Date: Sun, 26 May 2013 01:32:49 +0200
OWNERSHIP AND OBLIGATION: FAMILY AND INHERITANCE IN FIVE CONNECTICUT TOWNS, 1750-1820
- This study compares inheritance patterns in four upland, subsistence-plus communities and one river-valley, commercial agriculture town. The comparison explores links between familial property arrangements and degree of rural integration into developing regional and export markets. The analysis of inheritance highlights three aspects of practices: equality and inequality in the distribution of property among family members, the types of rights created in property, and the timing of inheritance transfers. The patterns of inheritance typical of the two types of communities differed dramatically in the early nineteenth century. Inheritance practices making use of lifetime transfers and heavily favoring some male heirs while burdening them with obligations predominated in the late colonial era. This pattern still prevailed in the upland, relatively self-sufficient towns of the early nineteenth century, but disappeared in the commercial agriculture community. In the latter, heirs were not burdened, property was transmitted unencumbered and late, and inequalities among heirs decreased. The comparison allows evaluation of the issue of American 'exceptionalism.' The colonial and upland pattern, I argue, displayed the same tension between the need to maintain a viable productive enterprise and efforts to set-up children as did the practices of family-farm holders in Western Europe. The inheritance patterns found in this study offer little support for the position that factors distinctive to the American North diminished the importance of family property or encouraged private, isolated nuclear families. Commercialization of rural life--not conditions unique to the region--eroded the connection between inheritance and life-chances, resulting in individualized family property arrangements. I also suggest that concepts often used to characterize preindustrial family life partly misidentify kin ties and property orientations in family-farm communities. Producers in the American North and Western Europe widely adopted inheritance practices that were aimed at setting-up as many new households as possible, not at intergenerational accumulation. Their practices supported patriarchal households and reinforced 'extended cognate' patterns of kin recognition, but they did not encourage patrilineal family orientations.