The modern image of the New England Puritans, as one perceives, is a dark one: the Puritans, religious dissenters who valued propriety and order, are seen as a witch-hunters, suspicious tribe, and their very name carries connotations of grimness and primness. Where as the book “A Little Commonwealth” reflects the scenario in which the Puritans lived.
Most of the houses in the Puritan Colonial time were small, dark, brooding and sparsely furnished. This allowed the Puritans to use every available space in the home. For examples, most of the furnishings and utensils used by the Puritans had more than one usea trunk would be used not only for storage but also for sitting upon or maybe even a table. Moreover because of their lifestyle, they had to carry inventories, which were bulky and were stationed at the corner.
In a way to demonstrate his/her standing in the community and to confirm his/her own self-image, the Puritans viewed their wealth by material and tangible acquisitions. Their modest clothing showed just what their standing was in the community. More clothes, books (even if they could not read), linens and such things were viewed as “money in the bank”, although jewelry, even wedding bands, were not considered tangible wealth in the Puritans.
The families were very tight knit. While they lived in such cramped quarters they seemed to be able to live peaceably and by communicate with each other. Rather than squabble amongst themselves the Puritans, by way of displaced anger, would often have arguments with their neighbors instead of disrupting the harmony in their own household. Most of the families, within a given community at a given point in time, exemplified the basic model of husband, wife, and children.
While the family unit was close, the Puritans would often had contract help, hopefully by formal apprenticeship, on their children due to lack of household space. Servants lived on quite intimate terms within their new family but not equally. In the case of sickness of the “Master”, when the Master was well and, no longer felt the need to have a servant, or passed away, the contract was deemed fulfilled. In some cases, the Master, in his will, would make a specific bequeath to the servant in of recognition of his or her friendship and affection to that servant showed, but this was rare.
Though uncommon Negro’s and Indians servants were usually considered part of the dying mans estate and were passed on to his heirs along with others sorts of properties.
Unlike today’s adolescence, Puritan children knew from a very early age where they belong in the family, what was expected of them and what they would be doing probably for the rest of their lives. The elders believed the children “should not know they have a will of their own”. From the beginning they were dressed and treated as miniature adults and learned their “stations” by sharing in the activities of their parents. This helped them mature early and take their respective roles in the society.
Given that the Puritan’s were a religious group of people, still the marriages were performed by Civil Magistrates and were viewed as a civil ceremony and not as a religious one. Being married and on their own a young married couple would still be beholden to their parents most times until middle age for fear of disinheritance of land that was given to them in marriage. On average the age of marriage was much higher than one could image. A male would marry when he would be 25- 27, where as a female would marry by 20- 22. Men needed women to take care of their homes and reproduce and women needed men for financial stability ; security. Women rarely had land of their own, the sons would be given land and the women were given utensils or livestock. The men were viewed as the “head” of the family.
In summary, This book examines the family in the context of the colony founded by the Pilgrims who came over on the Mayflower. The author Basing his work on physical artifacts, wills, estate inventories, and a variety of legal and official enactment’s, portrays the family as a structure of roles and relationships, emphasizing those of husband and wife, parent and child, and master and servant.
In this natural setting for both imposing discipline and encouraging and developing the character of people in the community; the family was responsible for the formal education, vocational training and while the church played a part in the community.