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Age relations and the social order in early New England: the evidence from manners.

Historians have recently begun to study the symbolic rituals of face-to-face interaction that we call manners, a rich source of clues about culture in past time. Manners constitute a mediating level of culture between a society's abstract "ideals" and the varied behaviors of its individual members. These meaning-laden acts and gestures are the semaphores of an encounter, by which we signal, often non-verbally, who we are and what we expect of each other. Sociologists have demonstrated that manners serve several social functions. They constitute a subtle but pervasive system of social regulation or control. They have a creative function, in that they help to generate the feelings that hold people to their roles (as one scholar suggested, the act of kneeling makes one feel humble). And they have a communicative function, in that they tell us not only about each other, but about our place in the social structure.(1) In sum, while economic, political, and religious systems are the necessary scaffolding of society, manners serve to attach us to the social order in every individual encounter. Manners thus offer the historian a microscopic perspective on the way contemporaries believed society to be organized, and power distributed, in any given period. They also suggest how changes in the larger social systems may have been worked out in daily life.

The possibilities of the study of manners can be seen in a couple of entries from a New England diary of 1700. Boston judge Samuel Sewall is paying a visit to his elderly father. We can watch the scene through the keyhole of Samuel Eliot Morison's description of Sewall's entries:

Samuel Sewall, Esquire, Judge of the Superior Court and Councillor of the Province, ... [and] Wait Winthrop, his colleague on the Council and the Bench, visited Henry Sewall, the Judge's father. The old gentleman, who was not a magistrate, first kissed Winthrop's hand, and then his son's. Winthrop did not return the salute, since it was one from an inferior to a superior; but Samuel Sewall piously returned his father's gesture of deference to the magistracy. On the next day the father attempted to rise when his magisterial son entered the room, 'but I persuaded him to sit still in his chair,' records Sewall.(2)

At the time of this visit, the younger Sewall was forty-eight years old, and his father approximately eighty-six. Their behavior suggests not only that acts of deference (a variety of manners) were important and meaningful in their society, but that the proper practice of such deference was rather complex. In particular, the actions and the unspoken expectations of these men raise several questions which the study of manners can answer. First, what was the status of the aged in early New England, especially in relation to the middle-aged? Was this a society steeply stratified by age, as some historians have contended?(3) And what was the relationship between the hierarchies of age and social rank?

While Sewall's diary entries raise these questions, it turns out that manners are not often described in diaries or other such sources of "behavioral evidence." The record of the Sewall encounter is a rare example, and one which only becomes meaningful through Morison's skillful reconstruction. The reason these sources are unrewarding is that manners were simply too commonplace to be recorded, even in sources which have shed considerable light on other aspects of everyday life, such as court depositions. Manners are only rarely referred to because once people learn these rituals they forget they ever learned them, and only tend to note them in the breach. Some conclusions can be drawn, however, from the systematic study of this society's published discussions of manners. Because these symbolic behaviors do have to be learned--and taught--in the first place, they are amply described in conduct literature, defined here as everything printed or imported in America (the latter as evidenced by a foreign work's presence in colonial libraries or booksellers' inventories) that offered direct instruction on how to behave in the presence of others.(4)

The study of manners in conduct literature yields three principal lessons about age relations in early New England. First, it suggests the limits of age inequality in this society. The code of behavior indicates that the system of age inequality did not extend to three tiers (the aged over mature adults over the young), as some historians have supposed; for the aged were not automatically of higher status than the middle-aged. Second, however, conduct rules do show that age inequality was a fundamental organizing principle in colonial New England. It simply operated in a two-tiered system, wherein all adults were deemed superior to minors. Two forces shaped this system. One was the effort of the elite middle-aged (but not necessarily aged) teachers of the code of behavior to use it to buttress their power. They may have wanted to do this because the somewhat levelling effects of settlement raised the specter of challenge to their authority on the part of their younger and less privileged subjects. Another force molding this system was the fact that age inequality was qualified by parallel rank and gender inequalities and set in a particular overarching social model; as Melvin Yazawa has described, early Americans built their hierarchy on the model of the patriarchal nuclear family. Third, the study of manners advice over time shows how this particular "familial paradigm" had its own life course. Full discussion of the conduct rules that replaced those of the early colonial period is beyond the scope of this article, but a sketch of the changes at the end will suggest how the etiquette of age relations corroborates Yazawa's argument that the familial paradigm was gradually replaced by a "republican paradigm" after the middle of the eighteenth century.(5)


Before proceeding to the data a discussion of method is in order. On the face of it, evidence from conduct literature is prescriptive rather than descriptive; it is evidence not of actual behavior but of how its authors thought people should and well-behaved people would behave. The relationship between prescription and actual behavior is complex and stubbornly resistant to historical verification. But that is no reason to ignore this rich source, for prescription is every bit as much a cultural artifact as behavior. While it is impossible to offer a "site report" of actual behavior, we can learn much from the efforts of the culturally dominant group who offered conduct advice. Their work gives us a refracted view of their society, but it has the value of allowing us to ponder the scene through their, not our, lens.(6)

Manners advisors never had a completely free hand in their work. They both shaped and were shaped by their culture. Obviously these people (a group whose characteristics changed over time, and indeed, that is part of the story) were always part of the society they were addressing; we know that they tried to adhere to their own injunctions.(7) And manners advice was different from other forms of prescriptive literature in that it precluded abstract moralizing (indeed, specific prescriptions often contradicted what moralizing the authors did engage in). The advice concerned such concrete actions as to defy any author's attempts to change what was, at least among some groups, customary behavior. No author would open himself or herself up to the ridicule of inventing a radically new form of salutation, for example, to replace the customary form of the time, whether the hand kiss, bow, or handshake. These forms changed only very slowly, and all the authors could do was report on current practice.(8) But conduct writers could emphasize some rituals and relationships through elaborate instructions while ignoring or barely alluding to others. And that is how the group who seized the reins of manners instruction in any given era did shape their culture. In so doing, they were acting as spokespersons for a larger, socially dominant group. They were also aiding future historians, for by choosing from the myriad details of everyday life they showed which patterns they, the "cultural elite" of their time, deemed significant.

Taken together, the writers' suggestions amount to a loose script of rituals for face-to-face interaction in various situations (loose in that it was taken for granted that such symbolic actions would serve only as punctuation or "framework" for extemporaneous individual behavior). Of course we can not know with any precision to what extent other contemporaries were willing or able to follow the script being offered (and it was a script with numerous roles as well as scenes, because advice varied for persons of different class, age, and sex). As with any set of social norms, it is probable that some people followed the script carefully, while others were careless or ignorant of it, while still others proved its existence by explicitly defying it. Indeed, the behavioral record does give scattered indications of careful compliance, willful defiance, and simple ignorance of the script. That there was a single script is indicated by the great internal consistency of the conduct literature. In each period the authors nearly always reported the same rules (often in the same words--this literature was prone to piracy). There may have been competing practices among sub-groups in the population, but only one set of rituals was sufficiently dominant to be codified.

What is being analyzed here, then, is not behavior but a society's code of behavior, and the term code is used here in both its meanings as a set of laws and a set of symbols. The discussions of manners in conduct literature generally consist of a set of rules for behavior. Given this code, related behaviors in real life, whether they conform to the rules or not--whether they are examples of "good" or "bad" manners--constitute a set of symbols which others could read. Conduct works are thus a society's code books. It is with this understanding that they are analyzed in the present study.


