First Generations Women in Colonial America

Carol Berkin

Hill and Wang

0809016060

9780809016068

Trade Paperback

256 Pages

$16.00

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This widely celebrated multiculural history reconstructs the lives of American women in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries: women from European, African, and Native American backgrounds. First Generations examines their varied roles as wives, mothers, household managers, laborers, rebels, and—ultimately—critical forces in shaping the new nation's culture and history.

REVIEWS

Praise for First Generations

"A revision, amplification, and synthesis of a rich succession of studies about every aspect of colonial society and culture. [Berkin] brings her subject down to earth . . . and shows sensitivity to the experiences of individual women. [First Generations] offers what Mary Beth Norton rightly calls 'the best available introduction to the lives of women in colonial and revolutionary America.'"—Edmund S. Morgan, The New York Times Review of Books

"Berkin's focus on ethnic differences in historical patterns provides an unusual cross-cultural approach to gender studies, tracing and contrasting everything from economic and political developments to birthing and mothering patterns."—Midwest Book Review

"This academic study by Berkin . . . examines the lives of 17th- and 18th-century women from a feminist perspective that focuses on gender and class. Employing excellent research skills, the author documents the lives of white as well as Native American and African American women in their diverse roles as wives, mothers, widows, employed workers, and slaves . . . Berkin has made a notable contribution by utilizing recent scholarship to address family life in the mid-Atlantic and Southern colonies as well as in the much studied New England settlements. Her analysis of Native American and African American women, as well as of how the American Revolution affected female roles, is enlightening."—Publishers Weekly

"In this exciting, scholarly, and multicultural work, history professor Berkin skillfully portrays the lives of American colonial women from all segments of that society. Using biographical sketches, diaries, and other records, Berkin reconstructs the lives of wives, mothers, sisters, rebels, loyalists, slaves, Native Americans, and immigrants, revealing the important (but often overlooked by historians) roles that women played in the formation of this country. By introducing the characters in a dramatic fashion and using the climactic events of the time to hold the reader's attention, Berkin has done a fantastic job re-creating their experiences and made enjoyable reading out of what could have been dry, academic fare. Although this book may be of particular interest to those concerned with women's history, it will also have definite mainstream appeal."—Kathleen Hughes, Booklist

"A marvelously readable yet scholarly history of women's social, economic, religious, and political roles in America from the founding of the Chesapeake Bay colonies through the Revolution . . . First Generations is a careful, detailed study of colonial life with something more—a personal touch, an easy narrative style, and a comprehensive approach. Not that this slim volume offers the last word on the subject. What it does provide is a vivid, sympathetic, fascinating introduction to a rich field demanding further study. Berkin reveals some of the realities of life for women in colonial America by focusing on a number of remarkable individuals both famous and unknown, among them Wetamo, a Wampanoag leader who fought mightily against the English colonists who invaded her home; Margaret Hardenbroeck, a successful Dutch businesswoman in New Amsterdam who lost her economic rights when the English conquered the colony in 1664; Mary Johnson, a captive African who eventually became a free and fairly prosperous farmer; and Eliza Lucas Pinckney, a member of South Carolina's aristocracy, who successfully ran her father's plantation in his absence when she was only 15 years old. These and other women form the foundation of Berkin's narrative, which goes on to illuminate how these individuals fit into the general patterns of colonial life. And while Berkin admits that the historical records favor some groups over others, she herself focuses her attention equally on all, while never appearing to sacrifice the integrity of the work for political correctness. A wonderful introduction to this fascinating subject."—Kirkus Reviews

Reviews from Goodreads

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BOOK EXCERPTS

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First Generations
1IMMIGRANTS TO PARADISE: WHITE WOMEN IN THE SEVENTEENTH-CENTURY CHESAPEAKEMARY COLE, the daughter of Robert and Rebecca Cole, was born in Maryland in January 1653. Her parents had come to the colony in 1652, probably from Middlesex, England, bringing with them Rebecca's two children from her first marriage and two servants as well. Rebecca may have been pregnant during the long ocean voyage, for Robert Cole, Jr., was born in Maryland before the end of the year. Thus, Mary was part of a large household, and one that would continue to grow. Within the next seven years, William,
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

  • Carol Berkin

  • Carol Berkin is Professor of History at the City University of New York Graduate Center. She is the author of A Brilliant Solution: Inventing the American Constitution and Women's Voices/Women's Lives: Documents in Early American History, and is co-editor, with Mary Beth Norton, of Women of America: A History.
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