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Communities of workers: free labor in provincial Massachusetts, 1690-1765 Nellis, Eric Guest

Abstract

The particular forms of work in provincial Massachusetts influenced and were reflected in the structure of that society to an extent previously ignored by social historians. While this study presents a description of individual practices and collective patterns of work, it addresses itself to the broader framework of provincial society. As the analysis proceeds, it tests the conclusions of a large number of recent historians who have found significant change in the social structure of Massachusetts in the decades prior to 1765. There were two distinct settings for work in the province: the rural network of self-contained towns where subsistence farming and an informal system of labor and commodity exchange formed a socio-economic base for the great majority of the population; and the commercial economy of coastal Massachusetts, as exemplified by Boston, where contracted specialized crafts work and individual control of production were the most common features of labor. This analysis of work and workers reveals a marked difference in the respective forms of work in each of the settings, but it confirms a similar degree of communal influence upon the nature and objectives of work. Conversely, the chief features and arrangements of work helped to sustain the established forms of family, domicile and local society.

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