It is a commonplace that New England Puritans lived in a face-to-face society in which rank and age groups mixed together in the normal round of daily activity. Moreover, relative to both society in old England and later periods in America, there was less wealth inequality and less institutional demarcation of age groups.(9) And yet the social ideals of hierarchy and inequality were pervasive and overtly expressed. The main function of manners in this period was to act in tandem with the law and other institutions to enact and enforce a hierarchical social order.(10) Most training in proper behavior in Puritan New England was undertaken by the family and the church. Children learned by the example and teachings of their parents, and persons of all ages were advised by the powerful ministers whose sermons they were compelled to attend. Fortunately, there is a substantial amount of printed remains of this largely verbal instruction. To examine the rules that the elite wanted ordinary people to live by we can consult the ministers' direct teachings to all age groups, and their lengthy discussions of what parents should teach their children. The only other significant sources were imported English translations and imitations of Renaissance courtesy works that were directed to, and only afforded and read by, the elite. These latter works contained the most elaborate rules for behavior of the early colonial period, but they were written by gentlemen, for gentlemen. The Puritan literature, written by the religious elite and intended for all, gave rules designed to keep the middling and lower sort in their place. It is this latter sort of evidence, intended for the majority, and unique to New England in its hegemony, that will provide the focus here.

While not the obsession they would become for nineteenth-century Americans, manners were important to the Puritans. Puritan writers constantly stressed the need to teach children manners. The English Puritan Robert Cleaver told parents they had an obligation to do so:

What a shame is this for any man to take great care to have his dogge well taught, his horse well broken, his land well husbanded, his house goodly trimmed and richly furnished; and yet to have his childe shamefully rude in manners.... Parents must teach their children good manners, and civell behaviour, to rise up to their betters, to uncover the head, to make obeysance, to bee courteous towardes their equalles, to bee gentle and lowlie to their inferiours, and kinde to all.(11)

These sentiments were echoed by Puritan ministers in New England, in whose libraries Cleaver's work was found. Cotton Mather claimed, for example, that:

Tis very pleasing to our Lord Jesus Christ, that our Children should be well formed with, and well-informed in the Rules of Civility; and not be left a clownish, and sottish, and Ill bred sort of Creatures. An Unmannerly Brood is a Dishonour to Religion.(12)

The Puritans repeatedly drew a connection between the proper instruction of children in manners and the fate of the social order. Cleaver claimed:

For if nourture be neglected, then our elders and governours shall not bee reverenced: if they bee not reverenced, they will not bee regarded: if they be not regarded, they will not be obeyed: and if they be not obeyed, then steps in rebellion, and everyone will doo what he listeth.(13)

And again Boston writers echoed his sentiments. The schoolmaster Eleazar Moody told children that if they accustomed themselves when young to demonstrating their reverence of their superiors, they would be "faithful, obedient, and loyal subjects" when grown.(14)

These passages resonate with some of the primary characteristics of early New English conduct advice. Typical, for example, is the emphasis on inequality. Most rules in this period referred to relations between superiors and inferiors. For ordinary people much less emphasis was placed on proper behavior with equals. Thus for most persons proper behavior was only culturally "constructed" in so far as it was necessary to ensure deference to superiors. Indeed, the ministers discouraged the teaching of rituals other than those associated with deference. One minister explained:

A civil, respectful, courteous behaviour, is comely and commendable; and children should be taught such a carriage.... those who won't put suitable marks of civil respect and honours on others, especially on superiours, or those in authority; don't imitate the commendable Examples of the Godly recorded in Scriptures.... But [he goes on to say] though you should teach your children to be mannerly, I Don't mean, that they should spend all or a great part of their time, in nicely, curiously, critically observing those various, changeable, ceremonious, punctilios of carriage, which some very foolishly affect: this would be time very sinfully spent.(15)

This passage reflects an important truth about the relationship of deference to power in seventeenth and early eighteenth-century New England. While deference is not necessarily associated with real power, in this society they were inseparable. Given the lack of other coercive mechanisms, the elite depended on "marks of civil respect ... to those in authority" in order to rule. Indeed, in contrast to the ritual of age relations, this is one area in which we do have behavioral evidence. The few good diaries from this period, those of magistrates and ministers, show that these men were constantly on the lookout for signs of deference from their inferiors, and when such were not forthcoming, they made considerable noise about it.(16) The ministers urged parents to teach their children proper deference behavior because they believed that the family hierarchy was society in microcosm. The ministers thought that if children learned to defer to their parents, they would be more likely to behave appropriately when grown and crossing paths with a Winthrop, Mather, or Sewall.

The authors were explicit about inequality in terms of gender, but that was rarely their concern. Before the mid-eighteenth century, conduct writers portrayed relations between men and women as a little side-scene in the drama of a male world. All the advice of the early colonial period was written by men and most of it was intended for men; very little was written for women. The only role the writers considered in any detail was that of the woman as wife. While the authors did tell women to adopt a deferential behavior towards their husbands as their superiors, the real issue of deference in this society--what received the bulk of the authors' attention--was not between the sexes but between inferiors and superiors in social rank and age. And most often the assumption was that the inferiors and superiors in question were male.(17) But while that much is evident from even a quick glance at the literature, the actual extent, operation, and interaction of age and class inequality only become clear when the specific rules for face-to-face behavior are systematically weighed and compared.


Historians have long agreed that the elite of magistrates and ministers held power in this society--but there has been some debate about the status of the aged (for the Puritans as for us, defined as those over age sixty).(18) While David Fischer has argued that old age was so exalted as to amount to "gerontocratia," John Demos and Carol Haber have suggested that there was considerable ambivalence about old age.(19) These scholars have used a wide variety of evidence to support their arguments, from sermon literature, to fashion, to law, to demographic reconstructions; but they have not systematically examined what the rules for face-to-face interaction have to say. What, for example, can those rules contribute to our understanding of the "tableau" of the Sewalls? The argument advanced here is that the code of behavior reflected not gerontocratia, but, in fact, ambivalence about old age. Indeed, this argument goes beyond those of Demos and Haber, for even they allow that the "normative code of colonial New England was decidedly favorable to old age."(20) The evidence from conduct literature, surely part of the "normative code," suggests that even there the picture was mixed.

Sewall's diary entry suggests that if he had a high official position, a middle-aged man could conceivably be of higher status than an elderly man--what does the conduct literature say? At first glance, the literature appears to support the "gerontocratia" thesis, for the sources were unanimous in instructing persons of all ages to adopt a reverential demeanor and physical bearing in the presence of aged persons, whether male or female. All were to follow the Biblical injunction in Leviticus: "Thou shalt rise up before the hoary head, and honour the face of the old man." The authors took this command literally and advised their readers to stand and bow at the entrance or approach of an aged person. They also used the Biblical injunction to support their argument that old people were to be generally reverenced and spoken to with reverence.(21) Young persons were to show respect and honor to the aged even if the latter were poor and "decrepit." Mature adults presumably had opportunities to behave correctly with elderly persons when interacting with their parents, for the writers agreed that maturity did not lessen a person's obligation to reverence his parents. Mature adults were to honor their elderly parents, at least in private, even if they, the children, surpassed their parents in wealth or office. As one minister wrote, "Be we grown up and grown Great, yet we are never too big to rise up and bow down to our Parents."(22)

Beyond this, however, the advice was mixed. First, the authors often asked for much less than veneration, while revealing a belief in the actual weakness of old age. They did this when they frequently coupled their general admonition to reverence the aged with more concrete and negative instructions not to slight old people. A good number of writers specifically urged their readers not to despise, contemn, or use unmannerly speech or behavior towards the aged. Some of the authors' condemnations of such behavior betrayed their recognition that while the aged ought to be venerated, in reality they often were not. One minister complained:

Are there not some now-a-days; who put a slight upon the persons of the Aged, that is, who not only refuse to pay them a due Respect, but do even actually discover contempt, by laughing them to scorn, and seeking to move others to do so too! Which thing is very Barbarous, and plainly shows a mean, and a vile spirit.

