Household and community: Kent County, Maryland, 1631--1676
Examination of the seventeenth-century English settlement of Kent County, Maryland, provides an ideal opportunity to closely identify and analyze the economic ties, social connections, and shared values that developed among colonists during the first forty years of settlement. These bonds show that the early colonial Chesapeake's social structure was more cohesive than is traditionally believed. Demographic challenges such as high mortality, skewed sex ratios, the prevalence of a young single population of indentured servants, and complex blended families required flexibility and adaptability in order for settlers to pursue their goals of land ownership, economic independence, family formation, and provision for future generations. While the colonists of Maryland's first Eastern Shore county suffered those demographic challenges, they persisted with enough continuity and longevity to form a core population. Through analysis of land patents, Kent County and Provincial Court records, wills and inventories, the Kent County settlement between 1631 and 1676 is reconstructed. Over 1200 individuals are identified and many are physically located on their land. Population longevity and continuity of leadership are identified. Multiple connections between settlers and households are also elucidated. Extensive economic ties, complex blended families, frequent interaction, familiarity with neighbors' households, and shared values emerge from analysis of civil and criminal court cases. Wills and inventories further define the quality of relationships both through the debt relations uncovered and the practice of leaving bequests to clearly identifiable friends and children. The records of Kent Island show that community bonds of friendship and support were the norm, rather than an oddity, in this early colonial settlement. While discord certainly existed, a reconstruction of the settlement reveals the existence of a persistent population capable of creating a complex web of social and economic relationships. The early Chesapeake social structure was not scattered, individualistic, or atomistic. Rather, colonists worked and socialized together with some frequency, fulfilling legal, functional, and emotional needs for survival, and, in the process, created a community that worked together toward shared goals and values.