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In the Classroom > Course Overview > Unit Overview > Lesson 3
Lesson 3
Notes about Vacuum Domicillium: The Social and Cultural Landscape of 17th Century New England by David Grayson Allen

by Susan McGowan

"vacuum domicillium"– our right by reason of its vacancy and our possession

John Winthrop – "It was our land by possession…."

The attitudes of the early settlers showed considerable diversity:

a. land "little to be envied"
b. Edward Johnson 1654:

This remote, rocky, barren, bushy, wild-woody wilderness, a receptacle for lions, wolves, Bears, Foxes Rockoons, Bags, Beavers, Otters and all kind of wild creatures, a place never afforded by the Natives better than the flesh of a few wild creatures and parch't Indian corn incht out with Chestnuts and bitter Acorns, now through the mercy of Christ become a second England for ferilness in so short a space, that is indeed the wonder of the world…

[remembering, the settlers had recently come from England and/or Holland, both of which were practically treeless, with very ordered, enclosed fields.]

The Puritans justified their possession of the land on the basis of a natural right that all men "may make use of any part of the earth, which another hath not possessed before him."

The Puritans held the belief that the "plauge" [plague = smallpox] which had left void many areas, was an indication of God's plan to help the English.

For the English, the subduing and the "improvement" of the countryside by its enclosure, cultivation, and building of permanent buildings insured their place.

One sign of English occupation and their sense of order – the replacement of Indian place names with those more familiar to 17th c. English.

1610s - Capt. John Smith had named the "unsettled" region "New England"on his brief visit.

The peopling of New England was largely the result of the "Great Migration" of English Puritans in the 1630's. Between 1629 and 1643 N.E.'s population was about 18,500 to 21,500. After that, only a trickle of emigrants from mother country. They were primarily the middling sort and in family units. The reasons for emigration from England were complex and seem to have varied from locality to locality; the reasons included economic ones, religious considerations, and those of health.

The 17th century town(ships) were concentrated along coastal areas and in major river valleys.

By 1650, New England's population was close to 27,000 and by 1700 had reached 100,000, largely the results of a lowered marrying age for females and a lower mortality rate for adults and children. Average family size included 7-8 children. The average death date for those who reached ae 21 was 70 for males and, because of death in childbirth, 62 for women.

-- Few early town maps were made: New Englanders had casual attitudes regarding precision of boundaries. This often resulted in problems for 2nd and 3rd generations.. [see p. 104 Family & Landscape.]
Increasingly, maps were made only by certain individuals (Joshua Fisher was one of these, the "artiste" of Deerfield’s proprietors map)


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