Historical Context

The New England Town
Freeman grew up in a small New England town at a time when the region was undergoing what many social and cultural historians have viewed as an enervating change. Many of the area’s vigorous youth, including a large percentage of men, had abandoned the settled communities of the East to pursue the country’s westward expansion. The Civil War had also decimated the population of young men. The New England of Freeman’s experience seemed overwhelmingly peopled by single women and old men. New England townspeople were similar racially and culturally, church-based, and strongly agricultural. Women usually did not work in the fields, but instead took on responsibility for the many tasks required to run a farm, such as making basic foodstuffs and clothing. The town itself was frequently made up of several villages along with the countryside in between, all of which were under the same government.

New England towns typically presented a closeknit community, which led to a pervasive interest in the affairs of one’s neighbors as well as a concern for what others might think. Such a situation could make it extremely difficult for a person who chose to flaunt or break the accepted rules of the community. But while the gossip of neighbors often traveled quickly through the village, there was also a certain amount of respect for those who defied gossip to be true to themselves.

A secular government, made up of all voting citizens, and a group of pastors and deacons, chosen by the congregation, ruled over the religious, intellectual, and political life. As such, the churches had a strong influence on the development of the values of each child who lived in the town. Many of the New England churches followed Calvinism, a particularly austere version of Christianity that teaches, among other things, that humans are filled with sin. Many New Englanders grew up under the direction of this patriarchal, strict religion.

The descendants of the Puritans who had first settled New England maintained a stubborn religious faith. Their belief that they were probably among God’s chosen people helped them to persevere in circumstances—like farming the hilly, rocky New England soil—that might cause others to give up. They believed that their own human will, when it coincided with God’s, made them...

(The entire section is 971 words.)