remained unspecialized by region or town,” that “cultivation was the mode of production,” and that “little profit was seen in horsebreeding.”174 These generalizations simply ignore this earlier specialization based on English regional and subregional backgrounds of the settlers that only gradually changed to other forms of local specialization in the following century as certain types of land became scarce and as new agricultural demands and markets were created.

What we really need to know, therefore, is how could all of this diversity in agriculture be supported in seventeenth-century New England? The general inertia of settlers to change will not sufficiently explain why such specialties survived and apparently thrived in New England during the first century after settlement. Somehow, this varied pattern of specialization continued to work for generations. But how were surpluses exchanged for other agricultural products and imported goods? Perhaps the only way that we might know how this system worked is to understand how agricultural products were marketed. At this stage the answers still remain elusive.175

Our knowledge about the marketing of seventeenth-century agricultural produce in New England can be summarized as follows: Within the first two decades after settlement, New England was producing an exportable surplus and had established several markets for domestic and foreign trade. A weekly market was held at Hartford starting in 1643, annual fairs were established at Hartford, New Haven, and Providence, and Thursday was appointed the weekly market day in Boston in 1633, to which two other days were added in 1696. Furthermore, we know that much agricultural produce, including that grown throughout the Connecticut River valley, was often funnelled through Boston, and that Edward Johnson often described Massachusetts communities in terms of their distance from (and hence, their difficulty in reaching) the “Towns of trade” or “Mart Towns.” Certain towns, ill-defined by contemporaries, apparently served as trading centers, while others simply may have collected produce for shipment elsewhere. But in what ways did these towns facilitate farmers? Were they like English market towns or something quite different? As a 1709 visitor to Boston observed, the “Country People” were opposed to setting up market days because of the possible glut and cheap prices that their produce might bring. They preferred, instead, to come in to town “as they think fit.”176

Still other approaches must be employed to help understand the non-agricultural dimensions of localism and continuity in the seventeenth-century New England experience. The impact of the migration upon occupational structure is one example. For some time historians have argued that the disruptive pattern of migration and resettlement created a displacement of occupations and statuses in the New World. While some shifting occurred, this was primarily a society of rural English in a rural New England setting. Continuity prevailed.177 Edward Johnson, for instance, mentions that Hingham supplied Boston with timber, a pursuit that appears little different from what inhabitants in Hingham, Norfolk, were doing when they sold wood for pipestaves to fishing interests on the Norfolk coast. Johnson also noted that Hinghamites “want not for Fish for themselves and others also,” but inventory and other evidence makes clear that this presumably “new occupation,” based on a new coastal (rather than inland) environmental setting, was all but nonexistent. Coastal towns could still (and did) maintain the inland pursuits with which they were familiar.178

Self-imposed limitations, perhaps unconscious, on extracommunal contacts also helped to insure continuity and localism throughout the seventeenth century. There were well-known exceptions, of course, as both John Hull’s and Samuel Sewall’s diaries make clear, but for the great majority of seventeenth-century New Englanders, their social worlds or perceptions of the larger New England landscape were exceedingly confined and appear to be related to their occupation and position in society. For instance, after finally settling in Stonington, Connecticut, farmer Thomas Minor rarely set foot outside his community except for occasional trips to neighboring towns like New London. While Milton minister Peter Thacher’s world was somewhat larger—he had been raised on Boston’s North Shore, served as minister on Cape Cod, and took a short trip to England—his day-to-day life was largely confined to his parish and occasional visits to colleagues in Dorchester, Weymouth, Boston, and Cambridge. Charlestown merchant Lawrence Hammond recorded an occasional trip to Cape Cod to visit his parents-in-law, but remarkably little else.179 Even a century later, John Quincy Adams commented on the rootedness of New Englanders as he travelled from Haverhill to Cambridge via Lincoln. As he turned on to the Lincoln road, he was

Fig 3. The Establishment of Towns in Seventeenth-Century New England, Based on Present-day Town Boundaries.

very much surprised, to see that very few persons knew, any thing about Lincoln, although it is not more than 22 miles distant from Andover: I met a man whom I judg’d by his appearance to be turn’d of sixty, when I enquired of him the road to Lincoln; his answer was, that he knew of no such place: how many mortals [Adams went on, reciting from Pope’s “Essay on Man”],

On the selfsame spot,

Are born, take nurture, propagate, and rot,

entirely ignorant of every thing that lies ten miles beyond it?180

Another contributing factor to seventeenth-century localism and continuity was the size and character of New England communities. By English standards, New England towns were huge and isolated communities, and few in number. Once families resettled in towns after leaving disembarkation points in coastal Massachusetts or the river towns of Connecticut, the vast majority of them tended to remain in their new community tor several generations. Towns founded throughout the century remained clustered along the coast and inland along rivers where meadow was plentiful. Occasionally, a dozen or so families might move outward to such places as Groton, Deerfield, or Dover, but, as Indian warfare intensified in the 1670’s, these settlements were burned or abandoned, and were rebuilt and resettled only in the final decades of the century. Of the 133 communities incorporated in New England colonies throughout the seventeenth century, nearly half of them were founded during the first two decades of Puritan settlement and only about a fifth of them were established during the last quarter century (see the accompanying table and Figure 3). In contrast to the decline in the number of settlements was the rapid increase in New England’s population during the second half century: it rose four-fold in five decades.181

