, . " "

Current R., Williams T. H., Freidel F., Brinkley A. American History: a survey. 7th edition; New York, 1987.


Chapter 3. Life in Provincial America

As the extent of settlement in North America grew and as the economies of the colonies began to flourish, several distinctive ways of life emerged. The new American societies differed considerably from the society they had all attempted, to one degree or another, to re-create in the New World: the society of England. They differed as well from one another.

There were three obvious reasons for the divergence between the culture of the colonies and that of the homeland. First, English society had not been transplanted whole to the New World; American settlers tended to be drawn from particular, and not entirely typical, segments of English society: the discontented, the adventurous, the visionary. Second, the immigrants found in the New World an environment so differentboth physically and socially from the one they had left that many elements of English society were never to take root in America. Third, some of the early colonistsand many more as time went onwere not English at all. Beginning with the Dutch settlements in New York, the area that would become the United States became a magnet for immigrants from many lands: Scotland, Ireland, the European continent. And beginning with the first importation of slaves into Virginia, English North America became the destination for thousands of forcibly transplanted Africans. English culture continued to predominate, but American society took its eventual shape from a wide range of influences.

Just as the colonies were becoming increasingly different from England, so were they different from one another. Not until the mid-eighteenth century did the colonists begin to call themselves "Americans"and for good reason, because the pattern of society in some areas of North America seemed to resemble that of others scarcely at all. The civilization of Puritan New England differed markedly from that of the mid-Atlantic colonies; it differed even more from the plantation economies of the South. And although Americans would ultimately discover that they had enough in common to join together to form a single nation, these regional differences continued to affect their society well beyond the colonial period.

The Colonial Population

It was many years after the beginning of European colonization before the European settlers in North America came to outnumber the native population they found there. But after the uncertain beginnings at Jamestown and Plymouth, the European population grew rapidly and substantiallythrough continued immigration and through natural increaseuntil by the late seventeenth century, whites and their black servants became the dominant population group alone the Atlantic coast.

The Early Population

A few of the early settlers were members of the English upper classes: usually the younger sons of the lesser gentry, men who stood to inherit no land at home and aspired to establish estates for themselves in America. For the most part, however, the early colonial population was decidedly unaristocratic. It included some members of the emerging English middle classbusinessmen who migrated to America for religious or commercial reasons or (like John Winthrop) both. But the dominant element was free English laborers. Some came to the New World independently. The religious dissenters who formed the bulk of the population of early New England, for example, were mostly men and women of modest means who arranged their own passage, brought their families with them, and established themselves from the start on their own land.

Othersespecially in the Southern and later in the mid-Atlantic coloniescame as indentured servants. At least three-fourths of the immigrants to the Chesapeake in the seventeenth century arrived in that capacity. The system of temporary servitude in the New World developed out of existing practices in England. Young men and women bound themselves to a master for a fixed term of servitude (usually four to five years). In return they received passage to America, food, and shelter. Upon completion of their terms of service, male indentures (the vast majority) could expect to receive such benefits as clothing, tools, and occasionally land; in reality, however, many left service without anything approaching adequate preparation or resources to begin earning a living on their own. There was also a substantial minority of women indentures; most worked as domestic servants and were expected to marry when their terms of servitude expired.

Most indentured servants came to the colonies voluntarily, but some did not. Beginning as early as 1617, the English government occasionally dumped shiploads of convicts in America to be sold into servitude, although some criminals, according to Captain John Smith, "did chuse to be hanged ere they would go thither, and were." The government also transported prisoners taken in battles with the Scots and the Irish in the 1650s, as well as other groups deemed undesirable: orphans, vagrants, paupers, and those who were "lewd and dangerous." Still other involuntary immigrants were neither dangerous nor indigent but simply victims of kidnapping, or "impressment."

It was not difficult to understand why the system of indentured servitude proved so appealing to those in a position to employ servants in colonial America. It provided a means of coping with the severe labor shortage in the wilderness; and in the Chesapeake country the headright system (by which masters received additional land grants for every servant they imported) offered another incentive. For the servants themselves, the attractions were not always so clear. Those who came voluntarily often did so to escape troubles in England; others came in the hope of establishing themselves on land or in trades of their own when their terms of service expired. Yet the reality often differed sharply from the hope.

By the late seventeenth century, when indentured servants had become one of the largest elements of the population, serious problems were beginning to develop. Some former indentures managed to establish themselves quite successfully as farmers, tradespeople, or artisans. Others, however, found themselves without land, without employment, without families, and without prospects; and there grew up in some areas a large floating population of young single mensuch as those who formed the backbone of Bacon's Rebellionwho traveled restlessly from place to place in search of work or land. These "herds of roving bachelors," as they have been called, became a particular source of social turbulence in the Chesapeake; but other regions had similar problems at times.

Even those free laborers who found employment or land for themselves and settled down with families often did not stay put for very long. The phenomenon of families simply pulling up stakes and moving to another, more promising location every several years was one of the most prominent characteristics of the colonial population.

Indentured servitude remained an important source of population well into the eighteenth century; but beginning in the 1670s, the flow began to decline substantially. A decrease in the English birth rate and an improvement in economic conditions there reduced the pressures on many English men and women who might otherwise have considered emigrating. After 1700, those who did travel to America as indentured servants generally avoided the Southern colonies, where working conditions were arduous and prospects for advancement slim, and settled in the mid-Atlantic coloniesespecially Pennsylvania and New Yorkwhere they could anticipate better opportunities. That was one reason for the increasing centrality of black slavery in the Southern agricultural economy.

