Best books on colonial American history?
June 11, 2015 9:12 AM   Subscribe

I was recently looking at my family tree and curious about the lives of my ancestors, many of whom emigrated to Massachusetts/Rhode Island/New York from England in the early 1600s. Especially interested in books about Rhode Island and particularly anything about Roger Williams or Stephen Hopkins, who are great-great-etc grandfathers of mine (but also interested in just learning about everyday life for colonists, and what the transition was like moving from England). Assume I know little beyond the basics of American history.
posted by three_red_balloons to Society & Culture (8 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Mayflower is a good start, really gives you a feel for what the atmosphere was like when the first English people came to settle in Plymouth.
posted by Melismata at 9:28 AM on June 11, 2015 [1 favorite]

The Wordy Shipmates is an idiosyncratic, fun (but not, like, silly) look at the early days of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, and spends some time on folks who went to Rhode Island and why they went there, but not much on what they actually did once they got there. It's a quick read, though, and pretty informative.
posted by mskyle at 9:48 AM on June 11, 2015

Seconding Mayflower.
posted by shallowcenter at 9:52 AM on June 11, 2015

If you're interested in reading primary sources, I'd suggest these:

The Sovereignty and Goodness of God by Mary Rowlandson
Early American Writings
The Literatures of Colonial America
posted by lakemarie at 10:09 AM on June 11, 2015 [1 favorite]

In the late 19th, very early 20th centuries, Alice Earle Morse did a huge amount of primary research on the domestic history of the American colonies. She wrote many books on customs, childrearing, religion, education, work, and folkways. I'm not sure how PC she is in academia, but she researched her subjects in depth.

Alan Taylor's American Colonies, the Settling of North America is an interesting and important read as is Carl Bridenbaugh's 1955 Cities in Revolt, Urban Life in America 1743-1776. His other colonial books, perhaps dated, are still excellent reads.
posted by Elsie at 10:29 AM on June 11, 2015

Everyday Life in Early America by David Freeman Hawke, does what it says on the tin.

Also: Coming to America: A History of Immigration and Ethnicity in American Life by Roger Daniels, which details why people came, what sorts of economic and social situations they were leaving behind, and so on. Very interesting back-drop information, much of which was a revelation to me.
posted by jquinby at 11:08 AM on June 11, 2015 [4 favorites]

Seconding Alan Taylor's American Colonies; it's the single most illuminating thing I've read about colonial history. Anything by Gary Nash is also good.
posted by languagehat at 11:10 AM on June 11, 2015

The Barbarous Years: The Peopling of British North America--The Conflict of Civilizations, 1600-1675 is very readable and gets into a lot of local conflicts in different places (New York, Virginia, etc.).

Plymouth Colony: Its History & People, 1620-1691 is also good. When it was written in the 1980s, it was one of the first books to say hey, the lives of the natives at the time were complex and interesting too.
posted by Melismata at 11:28 AM on June 11, 2015 [1 favorite]

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