Freehold Society

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I.Freehold Society in New England
Farm Families: Women and the Rural Household Economy
Puritan commitment to independence did not include women •A wife’s duty was to “love and reverence” her husband •The courts prosecuted many women and few men for having sexual intercourse outside of marriage (fornication) •Daughters usually received livestock or household goods, while brothers were given land •Women assumed the role of dutiful helpmates to their husbands •Bearing and rearing children was a very important task, as most women in New England married in their early 20s and by early 40s had given birth to 6/7 children •More women than men became full members of Puritan congregations because they feared the dangers of childbirth and because their children would be baptized •Size of farms shrank, so families’ standard of living was raised because women bore an average of 4 children and were able to focus on other tasks •Ministers praised women’s piety but excluded them from an equal role in the church

Farm Prosperity: Inheritance
European men who migrated to colonies escaped the curse of landlessness •Property ownership and family authority were closely related •Parents with small farms couldn’t provide their offspring with land, so they were placed as indentured servants •Sons and daughters in well-to-do farm families received a marriage portion when they reached 23-25 •Marriage was not a contract between equals

After husband’s death, a wife received the right to use, but not sell, a third of the family’s property •It was a father’s duty to provide inheritances for children & those who failed to do so lost status in community •Some fathers willed family farm to 1 son, & gave other children money, apprenticeship contracts, or required the inheriting son to do so The Crisis of Freehold Society

New England’s population doubled with each generation
In long-settled areas, many farms were divided so many parents could not provide...
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