Birth and Death

At first, new arrivals in most colonieswhatever their background or statuscould anticipate great hardship: inadequate food, frequent epidemics, and in an appallingly large number of casesearly death. Gradually, however, conditions of settlement improved enough to allow the population to begin to expand. By the end of the seventeenth century, the European population in the English colonies of North America had grown to over a quarter of a million.

Although immigration remained for a time the greatest source of population increase, the most important long-range factor in the growth of the colonial population was its ability to reproduce itself. Marked improvement began in New England and the mid-Atlantic colonies in the second half of the seventeenth century, and after the 1650s natural increase became the most important source of population growth there. The New England population more than quadrupled through reproduction alone in the second half of the seventeenth century. This dramatic performance was less a result of unusual fertility (families in England and in the other colonies were probably equally fertile) than of extraordinary longevity. Indeed, the life spans of the early New En-glanders were nearly equal to those of people in the twentieth century. In the first generation of American-born colonists, according to one study, men who survived infancy lived to an average age of seventy-one, and women to seventy. The next generation's life expectancy declined somewhatto sixty-five for men who survived infancybut remained at least ten years higher than in England and approximately twenty years higher than in the American South. Scholars disagree on the reasons for this remarkable longevity, but some of the factors that undoubtedly contributed to it include the cool climate and the relatively disease-free environment it produced, clean water (a stark contrast to England in these years), and the absence of large population centers that might breed epidemics.

Conditions improved much more slowly in the South. The mortality rates in the Chesapeake region did not begin to match those in the North until nearly a hundred years later. Throughout the seventeenth century, the average life expectancy for men in the region was just over forty years, and for women slightly less. Fully half of all children died before the age of twenty; those who survived often lost one or both of their parents before reaching maturity. The continuing ravages of disease (particularly malaria) and the prevalence of salt-contaminated water kept the death rate high in the South; only after the settlers developed immunity to the local diseases (a slow process known as "seasoning") did life expectancy greatly increase. Population growth was substantial in the region, but largely as a result of immigration.

Whenever they occurred, natural increases in the population were in large part a result of a steady improvement in the sex ratio through the seventeenth century. In the early years of settlement, more than three quarters of the white population of the Chesapeake consisted of men. And even in New England, which from the beginning had attracted more families (and thus more women) than the Southern

colonies, 60 percent of the inhabitants were male in 1650. Gradually, however, more women began to arrive in the colonies. Not until well into the eighteenth century did the ratio begin to match that in England (where women were a majority); but by the late seventeenth century, the proportion of males to females in all the colonies was becoming more balanced.

Women and Families

The importance of reproduction in the labor-scarce society of colonial America had significant effects on both the status and the life cycles of women. The high ratio of men to women meant that few women remained unmarried for long. The average European woman in America married for the first time at twenty or twenty-one years of age, considerably earlier than in England; in some areas of the Chesapeake, the average bride was three to four years younger. Widows generally remarried quickly.

In the Chesapeake, the most important factor in shaping the structure of families and the role of women remained, until at least the mid-eighteenth century, the extraordinarily high mortality rate. Under those circumstances, the traditional patriarchal family structure of Englandby which husbands and fathers exercised firm, even dictatorial control over the lives of their wives and childrenwas difficult to maintain. Because so few families remained intact for long, rigid patterns of familial authority were constantly undermined. Sexual mores were also more flexible than in England or other parts of America. Premarital sexual relationships were frequent, and over a third of Chesapeake marriages occurred with the bride already pregnant.

Women in the Chesapeake could anticipate a life consumed with childbearing. The average wife experienced pregnancies every two years. Those who lived long enough bore an average of eight children apiece (up to five of whom typically died in infancy or early childhood); childbirth was one of the most frequent causes of female death. Few women survived to see all their children grow to maturity.

In New England, where many more immigrants arrived as part of a nuclear family and where death rates declined far more quickly, family structure was more stable and more traditional. Because the ratio of men to women was less unbalanced, most men could expect to marry. But women remained in the minority; and as in the Chesapeake, they married young, began producing children early, and continued to do so well into their thirties. Unlike in the South, however, their children were more likely to survive (the average family raised six to eight children to maturity); and their families were more likely to remain intact. Patriarchal customs prevailed, and women were less seldom cast in roles independent of their husbands.

Women may have been subordinate to their husbands, but they were at least as important to the New England agricultural economy as the men. Not only did they bear and raise children who at a relatively young age became part of the work force, but they themselves were continuously engaged in tasks vital to the functioning of the farmgardening, raising poultry, tending cattle, spinning, and weaving, as well as cooking, cleaning, and washing.

Among other things, longevity meant that, unlike in the Chesapeake (where three-fourths of all children lost at least one parent before reaching the age of twenty-one), New England parents lived to see their children and even their grandchildren grow to maturity. The lives of most New England women were nearly as consumed by childbearing and child rearing as those of women in the Chesapeake. Even women who lived into their sixties spent the vast majority of their mature years with young children in the home.

The longevity in New England also meant that parents continued to influence their children's lives far longer than did parents in the South. They were less likely than parents in England actually to arrange marriages for their children; but few sons and daughters could choose a spouse entirely independent of their parents' wishes. Men tended to rely on their fathers for land to cultivategenerally a prerequisite for beginning a family of their own. Women needed a dowry from their parents if they were to hope to attract a desirable husband. Stricter parental supervision of children meant, too, that fewer women became pregnant before marriage than in the South (although even in Puritan New England, the premarital pregnancy rate was not insubstantialas much as 20 percent in some communities).

