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Turns of the Centuries Exhibit > Family Life 1680-1720
This theme in other eras: 1680-1720 | 1780-1820 | 1880-1920

Family Life 1680-1720

1680-1720Family Life

English contact in the 1500s with what was, to Europeans, the "New World" was quite limited. It consisted mainly of brief interchanges from coastal outposts. The main actors in these years were members and employees of English trading "Companies." These trading companies and their stock holders hoped to duplicate the spectacular success of Spain and Portugal in finding gold, silver, and other sources of wealth. Early colonists included soldiers, metal workers and silk weavers. When attempts to duplicate the Spanish model of colonization and exploitation failed, English involvement in North America entered a new phase. For the first time, groups of families began to colonize the northeastern coast of North America. Although trading companies also financed these ventures, these settlements differed in important ways from earlier expeditions. The difference was especially apparent in the region that became New England. Instead of isolated outposts populated mainly by soldiers and adventurers, these latest arrivals included farmers and craftsmen. Most importantly, they came with their wives and children. These colonists brought with them the customs, beliefs and attitudes that together made up the fabric of everyday life. These included religious beliefs, ideas about how to raise up and educate their children, the roles of men and women, and assumptions regarding social and economic status.

"Ensign John Sheldon House," 1848, by George Washington Mark (1795-1879)

See the Digital Collection for further information.

Explore these subthemes to better understand Family Life at this time.

Gender Roles

Gender Roles : Beliefs and Gender Roles

Religious, economic and political assumptions defined the roles men and women were expected to play in eighteenth-century society.


Education : Print and Protestantism

Their religious beliefs spawned high literacy rates among early New Englanders.


Customs : Possessions Reveal Social Standing

What people owned in the 1700s revealed their social standing and wealth.

Getting Things

Getting Things : Importing Status

Purchasing and displaying fashionable goods advertised a family's wealth and status.

Child Life

Child Life : Fleeting Mortality

Although early New England was a relatively healthy place to live, death claimed the lives of many children as well as adults.


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