Increase Mather offered rather cold comfort to the elderly on this issue:

the Aged Servants of the Lord ... sometimes think themselves more despised than they are; that's a Natural Infirmity of Age: but suppose they are so, if God does not despise them, it is no matter tho' the World does.

Despite the writers' commands that all were to honor the aged, "& use no Terms unto them, which discover not our sense of something venerable in them," one wonders how much respect the authors actually were asking or expecting their readers to render unto the aged, with all their pleas that their readers simply not despise old persons.(23) Some authors furthered the impression that old people could not always expect veneration when they implied that older persons needed to earn or at least to inspire others' reverence through their own proper behavior. As one minister warned:

a trifling, & childish, & frolicsome sort of carriage, all Buffoonery in an Old Man, is very disagreeable ... We cannot reverence you, unless your Grave Looks, as well as your Gray Hairs, demand it of us.(24)

Another minister implied that such gravity was doubly important in aged women.(25)

Second, while we might assume that the advice telling young people to defer to mature adults applied as well to their interaction with the aged, most of this advice concerned relations with parents and masters, positions in which the aged were less involved.(26) As suggested above, some authors did remind mature adults that they, too, owed their aged parents deference. But here the evidence becomes more complicated, and clues to the interaction of the two Sewalls are found. For on at least two occasions writers frankly expressed what most did not care to say openly, namely, that sometimes a son's higher status or official position might prevent his proper relationship with his parent from being acknowledged in public. As already noted, in private, it was always a son's duty to reverence and to show deference to his parent, but of course public displays were what really mattered for status maintenance.(27) One writer explained:

I grant that a childe may by some office, and outward dignity be so advanced above his father, as other men may more honour and reverence the childe, and give the upper place to him: and for order sake the childe may and ought to take it in company: but when they are alone, the childe must rather reverence the father.(28)

Here, as in Sewall's diary, we see the interaction of the hierarchies of age and social rank.

Third, and most important, the authors' admonitions to all age groups regarding behavior toward the aged were relatively few and sparse compared to their rules for other relations. The authors were content with making the vague claim that the aged were owed reverential behavior and leaving it at that. They devoted far more time and space to the delineation of specific ways in which young persons were to defer to their parents, ministers, masters, and teachers; "elders" all, but generally still in the prime of life.(29)

Thus although we might at first glance assume that the aged had the most power in this society, the conduct writers both explicitly and implicitly denied this. They devoted far more space to the regulation of relations between young persons and mature adults and within the contexts of the parent/child and master/servant relations. Because they perceived society in terms of a family model, it was these latter relations that were at the heart of their system of age relations; and, if all the rules were followed, various sorts of "parents," or mature adults, were the group that could expect the most deference.

Taken together, all the findings above underscore the necessity of examining the rules for age relations systematically. Among other things, it is important to acknowledge the difference between patriarchy (the rule of fathers) and gerontocracy (the rule of the old); and thus to distinguish between "elders" and "the elderly." It is also necessary to examine the content of specific admonitions to respect "elders," and to look at the age of the intended audience for these admonitions.(30) In the past, historians have been misled by seventeenth-century pronouncements that the elderly were to be venerated, for, when examined in the context of the rules for other relations, it becomes clear that the advice-givers were to some extent merely paying lip-service to a time-worn Biblical injunction. Clearly, given their vertical view of society, Puritan conduct writers were comfortable with making such proclamations. But that they did not back them up with consistent and extensive prescriptions for deference displays suggests that they wanted to reserve power for their own group, that is the mature, but not necessarily aged, ministerial and magisterial elite.


"Respect to Parents Must be always paid, or they are injur'd and God disobey'd"

The evidence from conduct literature does not refute the principle of age inequality in its entirety. Indeed, the ambiguity about old age aside, early New English discussions of manners support the notion that inequality between mature adults and minors was the fundamental principle of the social order. One might protest that inequality is inherent in the relationship between the young and the mature. But historians in recent decades have argued that age relations are subject to social construction and that early Americans had a different way of construing them. In addition to "gerontocratia," to describe an especial reverence of the aged, they have offered such terms as "miniature adulthood," to describe a relative nonrecognition of the stages of childhood and youth. But the manners advice warrants a retreat from such exotic images of age relations. First, despite some historians' suggestions to the contrary, the conduct literature reveals that the Puritans' conceptions of the stages of life were not that different from our own (accordingly, in the following remarks the age terms are those that were and are used in both periods: that is, "children," to mean young persons between infancy and puberty; "youth," to mean young persons from their mid-teens to early twenties; and "adults," to mean fully mature persons beyond their early twenties).(31) Second, the rules for behavior suggest that then as now, those who were weak in body (whether from immaturity or decrepitude) were deemed weak in society; and the strong wanted to make that clear.

One of the chief reasons historians have concluded that childhood and youth were not much recognized in early modern America is that this society did not have social (or indeed physical) structures--whether school grades or household nurseries--to spatially segregate the different age groups. Not only did the age groups mix freely in the daily round of work and play in one-room homes and schoolhouses; it is also true that progress from youth to maturity was not marked by any abrupt transition.(32) But so important was the principle of age inequality to the Puritans that they tried to ritually compensate for the lack of such structures. The socially dominant used manners to bring age relations into alignment with rank relations in their promotion of a hierarchical social order. And the evidence is that in their eyes age inequality was more fundamental to that order. While differences of social rank sorted out the mature, such differences mattered little among children and youth who were inferior by virtue of their age.

We know this because in contrast to their limited and rather general discussion of proper behavior toward the aged, the Puritan conduct writers gave children and youth extensive instructions on ways to show deference to mature adults. On first analysis, this advice suggests that youth were deemed slightly less inferior to adults than were children. For example, while both children and youth were to "Let the upper place and hand be given to Parents," (that is, to give them the best or most honorable places in sitting and walking), only children were told to "Sit where thou art ordered by the Superiors, Parents, or Masters."(33) Similar differences of degree can be found in the advice to children and youth regarding proper body carriage and conversation with their elders. In these cases the authors gave children slightly more elaborate instructions on how to express proper deference. Both children and youth were instructed to maintain a sober and modest face and posture before their elders, "as may argue due respect," but children were also told to stand erect and to refrain from slouching ("lolling") and sticking their hands in their pockets. They were also advised to wait till they received permission before sitting down.(34) But there was no big difference between advice to children and advice to youth. The most important instructions were those regarding overall demeanor before adults, and here the writers advised both children and youth that "you Set Light by your Parents, if you withhold from them, the Reverence that is due unto them" and that "this Reverence must have some Outward Expression of it." Both groups were also told that they owed such a demeanor to all "Parents, natural, spiritual, and civil;" that is, that they were to treat schoolmasters, ministers, and masters accordingly.(35)

This last instruction serves to remind us that advice to youth in general was accompanied by advice to youth who were servants. If the relationship between youth and adults seems a little less unequal than that between children and adults, that between young servants and their adult masters would appear to redress the balance, for it was distinctly unequal. Early colonial advice to and about servants is pertinent to the relationship between youth and adults because its frequent appearance in the literature reflected the widespread practice in early New England of apprenticing or placing youth out to service in other families.(36) As suggested by their advice that masters be treated as parents, the authors most often discussed this connection in age and familial, rather than class, terms.(37) Masters and mistresses were responsible for the education and behavior of their charges, and ministers often included these non-related young people in the household in their reminders to parents of their duty to train the young in manners and morals.(38) But the writers also made it clear that a young servant was more inferior to his or her master than was a young man or woman to his or her parent.(39) Take, for example, the advice concerning the regulation of time in encounters with adults. While youth were merely told to allow adults to precede them in various ways, young servants were instructed to respect their master's complete control of their time. One minister described servants as "very wicked" who

must have liberty ... to give or receive visits, of their own accord, and when they will; liberty keep what company they please; ... to go and come almost when they will, without telling why or wherefore; such liberty they contend for, they wont be rul'd, govern'd or restrained ... but will rather disobey Masters or Mistresses (40) ... .

