Greven’s first book was the second (in alphabetical authorial order) of four monographs, all published in 1970, that more-or-less invented the “New EnGreven’s first book was the second (in alphabetical authorial order) of four monographs, all published in 1970, that more-or-less invented the “New England town study” and revolutionized the practice of early American history. The author dove deep into the archives of eastern New England, combing through land and parish and probate records to compose a detailed study of Andover, Massachusetts, during its first century. Andover’s founding generation quickly availed itself of most of the land within the town’s limits, and then used that land both to support and control its offspring. Since New England proved a surprisingly healthy environment for the English colonists, the first generation had large numbers of children who survived to adulthood, and that same generation lived quite long lives – often into their 70s. Sons and daughters expected, indeed needed, to receive dowries and land grants from their fathers in order to set up their own households, but since adult children constituted free labor for their parents, those fathers usually took their time about giving their kids their “freedom dues.” Sons, in particular, often had to live with and work for their fathers until their late 20s, even their early 30s. “Living in your parents’ basement” (or the equivalent) was a common household arrangement in colonial North America.
Andover, and presumably many other New England towns – Greven’s contemporary Michael Zuckerman and predecessor Charles Grant strongly suggest this was the case – became stable, conservative communities, characterized by extended households and patriarchal rule. Indeed, Puritan towns apparently became more stable than the atomized and rootless English communities that had given rise to Puritanism. One of the surprises of FOUR GENERATIONS is that New England, the ostensible cradle of Anglo-American culture, was far less socially mobile and liberal than contemporary Old England. As in Kent or Dedham (see Lockridge’s NEW ENGLAND TOWN), the fabric of Andover’s society began to fray in the third generation. Population growth was accompanied by a decrease in per capita wealth for third- and fourth-generation families, and by an increase in child mortality (due to disease) and in morbidity among the aged. The new generations could expect fewer adult children and fewer years of life to enjoy/employ them. Some older Andoverians let their sons buy land from them and establish independency at younger ages, or preserved their multi-generational households by moving into their children’s homes and living (uneasily) under their authority. Increasingly, though, the only solutions for sons and grandsons of the second generation were economic diversification or outmigration: fathers helped younger sons learn skilled trades, or encouraged them to move to communities like Concord, NH and Wethersfield, CT. Greven suggests that the growing inability of fathers to provide land for their children undermined patriarchal authority throughout the region, and may have contributed to such social uprisings as the Great Awakening and the Revolution. I think this is a bit of a stretch. What is clear, however, is that by the 1700s Andover’s sons and daughters could no longer expect to follow their parents’ professions and live on their parents’ land. New England’s townsfolk had to embrace economic change and geographical mobility in order to survive. Thus did this conservative, eccentric society begin to resemble, at last, the parent country and the other colonies.*
* As Jack Greene observed in PURSUITS OF HAPPINESS (1988), though with more scholarship to draw upon than Greven had in 1970....more