He cites several examples to support his findings. For example, women were allowed the right to articulate various contracts much like modern day pre-nuptial agreements, wherein a widow and a new husband would discuss and contractually agree to future dispensation of their respective assets. Women had legal recourse when it came to domestic abuse and spousal desertion, which was very different than their female counterparts in the Old Country. Moreover, if a man were to have crafted an "unrighteous will," denying a widow her reasonable allowance to maintain herself, the woman had the right to have the will altered to reflect more favorably and fairly.
The dichotomy of the woman's existence seems somewhat freeing and oppressive all at the same time. Whereas she was able to exercise some rights outside of the home, and was seen as more of an equal in public, her roles of submission to the authority of her husband was very clear behind closed doors.
There is little question about the role of children as it relates to their parents. This is another example of the churches fundamental influence on how parenting was executed, and the role children were expected to play. Not only were children exposed to the rules and discipline of the parents, their parents position was fully supported by the law. There were laws on the book that clearly articulated the power that parents had and the unwavering, unequivocal support of the community at large. For example, children over the age of 16 could be put to death for smiting or cursing their parents unless some fault could be shown in that the parents acted or directed their children in an un-Christian way.
Children had few if any rights, and because no other way was known to them, it is difficult to ascertain whether or not they were aware of the limitations they existed under.
It does bear some mention the role of master and servant as this relationship was critical to the overall functioning of the Plymouth Colony and the Puritan lifestyle as a whole. Demos' maintains that the concept of servant represented a broad meaning during the time period. The prior notion of extended families where the thought was that family members of varying relationships and generations resided in the same household was more or less servants residing in the household with those they served. Servants were an integral component of the family and were important to daily functioning. The master was required to meet the minimal needs of the servant, and there was some level of a contractual agreement between the parties. In a number of ways, servants were extended members of the primary family.
In this paper, I have shown the dramatic differences in the way in which the New World was settled through the eyes of Demos as compared to the historical contextual references that have shaped the way so many regard this particular time period. The lifestyles of the early settlers and the settlers of Plymouth Colony were not remarkable. Much of what Demos depicted was a closer look at everyday life, family structure, and the context in which family lived in relation to the larger society. What is striking, however, about this time, is the seedlings of separation based on differences in belief being exercised; and the precipitous nature and foretelling of things to come in American history that up until Demos' writings, were summarily left out. The original settlers seemed to hold on to a form of structural functionalism as a mode of operation; wherein the collective was seen as more important than the individual components that comprised the collective.
Any effort to move toward individualism, free thinking, moving away from religiosity, and focusing on self related interests was frowned upon, but somehow did not dissuade these activities from occurring. Movement away from collective thought and religiosity is something that continues today.
Moreover, the debunking of the patriarchal myth proves very important when looking at the contextual framework of the role of women. It sets into a different perspective the feminist movement, and the lack of originality of that line of thinking as clearly established through Demos writings, women did maintain equal rights, if you will, in the context of the Plymouth Colony; which means, that in the later centuries, women lost before they gained what is to now be considered as equal rights.
Given the work that Demos has done, a closer look needs to be taken into the matters of gender issues, religion, and the relationship between the state and the church. Just as he was able to uncover, through a look at everyday life, some compelling characteristics of the real lives of early settlers, more stands to be learned and uncovered that will shed a more balanced and realistic light as to how this country was truly established. Additional scholarly and critical research into these areas as well as others that may be revealed may help to change the contextual framework of the very foundations, tenants and principals of the country.
Demos, John. A Little Commonwealth: Family…