Bookshelf: Colonial Cornucopia

Bookshelf: Colonial Cornucopia

Give thanks for these five books about Puritans and American Indians in early New England.

1. Beyond Conquest: Native peoples and the Struggle for History in New England by Amy E. Den Ouden (University of Nebraska Press). Beyond Conquest discusses the Puritans’ tactics to rule Connecticut native peoples — the Mohegan, Pequot and Niantic tribes — and examines the ways the Mohegans, in particular, challenged Colonial authority. It shows the conflict between the races, the subjugation of American Indians and the rise of British Colonial power. You’ll learn how the lives of American Indians changed as a result of the Puritans’ authority and hunger for land. Although this book isn’t a light read, it documents an important part of American Indian history, and highlights another aspect of the Colonial story to remember this Thanksgiving.

2. From Puritan to Yankee: Character and the Social Order in Connecticut, 1690-1765 by Richard L. Bushman (Harvard University Press). After our Puritan ancestors built shelter and found food in the New World, they became concerned with five major issues: maintaining social order, distributing land, making money, practicing religion and dealing with politics. Using manuscripts and published sources, Bushman looks at everyday life and the way society transformed itself in Colonial Connecticut from 1690 to just before the American Revolution, detailing life on farms and in meetinghouses. Whether your ancestors lived in Connecticut or another New England colony, it’ll provide you with insight into their early history, culture and community.

3. Puritans at Play: Leisure and Recreation in Colonial New England by Bruce C. Daniels (Palgrave Macmillan). In this 10th anniversary edition of a classic work, you’ll step onto the playground of your Puritan ancestors. But this book isn’t all child’s play: It dispels the myth that Puritans were somber and joyless people. You’ll learn about adult leisure and recreational activities, such as the entertainment at dances, weddings and dinner parties. Plus, you’ll discover “bundling,” a courtship practice in which betrothed couples shared the same bed, and the important role drinking and socializing at taverns played. Daniels discusses subdued leisure activities, such as pleasure reading, as well as sports, music and theater, too. This book will entertain and enlighten you about a lesser-known side of your Colonial ancestors’ lives.

4. saints and Strangers: New England in British North America by Joseph A. Conforti (Johns Hopkins University Press). In his new work, Conforti looks at the stereotypical vision of Colonial New England — Pilgrims and Indians, the first Thanksgiving, clustered towns and white-steepled churches — and shows how Colonial New England wasn’t actually an insular area. He examines the relationship between Puritans, other white settlers, American Indians and African slaves, as well as the area’s evolution into a maritime community and commercial and cultural center of the Trans-Atlantic world. Con-forti’s book will give you better understanding of Colonial New England and the lives of your ancestors who settled there.

5. Witches, Rakes, and Rogues: True Stories of Scam, Scandal, Murder, and Mayhem in Boston, 1630-1775 by D. Brenton Simons (Commonwealth Editions). No reality TV show can compare to real history. Forget all those stereotypes you learned in school about staunchly prim and proper Puritans. In this book, you’ll find colorful Bostonians, including murderers, con men, identity thieves, swindlers and women accused of witchcraft, in addition to the city’s upstanding citizens. Simons, who heads up the New England Historic Genealogical Society, has dug into all the typical records genealogists use and uncovered 26 fascinating cases of mayhem and mishap. This book surely will entertain you and satisfy your sinister appetite for wayward ancestors in early America. It’s an excellent model for writing biographies of your innocent (and not-so-innocent) forebears, too.

From the December 2006 issue of Family Tree Magazine.

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