Servants were to adopt a reverential demeanor towards their masters just as youth were with their parents and other superiors. But servants were also warned far more often against displaying "sauciness" and "sullenness" in their demeanor and talk with their masters than were youth in regard to their parents. Cotton Mather wrote, for example, that a youth's talk both to and of his parents was to "be full of Reverence." But concerning a servant's speech, Mather went further:

all Sullenness, all Sauciness, all Impudence in your Deportment towards your Masters (or Mistresses) is to be abominated.... Servants that will speak Nothing, when modest answers are Expected from them, and Servants that will speak too much with a malapert Answering Again ... These are too Irregular Things to be endured!"(41)

Instructions for proper body carriage in the presence of adults also suggest that young servants, like children, were considered more inferior to adults than were youth in general. In addition to the sober and modest comportment of the body that all young people were to have in the presence of their elders, servants, like young children, were also cautioned to stand rather than sit before their masters.(42)

Advice to adults about proper behavior with young people mirrored that directed to the young persons themselves. It is worth noting, first, that the authors directed nearly all of their advice on behavior with younger persons to the parents and masters of children and youth, and thus to adults in middle-age, and not the aged. The advice to adults regarding children was a bit more elaborate and extensive than that concerning their adolescent offspring, but substantively, these counsels were more similar than different. The rules for behavior with youth were slightly more relaxed in that less concern was betrayed over spoiling them with overindulgent demeanor and carriage. While parents were to be affectionate when their younger children were well-behaved, the writers thought that too much affection, pampering, or "cockering" would ruin a child.(43) As the chief design of proper childrearing in this era was to gain the affectionate respect of one's offspring, or, in Cotton Mather's words, to the end that "our Children may Fear us with Delight," the more relaxed rules for behavior with youth betrays the assumption that at their age the important task of will-curbing was already accomplished, and hence there was less danger in indulgence.(44)

But again advice to adults concerning behavior with young servants would seem to return youth to the status of children, for while similar to that concerning adolescent offspring, it was clearly more strict. For example, while masters were to spend time supervising servants, just as parents were with sons and daughters, the emphasis in the former case was on the master's duty to prevent and correct servants' misbehavior, while with parents the emphasis was on more positive instruction of youth, and mainly by good example.(45) Moreover, the writers added to instructions to masters something they did not advise parents in regard to youth: that they were not to spend time with servants as companions or "play-fellows." The authors thought such interaction injurious to the proper conduct of the master-servant relationship. In the same vein, while they advised masters, like parents, to avoid severity in demeanor with youth, they also warned masters not to be over-familiar in their demeanor and talk with servants; and again, this was something they were much less concerned about in regard to interaction with adolescent sons and daughters.(46) Finally, the conduct writers appeared to suggest that young servants could be beaten more freely than offspring. While both parents and masters were advised that punishment was to be moderate in dosage, some writers claimed that punishment administered by a master to a servant needed only to "be so moderated with Humanity, that he may not thereby be Killed or Maimed," a limit which presumably allowed a fair amount of stripes.(47)

It is possible that the harsher extreme of corporal punishment seemingly prescribed for servants than for one's own progeny helps to explain the Puritan habit of placing their youth in others' households. This "putting out" system may have been a method of disciplining young people and enforcing authority over them, by sending them to someone who would beat them harder than a parent would or should. Historians have wondered why the Puritans put their offspring out to service; and while they have offered several suggestions, none of the economic arguments suffices on its own because all classes engaged in both placing and receiving youth. Edmund Morgan once speculated that the Puritans might have placed their teen-agers out because they feared they would be over-indulgent with them. They did not trust themselves to properly subject their feelings of affection to the needs of authority.(48) The evidence from conduct literature supports his speculation.

This explanation also fits in with the larger role of manners in this society. The etiquette of service was a means of reinforcing inequality. The conduct literature suggests that the Puritans might not have wanted to leave the relationship between adults and youth too relaxed, and used the institution of service as a means of keeping it unequal. Did not the frontier conditions of age mixing and a large youthful population encourage a gradual maturation that conflicted with the hierarchial conception of the social order?(49) The old practice of putting youth out might have been perpetuated because it also served the special purpose of putting them in their place.

The advice concerning servants is also another link between the age and rank hierarchies in the early colonial period. For service performed another function; in a society where differences in wealth were relatively small, it was a way of "creating" class differences. Might service, then, a vestige of a more unequal society, have persisted in early New England simply because it provided a way of bolstering inequality in a society where transition to the power of adulthood was gradual and there was relative equality of wealth? Early New English rules for age relations, like early New English manners in general, served to reconcile natural parental affection and the levelling conditions of settlement with long-held notions of a vertical or hierarchical social order. Manners were thus designed to shore up the authority of superiors. As far as the code of behavior was concerned, these superiors were elite middle-aged men.


After the mid-eighteenth century, important changes occurred in the authorship, intended audience, and character of works giving direct advice on face-to-face behavior, and thus signal the beginning of a new stage, what can be called the revolutionary era in American manners. In contrast to the early colonial period, for example, more revolutionary era authors were of middling than of genteel social status, and most works were intended for persons of middling rather than genteel status. Our knowledge of the revolutionary era in manners has a wider geographical scope as mid-Atlantic towns and cities began to rival Boston as printing and book-selling centers. This second period would last until the second or third decade of the nineteenth century.(50)

Manners in the revolutionary era might have played a role in the challenge to the old order of the early colonial period in the lives of ordinary people. Historians have begun to acknowledge that the challenge to the old order was the American Revolution in the larger sense, a new landscape in which the political transformation was just one feature. Manners do not add much to our understanding of why American society was changing; they merely reflect the combination of demographic, economic, ideological and political changes that historians have been exploring. But manners do help us to understand the precise contours of what Jay Fliegelman has called "the revolution against patriarchal authority." For while there were no direct and immediate changes in the conduct literature as a result of the War for Independence, the hierarchical family model for society was gradually replaced by a horizontal republican model, because the advice began to have the object of helping newly rising groups step into new, less subordinate, roles.(51)

Examination of revolutionary era conduct literature reveals, for example, that after the mid-eighteenth century writers of middling rather than gentle social rank began to advise prosperous members of their class of the parts of the code of behavior that had been previously reserved for gentlemen. In so doing, these authors helped readers of the middle classes to adopt the behaviors commensurate with and essential to their rise in the social order. The etiquette of age relations underwent a similar change, especially from the standpoint of youth. But before proceeding further it should be noted that the new period in American manners included both old and new strains. One thing that did not change was the message of the conduct literature about the status of the aged. As during the early colonial period, very little advice asked younger persons to defer to the aged. Beyond the general instruction that young persons ought to have a respectful demeanor in the presence of the elderly, the writers were vague as to the specific behaviors the young were to adopt toward the aged.(52) Moreover, the little advice directed to the elderly indicated that it was thought that they should earn through proper behavior any deference that came their way. In one author's words: "But if age would be regarded with affection and reverence, it must show itself invested with the qualities, by which those feelings are to be conciliated."(53)

