Date of Award

Spring 2010

Project Type


Program or Major


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

First Advisor

W Jeffrey Bolster


This dissertation uses the extraordinary conflict that roiled one rural town in central Massachusetts during the second quarter of the nineteenth century as a lens through which to observe communal relationships in transition. Using the Amish as a model, the dissertation identifies traditional communal social organization as agrarian, patriarchal, communal, homogeneous, localistic, and consensual -- as well as closed, conformist, and suspicious of difference and innovation. The dissertation argues that conflict arose in Boylston during the 1820s and '30s as these traditional relationships gradually gave way to more modern ways of belonging, associating, and envisioning one's place in the wider world. Boylston by 1850, though still a farming town, was significantly more pluralistic, partisan, and cosmopolitan. Belonging had become a function of one's chosen identity.

The process of transition -- a temporal borderland -- was uneven -- contested and negotiated -- engendering struggles between townsmen, among neighbors, within families, and in the hearts of individuals. Ultimately, it is a story of the ways in which one family, and the community in which it lived, experienced the "coming of modernity.".