Property and Kinship

Property and Kinship: Inheritance in Early Connecticut, 1750-1820

Toby L. Ditz
Copyright Date: 1986
Pages: 230
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt7zv282
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  • Book Info
    Property and Kinship
    Book Description:

    Toby Ditz explores the relationship among inheritance, kinship, and the commercialization of agriculture. Comparing four upland communities with a Connecticut River Valley town, she finds that inheritance practices in the late colonial era heavily favored some male heirs and created shared rights in property. These customs continued into the early nineteenth century in the upland, but in the commercialized river-valley town practices became more egalitarian and individualized.

    Originally published in 1986.

    ThePrinceton Legacy Libraryuses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These paperback editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-5829-3
    Subjects: Business

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. LIST OF TABLES
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. PREFACE
    (pp. xi-2)
  6. CHAPTER ONE AMERICAN EXCEPTIONALISM AND THE NORTHERN COUNTRYSIDE
    (pp. 3-23)

    When historians group together the New England and mid-Atlantic colonies, they are, explicitly or implicitly, using the criterion of agricultural enterprise type to demarcate a region dominated by family-farming from southern plantation areas, from manorial and tenancy systems, and from large-scale capitalist agriculture systems that would later appear in parts of the West. The distinction between family-farm systems and others rests on the distribution of property rights and allied economic decision-making powers between producers and others—rentiers, lords, masters, employers. The key feature of family-farm economies is the unification of legal powers to make economic decisions in the hands of...

  7. CHAPTER TWO INHERITANCE AND LIFE-CHANCES IN COMPARATIVE PERSPECTIVE
    (pp. 24-45)

    When most families own productive property, inheritance is a particularly promising way to study family and economy. Certainly every society has methods for regulating intergenerational succession to the use and control of various resources. Jack Goody has said,

    The inheritance system of any society … is the way by which property is transmitted between the living and the dead, and especially between the generations. It is part of the wider process whereby property relations are reproduced over time (and sometimes changed in so doing), a process I speak of as devolution.¹

    Of course, there are ways other than inheritance to...

  8. CHAPTER THREE UNIVERSAL FEATURES OF INHERITANCE IN CONNECTICUT
    (pp. 46-60)

    Although this study emphasizes distinctions between the upland communities of Connecticut and Wethersfield, these towns had much in common throughout the period 1750 to 1820. Family farms dominated agricultural production just as they did in the majority of rural towns in the American North. The political and social organization of these towns also developed within the broad confines established by the provincial political administration. These were not only northern towns; they were, in particular, Connecticut towns. Given these commonalities, it would be surprising if patterns of inheritance in Wethersfield and the upland shared no important features.

    Invariant aspects of inheritance...

  9. CHAPTER FOUR EQUALITY AND INEQUALITY AMONG CHILDREN
    (pp. 61-81)

    Who gets what? The aspect of inheritance that first captures the imagination is the distribution of property among heirs. It seems to evoke dramatically the issue of equality and inequality. Most sixteenth-century jurists praised and promoted primogeniture as the only sound policy for great landed families and stable monarchies, while a few condemned it on behalf of outcast younger sons. Seventeenth- and eighteenth-century radical republicans used primogeniture as a symbol of an oppressive aristocratic order. Jean Yver, who has analyzed the patchwork of inheritance rules that applied to commoners in sixteenth-century France, supposes that the strictly partible customs then prevailing...

  10. CHAPTER FIVE INHERITED OBLIGATIONS AND KINSHIP TIES
    (pp. 82-102)

    Although inequality among heirs is perhaps the issue one first associates with inheritance, the pattern of rights-creation is more important in shaping kin ties. The types of rights created in property affect the number and strength of obligations among blood and conjugal kin, among members of living, past, and future generations, and between families and outsiders. The network of relations thus established may not correspond to the boundaries of the family defined as a unit of consumption or socialization, but it can be very important when kin rely on family-held productive property.¹ Indeed, at least one historian argues that among...

  11. CHAPTER SIX PARENTAL POWER, MARRIAGE, AND THE TIMING OF INHERITANCE
    (pp. 103-118)

    In December 1747, Samuel and Lucy Robbins, a couple in their sixties, deeded over what remained of their landed holdings, more than ninety acres including the home lot, to their two youngest sons, Josiah and Elisha. Each of the boys immediately and surely inherited his future standing as an independent landed man; the deeds were in fee-simple with no conditions attached. Although the sons’ independent standing was immediately guaranteed, it was also postponed: when the couple made out the deeds, they reserved theuseof the entire estate for themselves while Samuel still lived, and a third for Lucy’s dower...

  12. CHAPTER SEVEN PATRIARCHAL HOUSEHOLDS AND INHERITANCE BY WOMEN
    (pp. 119-137)

    Extended cognate practices embodied a fine balance: when passing on their land, fathers relinquished authority over sons, only so that sons, in turn, could become householders able to exercise the authority that ownership of significant productive property conferred. But quite obviously the independence of sons and the authority of household heads did not extend to women. Women, for the most part, were household dependents. Although we have already looked at daughters’ inheritances, we did so largely to assess property holders’ priorities in setting-up the households of sons and of daughters. In this chapter we will examine inheritance by widows for...

  13. CHAPTER EIGHT FAMILIES, CREDITORS, AND NEIGHBORS: ESTATE ADMINISTRATION
    (pp. 138-156)

    Inheritance addresses those aspects of family organization structured by rights in property. When the pattern of heirship is narrow, as it was among the holders in this study, analysis of inheritance focuses almost exclusively on near-kin. But the death of a property owner had an immediate impact on a larger, more complex network of relations. Surviving members of the holder’s household not only had to establish new ties of authority among themselves and with other kin, but they had to modify connections with creditors and neighbors.

    The court-related activities surrounding the deaths of property holders highlight this process. The probate...

  14. CONCLUSION
    (pp. 157-172)

    This study contains two separable arguments about inheritance in early America that had previously been presented simultaneously. The first is that there was nothing unique, in the sense of distinctively modern, about family property relations in the early American North. This is, of course, the anti-exceptionalism argument; at bottom it is a “debunking” thesis. The second is that the commercialization of rural life was accompanied by basic shifts in inheritance strategies. This is a positive argument that identifies some institutional factors associated with changes in family organization in the preindustrial countryside. I will separately assess these claims and the evidence...

  15. APPENDIX A THE PROBATE POPULATION AND GROSS WEALTH: A CHECK
    (pp. 173-176)
  16. APPENDIX B. PROFILE OF THE PROBATE POPULATION
    (pp. 177-189)
  17. APPENDIX C. SOURCES AND A NOTE ON SIGNIFICANCE TESTING
    (pp. 190-194)
  18. BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 195-206)
  19. INDEX
    (pp. 207-213)
  20. Back Matter
    (pp. 214-214)