As had early New English authors, revolutionary era writers gave the young much more advice regarding their proper behavior with mature adults. In the revolutionary era, however, the vast majority of this advice was for children, and it was far more elaborate and strict than that for youth. Some of the differences--regarding, for example, the proper disposition of place within encounters--had been faintly evident in the early colonial period, but they stand out more boldly in the revolutionary era because of the differing amounts and elaboration of advice to children and youth. Thus while both children and youth were still instructed to offer adults the best places in an encounter, children were also instructed to sit or place themselves where they were told.(54) Greater change from the early colonial period is found in the advice concerning proper time management, demeanor, and facial expression in interaction with adults. No authors gave youth the advice they continued to give children concerning time, for example: that they were to respect their elders' control of time in and of their encounters, and, indeed, to respect their parents' control of their time in general. Children were "Never [to] go abroad without liberty from your parents, masters, or guardians; and be sure to return by the time appointed." In particular, they were to return home immediately from school or errands. And children were to allow mature adults to control the timing of their mutual encounters. They were not to enter their parents' or other age superiors' presence without being called, and were to leave them when bid to do so.(55) The instructions for proper demeanor with elders hinted that youth could be more relaxed in the presence of adults than could children. While both children and youth were still supposed to have a respectful demeanor before adults, youth were now also urged to be at ease, while children were only told to be meek, submissive, and obedient.(56) And while youth had only to put on an attentive facial expression before their elders, children were also warned, among other things, to manage their gaze. Children were not to stare at or even look their elders in the eye; instead, they were to look straight ahead when conversing with an adult.(57) In these as in other areas of behavior (such as body carriage and conversation), the authors gave children far more elaborate and exacting instructions about proper behavior in the presence of mature adults than they gave to youth. Conversely, while adults were given many counsels respecting the proper regulation of their relationships with children, they were given few concerning their relations with youth.

The status of children vis-a-vis adults had changed little from the early colonial period,(58) while the advice to adults encouraged them to be a bit more loving and gentle toward children than it had in the past.(59) But youth were apparently deemed much less inferior to adults than in the past, and the milder advice to them was only occasionally qualified, as it had often been in early New England, by rather severe and exacting rules for and about young servants. Reflecting the actual decline of the "putting out" system in New England and its absence in the middle colonies, revolutionary era authors much less often linked their advice on the master/servant relation with age relations.(60)

Not only did the advice to youth grow less similar to that given children, much more of it concerned their proper behavior with peers rather than with elders. Indeed, the vast majority of revolutionary era conduct advice was directed to youth, and most of it concerned their proper behavior with peers. The quantity and character of the advice to youth suggests that the etiquette of age relations in the revolutionary era, like the etiquette of class relations, was less concerned with regulating relations between superiors and inferiors than it was with instructing a group that had risen in status, how to behave in its new position.(61)

The changes in manners that took place between the mid-eighteenth and the early nineteenth centuries tell us much about the social changes of the American Revolution. Clearly the Revolution was accompanied by shifts in thinking about the place of the middling sort, youth, and (although this element has not been discussed here) women. Contemporaneous with the War for Independence and the ensuing invention of the new American polity was the opening of the possibility that the middling sort and youth would be considered the equals of the old elite and adults. These groups must have been successful in challenging their former inequality, because changes were being registered in the ritual of social relations.

But the conservative side of the social revolution accompanying the political revolution is also made clear by changes in manners advice. This side is illustrated by the fact that the bulk of instructions to youth and the middle class consisted not of invitations to freer behavior but of prescriptions that they adopt self-controls formerly asked only of adult gentlemen.(62) Further, changes in the advice suggest that the authority of adults over young children and masters over what were now perceived as lower-class and not simply young servants was not actually diminished, but was simply to be more gentle and benevolent in execution.(63) Revolutionary era etiquette was not intended to assist children and the lower class to rise in status in a fashion similar to youth and the middle class. Thus the conduct literature strongly reinforces historians' recent suggestions that a revolution in age relations accompanied the American Revolution. But in showing how the larger changes were reflected in rituals for face-to-face behavior, manners advice also helps to delineate the limits the culture intended for that Revolution. In the nineteenth century a script would be perfected wherein the actors of the social world could meet on a footing of republican equality, but this would only be accomplished by relegating children and servants to the wings.(64)

Department of History Collegeville, PA 19426-1000


The author would like to thank Richard D. Brown, John Demos, Christine Heyrman, John S. Hill and anonymous readers for suggestions concerning this article.

1. Herbert Spencer, The Principles of Sociology (New York, 1912), v. 2, pp. 3, 5-6; Peter L. Berger, Invitation to Sociology (New York, 1963), pp. 95-99; Erving Goffman, Interaction Ritual (New York, 1967, rpt. 1982), pp. 44, 48, 49, 90; Erving Goffman, The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life (New York, 1959), pp. 1, 2, 12, 108, 242, 249; Erving Goffman, Behavior in Public Places (New York, 1963), pp. 8, 33, 99. Some recent historical studies are useful examples in that they have employed some of the sociological insights discussed above. Karen Halttunen uses etiquette literature in her sophisticated study of the emergence of middle-class culture in America between 1830 and 1870, Confidence Men and Painted Women (New Haven, 1982). John Kasson focusses exclusively on nineteenth-century etiquette works and shows how they guided American's in a new urban and industrial environment in Rudeness and Civility: Manners in Nineteenth-Century Urban America (New York, 1990). Most recently, Richard Bushman has given extensive treatment to both the elite-oriented courtesy literature of the colonial period and nineteenth-century etiquette works in his The Refinement of America: Persons, Houses, Cities (New York, 1992). Rhys Isaac treats the communicative role of face-to-face performances throughout The Transformation of Virginia, 1740-1790 (Chapel Hill, 1982). He also offers a valuable discourse on method. Isaac offers behavioral evidence, but examination of the prescriptive sources is necessary to determine whether the behaviors of his handful of subjects were typical; the prescriptive code also helps to explain the random "glimpses" we get from behavioral evidence. See also A. G. Roeber, "Authority, Law, and Custom: The Rituals of Court Day in Tidewater Virginia, 1720-1750," The William and Mary Quarterly 37 (1980), 29-52. Steven Stowe's study of antebellum planter families, Intimacy and Power in the Old South: Ritual in the Lives of the Planters (Baltimore, 1987) is useful in exploring the interplay between cultural conventions and individual experience, but the rituals he focusses on are the more complex processes of the affair of honor, courtship, and coming of age. Stowe shows how members of planter families made use of social ritual "to make meaning out of" their relations, see especially pp. 88, 250-254.

2. Samuel Eliot Morison, "Precedence at Harvard College in the Seventeenth Century," Proceedings of the American Antiquarian Society, n.s., v. 42, 1932," p. 379; the reference is to The Diary of Samuel Sewall ed. M. Halsey Thomas (New York, 1973), v. 1, pp. 430-431. Sewall's father died the following day.

3. See note 19 below.

4. Because I have included every source that I could find that included such direct prescriptions, the changes in the genres, authorship, and intended audience of the works reflect actual changes in the "universe of the available" in such published prescriptions, and not shifts between incomparable "apples and oranges" in the evidence. For example, while sermons contain such prescriptions for the early colonial period, the later sermons that I examined did not, and hence did not yield data that could be included in this study. Changes in the nature of conduct works are thus part of the history of manners.

