Essay Sample on How Did Beliefs About the Family Shape Colonial America?

Published: 2023-02-21
Essay Sample on  How Did Beliefs About the Family Shape Colonial America?
Type of paper:  Essay
Categories:  Sexes Family Community American history
Pages: 4
Wordcount: 997 words
9 min read

The history of colonial America encompasses the period starting in the early 16th century to the late 17th century. That period is crucial as most of the modern societal fabric and values are believed to have originated during this time. Colonial America was characterized by the colonization of different parts of the region by powerful European countries with strong armies that were seeking to expand their influence on the global arena and acquire more wealth. The major powers which colonized America included the Dutches, Swedes, Puritans, and Germans. Although all the different powers had acquired different regions for themselves, the British had defeated all of them by 1760 and taken the colonies from them. As the British increasingly became powerful, their societal ideologies gained foot. Such ideologies included Puritanism, which was instrumental in shaping colonial America and modern America.

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Before the Europeans settled in America, colonial America was inhabited by the Native Americans. When the Europeans arrived and made contact with the Native Americans, major differences were noted, especially between the different two ways of life. The majority of the differences were exhibited in the interactions between men and women and the marriage institution. In particular, Native American society considered men and women as equals in all aspects (Caffrey 47). Males had equal power and contribution as women in decision-making. In fact, scholars suggest that women were considered more valuable than men. This was evidenced during the settlement of murder disputes. A murderer was forced to pay twice what was paid for a man. The Native Americans justified this argument by pointing out that a woman was capable of siring children while a man could not (Cafffrey 48). Another difference was that in Native American society, the bridegroom paid a dowry to the bride's family while in European society, the bride's family paid a dowry to the bridegroom's family. This tradition was interpreted to mean that the Indians highly valued their women. In addition, routine roles were gendered such that women concentrated on farming of subsistence crops while men focused on hunting. Given that these gender roles were carried out a few hours in a day and that Indians could often engage in "female roles", the Europeans misunderstood the Indians and called them lazy for carrying out light tasks reserved for women. Further, the Indians had strict cultural rules on infidelity and divorce. Marriage was unbreakable and highly regarded as it was the key to communal survival and expansion through procreation (Peiss 28). Unlike in European society where young boys flirted and engaged in sex without committing to the girl, such behaviors were highly discouraged in Native American society (Peiss 29). Also, women in the Indian society held positions of power like chiefs, something that was unheard of in European society given that majority of the settlers were men and women had no power in decision-making. As more Europeans arrived, conflicts emerged between the two groups. Eventually, the Indians were overpowered and the Europeans forced their societal beliefs on the Indians and all other communities that existed at that time.

In colonial America, the husband was the head and provider of the family. Husbands and fathers had absolute legal rights over their dependents which included wives, children, and slaves. These principles were drawn from the Bible, which referred to the husband as a patriarch. The patriarch was a person with religious authority and had the responsibility of ensuring his family was well-clothed, sheltered, and fed. The society formed from Puritanism reflected the Puritans' belief of hierarchy, order, consent, and reciprocity. Although husbands had absolute legal rights, every member of the family had unique rights and responsibilities

Kang argues that the significance attached to the family unit by the Puritans played a huge role in religious developments (149-150). For instance, they believed that sanctity originated from the family setting hence the belief that Godly parents had higher likelihood of siring God-fearing children. That belief led religious leaders to concentrate their ministerial efforts on eliminating new converts or new church members who hailed from "ungodly families" and avoid the non-churchgoers.

The Puritans were mainly concentrated in New England, while other colonies comprised of non-believers and the pagans. One of the most notable religious regions was Pennsylvania, which comprised of the Quakers and religious refugees from Europe. The Quakers, led by William Penn, believed that every person should seek God in their own way. Compared to the Puritans, the Quakers were more liberal and religiously tolerant. In fact, all the other colonies had an official church except Pennsylvania because Penn believed that religion and policy are different and should not be mixed (Underwood 54). Although the Quakers were highly religious rights, not all people had equal rights. Just like the Puritans, the Quakers heavily emphasized on the significance of a patriarchal family unit. While the harsh times required cooperation between husband and wife, the husband was superior, and he expected the wife to respond with submissiveness and devotion.

Overall, the occupation of America by Europeans during the 15th and 16th centuries resulted in significant changes in how the natives and the visitors perceived marriage. For Native Americans, women had equal power as men in all aspects of decision-making. On the other hand, husbands were superior to their wives, and the latter were expected to respond with submission. Also, religion played a key role in shaping marriage beliefs as Europeans, who were either Quakers or Puritans, believed marriage was patriarchal. As Europeans gained more land and power, these beliefs became mainstream, a trend that continued throughout the colonial period and still is held today by some people.

Works Cited

Caffrey, Margaret M. "Complementary power: Men and women of the Lenni Lenape." American Indian Quarterly 24.1 (2000): 44-63.

Kang, Ning. "Puritanism and its impact upon American values." Review of European Studies 1.2 (2009): 147-151.

Peiss, Kathy Lee, ed. Major Problems in the History of American Sexuality: Documents and Essays. Wadsworth Publishing Company, 2002.

Underwood, Ted L. Primitivism, Radicalism, and the Lamb's War: The Baptist-Quaker Conflict in Seventeenth-Century England. Oxford University Press on Demand, 1997.

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