Deference to defiance

The last of Roger Thompson’s books on my shelf, and the biggest (593 pages including index), is From Deference to Defiance, Charlestown, Massachusetts, 1629–1692. Published in 2012 by NEHGS, this is the last of Thompson’s works on three founding colonial towns – Watertown, Cambridge,[1] and Charlestown. It is a pièce de résistance for descendants of Charlestown families – including a sketch on one of my most interesting ancestors, Phineas Pratt, who died in Charlestown at the age of 90 after surviving in his younger days a heroic, solitary trip through frozen woods to bring rescuers to the aid of Weymouth settlers in 1623.

Roger continues the same methodology of his earlier books, reading court and government records in detail and compiling case studies to illustrate the workings of the community – noting in his preface that Charlestown had intrigued him since the days of his work on Sex in Middlesex because he “had realized then that the busy port of Charlestown was very different in its mores from the upriver or inland towns of the county.” Go Charlestown!

The book is divided into nine parts: “Peopling,” “Town,” “Land,” “Sea,” “Church,” “Women,” “Violence,” “Defiance,” and “Epilogue.” Each part is illustrated by multiple stories gleaned from court records. These cases are delightfully full of flesh-and-blood history, the lives of our ancestors and their neighbors as we probably have never read before. Under “Land,” for example, is “Hay or Mills? Symmes v. Collins and Broughton: Issues of Land Use, 1657.” Under “Sea” is a section titled “Cutting One Another’s Throats for Beaver, Tidd v. Collicutt, 1656–57,” and “Failure in Success: Captain Marshall’s Long Voyage, 1683–85,” about the Captain William Marshall who married Mary Hilton, daughter of Early New England Families subject William Hilton; and the obviously intriguing “A Damed Whore: Sarah Largin of Charlestown and Whorekill, 1668–1709” under “Women.”

There are several lists of interest: “Charlestown Immigrant Origins, 1630–40,” which gives known English origins – Dorset, Bristol, Dunstable, Stepney, Southwark, and Kent – of Charlestown’s Great Migration settlers; “Charlestown Maritime Inhabitants, 1630–86,” listing Sea Captains, Shipbuilders and Carpenters, Merchants and Retailers, and Seamen and Fishermen as subjects; “Refugees in Charlestown, 1676,” with those who had fled from the Indian attacks on frontier towns; and “Chronology of the Glorious Revolution” from the restoration of King Charles II in 1660 through the arrival of the new Massachusetts Bay charter from King William III and Queen Mary II in 1692.

Footnotes, as always, are full of additional details and cross references to case studies in Thompson’s earlier works and to curious articles such as “Popular Ridicule in Jacobean England,”[2] in the section on libel cases. From Deference to Defiance is chock full of nerdy things we genealogists want to know about our forebears.

Which brings us to our topic for next week. How many readers use to locate articles from periodicals?


[1] Christopher Child will review Cambridge Cameos in an upcoming post.

[2] Past & Present 94 [2001]: 47–83, esp. 56–64.

About Alicia Crane Williams

Alicia Crane Williams, FASG, Lead Genealogist of Early Families of New England Study Project, has compiled and edited numerous important genealogical publications including The Mayflower Descendant and the Alden Family “Silver Book” Five Generations project of the Mayflower Society. Most recently, she is the author of the 2017 edition of The Babson Genealogy, 1606-2017, Descendants of Thomas and Isabel Babson who first arrived in Salem, Massachusetts, in 1637. Alicia has served as Historian of the Massachusetts Society of Mayflower Descendants, Assistant Historian General at the General Society of Mayflower Descendants, and as Genealogist of the Alden Kindred of America. She earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Connecticut and a master’s degree in History from Northeastern University.

14 thoughts on “Deference to defiance

  1. I have used JSTOR and have found many wonderful things there. It’s a great resource, and many older articles are free. Some articles are downloadable at low cost. Another great resource is Hathitrust. The books you find for reading online or downloading are amazing. I’m also very interested in learning about the Pratts, as I think Thankful Pratt, daughter of Elder William, is my sixth great grandmother. I enjoy this blog, and learn something new every day.

    1. James, thanks. I did a post about Hathitrust a couple of years ago. Jstore, I think is still mostly undiscovered by genealogists.
      I don’t know about Thankful, but because Phineas Pratt married a daughter of Mayflower passenger Degory Priest, four generations of the Pratts are included in the “Silver Book” volume 8 of the Mayflower Society’s Five Generations Project.

  2. Thanks for the interesting review of this book. I wish that other books for sale by NEHGS had more complete descriptions. I suspect there would be far more book sales.

  3. I would like to echo James’ thoughts on JSTOR and Hathitrust. Those sites have often proven to be Indispensable resources for my family history research. Another great resource is

  4. I just got this book for Christmas and have not yet had a chance to read it…though I was miffed to see in the index that the author insisted on spelling the Cary family of Charlestown “Carey.” This is a particular annoyance to me since the family appears to have almost universally spelled their name with without an “e” for the past 400 years! However, Thompson is far from the only historian or source who insists on including the unnecessary and inauthentic “e.”

    Probate records for Capt. Samuel Cary of Charlestown, my 5x great-grandfather who survived a documented encounter with the pirate “Black Bart” Roberts in 1720, are in the NEHGS’s collections. I particularly love his handwritten codicil leaving all his clothing to his two younger sons…who were both much too small for it (my 5x great-grandfather was only two!!). Much less charming is the fact that four enslaved “negros” were listed by name in his probate inventory…on the last page, right between some iron pots and spare lumber. [Shudder]

    1. Pamela, Name spelling is a never ending struggle! One does wonder whether Capt. Cary’s sons ever wore their father’s old clothes, which must have been soooo out of date by the time they grew up!

  5. is completely new to me and I look forward to learning about it! And now I’m “desperately seeking some Charleston ancestors” so I can read about that lively community in Thompson’s book!

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