5. Melvin Yazawa gives a wide-ranging discussion of the pervasiveness of the paradigm of the patriarchal family in early American society and politics and its replacement by a "depersonalized" republican model in the late eighteenth century in From Colonies to Commonwealth: Familial Ideology and the Beginnings of the American Republic (Baltimore, 1985), see especially pp. 19-20, 111-112.

6. After all, conduct literature was, to borrow the words of Clifford Geertz, "a story they tell themselves about themselves." See his Deep Play: Notes on the Balinese Cockfight," in The Interpretation of Cultures (New York, 1973), pp. 448-453.

7. Kenneth Silverman, The Life and Times of Cotton Mather (New York, 1985), p. 265.

8. In the nineteenth century, when reviews of new conduct works were published in popular journals, the author who tried to change customs or gave what the reviewer regarded as idiosyncratic advice was severely chastised. Because the rules were so straightforward as to admit of little variation in their interpretation, "reception theory" is of little use with etiquette prescriptions. In contrast, see Mary Kupiec Cayton, "The Making of an American Prophet: Emerson, His Audiences, and the Rise of the Culture Industry in Nineteenth-Century America," The American Historical Review, v. 92, no. 3 (June, 1987), 597-620. Individual authors themselves made it clear where they were simply reporting accepted customs and where they wished to see change. The differences in these sorts of prescriptions are accounted for in the analysis.

9. On age mixing and lack of age grading, see John P. Demos, A Little Commonwealth: Family Life in Plymouth Colony (New York, 1970), pp. 147, 149-150; his "The Rise and Fall of Adolescence," in Past, Present, and Personal: The Family and the Life Course in American History (New York, 1986), pp. 97-99; and Robert Middlekauff, Ancients and Axioms: Secondary Education in Eighteenth-Century New England (New Haven, 1963), pp. 13-19. On relative equality of wealth, see James Henretta's review of the research, "Wealth and Social Structure," in Jack Greene and J. R. Pole, eds. Colonial British America (Baltimore, 1984), pp. 275-276; and Gary Nash, The Urban Crucible (Cambridge, 1979), pp. 19-25.

10. Legal reinforcement of the social order was found in such practices as differential punishments by social rank and sumptuary regulations. Other well-known institutions for demonstrating the vertical order of society were meetinghouse-seating practices and the college "list." The literature on these issues is vast; still one of the most useful discussions of social rank and its maintenance is Morison's "Precedence at Harvard College," pp. 371-431. See also Perry Miller and Thomas Johnson, eds., The Puritans: A Sourcebook of their Writings, rev. ed (New York, 1963), v. 2, pp. 381, 388; James Axtell, The School Upon a Hill (New York, 1976), pp. 144, 159-160, 217, 219-222; Robert Dinkin, "Seating the Meeting House in Early Massachusetts," New England Quarterly (September 1970), pp. 450-464; Ola Winslow, Meetinghouse Hill, 1630-1783 (New York, 1952), ch. 9; Demos, "Old Age in Early New England," in Past, Present, and Personal, pp. 172-174, and David H. Fischer, Growing Old in America (New York, 1978), pp. 38-40, 78-79.

11. Robert Cleaver, A Godly Forme of Householde Government (London, 1598), pp. 264, 267, 277; see also pp. 275-276 and William Gouge, Eight Treatises of Domesticall Duties (London, 1622), pp. 530, 531,532.

12. Cotton Mather, A Family Well-Ordered (Boston, 1699), p. 17. See also Cotton Mather, Cares About the Nurseries (Boston, 1702), p. 11; John Barnard, Call to Parents and Children (Boston, 1737), p. 20; Benjamin Wadsworth, The Well-Ordered Family (Boston, 1712), pp. 51-53. Because he focusses on courtesy literature and overlooks these Puritan discussions of manners, Richard Bushman is led to suggest that manners were not important in early New England, see The Refinement of America, pp. 31-33.

13. Cleaver, pp. 281-282.

14. Eleazar Moody, The School of Good Manners (New London, CT, 1754), pp. 25-26. See also Cotton Mather, Family, p. 4.

15. Wadsworth, pp. 51, 52, 53.

16. For just two examples, see the incident between Governor Dudley and the carters reported in Sewall's diary, vol. 1, pp. 532-535; and the incident between an earlier Governor Dudley and the Indians in Winthrop's Journal (Hosmer ed., 1908), v. 2, pp. 14-15. The fact that these incidents were reported suggests that this was an area of difficulty, and hence concern, for the ruling elite; the ritual of age relations, in contrast, appears to have operated more smoothly in this society. Gordon Wood has come to some of the same conclusions about colonial deference culture in The Radicalism of the American Revolution (New York, 1992), p. 86 et passim.

17. Fewer than 14% of conduct works appearing before 1740 were addressed primarily to women, while 40% were seemingly addressed primarily to men. Over 45% were addressed to both sexes, but these too contained far more advice for men than for women. As will be seen, the authors did occasionally refer to mothers, mistresses, and aged women when discussing proper behavior of and toward age superiors. But this advice pales in quantity compared to the advice seemingly or clearly concerning men. Where they did discuss women as age superiors, the authors sometimes hinted that they could not expect to receive the same deference as their male peers. The minister Wadsworth claimed, for example, that "Persons are more apt to disregard their Mothers, tho' they stand in some awe of their Fathers," pp. 90-92; see also Benjamin Colman, The Duty and Honour of Aged Women (Boston, 1711), pp. 11, 12. None of this is to say that women were unimportant figures in this society, but that the men who seized the role of codifying social rituals left female roles relatively unconstructed in the cultural sense.

18. For example, Cotton Mather commended one of his works to those "whose arrival to, or near, SIXTY, ranks them among, the AGED," cited in Silverman, Cotton Mather, p. 398. Both John Demos and David Fischer provide additional evidence that for early New Englanders, as for us, age sixty was a dividing line between middle-age and the onset of old age. Demos acknowledges that the aged comprised a much smaller proportion of the population than in our society; but argues still that there was "nothing intrinsically unusual about growing--or being--old?" See his "Old Age in Early New England," pp. 141-142, 145, 147-148, 154; see also Carol Haber, Beyond Sixty-Five: The Dilemma of Old Age in Americas Past (New York, 1983), p. 8. David Fischer argues that Demos overestimates the proportion of the population over sixty (Demos's figure was 4-7%), and contends that "Before 1810, only about 2% of the population was sixty-five," but Table I of his Appendix shows that between 4.8 and 6.4% of the population of various regions before 1780 were over Demos's cut-off, the age of sixty. See Fischer, Growing Old in America, pp. 27, 220, 245, 272.

19. Many historians have accepted Fischer's path-breaking argument, outlined in Growing Old in America, especially Part I, pp. 26-77. Fischer drops the term "Gerontocratia," but does not substantially alter his earlier argument in Albion's Seed: Four British Folkways in America (New York, 1989), pp. 103-111. John Demos points out that the oft-repeated prescription to honor old age was often accompanied by descriptions of the physical and moral infirmities of old age that betray near-contempt. Demos suggests that aged persons themselves might have shared this attitude, for few of them seem to have enjoyed being old." He concludes that while the position of the elderly in early New England was perhaps "sociologically advantageous," in terms of their general situation in and possession of resources valuable to the community their position was "psychologically disadvantageous? See John P. Demos, "Old Age in Early New England," pp. 142-145, 156-160, 178, 179. Haber claims that the exceptions and contradictions to Fischer's rule of veneration were more numerous than he acknowledges, and argues that although active older people could command respect, "age itself guaranteed little power and recognition." Haber believes that age combined with other factors (mainly economic) to determine whether or not one would have high status. See Haber, n. 5, p. 130; and pp. 2, 3, 5, 9, 16, 26. Fischer acknowledges some of these exceptions and sources of ambivalence, but apparently does not believe they undermine his argument, see Growing Old in America, pp. 60-72, 223.

