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New from Roger Thompson

(Massachusetts, Early New England) Permanent link

Charletstown_store front

Roger Thompson's newest book, From Deference to Defiance: Charlestown, Massachusetts, 1629-1692, recreates the lost world of 17th-century Charlestown and the lives and work of the first three generations of its townspeople. By using a variety of surviving records, Thompson presents a colorful history of the town’s settlement and governance, its relationship with the land and sea, the church, local crime and vio­lence, the role of women, and ultimately its involvement in the Glorious Revolution.


NEHGS staff member, Ginevra Morse, sat down with Roger Thompson to discuss his latest contribution to the study of early Boston and its environs.

GM: How would you characterize early Charlestown as compared to other early Boston suburbs?

RT: Compared to other Middlesex towns, Charlestown was directly involved in Atlantic trade—fish, furs, and timber—from its earliest days. Many inhabitants had far broader horizons than in neighboring communities. Leading citizens were often partners or agents for influential merchants in London, Bristol, and other West Country ports, as well as for Caribbean, Mediterranean, and Atlantic Wine Island traders. With many men away at sea, and foreign seamen idling in its port, Charlestown had far more social and sexual problems to control.


GM: What was the most surprising thing you learned while doing your research?

RT: Discovering that the disreputable pauper Sarah Largin had made a new life for herself in Delaware after disappearing from the Charlestown records. Her son married into the gentry. I had many other surprises, like the saviour of early Plymouth, or a neighbor of East Anglia's notorious Witch-Finder General settling in Charlestown, but I'll leave those to readers to uncover.


GM: What was your biggest challenge in compiling From Deference to Defiance?

RT: I had several major challenges. At the start: I had to familiarize myself with hundreds of names of inhabitants as I trawled through thousands of town, county, colony, and imperial records. Later, I was frustrated that all that survived of pre-Revolutionary Charlestown was the street plan and the burying ground. Everything else had been destroyed in the Battle of Bunker Hill. I also had many new areas of English sources to research: the local records and histories of London suburbs, the port of Bristol, the counties of Bedfordshire, Hertfordshire, Dorset and Devon, and English Caribbean islands, especially Barbadoes. The whole project took over 7 years.



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Roger Thompson is emeritus professor of American Colonial History at the University of East Anglia, Norwich, England. His earlier works include Sex in Middlesex: Popular Mores in a Massachusetts County, 1649–1699 (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1986), Divided We Stand: Watertown 1630–80 (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2001), and Cambridge Cameos: Stories of Life in Seventeenth-Century New England (Boston: New England Historic Geneal­ogical Society, 2005).

The Great Migration Study Project

(Massachusetts, Early New England) Permanent link

Great Migration Promotion

Between 1620 and 1640 about 20,000 men, women, and children crossed the Atlantic to settle New England. NEHGS' Great Migration Study Project, under the scholarly leadership of Robert Charles Anderson, FASG, aims to provide a concise, reliable genealogical and biographical account for each of these early immigrants.

With the recent completion of the second series, The Great Migration, Immigrants to New England, 1634-1635, we look back at how the Project began. Below is an excerpt from Anderson's article "Reflections on the Great Migration Study Project" which appeared in the 2008 holiday issue of New England Ancestors (now American Ancestors).

"During my early years in genealogy, while handling typical client commissions, I was constantly faced with the problem of learning what research had already been undertaken and published for a family of interest. This search frequently consumed much of the time allocated for research, and became very frustrating.

"Thus arose the concept of a reference work for New England genealogy which would update and supplant Savage* and some of the other single-colony-based compendia. The original idea was to produce a resource which would summarize all important research which had already [been] undertaken on families who had arrived in New England during the Great Migration, originally defined as the period from 1620 (arrival of the Mayflower) to 1643 (cessation of heavy migration due to the commencement of the English Civil War)."

Click here to read the entire article.

*Refers to James Savage's Genealogical Dictionary of New England, compiled during the Civil War and an important resource for New England research.

We want to hear from you! Share your feedback on this or other NEHGS publications here.

Robert C. Anderson

Robert Charles Anderson, FASG is the director of the Great Migration Study Project. Anderson was elected a Fellow of the American Society of Genealogists in 1978 and has served as Secretary and President of that organization. He became a Contributing Editor of The American Genealogist in 1979, Associate Editor in 1985 and Coeditor in 1993. He has been an editorial consultant to the New England Historical and Genealogical Register since 1989.

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