History 248 Reading Guide

New England Towns in the 17th and 18th Centuries:  The Intensification of Familiar Ideals and the Seeds of Change

  • document:  Plymouth Colony, “Mayflower Compact” (1620)  Avalon Project at Yale Law School
  • Stephen Baskerville, “The Family in Puritan Political Theology,” Journal of Family History 18.2 (1993), 157-177.  SAGE Premier
  • Patricia J. Tracy, “Re-Considering Migration Within Colonial New England,” Journal of Social History 23.1 (1989), 93-113.  JSTOR

Further reading:


Using the Guidelines for Writing a Critical Analysis of a Primary Document, try to determine the "author's" perspective and purpose in crafting the Mayflower Compact, written and signed en route to Plymouth, Massachusetts (1620).

Baskerville’s article offers a “thick” study of English Puritan popular and political theology in the years leading up to the seventeenth-century Puritan Revolution in England.

  • What sources does Baskerville use to develop his discussion?  What can these tell us about the English Puritan (religious) foundation that the early New England colonists brought to the new world?  What influence did these ideas have on the family and community forms that they tried to implement?
  • What should we make of the careful delineation of roles that the English Puritan ministers defined? What are the implications of those roles for individuals, both within their families and their communities?  Do we know how the members responded to these prescriptions?
  • What does Baskerville’s argument about the "crisis of the family in the seventeenth century" (158) suggest about the society from which the early New England Puritans came, and the ways that their previous experience shaped their world view as they began to establish a new society in Plymouth and Massachusetts Bay?
  • Why did the Puritans offer such a strong indictment of the Catholic church?

In contrast to the more usual practice of examining a single colonial New England town over time, Tracy’s article on “leavers” offers a case study of the economic and familial motivations for migration from established towns (such as Northampton, Massachusetts) to newly settled regions.

  • According to Tracy, when families left an established town, were they pushed out by economic circumstances in the town or pulled in by the opportunities that awaited them in the new settlement?  What is the difference?
  • What does the kind of geographic mobility that Tracy describes, and the changes in patterns of geographic mobility between 1660 and 1770, tell us about continuity and change in the experience of families and communities in colonial New England?