The Beginnings of Slavery

The growth of the black population of early America occurred along lines very unlike those of the white population. Africans came to the New World to provide a labor supply for a white population too small to sustain its economy on its own and unable to recruit a native work force sufficient for its needs. They came under circumstances radically different from those of white immigrants. And their lives after arrival developed along very separate paths as well.

The demand for black servants to supplement the always scarce Southern labor supply existed almost from the first moments of settlement. The supply of African laborers, however, remained relatively restricted during much of the seventeenth century because of the nature of the slave trade. That trade had begun in the sixteenth century, when Portuguese ships began visiting the west coast of Africa. There they captured native men and women and shipped them across the Atlantic to the new colonies in South America. The commerce grew more extensive, more sophisticated, and more horrible in the seventeenth century; and before it ended in the nineteenth century, it was responsible for the forced immigration of as many as 11 million Africans to North and South America and the Caribbean. (Until the late eighteenth century, the number of African immigrants to the Americas was higher than that of Europeans.) Flourishing slave marts grew up on the African coast, where native chieftains made large supplies of blacks available by capturing enemy tribespeople in battle and bringing themtied together in long lines, or "coffles"out of the forests and to the ports. Then, after some haggling on the docks between the European traders and the African suppliers, the terrified victims were packed into the dark, filthy holds of the ships for the horrors of the "middle passage"the journey to America. For weeks, occasionally months, the black prisoners were kept chained in the bowels of the slave ships, unable to stand, hardly able to breathe, supplied with minimal food and water. Women were often victims of rape and other sexual abuse. Those who died en routeand there were manywere simply thrown overboard. Slave traders accepted such deaths as an inevitable result of the system. They tried to cram as many Africans as possible into their ships to ensure that enough would survive to yield a profit at journey's end. Upon arrival in the New World, slaves were auctioned off to white landowners and transportedfrightened and bewilderedto their new homes.

The first black laborers arrived in English North America before 1620; and as English seamen began to establish themselves' in the slave trade, the flow of Africans to the colonies gradually increased. But North America was always a much less important market for African slaves than other parts of the New World, especially the islands of the Caribbean and Brazil; fewer than 5 percent of the blacks imported to the Americas arrived in the English colonies. In the beginning, those blacks who did arrive in what became the United States came not from Africa, but from the West Indies. Not until the 1670s did traders start importing them directly from Africa to North America. Even then, however, the flow remained small for a time, mainly because a single groupthe Royal African Company of Englandmaintained a monopoly on the trade and managed as a result to keep prices high and supplies low.

A turning point in the history of the black population in North America was 1697, the year that the Royal African Company's monopoly was finally broken. With the trade now opened to English and colonial merchants on a competitive basis, prices fell and the number of blacks arriving greatly increased. By the end of the century, about 25,000 slaves lived in America (approximately 10 percent of the population). But because blacks were so heavily concentrated in a few Southern colonies, they were already beginning to outnumber whites in some areas. The unbalanced sex ratio among African immigrants (there were perhaps twice as many men as women in most areas) retarded the natural increase of the black population. But in the Chesapeake, at least, the slave population by the mid-eighteenth century was increasing at a higher rate through reproduction than through continued importations from Africa. In South Carolina, by contrast, the arduous conditions of rice cultivation ensured that the black population would not be able to do more than barely sustain itself through natural increase until much later.

By 1760, the number of blacks in the colonies had increased tenfold since the turn of the centuryto approximately a quarter of a millioa.JA relatively small number (16,000 in 1763) lived in New England; there were slightly more in the middle colonies (29,000). The vast majority, however, continued to live in the South. By then, the flow of free white laborers to that region had all but stopped, and blacks had become permanently established as the basis of the Southern work force.

It was not entirely clear at first that the status of black laborers in America would be fundamentally different from that of white indentured servants. In the rugged conditions of the seventeenth-century South, it was often difficult for whites and blacks to maintain strictly separate roles. In some areasSouth Carolina, for example, where the number of black arrivals swelled more quickly than anywhere else whites and blacks lived and worked together for a time on terms of relative equality. Some blacks were treated much like white hired servants; and some were freed after a fixed term of servitude. A few blacks themselves became landowners, and some apparently owned slaves of their own.

Gradually, however, relations between the races evolved in such a way that by the early eighteenth century a rigid distinction had become established between blacks and whites. (See "Where Historians Disagree," page 67.) White servants were necessarily freed after a term of servitude, their masters being required by contract to release them. But there was no such legal necessity to free black workers, and the assumption slowly spread that blacks would remain in service permanently. Another incentive for freezing the status of blacks was that the children of slaves provided white landowners with a self-perpetuating labor force. White assumptions about the inferiority of the black race contributed further to the growing rigidity of the system; most whites considered blacks a lesser breed, capable of little more than manual labor. Indeed, many whites convinced themselves that they were actually helping the Africans by "civilizing" and Christianizing them; conversion to Christianity did not, however, entitle slaves to freedom.

Whites were willing to tolerate a certain ambiguity in the system when the number of blacks remained small; but by the early eighteenth century, once the slave trade increased and the black population began to grow, they moved quickly to clarify the status of Africans. The result was the evolution of a system of permanent servitude, a system made legal in the early eighteenth century when colonial assemblies began to pass "slave codes" limiting the rights of blacks and ensuring almost absolute authority for white mas-ters-jOne factor, and one factor only, determined whether a person was subject to the slave codes: color. And while in the colonial societies of Spanish America, people of mixed race were granted a different (and higher) status than pure Africans, English America recognized no such distinctions. Any African ancestry was enough to classify a person as black.

