Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Women in 17C New England

In 17C New England, women usually arrived with family members to band together in cooperative religious communities organized for the collective good including shared economic goals. Almost immediately, their healthier living conditions allowed for reproduction by natural increase.
Intact family units let New England families adapt to their new world more easily. The New England family often planted just enough to sustain themselves within their community, unlike the profit driven Chesapeake family desperately trying to produce as much as possible.  Most men in 17C New England viewed themselves as a members of a family group in which he had rights as well as obligations. Usually husbands & wives worked together for the good of their immediate & extended family and for the good of their community. Men spent most of their time working within with an extended family which sought interdependence with their wider community.  In early New England, both men & women believed that individuals and family should be subordinated to the demands of the greater community.
The 1st thing a woman might notice about her "new" homeland would be the rocky ground she had landed on.  In New England, the heavily glaciated soil was strewn with countless stones, many of which were forced to the surface after one of the never-ending winter freezes.  In a sense the Puritans did not possess the soil; it possessed them by shaping their character & scratching a living from the protesting earth was an early American success story; back-bending toil put a premium on industry & penny-pinching frugality. The grudging land also left colonial New England less ethnically mixed than its southern neighbors. Climate likewise molded New England, where the summers were often uncomfortably hot & winters were cruelly cold. Yet the soil & climate of New England eventually encouraged a diversified agriculture & industry; staple products like tobacco did not flourish, as in the South; black slavery could not exist profitably on small farms, especially where the surest early 17C crop was stones. No broad, fertile hinterland, unlike that of the South, beckoned people inland; the mountains ran fairly close to the shore, & the rivers were generally short with rapid waters.

The Native Americans had left an early imprint on the New England earth; they traditionally beat trials through the woods as they migrated seasonally for hunting & fishing. They periodically burned the woodlands to restore leafy 1st-growth forests to sustain the deer population. The Indians recognized the right to use the land, but the concept of exclusive, individual ownership of the land was not known to them. The English settlers had a different philosophy; they condemned the Indians for “wasting” the earth by underutilizing its bounty & used this logic to justify their own expropriation of the land from the natives. Some greatest changes resulted from the introduction of livestock. The English brought pigs, horses, sheep, & cattle from Europe to settlements & because the growing herds need more pastures, the colonists were continually clearing forests. Repelled by the rocks, the hardy New Englanders turned instinctively to their fine natural harbors; hacking timber from their dense forests they became experts in shipbuilding & commerce; they also ceaselessly exploited the self-perpetuating codfish lode off the coast. The combination of Calvinism, soil, & climate in New England made for purposefulness, stubbornness, self-reliance & resourcefulness.
The overwhelming majority of colonists were farmers; they planted in the spring, tended their crops in the summer, harvested in the fall, & prepared in the winter to begin the cycle all over again. They usually rose at dawn & went to bad at dusk; chores might be performed after nightfall, if they were ”worth the candle.”
Women, slave or free, on southern plantations or New England farms, wove, cooked, cleaned, & taught & cared for children.  Men cleared land, fenced, planted, & cropped it, cut firewood, & butchered livestock; children helped with all these tasks. Life was humble but comfortable by contemporary standards. Compared to most 17C Europeans, Americans lived in relative abundance; land was relatively cheap & more money for jobs.  Most white migrants who could afford to travel to early colonial New England came from the middle; not aristocracy nor the dregs of European society.