Divided We Stand

Getting back to our Roger Thompson book club, the next title on my shelf is Divided We Stand, Watertown, Massachusetts, 1630-1680.[1] Here Thompson presents a holistic view of what it was like living in Watertown by studying five areas – I. New World from Old (The Lie of the Land, The Peopling of Early Watertown, 1630–1640, and The View from the Stour), II. Foundations (Government, Land, and religion), III. Economy (Living with Livestock, and Livelihood: The Town’s Economy), IV. Care in the Community (Welfare, The Rising Generation, The Family), and V. Reinforcing Consensus (Invisible Indians, “Foreigners” and Community); followed by a conclusion, “Continuity and Change, Decline and Discord.”

We genealogists, perversely, will first want to read the two appendices. The first is “Case Studies” – although we may not want to find that we are related to “John Sawin Jr.: Horse Thief (1667).” There are only ten case studies in the appendix, but the one for “Susannah Woodward, 1671,” is a great example of their value in compiling sketches for Early New England Families. Susannah was a daughter of George Woodward, but traditional genealogical accounts omit or ignore Susannah’s full story, stating only that she died unmarried at about age 25. What they leave out is that she had an illegitimate child when she was twenty, a child she claimed was the son of Thomas Hastings, Jr. The claim was contested and a flurry of subsequent court sessions dealt with the accusation and with the ultimate “disposal” of the child – who was named Thomas Hastings – all of which is nicely laid out in the case study here. I doubt I would have found this on my own, since I would not have known I should have been looking for it.

The second appendix, “Lists of Residents,” is split into seven sections: Long-Term, First Generation; Short-Term, First Generation; “Perchers,” First Generation; Latecomers, First Generation; Incomers, Second Generation; Long-Term, Second Generation; and Officeholders, 1630–1680. Only names are included in the book appendix; “complete versions” of the lists, with “details of vital records, callings, estates, origins, movements, offices, kin, miscellaneous data, and sources,” are “obtainable from the author on request.” I will have to find out if that offer still applies sixteen years after publication, as I definitely would like to see those lists.

The larger historical thesis of the book is esoteric and subject to individual interpretation, but for those of us with ancestors who lived in Watertown between 1630 and 1680, Divided We Stand is a very good tool for understanding what their lives were like.


[1] Published by University of Massachusetts Press, Amherst, 2001.

About Alicia Crane Williams

Alicia Crane Williams, FASG, Lead Genealogist of Early Families of New England Study Project, has compiled and edited numerous important genealogical publications including The Mayflower Descendant and the Alden Family “Silver Book” Five Generations project of the Mayflower Society. Most recently, she is the author of the 2017 edition of The Babson Genealogy, 1606-2017, Descendants of Thomas and Isabel Babson who first arrived in Salem, Massachusetts, in 1637. Alicia has served as Historian of the Massachusetts Society of Mayflower Descendants, Assistant Historian General at the General Society of Mayflower Descendants, and as Genealogist of the Alden Kindred of America. She earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Connecticut and a master’s degree in History from Northeastern University.

11 thoughts on “Divided We Stand

  1. Where could I find a copy of this book? I’m working on an ancestor, John Whitmore, who probably was a Watertown resident in 1635. I googled the title and find numerous books of the same name, but not this.

    1. Linda, I bought a new copy in paperback on amazon and I just checked. Still available. I find it very helpful to learn more about my early ancestors who settled there…some of whom came with the Winthrop Fleet in 1630. And aren’t Alicia’s book reviews just the best!

  2. Alicia –
    Back when Divided We Stand first came out, Roger Thompson spoke on the topic at the Watertown Free Public Library while he was in Massachusetts for a summer of research. At that time, due to our request, he brought the lists of names with him – actual hand lettered paper lists – for us to copy.
    I made photocopies of them on a public copier in sections (as European paper sizes are different from standard US sizes) and glued them together into 22 sheets approx. 11 1/2″ x 16 1/2″. I believe the Public Library has a copy of them as in the link below although only one of the lists is itemized there:


    But interested parties should inquire first as there is a reference librarian on duty in the HIstory Rolom during only certain hours.

    I also made a set for myself so if the NEHGS would like a copy from my copy (assuming Prof. Thompson doesn’t mind) I’d be glad to bring them in to Newbury St. so this could be done allowing other members to consult them there (thus eliminating a trans-Atlantic voyage)..

    1. Marilynne, yes, fantastic. NEHGS should definitely have them in the collection. You should mark them for Tim Salls in manuscripts and say I told you to!

  3. The topic of this post–Watertown–immediately caught my eye, as I have a direct ancestor in early Watertown: John Sawin, Sr., father of the horse thief.

  4. Great post. My wife is a descendant of the Woodwards. Fun to know about the episode concerning Susannah, makes it so more interesting.

  5. I think Divided We Stand is the only one of Roger Thompson’s books I don’t have. That will change, but I’ve forbidden myself to order any more books until I’ve finished reading the stack of various ‘background’ books I have sitting in front of me (and finding another bookcase to house them). Even those that do not treat my families or the specific places they lived are useful to me in understanding the dynamics of the lives they lived in New England and the forces that pushed them to other places. I have a similar collection for each of the places I’ve found my ancestors so far.

    One gem I discovered just last week among the newly digitized resources at NEHGS was a transcript of a small book of court cases from the Windsor, CT area: “Records of the Particular Court of the Colony of Connecticut. Administration of Sir Edmond Andros, Royal Governor, 1687-1688”. None of my direct ancestors mentioned, though I did recognize some family names among the court officers. A simple listing of court cases seen by the Windsor Court during this period, with brief but detailed descriptions of each case as it came up (some of them repeatedly), it gave me some insights into the life of the communities in the towns associated with the court at that time, and of the values as expressed in how cases were treated. Both criminal and civil cases were included, giving a broad view of interactions in the community.

    I could write several stories based on what I learned from those 40 some odd pages. One of severl I can’t get out of my head is the case of one Anthony Hoskins, who was brought before the court on the criminal charge of “damnifying the highway down to the little meadows by Windsor.” Mr. Hoskins was repeatedly returned to court in efforts to get him to comply with the court orders. The case had not resolved by the end of the book, and I presume was taken up in a later record book.

    I am looking forward to visiting NEHGS and possibly holding the original in my hands.

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