New Immigration

Perhaps the most distinctive and enduring feature of the American population was its polyglot character, its bringing together of peoples of many different races, ethnic groups, and nationalities. The forced importation of Africans was one important contribution to this multicultural peopling of the new land,

but equally important was the arrival of substantial non-English groups from Europe. By the early eighteenth century, the flow of immigrants from England itself began to decline substantiallya result not only of the improvement of economic conditions there but of new restrictions on emigration imposed by a government alarmed at the continuing exodus, which threatened to depopulate whole regions of the country. White immigration continued, however, as large numbers of French, Germans, Swiss, Irish, Scots, and Scandinavians contributed to the patchwork of the American population.

The earliest, although not the most numerous, of these immigrants were the French Calvinists, or Huguenots. The Edict of Nantes of 1598 had granted them liberties and privileges that enabled them to constitute practically a state within the state in Roman Catholic France. In 1685, however, the edict was revoked; and soon thereafter, singly and in groups, the Huguenots began seizing opportunities to leave the country. About 300,000 left France in the following decades, and a small proportion of them traveled to the English colonies in North America.

Many German Protestants suffered similarly from the arbitrary religious policies of their rulers; and all Germans, Catholics as well as Protestants, suffered from the devastating wars between their principalities and King Louis XIV of France (the "Sun King"). The Rhineland of southwestern Germany, the area known as the Palatinate, experienced particular hardships. Its proximity to France exposed its people to slaughter and its farms to ruin at the hands of invaders. And the unusually cold winter of 1708-1709 provided a final blow to the precarious economy of the region. More than 12,000 Palatinate Germans sought refuge in England, and approximately 3,000 of them soon found their way to America. They arrived in New York and tried at first to make homes in the Mohawk Valley, only to be ousted by the powerful landlords of the region. Some of the Palatines moved farther up the Mohawk, out of reach of the patroons; but most made their way to Pennsylvania, where they received a warm welcome. After that, the Quaker colony became the usual destination of Germans, who sailed for America in growing numbers. (Among them were Moravians and Mennonites with religious views similar to those of the Quakers.) Many German Protestants went to North Carolina as well, especially after the founding of New Bern in 1710 by a company of 600 German-speaking Swiss.

The most numerous of the newcomers were the so-called Scotch-IrishScotch Presbyterians who had settled in northern Ireland (in the county of Ul
ster) in the early seventeenth century. The Ulster colonists had prospered for a time despite the handicap of barren soil and the need for constant struggle to suppress the Catholic natives. But in the first years of the eighteenth century, the English government prohibited the export to England of the woolens and other products that had become the basis of the Ulster economy; at the same time, the government virtually outlawed the practice of Presbyterianism and insisted on conformity with the Anglican church. After 1710, moreover, the long-term leases of many Scotch-Irish expired; English landlords doubled and even tripled the rents. Thousands of tenants left for America in successive waves.

Often coldly received at the colonial ports, most of the Scotch-Irish pushed out to the edge of the American wilderness. There they occupied land with scant regard for ownership, believing that "it was against the laws of God and nature that so much land should be idle while so many Christians wanted it to labor on and to raise bread." There they were also ruthless in their displacement and suppression of the Indians, just as they had been with the Irish.

Immigrants from Scotland itself and from southern Ireland added other elements to the colonial population. Scottish Highlanders, some of them Roman Catholics who had been defeated in rebellions in 1715 and 1745, settled in several colonies, North Carolina above all. Presbyterian Lowlanders, faced in Scotland with high rents in the country and unemployment in the towns, left for America in large numbers shortly before the American Revolution. The Irish migrated in trickles over a long period, and by the time of the Revolution they were almost as numerous as the Scots, although less conspicuous. Many of them had by then abandoned their Roman Catholic religion and with it much of their ethnic identity.

The continuing immigration and the improving natural increase contributed to the rapid population growth of the colonies in the eighteenth century. In 1700, the colonial population totaled less than 250,000; by 1775, it was over 2 milliona nearly tenfold increase. Throughout the colonial period, the population nearly doubled every twenty-five years.'

The Colonial Economy

Although colonial Americans engaged almost from the beginning in a wide range of economic pursuits, it was farming that dominated all areas of settlement throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

Beyond that basic similarity, however, the econo-mies of the different regions varied markedly from one another; and even within colonies, different areas grew in different ways.

The Southern Economy

In the Chesapeake region, where tobacco early estab-lished itself as the basis of the economy, a strong

demand for the crop in Europe enabled some planters to grow enormously wealthy and at times allowed the region as a whole to prosper. But throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, tobacco growers experienced the same problem that would afflict American farmers repeatedly for centuries: periodic overproduction. Production of tobacco frequently exceeded demand. The result was a boom-and-bust cycle in the Chesapeake economy. A series of severe declines in the price of the crop, beginning in 1640, followed by varying degrees of recovery, became the pattern.

Most of the Chesapeake planters believed that the way to protect themselves from the instability of the market was to grow more tobacco. That, of course, only made the problem worse; but it also helped change the nature of the Chesapeake economy as a whole. Those planters who could afford to do so expanded their landholdings, enlarged their fields, and acquired additional laborers. After 1700, tobacco plantations employing several dozen slaves or more were common.