20. Demos, "Old Age in Early New England," p. 171.

21. William Bridge, A Word to the Aged (Boston, 1679), p. 5; Colman, Duty, pp. 2, 41; Cotton Mather, Addresses to Old Men and Young Men and Little Children (Boston, 1690), p. 4; Benjamin Colman, The Honour and Happiness of the Vertuous Woman (Boston, 1714), pp. 5-6; Increase Mather, Two Discourses Showing ... II. The Dignity and Duty of the Aged Servants of the Lord (Boston, 1716), pp. 51, 53, 54, 64, 98; Wadsworth, pp. 52, 93; Barnard, Call, pp. 20, 53; Thomas Doolittle, The Young Man's Instructor and the Old Man's Remembrancer (London, 1673), pp. 301, 302; A Little Book For Little Children (Boston, 1702), p. 23.

22. Colman, Honour, pp. 5-6; Doolittle, p. 301; Wadsworth, p. 93; C. Mather, Addresses, p. 4; Little Book, p. 23.

23. I. Mather, Dignity, pp. 54, 98, 99, 100, 102; Francis Osborne, Advance to a Son (Oxford, 1656), p. 112; Wadsworth, p. 93; Colman, Honour, pp. 5, 6; Samuel Phillips, Advice to a Child (Boston, 1729), pp. 23, 24-25; Doolittle, p. 302; C Mather, Addresses, p. 4; Barnard, Call, p. 20; Henry Dixon et al., The Youth's Instructor in the English Tongue (Boston, 1746), p. 55. This would seem to be evidence contrary to David Fischer's assertion that the conduct writers assumed not only that the young should yield to their elders but that they naturally would, Growing Old in America, p. 37.

24. C. Mather, Addresses, pp. 34-35.

25. Colman, Duty, pp. 11, 12, 21-22; see also C. Mather, Tabitha Rediviva (Boston, 1713), p. 39.

26. In those days of extended childbearing, parental duties could last into old age, but most children would reach adulthood before their parents became aged. See Fischer, Growing Old in America, p. 56; Haber, pp. 10-11.

27. Of course, manners are the stuff of public display. As Miss Manners reminds us, "The difference between manners and morals is that with manners, if there are not witnesses, it doesn't count." Interview with Miss Manners (Judith Martin), in People magazine, v. 21, No. 9, 5 March 1984.

28. W. Gouge, p. 437; Cleaver, p. 349.

29. There is some disagreement on the preponderant ages of the elite of magistrates and ministers. Historians agree that there was no formal or mandatory retirement system, and that many, ministers especially, served till death; but life expectancies were lower than today, and there is some evidence of gradual withdrawal from ministerial and official activity on the part of even the more powerful figures. See Haber, pp. 2, 16, 19; and Demos, "Old Age in Early New England," pp. 166-171. As Demos finds in relation to Hampton, New Hampshire selectmen, Daniel Scott Smith has found that most officeholders in Hingham, Massachusetts were men between the ages of 40 and 60. David Fischer argues that, while "literally correct," Smith's observation "takes no account of the size of the population at risk." Fischer acknowledges that "The rulers of that society were younger than today, because of differences in life expectancy. But they ruled with the authority of age, as so many of their titles tell us." ["Ruling elder," etc.] But that middle-aged men ruled with the authority of age in this generally young society does not mean that they ruled with the authority of old age. See Fischer, Growing Old in America, pp. 29, 44-47, 59, 222, 242, 243. A similar argument can be made for another index of power, land-holding. Philip Greven argues that the first generation of fathers in Andover, Massachusetts both held on to their land until death and were rather long-lived, thereby suggesting that old men held power over young men in this society; see Four Generations: Population, Land, and Family in Colonial Andover, Massachusetts (Ithaca, 1970), pp. 74-99. But his conclusions have not been replicated in other communities. John Demos, for example, using samples from six New England communities, finds that on average, men's wealth reached a peak in their fifties and declined gradually thereafter, as men past sixty were deeding away property to their grown children;" see "Old Age in Early New England," p. 137; see also A Little Commonwealth, pp. 164-170. Likewise, Carol Karlsen has suggested that an important factor leading to witchcraft accusations was a desire to put down land-, and hence power-holding older women. But Karlsen is not able to demonstrate conclusively that aged women were more at risk than middle-aged women and ends by stressing that it was women over 40 who were vulnerable. See The Devil in the Shape of a Woman: Witchcraft in Colonial New England (New York, 1989), p. 71. John Demos stresses the preponderance of middle-aged women among accused witches in Entertaining Satan: Witchcraft and the Culture of Early New England (New York, 1982), pp. 64-70. In sum, these historians do not conclusively demonstrate a clear connection between old age, land-holding, and power.

30. Dixon, p. 54. These important distinctions are ones that David Fischer fails to recognize. See in particular, his notion that patriarchy and gerontocracy are overlapping terms, Growing Old in America, p. 252. I do not know of early American evidence that supports the collapsing of these terms.

31. Some scholars, most notably John Demos and Philippe Aries, have asserted that there was no recognition of adolescence until the nineteenth century. According to James Axtell, the years 1-7 were considered childhood, and 7 to 16, "youth;" after 16 began the age of discretion. I believe, however, judging from the tone and content of the literature, that many of the "children" addressed were older than seven, and many of the "youth" were between their mid-teens and early twenties. Ross Beales arrived at a similar conclusion using a variety of sources. And Natalie Davis has effectively challenged the notion that youth was not recognized in early modern France. See Philippe Aries, Centuries of Childhood: A Social History of Family Life (New York, 1962), pp. 25-26, 29-30, 239; Demos, A Little Commonwealth, pp. 145-146; and "The Rise and Fall of Adolescence," pp. 93-94, 98-99; Axtell, pp. 119, 239; Ross W. Beales Jr., "In Search of the Historical Child: Miniature Adulthood and Youth in Colonial New England," American Quarterly 27 (1975), 379-398; Natalie Z. Davis, "The Reasons of Misrule: Youth Groups and Charivaris in Sixteenth-Century France," Past and Present, no. 50, pp. 41-75. Linda Pollock assails historians who do not acknowledge past recognition of childhood and notes that seventeenth-century American diarists such as Cotton Mather constantly referred to the developmental stages their children passed through, in Forgotten Children: Parent-Child Relationships Between 1500 and 1900 (Cambridge, 1983), pp. 98, 99.

32. Demos in particular has stressed the gradual nature of the transition to adulthood. He points to this society's lack of initiation rites and the different legal ages for various privileges and responsibilities. But colonial society was no different from our own in these respects, and surely we recognize adolescence; see A Little Commonwealth, pp. 145-150 and "The Rise and Fall of Adolescence," pp. 97-99.

33. Youth's Behaviour, or Decencie in Conversation Amongst Men. trans. Francis Hawkins. 7th edition. (London, 1661), pp. 9, 13; W. Gouge, p. 437; Cleaver, p. 281; Moody, pp. 2-3, 5, 10, 11, 13-14, 20.

