Farmers and Fishermen

Two Centuries of Work in Essex County, Massachusetts, 1630-1850

By Daniel Vickers

Farmers and Fishermen

372 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 9 illus

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-0-8078-4458-8
    Published: November 1994

Published by the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture and the University of North Carolina Press

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Published by the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture and the University of North Carolina Press

Awards & distinctions

1995 John H. Dunning Prize, American Historical Association

1994-95 Louis Gottschalk Prize, American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies

Honorable Mention, 1994 Wallace K. Ferguson Prize, Canadian Historical Association

Daniel Vickers examines the shifting labor strategies used by colonists as New England evolved from a string of frontier settlements to a mature society on the brink of industrialization. Lacking a means to purchase slaves or hire help, seventeenth-century settlers adapted the labor systems of Europe to cope with the shortages of capital and workers they encountered on the edge of the wilderness. As their world developed, changes in labor arrangements paved the way for the economic transformations of the nineteenth century. By reconstructing the work experiences of thousands of farmers and fishermen in eastern Massachusetts, Vickers identifies who worked for whom and under what terms. Seventeenth-century farmers, for example, maintained patriarchal control over their sons largely to assure themselves of a labor force. The first generation of fish merchants relied on a system of clientage that bound poor fishermen to deliver their hauls in exchange for goods. Toward the end of the colonial period, land scarcity forced farmers and fishermen to search for ways to support themselves through wage employment and home manufacture. Out of these adjustments, says Vickers, emerged a labor market sufficient for industrialization.

About the Author

Daniel Vickers is currently Chair of the Maritime Studies Research Unit at Memorial University of Newfoundland.
For more information about Daniel Vickers, visit the Author Page.


"Making effective use of narrative and statistical evidence, Vickers skillfully traces the evolution of farming and fishing in Essex County, Massachusetts, from 1630 to 1850. . . . A first-rate work."--Choice

"An incisive study of changing dynamics in the social relations of colonial New Englanders."--New England Quarterly

"A splendid book. . . . A superior work of historical scholarship."--William and Mary Quarterly

"One of the best works yet written on early American economy and society. Its intelligence and sophistication is matched by its clarity and accessibility. . . . It deserves to be read by all historians of early America, and it sets a very high standard for future studies of this kind to match."--Reviews in American History

"Vickers's depiction of the working life of farmers and fishermen makes this book an especially valuable contribution to labor history, providing an excellent analysis of the experience of common people in an era of capitalist transformation."--Journal of Interdisciplinary History

"Provides insight into the working relationships of individuals, as well as to the broader pattern of transformation of labor into capitalism. This well-written book is an important contribution to the new labor history of America."--Journal of the Early Republic