South Carolina and Georgia were unsuitable for the growing of tobacco, and they relied instead on rice production. The low-lying coastline with its many tidal rivers made it possible to establish, through the construction of dams and dikes, rice paddies that could be flooded and then drained. Rice cultivation was arduous workperformed standing knee deep in the mud of malarial swamps, under a blazing sun, surrounded by insectsa task so difficult and unhealthy that white laborers generally refused to perform it. Hence the far greater dependence of planters in South Carolina and Georgia on slaves than their Northern counterparts. Yet it was not only because blacks could be compelled to perform these difficult tasks that whites found them so valuable. It was also because they were much better at the work than whites. They showed from the beginning a greater resistance than whites to malaria and other local diseases (although the impact of disease on black workers was by no means inconsiderable). And they proved more adeptperhaps because many had come from similar climates in Africaat performing the basic agricultural tasks required.

In the early 1740s, another staple crop contributed to the South Carolina economy: indigo. Eliza Lucas, a young Antiguan woman who managed her family's American plantations, experimented with cultivating the West Indian plant (which was the source of a blue dye in great demand in Europe) in America and discovered that it could grow on the high ground of South Carolina, which was unsuitable for rice planting. It was harvested during the season when the rice was still growing. Indigo became an important complement to rice and a much-sought import in England.

Because of their early dependence on large-scale cash crops, the Southern colonies developed less of a commercial or industrial economy than the colonies to the north. The trading in tobacco and rice was handled largely by merchants based in London and, later, in the Northern colonies. Few cities of more than modest size developed in the South; no substantial local merchant communities emerged. A pattern was established that would characterize the Southern economy, and differentiate it from that of other regions, for more than two centuries.

The Northern Economy

The economics of the Northern coloniesthe settlements stretching from Pennsylvania into Maine were more varied than those of the South. In the North, as in the South, agriculture continued to dominate, but it was agriculture of a far more diverse kind. In addition to farming, there gradually emerged an important commercial sector of the economy.

One reason that agriculture did not remain the exclusive economic pursuit of the North was that conditions for farming were far less favorable than in the South. In most of New England, in particular, colder weather and rocky soil made it almost impossible for colonists to develop a successful commercial farming system. Instead, most settlers cultivated relatively small areas of land, growing food, raising animals, and in general attempting to make themselves self-sufficient. Modest cash cropsscrawny livestock, apples, and cornenabled New Englanders to trade for those things they could not grow or make for themselves.

Conditions for agriculture were far better in southern New England and the middle colonies, where the soil was fertile and the weather slightly more temperate. Farmers in New York, Pennsylvania, and the Connecticut River valley cultivated staple crops for sale both at home and abroad. The region was the chief supplier of wheat to much of New England and to parts of the South. Some areas of the region were, for various reasons, less productive than others. In New York, for example, the concentration of land ownership and the maintenance of great estates (some of them thousands and even hundreds of thousands of acres large) discouraged production. Few people were willing to work as tenants on large estates when they could get farms of their own in other colonies. In Pennsylvania, by contrast, German immigrants succeeded in greatly increasing production by applying the methods of intensive cultivation they had practiced in Europe. The sex ratio in the German communities was relatively balanced, and women commonly worked alongside the men in the fieldsa practice that other immigrant groups on occasion found appalling.

From time to time, entrepreneurs in New England and the middle colonies (particularly New Jersey and Pennsylvania) attempted to augment their agricultural economy with industrial enterprises. Beginning with a failed effort to establish an ironworks in Saugus, Massachusetts (near Boston), in the mid-seventeenth century, colonists embarked on innumerable industrial ventures. Many such ventures failed, but the colonists did manage to establish a wide range of industrial activities on a modest scale. At the simplest level, almost every colonist engaged in a certain amount of industry at home. Women, in particular, were active in spinning, weaving, making soap and candles, and other tasks basic to the life of the family. Men engaged in carpentry. Occasionally these home industries provided families with goods they could barter or sell. Beyond these private efforts, craftsmen and artisans established themselves in colonial towns as cobblers, blacksmiths, riflemakers, cabinetmakers, silversmiths, printers, and so forth. In some areas, entrepreneurs harnessed the water power of the many streams and rivers to run small millssome for grinding grain, others for processing cloth, still others for milling lumber. And in several places, large-scale shipbuilding operations began to flourish.

The largest industrial enterprise anywhere in English North America was that of the German ironmaster Peter Hasenclever, in northern New Jersey. Founded in 1764 with British capital, it employed several hundred laborers, many of them imported from ironworks located in Germany. There were other, smaller ironmaking enterprises in every Northern colony (with particular concentrations in Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania); and there were ironworks as well in several of the Southern colonies.

But these and other growing industries did not become the basis for the kind of explosive industrial growth that Great Britain experienced in the late eighteenth century. That was in part because of such restrictions as those imposed by the Iron Act of 1750 a measure passed by Parliament restricting colonists from engaging metal processing (and stifling the development of a steel industry in America). Similar prohibitions applied to the manufacture of woolens (the Woolen Act of 1699) and hats (the Hat Act of 1732), although Americans often disregarded such legislation. The real obstacles to industrialization, however, were more basic: an inadequate labor supply, an inadequate domestic market, and an inadequate infrastructure of transportation facilities, energy supplies, and other necessities. Americans would not overcome such obstacles until the mid-nineteenth century.

