In sixteen hundred and something something, recommend me a novel.
March 10, 2010 9:07 AM   Subscribe

Please recommend an excellent historical novel about life in 17th-century North America (preferably New England). I'm re-reading Toni Morrison's A Mercy right now, and I'm looking for more stuff about the day-to-day life -- chores, food, bartering, the intersection of European colonists with indigenous American populations, etc. I s'pose I'd be okay with a nice non-fiction book, too, but the preference is for fiction.
posted by Greg Nog to Media & Arts (33 answers total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
Mary Rowlandson's The Sovereignty and Goodness of God is the first of what became the genre of Indian captivity narratives, the first book published in America written by a living woman, short, and worth checking out. It's the (non-fiction) account of an English Puritan colonist captured by Native Americans during King Philip's War.
posted by Zed at 9:18 AM on March 10, 2010

Sort of relevant:
Random Passage

It's a TV miniseries set in Canada, 18th century IIRC. But lots of daily-life stuff (specific to a struggling tiny settlement). Bonus: Colm Meaney. Available on NetFlix.
posted by AugieAugustus at 9:21 AM on March 10, 2010

Brian Moore's Black Robe, a novel about Jesuit missionaries in New France.

Also, it's not a novel, but still fascinating reading that speaks exactly to what you're looking for: David F. Hawke's Everyday Life in Early America. (This is part of the indispensable Everyday Life in America series that also includes The Reshaping of Everyday Life: 1790-1840 and Victorian America: 1876-1915.)
posted by cirripede at 9:37 AM on March 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

Well, if you didn't read it in highschool you can always subject yourself to Hawthorne. I think it fits the parameters of your query.
posted by jeffamaphone at 9:42 AM on March 10, 2010

Sorry these are nonfiction too, but so full of gritty wonderful daily detail: Our Own Snug Fireside and At Home.
posted by Miko at 9:43 AM on March 10, 2010

Only part of it takes place during that time period, but I really enjoyed City of Dreams: A Novel of Nieuw Amsterdam and Early Manhattan.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 9:44 AM on March 10, 2010

Mason & Dixon. It is the best book written in the last quarter century.
posted by Damn That Television at 9:44 AM on March 10, 2010

The Lobster Coast (nonfic, but really entertaining, and a lot of the day to day life stuff you're after).
posted by at 9:44 AM on March 10, 2010

These books about New York (in which I am particularly interested) might be relevant (haven't read them, but that time period sounds interesting, so I did some searching):

City of Dreams: A Novel of Nieuw Amsterdam and Early Manhattan
"The tapestry of early American society is hung out for a fresh viewing in this ambitious historical novel of 1660s New Amsterdam."

The Mevrouw Who Saved Manhattan
"The story covers the period between 1624 to 1664 when Peter Stuyvesant ceded [Manhattan] to England in the Articles of Transfer. The characters are rowdy, raunchy, loveable, and sometimes despicable, but thoroughly believable … This is a thoroughly delightful story that brings the Dutch colonies to life."

The Island at the Center of the World
"As the song goes, "Even Old New York was once New Amsterdam." Unfortunately, for many Americans, that is the limit of their knowledge about the Dutch colony that was seized by the English in 1664. Shorto, author of two previous books and articles published in the New Yorker and the New York Times Magazine, presents an outstanding and revealing chronicle of the Dutch presence on Manhattan Island."
posted by ocherdraco at 9:45 AM on March 10, 2010

Although, wait -- 17th century or 1700s? Because M&D takes place in the 1760s, if I recall, and 17th century would be 1800s, right? So my bad (read it anyway)
posted by Damn That Television at 9:45 AM on March 10, 2010

Darn non-preview.
posted by ocherdraco at 9:45 AM on March 10, 2010

DTT: 17th Century = 1600s
posted by ocherdraco at 9:46 AM on March 10, 2010

Ooh! Also, if you're willing to watch a movie instead, check out PBS' Colonial House, which gets down to daily life during the colonial period like nothing else. Preeetty sure it should be available via netflix.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 9:49 AM on March 10, 2010

