Sunday, 26 October 2014

Why Aren't There Any Current Books on Colonial Boston?

Lately, I have been doing a lot of reading on colonial Boston. I am interested in the layout of the town, its major churches, shops, taverns, and colonial life for its residents. In my quest to study Boston's early years, I have been shocked at how very few books are devoted to the town of Boston before the American Revolution.

For an overall perspective of Boston through the centuries, there is Robert Allison's Short History of Boston and various guidebooks. There are a few good books on colonial American towns that include narratives about Boston, such as Gary Nash's The Urban Crucible and Carl Bridenbaugh's Cities in the Wilderness. But there are no monographs published in the last hundred years that are devoted exclusively to colonial Boston. In fact, I have been able to find only two dissertations on early life in Boston that are not entirely political or economical in nature: Joanne Lloyd's "Beneath the 'City on the Hill': The Lower Orders, Boston, 1700-1850" (Boston College, 2007) and Lesley Anne Moerschel's "In Ye Service of the Lord: Boston's Churches, Public Discourse, and the American Revolution" (Washington State University, 2012). I found Lloy'd thesis especially interesting. She shows how the stagnant population of colonial Boston created an environment where women outnumbered men, which led to "lower order" widows selling illegal drink, operating brothels, and having sexual relations with black men.

For details on colonial life and key structures in Boston, I have had to read antiquarian books, including The Old Town-House of Boston (1883), Centennial of the Boston Pier, or the Long Wharf Corporation (1873), Samuel Adams Drake's Old Landmarks and Historic Personages of Boston (1873), Henry Cabot Lodge's Boston (1891), Nathaniel Shurtleff's A Topographical Historical Description of Boston (1871), Caleb Snow's A History of Boston (1825), and Just Winsor's edited volumes on The Memorial History of Boston (1880-81). Many of these sources are very helpful, but someone needs to write an up-to-date accounting of Boston colonial life and its historical significance.

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