More important to the economy of the Northern colonies than manufacturing were the so-called extractive industries: those that exploited the natural resources of the continent. A flourishing fur trade grew up during the first decades of settlement; but by the mid-seventeenth century the supply of fur-bearing animals had been nearly exhausted, and the trade all but ceased. For the next century and more, the colonists relied instead on lumberingwhich took advantage of the vast forests of the New World; miningwhich exploited iron and other mineral reserves throughout the colonies; and fishingparticularly in the waters off the New England coast. These extractive industries provided what manufacturing and agriculture often failed to give the colonists: commodities that could be exported to England in exchange for manufactured goods. And they helped, therefore, to produce the most distinctive feature of the Northern economya thriving commercial class.

The Rise of Commerce

The inability of any one colony, or any one region, to attain genuine economic self-sufficiency made the development of some level of commerce inevitable. The form that commerce took, however, reflected not only economic necessity but a wide array of complicated legal restrictions and the financial peculiarities of the seventeenth- and eighteenth-century world.

Perhaps the most remarkable feature of colonial commerce in the seventeenth century was that it was able to survive at all. American merchants faced such bewildering and intimidating obstacles, and lacked so many of the basic institutions of trade, that they managed to stay afloat only with difficulty. There was, first, no commonly accepted medium of exchange. The colonies had almost no specie (gold or silver coins). They experimented at times with different forms of paper currencytobacco certificates, for example, which were secured by tobacco stored in warehouses; or land certificates, secured by property. Such paper was not, however, acceptable as payment for any goods from abroad; and it was, in any case, ultimately outlawed by Parliament. For many years, colonial merchants had to rely on a haphazard system of barter or on crude money substitutes such as beaver skins.

A second obstacle was the near impossibility of rationalizing trade. In the fragmented, jerry-built commercial world of colonial America, no merchants could be certain that the goods on which their commerce relied would be produced in sufficient quantity; nor could they be certain of finding adequate markets for them. Few channels of information existed to inform traders of what they could expect in foreign ports; and vessels sometimes stayed at sea for several years, journeying from one market to another, trading one commodity for another, attempting to find some way to turn a profit. Engaged in this chaotic commerce, moreover, were an enormous number of small, fiercely competitive companies, which made the problem of rationalizing the system even more acute.

Despite these and other problems, commerce in the colonies not only survived but grew. There was an elaborate coastal trade, through which the colonies did business with one another and with the West Indies, largely in such goods as rum, agricultural products, and fish. The mainland colonies received sugar, molasses, and at times slaves from the Caribbean markets in return. There was as well an expanding international trade, which linked the North American colonies in an intricate network of commerce with England, continental Europe, and the western coast of Africa. This commerce has often been described, somewhat inaccurately, as the "triangular trade," suggesting a neat process by which merchants carried rum and other goods from New England to Africa, exchanged their merchandise for slaves whom they then transported to the West Indies (hence the term "middle passage" for the dread journeyit was the second of the three legs of the voyage), and then exchanged the slaves for sugar and molasses, which they shipped back to New England to be distilled into rum. In fact, the system was almost never so simple. The "triangular" trade in rum, slaves, and sugar was in fact a maze of highly diverse trade routes: between the Northern and Southern colonies, America and England, America and Africa, the West Indies and Europe, and more.

Out of this confusing and highly risky trade there emerged a group of adventurous entrepreneurs who by the mid-eighteenth century were beginning to constitute a distinct merchant class. Concentrated in the port cities of the North (Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and other, smaller trading centers), they enjoyed protection from foreign competition within the English colonies, since the British Navigation Acts had excluded all non-British ships from the colonial carrying trade. And they had access to a market in England for such colonial products as furs, timber, and American-built ships. But that did not satisfy all their commercial needs. Many colonial products fish, flour, wheat, and meat, all of which England could produce for itselfrequired markets altogether outside the British Empire. Ignoring laws restricting colonial trade to England and its possessions, many merchants developed markets in the French, Spanish, and Dutch West Indies, where prices were often higher than in the British colonies. The profits from this commerce enabled the colonies to import the manufactured goods they needed from Europe.

In the course of the eighteenth century, the colonial commercial system began to stabilize. In some cities, the more successful merchants expanded their operations so greatly that they were able to dominate some sectors of trade and curb some of the destabilizing effects of competition. Merchants managed, as well, to make extensive contacts in the English commercial world, securing their position in certain areas of transatlantic trade. But the commercial sector of the American economy remained open to newcomers, largely because itand the society on which it was basedwas expanding so rapidly.

Patterns of Society

It was not only in the composition of its population and the structure of its economy that the society of the colonies differed from that of England. It was also in the nature of its most basic social institutions.

Although there were clear class distinctions in the colonies, the sharply defined and deeply entrenched class system of England failed to reproduce itself in America. In England, where land was scarce and the population large, the relatively small proportion of the people who owned land had enormous power over the great majority who did not; the imbalance between land and population became a foundation of the English economy and the cornerstone of its class system. In America, of course, precisely the inverse was true. Land was abundant; people were scarce. Aristocracies emerged there, to be sure; but they tended to rely less on land ownership than on control of a substantial work force, and they were generally less secure and less powerful than their English counterparts. Far more than in England, there were opportunities in America for social mobilityboth up and down.

There emerged, too, new forms of community whose structure reflected less the British model than the realities of the American wilderness. These forms varied greatly from one region to another, but several basicand distinctly Americantypes emerged.

