Colonial Society on the Eve of Revolution.docx

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American Studies
AMH 2020
Jeffrey Adler

Colonial Society on the Eve of Revolution 1. Conquest by the Cradle 1. In 1775, there were 32 British colonies in North America. 1. Only 13 of these colonies revolted in the “American Revolution.” 2. Canada and Jamaica were wealthier than the “original 13.” 3. All of the colonies were growing like weeds. 2. In 1775, there were 2.5 million people in the 13 colonies. 3. Their average age was about 16 (due mainly to having several children). 4. The vast majority (95%) of the Americans were crammed east of the Allegheny Mountains. By 1775, a few had settled in Tennessee and Kentucky. 5. 90% of the Americans lived in rural areas and were therefore mostly farmers. 2. A Mingling of the Races 1. Colonial America was mostly English by origin, but other ethnicities were also present. 2. Germans made up 6% of the population (150,000 in number by 1775). 1. The Germans were mostly Protestant (usually Lutheran). 2. They were called “Pennsylvania Dutch”…a perversion of “Deutsch” or “German.” 3. Scots-Irish made up 7% of the population (175,000 in number). 1. Back across the ocean, these strong-willed folks had been transplanted into Northern Ireland. But, they banged heads with the Catholic Irish there and never felt at home. So, they emigrated to America. 2. They typically moved inland in America up to the Appalachian foothills. They squatted on the land and bickered with Indians and whites over ownership. 3. The “Paxton Boys” led a march/revolt in 1764. Like Nathaniel Bacon of 100 years prior, they were frustrated over not being able to get land. 4. The Scots-Irish were a hot-headed, but hardy people. 5. When the War for Independence began, many became revolutionaries. 4. 5% were from various European ethnicities: French Huguenots, Welsh, Dutch, Swedes, Jews, Irish, the Swiss, or Scots-Highlanders. 1. Even early on, the Americans were taking on a mosaic of races and ethnicities. Therefore, other nations had a hard time pinning down exactly what it meant to be “an American.” 3. The Structure of the Colonial Society 1. Unlike Europe, where the classes were locked, America was a land of opportunity. 1. Hard work might see anyone rise from “rags to riches.” 2. Despite opportunity in America, class differences did emerge with wealthy planter-farmers, clergymen, government officials, and merchants wielding most of the authority. 2. Wars brought more riches to merchants. 1. As well as creating riches, these wars created widows and orphans who eventually turned to charity for support. 3. In the South, a firm social pyramid emerged containing… 1. The immensely rich plantation owners (“planters”) had many slaves (though these were few). 2. “Yeoman” farmers, or small farmers, owned their land and, maybe, a few slaves. 3. Landless whites who owned no land and either worked for a landowner or rented land to farm. 4. Indentured servants of America were the paupers and the criminals sent to the New World. Some of them were actually unfortunate victims of Britain‟s unfair laws and did become respectable citizens. This group was dwindling though by the 1700s, thanks to Bacon‟s Rebellion and the move away from indentured servant labor and toward slavery. 5. Black slaves were at the bottom of the social ladder with no rights or hopes up moving up or even gaining freedom. Slavery became a divisive issue because some colonies didn‟t want slaves while others needed them, and therefore vetoed any bill banning the importation of slaves. 4. Clerics, Physicians, and Jurists 1. The clergy (or priests) were the most respected group in colonial days. They had less power in 1775 than in earlier days, but still held high esteem. 2. Physicians (or doctors) were usually not looked upon with much respect. Many were little more than “witch-doctors” as the science of the day was little or nothing. 1. A favorite treatment was bleeding—thought to let out the “bad blood.” 2. Plagues were common and deadly. 1. Smallpox struck 1 in 5 people (including George Washington) even though a basic inoculation had been formed in 1721. 2. The clergy and doctors sometimes chose to not intervene with smallpox treatment—to do so would be to intervene in God‟s will. 3. Lawyers were looked upon with scorn—as being hucksters or scoundrels. 1. Criminals often would represent themselves in court rather than get a lawyer. 2. As the revolution neared, the usefulness of lawyers to get things done started to become apparent. 5. Workaday America This content copyright © 2010 by 1. Agriculture was the dominant industry, by far, in colonial America. 1. In the Chesapeake of Maryland and Virginia, tobacco was the staple. 2. In the Middle Colonies (“bread colonies”), wheat was the staple. New York exported 80,000 barrels of flour annually. 2. Fishing (and whaling) was prosperous, especially in New England. The Grand Banks off Newfoundland had immense numbers of cod. 3. Trade began to flourish. 1. Yankee merchants were active and known as hard dealers. 2. The “Triangular Trade” was in operation. In it, a ship would depart (1) New England with rum and go to the (2) west coast of Africa and trade the rum for African slaves. Then, it would go to (3) the West Indies and exchange the slaves for molasses (for rum), which it‟d sell to New England once it returned there. 4. Manufacturing was not as important. There were a wide variety of small enterprises though. 1. Good laborers were hard to find and prized once they were found. 2. Lumbering was probably the top manufacturing industry. 3. Naval stores, (or turpentine, pine tar, and pitch) were used to build and repair the British navy. The British crown sometimes reserved the best American trees to be used as British masts— even though there were countless other trees, this bothered the Americans. 5. The Molasses Act, 1733, a tax on West Indies molasses was a shock to Americans. This would‟ve undercut the prosperity of the Triangular Trade (rum being made from molasses). 1. Americans turned to bribes smuggling to work around the act. So, the Molasses Act wasn‟t a big problem after all. 6. However, it did foreshadow more taxes and more troubles to come, later in the 1760s. 6. Horsepower and Sailpower 1. Roads were scarce and pitifully poor. Until the 1700s, they didn‟t even connect major cities. Thus, travel was sluggish. 1. Roads were dust bowls in the summer and mud bogs in the winter. 2. For example, it took Ben Franklin 9 days to go from Boston to Philadelphia while traveling by sailboat, rowboat, and foot. 2. Travel by water, either along the coast or via rivers, was common and useful. 3. Taverns sprang up along roadways and any intersections. They served multiple uses: inns for a night‟s sleep, places to hear news/gossip from out-of-town, and a place to get a refreshing beverage, of course. 4. A crude mail system emerged. The mail traveled slowly, and sometimes was read by bored or curious letter carriers. 7. Dominant Denominations 1. In 1775, there were 2 “established churches” or churches that received tax money: the Anglican and the Congregational. Surprisingly, a large portion of Americans didn‟t worship in a church, however. 2. The Anglican Church (the Church of England) became the official faith in Georgia, the Carolinas, Virginia, Maryland, and part of New York. 1. The Anglican brand of religion was more worldly than Puritanical New England. 2. Sermons were shorter and hellfire was less hot. 3. The College of William and Mary was founded to train clergy in 1693. 4. Anglicans did not have an American bishop to ordain the American clergymen. T
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