To some extent, this lack of geographic or spatial mobility was caused by poor roads and channels of transportation, as Madam Knight’s journey from Boston to New York so graphically illustrates. Town records amply testify to the fact that connecting roads between towns started to concern many communities only in the final years of the century. Even relatively short distances seemed insurmountable to some. As late as 1716, Hartford officials expressed concern about the town’s distance from Yale College, “being So Very remote and the Transporting anything by Water thither being so Uncertain there being but Litle Communications between these Countys and New Haven.” Even so, travel by water seemed to some preferable to taking a land route, even through the latter went through a relatively populous countryside. For more than five decades, people seemed to prefer going from Boston to North Shore towns by boat rather than overland.182

But poor or under-utilized channels of transportation do not readily explain why extra-town social relationships were severely limited in the seventeenth century. In Rowley, for instance, except for a few wealthy members of the community who had social connections on the outside, it was not until the decades of the 1720’s and 1730’s that half of the marriages of community members involved a partner from another community. During the seventeenth century, only one couple in forty-two married between 1639 and 1659, six couples in sixty-nine between 1660 and 1679, and twenty-one of 116 between 1680 and 1699 involved a partner from outside the community. Nearly all of these extra-communal marriages involved Rowley inhabitants of exceptional wealth and standing, or, as in a few instances, of partners from an adjoining community. Susan Norton has shown that a similar pattern of endogamous marriage continued in many other communities throughout the greater part of the colonial period, and comparable statistics have been compiled for Windsor, Connecticut.183


Decline in the Formation of New England Towns During the Seventeenth Century

Period Massachusetts Plymouth Colony New Hampshire Rhode Island Maine Connecticut Totals % of all 17th-century New England Towns

























% of all towns








created in 17th-century New England







sources: Historical Data Relating to Counties, Cities and Towns in Massachusetts ([Boston], 1966); Elmer Munson Hunt, New Hampshire Town Names and Whence They Came (Peterborough, N.H., 1970); Rhode Island Manual (Providence, R.I. 1981); Maine State Archives, Public Record Repositories in Maine (Augusta, [1976]); Bruce C. Daniels, The Connecticut Town: Growth and Development, 1638–1790 (Middletown, Conn., 1979).

At least one other question remains about New England’s localism and continuity: to what degree did English ways of doing things persist? Perhaps the best way to understand this question is to look at it from at least three different levels of persistence. The kinds of customary relationships that have been discussed here are primarily formal and legal. By and large, these depended upon certain social and economic conditions for their perpetuation and persistence. As soon as these conditions changed in the decades between 1680 and 1750, customs and institutions were altered. This is not to say that the customs that Englishmen brought with them were ephemeral, because custom has always been flexible. We have for all too long unquestionably assumed that custom is “immemorial.” Yet as historians of continental and English inheritance law have shown us, village people often stretched or changed custom to fit their changing short-term social or economic necessities, and practices died out when conditions inalterably changed. Should New England have been any less immune to a similar fate?184

Another level of persistence of English practices was generational memory and family tradition. Few examples seem to have come to light, hut perhaps it is because we have not started looking more closely for them. In his autobiography, Daniel Denison recounted his own migration and settlement in New England, and the life histories and activities of his relatives and ancestors during the previous century—some serving in European wars and the Civil War, others living in Ireland, still others residing in other parts of New England. All of this was retold for his fatherless grandchildren so that, as Denison stated, “you may perceive you need not be ashamed of your progenitors, who have in many respects been eminent in their times.” Young Samuel Sewall always singled out “Hampshire” men from the other Englishmen he met, no doubt because such men came from his mother’s native county. Later, when he visited England, he travelled to the county shortly after his arrival and saw the local sites and homes of his ancestors. Finally, in one other example of English memory in the seventeenth-century New England mind, when James Kingsnorth came over from Staplehurst in Kent to Guilford at mid-century as his uncle’s heir, he was, according to local records, “examined by the [town] Court here as to his knowledge of places and things there [i.e., Kent], of which he gave a satisfactory account to the Court, plainly implying a mutual familiarity with that vicinity.”185

At still a different and final level of persistence, there are the day-to-day cultural forms which were transmitted from one generation to another but which were so deceptively simple, yet abiding, that historians have hardly discovered (let alone written about) them. We see these English borrowings particularly in material culture,186 but also in such common and unexplored characteristics as older language forms and the spellings of words, so evident in wills, inventories, and court records. Two centuries after New Englanders had settled on Long Island, “an Easthampton man might be known from a Southampton man as well as a native of Kent may be distinguished from a Yorkshire man,” despite the fact that the two communities shared a common border.187 Social customs, folk literature, and oral traditions, also long ignored, must be explored more fully, because for many reasons their endurance on New England soil for centuries may yet be the strongest case for “English Ways.”

David Grayson Allen is Executive Vice President of The Winthrop Group, Inc., Cambridge, Massachusetts.