The Plantation

The plantation system of the American South illustrated clearly both the differences between the colonial and English class systems and the way in which colonial communities evolved in response to local conditions. The first plantations emerged in the early settlements of Virginia and Maryland, in response to the establishment of tobacco as the economic basis of the Chesapeake. Some planters hoped to re-create in America the entrenched, landholding aristocracy of England; and in a few casesnotably in the great Maryland estates granted by Lord Baltimore to his relatives and friendsa semblance of such an aristocracy did emerge. The Maryland plantation of Charles Carroll of Carrollton, reputedly the wealthiest man in the colonies, covered 40,000 acres and contained 285 slaves. And there were other plantationsin Maryland, Virginia, and the tobacco-growing regions of North Carolinathat eventually attained similar size.

On the whole, however, colonial plantations were rough and relatively small estates. In the early days in Virginia, they were little more than crude clearings on the frontier, where landowners and indentured servants worked side by side in conditions so horrible that death was an everyday occurrence. Even in later years, when the death rate declined and the landhold-ings became more established, plantation work forces seldom exceeded thirty people. Most landowners lived in rough cabins or simple houses, with their servants or slaves nearby. Relatively few lived in anything resembling aristocratic splendor.

The economy of the plantation, like all agricultural economies, was a precarious one. In good years, successful growers could earn great profits, expand their operations, and move closer to becoming true landed aristocrats. But without control over their markets, even the largest planters were constantly at risk. When prices for their crops fellas tobacco prices did, for example, in the 1660sthey faced the prospect of ruin. The plantation economy created many new wealthy landowners, but it also destroyed manyanother obstacle to the creation of an entrenched aristocracy similar to that in England.

Because plantations were often far from cities and townswhich were, in any case, relatively few in the Souththey tended to become self-contained communities. Residents lived in close proximity to one another in a cluster of buildings that included the "great house" of the planter himself (a house that was usually, although not always, far from great), the service buildings, the barns, and the cabins of the slaves. Wealthier planters often created something approaching a full town on their plantations, with a school (for white children only), a chapel, and a large population. Smaller planters lived more modestly, but still in a relatively self-sufficient world. On the larger plantations, the presence of a substantial slave work force altered not only the economic but the family lives of the planter class. Plantation mistresses, unlike the wives of small farmers, could rely on servants to perform ordinary household chores and could thus devote more time to their husbands and children than women in other parts of colonial society. But they also had to endure the frequent sexual liaisons between their husbands or sons and black women of the slave community. Southern women generally learned to pretend not to notice these relationships, but they were almost certainly a source of anxiety and resentment.

Although the English class system did not reproduce itself, Southern society was highly stratified in its own way. Even though the fortunes of planters could rise and fall quickly, at any given time there were always a few particularly wealthy landowners, who exercised far greater social and economic influence than their less prosperous neighbors. Within a particular area, a great landowner not only controlled the lives of those who worked his own plantation but the livelihood of independent farmers working small plots, who depended on him to market their crops and supply them with credit. Some whites rented their farms from wealthy planters. Independent farmers, working small plots of land with few or no slaves to help them, formed the majority of the Southern agrarian population; it was the planters, however, who dominated the Southern agrarian economy.

The black slaves, of course, lived very differently. On the smaller farms with only a handful of slaves, it was not always possible for a rigid separation to develop between whites and blacks. But over three-fourths of all blacks lived on plantations of at least ten slaves; nearly half lived in communities of fifty slaves or more. And in these larger establishments, they began to develop a society and culture of their own influenced by their white masters, to be sure, but also partly independent of them.

Although whites seldom encouraged formal marriages among slaves, usually hoping only that they would produce children rapidly, blacks themselves developed a strong and elaborate family structure. Slaves attempted to construct nuclear families, and they managed at times to build stable households, even to work together growing their own food in gardens provided by their masters. But such efforts were in constant jeopardy; any family member could be sold at any time to another planter, even to one in another colony. As a result, blacks placed special emphasis on extended kinship networks and created surrogate "relatives" who were entirely unrelated to their own families.

Blacks also developed languages of their own. In South Carolina, for example, the early slaves communicated with one another in "Gullah"a hybrid of English and African tongues that not only reinforced the blacks' sense of connection with their ancestry but enabled them to engage in conversations their white masters could not understand. There began to emerge too a distinctive slave religion, which blended Christianity with African folklore and which became a central element in the emergence of an independent black culture.

Nevertheless, black society was subject to constant intrusions from and interaction with white society. Black house servants, for example, at times lived in what was, by black standards, great luxury; but they were also isolated from their own community and under constant surveillance from whites. Black women were frequently subjected to the sexual advances of owners and overseers and gave birth to mulatto children, who were seldom recognized by their white fathers but were generally accepted as members of the slave community. On some plantations, black workers were treated with kindness and even affection by their masters and mistresses, and at times displayed genuine devotion in return. On others, they encountered physical brutality and occasionally even sadism, against which they were virtually powerless.

There were occasional acts of individual resistance by slaves against masters, and on at least two occasions during the colonial period there were actual slave rebellions. In the most important such revolt, the so-called Stono Rebellion in South Carolina in 1739, about 100 blacks rose up, seized weapons, killed several whites, and attempted to escape south to Florida. The uprising was quickly crushed and the majority of participants executed. The most frequent form of resistance was simply running away, but that provided no real solution either. There was nowhere to go.

