In this book about families--those of the various native peoples of southern New England and those of the English settlers and their descendants--Gloria Main compares the ways in which the two cultures went about solving common human problems. Using original sources--diaries, inventories, wills, court records--as well as the findings of demographers, ethnologists, and cultural anthropologists, she compares the family life of the English colonists with the lives of comparable groups remaining in England and of native Americans. She looks at social organization, patterns of work, gender relations, sexual practices, childbearing and childrearing, demographic changes, and ways of dealing with sickness and death.
Main finds that the transplanted English family system produced descendants who were unusually healthy for the times and spectacularly fecund. Large families and steady population growth led to the creation of new towns and the enlargement of old ones with inevitably adverse consequences for the native Americans in the area. Main follows the two cultures into the eighteenth century and makes clear how the promise of perpetual accessions of new land eventually extended Puritan family culture across much of the North American continent.
An important and valuable work that will last...Its value lies in its systematic comparison of New English life with the lives of comparable groups remaining in England and of the Narragansett Indians on dimensions such as social organization, patterns of work, gender relations, sexual practices, and ways of dealing with sickness and death. I cannot think of another work that makes such comparisons as helpfully. Main adds to our understanding of the English in America.
Main...has written a fine book about family life in early New England that joins a long list of distinguished studies on the topic. Her thorough account of these studies grounds her own work, a sophisticated addition that looks at sexuality, courtship, marriage, childbirth, child rearing, childhood itself, old age, and other related topics. What's different, however, is that Main has woven in descriptions of Native American family life, which she contrasts to English practice, thus augmenting the usual historical sources with anthropological research. Generations of historians have shunned comparison as an organizing technique, but Main uses it here to great effect, which makes for good history as well as good general reading...This skilled study is nevertheless a graceful, scholarly book. Recommended for large public and all academic libraries.
Gloria Main...offers a magisterial analysis of colonial New England society, literally from the ground up. Beginning with the region's environment, she draws on a vast array of studies and her own powerful research skills to paint an authoritative portrait of the struggles of daily life for colonists and Native Americans. For both groups, the family was the basic organizing unit of society. By focusing on family life, the author finds the key to understanding the society, culture, and economy of colonial New England...A rewarding read...[Peoples of a Spacious Land] offer[s] readers a rich understanding of the society that played such a crucial role in the making of the United States.
Main's book depicts the New England family as an engine of growth that generated a multitude of industrious farmers and frugal artisans. Collectively, the New Englanders overcame their geographic handicap of settling a region with comparatively low agricultural yields...This is a thought-provoking, innovative work that deserves to be widely read by students of early American history. Immaculately produced by Harvard University Press, Main's findings will influence the research agendas of scholars working on colonial New England for some time to come.
- 2002, Winner of the Alice Hanson Jones Prize
- 334 pages
- 0-7/8 x 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
- Harvard University Press
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