Added: February 15, 2014 – Last updated: September 5, 2015


Author: M. Michelle Jarrett Morris

Title: Under Household Government

Subtitle: Sex and Family in Puritan Massachusetts

Place: Cambridge, MA, and London

Publisher: Harvard University Press

Year: 2013

Pages: 326pp.

Series: Harvard Historical Studies 180

ISBN-13: 9780674066335 (hardcover) – Find a Library: Wikipedia, WorldCat ISBN-13: 9780674067899 (ebook) – Find a Library: Wikipedia, WorldCat

Language: English

Keywords: 17th Century | U.S. History | Cases: Offenders / Benjamin Simonds; Cases: Victims / Elizabeth Pierce


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Link: EBSCOhost (Restricted Access)

Link: Google Books (Limited Preview)

Link: JSTOR (Restricted Access)


Author: Michelle Morris, Department of History, University of Missouri


  List of Figures (p. ix)
  Words, Words, Words (p. xi)
  Introduction (p. 1)
  Chapter 1. Daniel Gookin’s Household (p. 13)
    Sylvannus Warro and Elizabeth Parker (p. 20)
    Samuel Gookin and Hannah Stevenson (p. 27)
    John Eliot Jr. and Hannah Brackett (p. 40)
  Chapter 2. Contrary to the Laws of God and This Jurisdiction (p. 51)
  Chapter 3. Lawful Remedies, Diabolical Erections, and an Unwanted Suitor (p. 73)
    The Lawful Remedy (p. 74)
    Goodman Mousall's Diabolical Erection (p. 82)
    Sarah Dexter's Unwanted Suitor (p. 94)
  Chapter 4. The Rape of Elizabeth Pierce (p. 110)
  Chapter 5. A Family of Allies (p. 142)
  Chapter 6. Two Missing Infants (p. 178)
    "Why you no tell me piganyny come?": Marea's Infanticide (p. 178)
    Zipporah and the Headless Baby (p. 191)
  Chapter 7. Traitors, Rebels, and Slaves (p. 209)
  Conclusion (p. 241)
  A Peek behind the Scenes (p. 249)
  Notes (p. 253)
  Acknowledgments (p. 299)
  Index (p. 303)


Seventeenth-century New Englanders were not as busy policing their neighbors’ behavior as Nathaniel Hawthorne or many historians of early America would have us believe. Keeping their own households in line occupied too much of their time. Under Household Government reveals the extent to which family members took on the role of watchdog in matters of sexual indiscretion.
In a society where one’s sister’s husband’s brother’s wife was referred to as “sister,” kinship networks could be immense. When out-of-wedlock pregnancies, paternity suits, and infidelity resulted in legal cases, courtrooms became battlegrounds for warring clans. Families flooded the courts with testimony, sometimes resorting to slander and jury-tampering to defend their kin. Even slaves merited defense as household members—and as valuable property. Servants, on the other hand, could expect to be cast out and left to fend for themselves.
As she elaborates the ways family policing undermined the administration of justice, M. Michelle Jarrett Morris shows how ordinary colonists understood sexual, marital, and familial relationships. Long-buried tales are resurrected here, such as that of Thomas Wilkinson’s (unsuccessful) attempt to exchange cheese for sex with Mary Toothaker, and the discovery of a headless baby along the shore of Boston’s Mill Pond. The Puritans that we meet in Morris’s account are not the cardboard caricatures of myth, but are rendered with both skill and sensitivity. Their stories of love, sex, and betrayal allow us to understand anew the depth and complexity of family life in early New England.« (Source: Harvard University Press)


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