I recommend The Sot Weed Factor by John Barth. The reviews on Amazon provide a pretty accurate description of the book.
posted by abirae at 9:52 AM on March 10, 2010

I think A Breath of Snow and Ashes, written by Diana Gabaldon, is about that time period. My wife loves that series.
posted by Rad_Boy at 10:02 AM on March 10, 2010

Not 16th century, but I doubt much was different in rural Maine in the mid-17th:

A Midwife's Tale: which is the life of midwife Martha Ballard, based on her diary.
posted by anastasiav at 10:18 AM on March 10, 2010

Also slightly past your time period (seminal event happens in 1704), and narrative nonfiction, but a good read: The Unredeemed Captive: a family story from early America, by John Demos.
posted by yarrow at 10:23 AM on March 10, 2010

I'll second Black Robe. Brian Moore is such an amazing author.
posted by fso at 10:28 AM on March 10, 2010

Re A Breath of Snow and Ashes - I think Diana Gabaldon's books (beginning with Outlander) are excellent, but they are a bit later than you are looking for - beginning in the mid-1700s with the events leading up to "Bonnie Prince Charlie" and Culloden in Scotland, and now in the late-1700s with the events leading up to the American Revolution.
posted by purlgurly at 10:31 AM on March 10, 2010

Mason and Dixon is really 18th century, though it's very good. But I'll second "Sot-Weed", it's the right period, and a fantastic book.
posted by Red Loop at 10:42 AM on March 10, 2010

Seconding Island at the Center of the World. Nonfiction but reads like a novel, with the added bonus of introducing the most important guy in American history whom nobody's ever heard of. Poor guy doesn't even have a street named after him, but he arguably brought the Dutch/ European Enlightenment to America pretty much singlehandedly.
posted by Quietgal at 11:21 AM on March 10, 2010

A bit later than the time period you're looking for, but still worth mentioning is the Leatherstocking Tales, including The Last of the Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper.
posted by questionsandanchors at 11:22 AM on March 10, 2010

"The Kentuckians" and "Hannah Fowler" by Janice Holt Giles, set later than your request, but fascinating nonetheless in details of day-to-day life.
posted by Allee Katze at 11:23 AM on March 10, 2010

DTT: 17th Century = 1600s
posted by ocherdraco at 12:46 PM on March 10

I am so embarrassingly bad with dates. Thank you.

In that case, let me also recommend the Sot Weed Factor.
posted by Damn That Television at 11:27 AM on March 10, 2010

Aw, I'm the first to mention The Witch of Blackbird Pond? Okay, so I still read children's books..

If you like real period detail, honestly , try Robinson Crusoe (though it's a bit past your dates if I recall). It's the ultimate food/shelter/clothing period geek out.
posted by Erasmouse at 12:16 PM on March 10, 2010

...check out PBS' Colonial House

Yes. A great series.

Be sure to check out the books sold at Plimouth Plantation.

You might enjoy William Martin's historical novels, especially 'Cape Cod' -- a story which spans the centuries (17th. to the 20th.).
posted by ericb at 2:32 PM on March 10, 2010

Nonfiction of possible interest: "Everyday Life in Early America" by David Freeman Hawke.
posted by SuzB at 2:40 PM on March 10, 2010

Novels about Colonial America and the Revolutionary War [PDF].

Non-fiction: The Americans: The Colonial Experience by Daniel J. Boorstin.
posted by ericb at 2:45 PM on March 10, 2010

Milton in America by Peter Ackroyd. More than a bit flawed but worth a read.
posted by Abiezer at 5:35 PM on March 10, 2010

When Toni Morrison was on her tour promoting A Mercy, she was talking up a non-fiction work on indentured servitude called White Cargo.

Oh, and nth-ing Island at the Center of the World.
posted by AsYouKnow Bob at 5:59 PM on March 10, 2010

Response by poster: Thank you, all! I just finished reading Everyday Life in Early America, though I'll likely read a bunch of these others, also!
posted by Greg Nog at 5:48 AM on March 31, 2010

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