Inheritance and Family Life in Colonial New York City

Inheritance and Family Life in Colonial New York City

David E. Narrett
  • Winner of the 1992 Hendricks Manuscript Award given by the New Netherlands Project

This book breaks new ground by offering the first detailed and systematic analysis of inheritance practices in New York City from the beginning of Dutch settlement in the 1620s to the onset of the American Revolution. By analyzing a broad range of original sources—including more than 2,300 wills—David E. Narrett shows how the transmission of property at death reflected the distribution of power and authority within the family.

The author makes an especially important contribution to early New York history by explaining the Dutch origins of social and family customs, and by tracing the persistence of Dutch ways following the English conquest of New Netherland in 1664. He demonstrates that seventeenth-century Dutch law was particularly favorable to women since it sanctioned community property within marriage, the drafting of mutual wills by spouses, and the equal (or nearly equal) division of property among all children.

While the book maintains its comparative focus on the Dutch and English traditions, it also includes material on other ethnic groups (for example, French Huguenots and Jews) living in a pluralistic society. Narrett utilizes both Dutch and English language sources to examine such pertinent topics as the relationship between law and social custom, primogeniture, kinship and communal ties, charitable bequests, the manumission of slaves, and the literacy level of testators.

Written in a clear and precise manner, the book includes many tables that will give readers immediate access to supporting data, and a conclusion establishes the relationship of Narrett's findings to relevant scholarship. A valuable addition to the literature on inheritance, this is a book whose conclusions and data will be mined by colonialists, legal historians, and historians of women and the family.