Date of Award
Campus Access Thesis
Master of Arts (MA)
Stephen A. Mrozowski
Mary C. Beaudry
Mayflower passenger Edward Winslow is long known to have been the highest-ranking of the Pilgrims. I seek to contextualize the Winslow family by examining the gentry of England and New England in the 17th century. Bourdieu's model of cultural capital provides a useful framework for examining social mobility from yeoman to gentry status.
The Winslows were one of many parvenu families of the late 16th century. The role attributes of the English lesser gentry shifted as a result of social change in the early modern period. These interlinked attributes include lineage and honor, officeholding and education, hospitality, housing, personal appearance and deportment. Following the acquisition of financial wealth, parvenu merchants and yeomen needed to acquire cultural and social capital to become gentry.
When English colonists emigrated to New England, those attributes translated to the colony and evolved over the century. A major difference between England and New England was the abundance of land, which allowed freehold for most colonists, thereby eliminating landlord/tenant relationship, typical of the English gentry. The leaders of the New England colonies were from lesser gentry families. They filled the higher colonial offices, as well as providing a model for wealthy merchants and yeomen aspiring to gentry status. Education and officeholding led to the acquisition of social and cultural capital. Hospitality, ambitious housing and status possessions were material manifestations of cultural capital.
The Winslow family gradually acquired social and cultural capital, beginning in the 16th century Worcester. While Edward described himself as a yeoman shortly after immigration to America, clues like his large land holdings and high offices (he served as governor three times) indicate his status. Edward's son Josiah cemented the family's newly acquired status through education, an advantageous marriage to Penelope Pelham, and officeholding. In 1673 Josiah became the first native-born governor in New England, thereby forming the beginning of a hereditary gentry.
The Winslows manifested cultural capital through symbols of office like halberds, symbols of education such as books, and symbols of wealth including silver and portraits. Using a combination of documents and archaeology, the household of Josiah and Penelope Winslow can be reconstructed. Their two-story, double-pile house was ambitious in size as well as style, with its two-story entrance porch. The house served as a setting for their material possessions as well as a venue for official hospitality.
Although Josiah Winslow died in 1680, shortly before Plymouth Colony was annexed to Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1692, the Winslows had sufficient cultural and social capital to maintain their gentry status for several generations.
Goldstein, Karin J., "The Creation of a New England Gentry: The Winslows of Plymouth Colony" (2001). Graduate Masters Theses. 347.