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
4. The vast majority (95%) of the Americans were crammed east of the
Allegheny Mountains. By 1775, a few had settled in Tennessee and
5. 90% of the Americans lived in rural areas and were therefore mostly
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
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
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
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
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
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
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 WikiNotes.wikidot.com
1. Agriculture was the dominant industry, by far, in colonial America.
1. In the Chesapeake of Maryland and Virginia, tobacco was the
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
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
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
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
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,
2. The Anglican Church (the Church of England) became the official
faith in Georgia, the Carolinas, Virginia, Maryland, and part of New
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
4. Anglicans did not have an American bishop to ordain the
American clergymen. T