Professor Lockridge’s objective is to dispel the myth that early New England towns were immediately American, even in their beginnings. He seeks to show that it took quite some time, in this case one hundred years, for the typical seventeenth-century New England town to develop the American values and political systems that many believe were simply automatic. Though there was a clear hierarchy established early on in Dedham, the colonists still preached the message of mutuality. They saw no disagreement in this idea. Though Christian love was to be practiced towards all men, and the colonists supposedly strove to treat all men equally, they were Puritans, and one of the basic beliefs of Puritanism is the inequality of men, as some men are God’s ‘chosen,’ and some cannot help but to be sinners. There is one major theme in this book, and it is the myths of early New England town of Dedham.
The initial Dedham settlers chose to bundle away small areas of land in common fields to the men of the town in order to maintain jurisdiction of the town, its members, and their activities. Giving out small sections of land in town areas helped them accomplish this goal. In general, Americans likes to think of themselves as a place where diversity can flourish. Dedham was not a land of free religion and it was certainly not open to diversity. Members were encouraged to be as equal to everyone as possible, in every possible way. Although the basis of Dedham’s politics was Christian love, Dedham often created undemocratic political judgments with its knowledge of the democracy, resolve immediately condemn. The Dedham colonists had only their idea of what was best for all, tainted by their own political experiences in England.
Dedham was, in at least one way ‘unmistakably American,’ in that it was a land of endless possibilities. Nearly every man, servants included, was given the chance to try their hand with the land. Every man was equal, a fundamental American value. However, it is this equal opportunity itself that contrived Dedham un-American. Nevertheless; in the land of equal opportunity, this seems fitting, once one examines the fact that because of this lifestyle that quickly develop into set in stone, a man had no chance for advancement, it becomes clear that Dedham life was closer to communistic than democratic. During this era in time Dedham was split into four separate Precincts. These Precincts, notwithstanding, were still a part of the town of Dedham. Because of this, after all the members of each Precinct needed to create their own town status, they were still attached to the larger town of Dedham, the other members of which they had little in common with. In continuation, their loyalties were torn between more than one town.
Professor Lockridge have used the techniques to reconstruct analytical perspectives on family life, in two modest petty and devout pioneer Massachusetts agricultural New England town of Dedham. These were the Dedham town’s small scale, and the villagers’ theological socialism. He describes is the fact that although the town members of Dedham had finally managed to gain control of their town just as a whole, slightly than as a small group of selectmen, these same town members began to take their issues to the county court rather than the Dedham town meeting, making much of the influence gained aside the town much less valuable. Professor Lockridge explains that the public like to imagine the early New England town as both peaceful and orderly, the town of Dedham, that was not the case. As Dedham inched toward their ‘democracy,’ violence exploded in the town.
By exploring the historical evolution of a representative town, Dedham, Massachusetts, from its inception in 1636 as a village of several hundred through its first century of existence, Professor Lockridge demonstrates that libertarian society in America did developed slowly and indirectly; it was not until the second fifty years of town life that the peasant-Puritan corporate impulse which generated at best a democracy of homogeneity began gradually to give way to a pluralist democracy embracing civil diversity and political dissent. Lockridge dubs the Dedham of the first fifty years ”A Utopian Commune” because the founders drew upon rural village traditions and religious convictions to create a unified social being. But communal perfection was based on simplicity, patriarchalism, and order; stability was purchased by a ”willingness to exclude whatever men and to ignore whatever events” threatened the status quo. The indicated skeptical, conservative Christian corporatism contained the seeds of a more optimistic American utopianism of individual freedom, opportunity, and equality, but it weathered the initial impact of the wide-open American environment far longer than tradition would accept it.
The frontier New England town of Dedham is one of the myths of the American history. It was problematic to crack, by maintaining the prominent belief that the nation has always enjoyed universal democracy, honesty, and opportunity. However, the town deserves more than a mythical place in American history. In this industrial village society, the unique American experience had its beginnings. In his highly authentic and controversial study. Professor Lockridge traces the origins of Dedham, Massachusetts, carefully examining its establishment as a utopia in 1636, the changes that occurred during the first four generations of its settlement, and the kind of community it had become by the mid-eighteenth century. In bringing to life this peculiarly American town he creates a view of all New England towns, so vital to an understanding of how the American character and humanity were shaped. He has gone to the heart of the controversy surrounding the New England Town experience, finding some truth, and not a scant irony, in the myth. The connections between the ‘new’ civil history and the broad bureaucratic themes of the revolutionary period.
In the way of all men, Americans have needed their myths. It would probably be a hopeless task to try to shatter any of the legendary building blocks of our outstanding history. And it might be pointless. At least in this case there are, however, reasons for trying to lessen a little the gulf between the knowledge of the super‐specialized scholar and the vague prominent myth. For one thing, an account of the intricate historical evolution of steady a simple New England town is a fine way to bring home the lesson that the past is a mixture of often contradictory events whose meaning is sometimes ambiguous. This is not a lesson that should be left for a handful of expert historians. On the other hand, the New England town commands wide attention for another reason. In its original form it embodied a way of life which prevailed both in the Old World and the New in the years when the American character first took form, the life of pre-industrial.
There is one major theme in this book, and it is the myths of early New England town of Dedham. Professor Lockridge did take a crack at the bureaucratic myths surrounding that pristine prominent institution the New England town of Dedham. Dedham was a peaceful, stable, moderately wholesome, and prosperous town. Overall, I think that this book is interesting to read.
Biography of Kenneth Alan Lockridge, professor of history, retired from active faculty status on May 31, 1992.A nationally recognized historian of the American colonial period, he has been an important figure in the teaching of American colonial history at the University for 22 years. Professor Lockridge received his B.A degree from Yale University in 1962 and completed his M.A and Ph.D. degrees at Princeton University in 1964 and 1965, respectively. A member of Phi Beta Kappa at Yale, he was elected as a Woodrow Wilson Fellow at Princeton in 1962 and subsequently received more than 15 international fellowships and awards. Between 1965 and 1970, he taught at the University of Illinois at Chicago Circle. Professor Lockridge came to the University of Michigan as an associate professor of history in 1970 and was promoted to professor in 1974. In 1970, Professor Lockridge published his first major book: A New England Town: The First Hundred Years. This volume was chosen as one of the ‘significant books in American history’ for the five-year period 1969-1974 in a poll printed in The American Scholar in 1975. By 1985, when an expanded edition was published, more than 130,000 copies of this influential work had been sold. A New England Town combined sophisticated quantitative methodology with a sensitive treatment of qualitative aspects of New England town development. These attributes also characterize Professor Lockridge’s later work, Literacy in Colonial New England, and a series of subsequent essays on historical demography. In 1981, Cambridge University Press published his Settlement and Unsettlement in Early America: The Crisis of Political Legitimacy Before the Revolution. These volumes and a series of distinguished essays firmly established Professor Lockridge as one of the country’s leading colonial historians.