34. W. Gouge, pp. 437, 602; Cleaver, p. 280; Moody, pp. 4, 6, 7, 11, 13, 14, 15, 18.

35. Osborne, p. 112; Doolittle, pp. 301, 302-303; Colman, Honour, pp. 4-5; C. Mather, Family, pp. 59-61, 70, 71; Wadsworth, pp. 52, 53, 90-92; Stefano Guazzo, The Civile Conversation. Trans. George Pettie, 1581; (rpt. New York, 1967), v. 1, p. 170; W. Gouge, p. 431; Phillips, Advice, pp. 22, 23; Barnard, Call, p. 53; [Richard Allestree], The Whole Duty of Man (London, 1659), pp. 281, 286, 287, 293; Youth's Behaviour, p. 21; Richard Baxter, Poor Man's Family Book (London, 1674), p. 310; C. Mather, Tabitha Rediviva, p. 38; Little Book, pp. 22, 25; Dixon, pp. 50, 51, 54; Moody, pp. 1, 25; C. Mather, Nurseries, p. 11.

36. See Edmund Morgan, The Puritan Family: Religion and Domestic Relations in Seventeenth-Century New England. Rev. ed. (New York, 1966), pp. 75-78, 109-132; and John Demos, A Little Commonwealth, pp. 71-75, 107-117; Axtell, pp. 112-116. One of the most useful discussions of adolescent service is that found in Alan MacFarlane's study of the English Puritan, Ralph Josselin, see The Family Life of Ralph Josselin: A Seventeenth-Century Clergyman (New York, 1970), pp. 146-148, 205-210.

37. Cotton Mather explicitly told servants to regard their masters and mistresses as parents; See C. Mather, Family, p. 67.

38. See, for example, Cleaver, p. 86.

39. William Gouge stated this explicitly, p. 596.

40. Wadsworth, p. 117.

41. Compare the first citations in note 35 for youth in general with the following advice for servants: Cotton Mather, A Good Master Well-Served (Boston, 1696), pp. 35, 36, 37-38; Doolittle, pp. 301-302; C. Mather, Family, p. 67; Wadsworth, pp. 111, 112, 117; W. Gouge, pp. 599, 600, 601; Allestree, Whole Duty, pp. 323, 325; Baxter, p. 312; Caleb Trenchfield, A Cap of Grey Hairs For a Green Head, or The Father's Counsel to His Son, an Apprentice in London. 4th ed. (London, 1688), pp. 53-54.

42. See W. Gouge, p. 602.

43. See the following advice directed to parents in regard to young children, but not in regard to adolescent progeny: Baxter, p. 305; Cleaver, pp. 295, 297; Doolittle, p. 303; Trenchfield, pp. 183-185; W. Gouge, p. 551. See also the authors' only warnings in regard to affectionate body contact between parents and children, addressed to parents concerning interaction with young children: Caleb Trenchfield, in cautioning parents not to spoil their children through too much fondness, remarked that after the age of two years, "The less the Child is hol'd in Arms, the better," p. 184. Similarly, Cotton Mather counselled mothers to "love their children (not by hugging them to Death, but by wisely nurturing of them)," Tabitha, p. 35. Further, in discussing the proper amount of time that parents were to spend with adolescent sons and daughters, one writer gave elite women the same advice he gave concerning their relationships with younger children, that they make their children their companions "to prevent the dangers of a more unequal and infectious discourse;" only with youth he advised "the mother should not only make them her companions, but her friends, allow them such a kind, yet modest freedom, that they may have a complacence in her company, and not be tempted to seek it among their inferiors," Richard Allestree, The Ladies Calling (Oxford, 1673), p. 197.

44. C. Mather, Family, p. 22. Melvin Yazawa provides a much needed correction of the predominant depiction of Puritan childrearing as harshly authoritarian, and reminds us that will-breaking was supposed to start very early (nor was it intended to root out the child's will but to break it free from "passion," and, I would add, to incline it towards obedience, hence my term--from his suggestions--" will-curbing"). See Yazawa, pp. 39-42, 249. See also Pollock, p. 116. I also concur with Yazawa's suggestion that the Puritans relied on evidence from outward gestures and demeanor to act as "attitudinal markers," in this instance, as a way of ensuring that children were feeling proper "fearful love" and not a servile attitude, p. 44.

45. Baxter, pp. 304-305; Guazzo, v. 2, p. 71; C. Mather, Family, p. 17; Wadsworth, pp. 51, 53, 105, 106; W. Gouge, pp. 530, 532, 682; C. Mather, Tabitha, p. 35; C. Mather, Master, p. 16; Cleaver, pp. 86, 374; Allestree, Whole Duty, p. 327; Cotton Mather, Ornaments for the Daughters of Zion (Cambridge, 1692), p. 97.

46. Trenchfield, pp. 132-135; Cleaver, pp. 374, 384; W. Gouge, pp. 651-652; C. Mather, Ornaments, p. 97; Guazzo, v. 2, p. 105; Richard Steele, The Husbandman's Calling (Boston, 1713), pp. 108, 192; Richard Brathwait, The English Gentleman (London, 1630), pp. 158-159; La Primaudaye, p. 530; C. Mather, Family, p. 22; Baxter, p. 304.

47. Wadsworth, pp. 57, 106; Guazzo, v. 2, p. 70; Barnard, Call, p. 34; Allestree, Whole Duty, pp. 298-299; La Primaudaye, pp. 534-535; C. Mather, Master, p. 16; W. Gouge, pp. 653, 658-661.

48. See Morgan, p. 77; and Demos, A Little Commonwealth, pp. 69-74.

49. On age mixing and gradual maturation, see note 9 above.

50. Forty-four different works were found and analyzed for the early colonial period, and seventy-five different works for the revolutionary era. It is impossible to assign definitive status labels to all of the supposed authors or their intended audience, but biographical information and internal clues do allow some rough calculations. Whereas over 60% (28/44) of early colonial period works were written by gentlemen, and only about 20% (9/44) by writers of the middling sort; in the revolutionary era less than 25% (18/75) were written by members of the elite, and at least 40% (31/75) appear to have been written by authors from the middle classes. The change is even more dramatic in the intended audience for conduct advice. Whereas approximately 30% (13/44) of early colonial works were directed exclusively to gentlefolk and less than 15% (6/44) primarily to the middling sort; in the revolutionary era only about 10% (8/75) of the available conduct works were intended solely for gentlemen and women, whereas over 60% (58/75) of such works were mainly directed to readers of the middling sort (the remaining works were either directed to the lower sort or were intended for all classes). The author calculations are based on biographical information about the known authors of the conduct works. The class status of the authors of approximately 16% (7/44) of early colonial period works and 35% (26/75) of revolutionary era works is unknown. Presumably knowledge of authorship and biographical information is biased in the favor of elite authors; hence, more of the unknown revolutionary era authors were likely to have been of middling than elite social status, making the rise of middle-class authorship of conduct literature in the revolutionary era even greater than indicated by the above statistics. The audience calculations are based on the authors' own declarations of their intended audience and/or other clues within the text (for example, in discussions of master/servant relations). Other changes in the conduct literature that mark a new period in manners after the mid-eighteenth century are the advent of female authors, a decline in the number of clerical authors, and a new prevalence of English authors.

51. See Yazawa, p. 58. The manners evidence discussed here is intended to contribute to the literature on change in family relations in eighteenth-century America. In the 1970s and early 1980s a number of historians began to argue that American families in the eighteenth century
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Author:Hemphill, C. Dallett
Publication:Journal of Social History
Date:Dec 22, 1994
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