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TABLE OF CONTENTS.
The following chapters are a part, only, of a larger work which I have undertaken, a history of the changes in the rural economy of New England in the nineteenth century. In broad outline such a history falls into three periods: (1) The period of self-sufficient economy, which had existed since the settlement of the country, reaching the highest point of its development at the beginning of the nineteenth century; a period in which the characteristic features of rural economy were the absence of any market for farm produce and the consequent dependence of each town and, to a large extent, of each household, even, on its own resources for the satisfaction of its wants. (2) The period of transition to commercial agriculture, under the stimulus afforded by the rise of manufacturing enterprises in inland towns and villages and the consequent demand for food and raw materials on the part of the newly-arisen nonagricultural population; the years included in this period being approximately the two generations from 1810 down to the close of the Civil War. (3) The period of the decadence of New England agriculture, extending from the close of the Civil War to the end of the nineteenth century; a period in which the increasing pressure of Western competition caused the abandonment of large numbers of New England farms and a decline in both the quantity and quality of the rural population. It was thus that the Rural Problem of New England arose. From an appreciation of the importance of the problem have arisen organized efforts looking toward its solution, toward an economic and social rehabilitation of rural life in this region.
The chapters here presented constitute a survey of the rural economy of the three states of southern New England at the close of the first period.
I desire to make acknowledgment of the courtesies extended to me by the librarians of the American Antiquarian Society, the Connecticut Historical Society, and of the Harvard and Yale University libraries. My thanks are due also to various members of the Department of Economics of the Graduate School of Yale University, and also to Professor F. W. Taussig of Harvard University, for encouragement and helpful suggestions.
In a very especial manner I am indebted to the late Professor Guy S. Callender, of the Sheffield Scientific School of Yale University, who directed my researches in this field. Without his helpful advice, his illuminating criticism and his stimulating companionship this book could not have been written.
PERCY WELLS BIDWELL. New Haven, January 1, 1916.
It is the purpose of this essay to analyze the economic conditions of life in inland towns in southern New England a century ago, with a view to showing in what way, and to what extent, these conditions were effective in shaping the peculiar features of home and community life of this region at the time. In other words, it is our aim in the first place to discover what were the most important circumstances which affected the ability of the inhabitants of these towns to produce wealth, that is, to satisfy their wants, to get a living; and in the second place, to show in what ways these people sought to adapt themselves to their circumstances so as to satisfy their wants most easily, to get the best living possible.
The townships into which the area of Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut was at this time divided were more than convenient geographical divisions for administrative purposes; they were units of economic and religious as well as of political life. Inside these economic microcosms, these cells of the social organism, there were developed distinctive individual habits and characteristics, and distinctive social customs. The stern austerities of New England character have often caused comment and discussion, as have also the remarkable energy, industry and ingenuity of its people. So also the peculiar unity and cohesion of their social and religious life are well-known and accepted facts. But the interest of most students and writers in these matters has been that of the mere antiquarian. A detached fact, an isolated idea, concerning the life of the early settlers of this region has been picked up and examined with enthusiastic interest and with a certain kind of appreciation, such as a connoisseur of antiques might display when rummaging for old crockery or furniture through the attic of a farmhouse. Rarely has there been an attempt at real economic history; that is, at an explanation, a synthetic reconstruction of the way in which these people got their living. To do this all these scattered, and of themselves interesting facts must be fitted together, must be brought into some orderly relation showing cause and effect; they must be interpreted in the light of the fundamental principles of economic theory. In this essay such an attempt at reconstruction and interpretation will be made.