Puritan Family Order

So important was the idea of a covenanted family in Massachusetts that everyone was compelled by law to live in family groups. As early as 1629 the Governor and Deputies of the colony ordered that:

For the better accommodation of businesses, we have divided the servants belonging to the Company into several families, as we desire and intend they should live together. … Our earnest desire is, that you take special care, in settling these families, that the chief in the family (at least some of them) be grounded in religion; whereby morning and evening family duties may be duly performed, and a watchful eye held over all in each family … that so disorders may be prevented, and ill weeds nipped before they take too great a head.

The provinces of Connecticut and Plymouth also forbade any single person to “live of himself.”

These laws were enforced. In 1668 the court of Middlesex County, Massachusetts, systematically searched its towns for single persons and placed them in families. In 1672 the Essex County Court noted:

Being informed that John Littleale of Haverhill lay in a house by himself contrary to the law of the country, whereby he is subject to much sin and iniquity, which ordinarily are the companions and consequences of a solitary life, it was ordered … he remove and settle himself in some orderly family in the town, and be subject to the orderly rules of family government.

One stubborn loner, John Littleale, was given six weeks to comply, on pain of being sent to “settle himself in the House of Correction.

This custom was not invented in New England. It had long been practiced in East Anglia. From as early as 1562 to the midseventeenth century, The High Constables’ Sessions and Quarter Courts of Essex County in England had taken similar action against “single men,” “bachelors,” and “masterless men.” The Puritans took over this custom and endowed it with the spiritual intensity of their faith.