In a perspective both clear and informative, David Freeman Hawke not only brings us a detailed description of early life in America, but is also able to delineate the importance of these colonists lives to the growth of a new world. A task that, when truly grasped, is considered an eye-opening adventure at the very least. Even from the very beginning, I was captivated by the plush historical content of this book, and was pleasantly surprised to find many of my commonly held beliefs of early America challenged.
Everyday life in Early America spreads over a fairly narrow time period from the early 17th to late 18th century and defines the struggles, joys and sorrows that the colonists faced. Hawke launches his account of early life through the eyes of Pilgrims, and proceeds to dispatch our own illusions that they chiefly created a land filled of farmers. Hawke was wise to open his book with probably one of the biggest illusions of early America. Farming was not in fact common knowledge at the time, and it is for this reason that many died within those first few critical years.
For example, “They came from agrarian countries, true, but most were craftsmen- weavers, tailors, coopers, brewers, shoemakers, and the like. Out of three hundred heads of households whose trades are known only seventy-five were yeomen or husbandmen, that is, farmers (3)”. The land, although wild and abundant, enticed not for those to till it for food but for money. Hawke is sure to point out that while the desire for religious freedom drove some, economic pressure prodded the majority.
Furthermore, Hawke pricks yet another belief that many chose to come to the new world to shed their European past, and interestingly enough it was that heritage that many held on to the most. He particularly focuses on the Englishman and the cultural “blue-print” he brought with him. They crossed the ocean in groups, and most found their new world less strange than expected. As towns grew in both size and number, Hawke illustrates both a diversity and common ground between the newly laid inhabitants and the areas where they settled.
For instance, Hawke vividly describes a typical New England town as follows, “The core of the town lay in the village, and the village, like a typical one in England, stretched along a single street… The narrow strips of house lots that flanked the street kept neighbors close, within walking distance of each other and the meeting house (18)”. Whereas the, “peculiar characteristics of Chesapeake Bay, unique along the Atlantic coast, encouraged this apparently shiftless use of the land and steady dispersion of the settlers (21)”.