Most slaves, male and female, worked as field hands (with the women shouldering the additional family burdens of cooking and child rearing). But on the larger plantations, which aspired to genuine self-sufficiency, some slaves learned trades and crafts: blacksmithing, carpentry, shoemaking, spinning, weaving, sewing, midwifery, and others. These skilled craftsmen and craftswomen were at times hired out to other planters. Some set up their own establishments in towns or cities and shared their profits with their owners. On occasion, they were able to buy their freedom. There was a small but significant free black population living in Southern cities by the dme of the Revolution.

As an economic unit, the Southern plantation was both efficient and productive and helped the agricultural output of the region to expand greatly in the course of the colonial period. As a social unit, it achieved stability at the cost of human freedom.

The Puritan Community

A very different form of community emerged in Puritan New England, but one that was also distinctively American. Since much of the Northeast was settled by large groups of immigrants arriving together (entire Puritan congregations often moving to the New World en masse), the characteristic social unit in New England was not the isolated farm but the town. Each new settlement drew up a "covenant" among its members, binding all residents together in a religious and social commitment to unity and harmony. The structure of the towns generally reflected the spirit of the covenant. Colonists laid out a village, with houses and a meetinghouse arranged around a central pasture, or "common." They also divided up the outlying fields and woodlands of the town among the residents; the size and location of a family's field depended on the family's numbers, wealth, and social station. But wherever their lands might lie, families generally lived with their neighbors close by, reinforcing the strong sense of community.

Once established, a town was generally able to run its own affairs, with little interference from the colonial government. Residents held a yearly "town meeting" to decide important questions and to choose a group of "selectmen," who governed until the next meeting. As a rule, all adult males were permitted to participate in the meeting. But important social distinctions remained, the most crucial of which was membership in the church. Only those residents who could give evidence of grace, of being among the elect (the "visible saints") assured of salvation, were admitted to full membership, although other residents of the town were required to attend church services.

Central to the Puritan community was the family. And the dominant figure in most families was the husband and father, who exercised nearly dictatorial power over his wife and children. The English system of primogeniturethe passing of all property to the firstborn sonwas not re-created in New England. Instead, a father divided up the lands allotted to him among all his sons. His control of this inheritance was one of the most effective means of exercising power over the family. Often a son would reach his late twenties before his father would allow him to move into his own household and work his own land.

The early Puritan community, in short, was a tightly knit organism. The town as a whole was bound together by the initial covenant, by the centralized layout of the village, by the power of the church, and by the town meeting. The family was held together by a rigid patriarchal structure that limited opportunities for younger members to strike out on their own. Yet as the years passed and the communities grew, this rigid communal structure came under increasing strain. This was partly because of the increasing commercialization of New England society, which introduced new forces and new tensions into the communities of the region. But it was also a result of other important pressures that had been developing within even purely agricultural communities: pressures that were a result primarily of population growth.

As towns grew larger, residents tended to cultivate lands farther and farther from the community center and, by necessity, to live at increasing distances from the church. Often, groups of outlying residents would eventually apply for permission to build a church of their own, the first step toward creation of a wholly new town. Such applications were frequently the occasion for bitter quarrels between the original townspeople and those who proposed to break away.

The practice of distributing land through the patriarchal family structure contributed further tensions to the Puritan community. In the first generations, fathers generally controlled enough land to satisfy the needs of all their sons. By the third generation, however, when such lands were being subdivided for the third time, there was often too little to go around, particularly in communities surrounded by other towns, with no room to expand outward. Sons began to chafe at their inability to escape from the control of their fathers and at the lack of prospects for independent estates. The result was that in many communities, groups of younger residents were breaking off and moving elsewhereat times far awayto form towns of their own, further challenging and eroding the original patriarchal, communal nature of the community.

The Witchcraft Phenomenon

The result of this gap between the expectation of a united community and the reality of a diverse and divided one was often severe social and psychological strain. At the extreme, these tensions could produce bizarre and disastrous events. One example was the widespread hysteria in the 1680s and 1690s over witchcraft in New England. The most famous outbreak (although by no means the only one) was in Salem, Massachusetts, where the strange behavior of several adolescent girls and the mysterious actions of two West Indian slaves steeped in voodoo lore produced hundreds of accusations of witchcraft. Nineteen residents of Salem were put to death before the trials finally ended in 1692.

On the surface, the witchcraft crisis was an example of wild superstition and social hysteria. A closer examination, however, reveals deeper origins. Research into the background of the phenomenon in Salem has indicated that the witchcraft turmoil there reflected some of the severe social tensions in the town: tensions between those who were gravitating toward the new commercial economy of the town's thriving seaport and those who remained tied to the languishing agricultural economy of the community's western areas. Residents of the outlying areas of the town resented the favored position of their eastern neighbors. Such jealousy could not be openly expressed in a "godly" community; it may have found expression instead in the form of accusations of witchcraft. The accusations were usually made by the relatively isolated and unsuccessful members of the community against people associated with its more prosperous segments.

The accusations were also generally leveled by adolescent girls against older womensuggesting that social anxieties may have been intersecting with anxieties over sexual roles. In the tense social climate ofSalem and similar communities, young girls faced frightening uncertainty about their futures, which would, they knew, be determined less by their own actions and desires than by the wishes of their parents and their future husbands. By leveling accusations of witchcraft against older women, these adolescents may have been expressing indirectly their frustrations at the uncertainty and powerlessness of their own lives.

The Puritan vision of communitya vision of a "peaceable kingdom" united in a common purpose was a heavy burden to bear, particularly when the realities of life tended to transform towns into something very different. Few communities reacted to these tensions as violently as Salem. But social change created uneasiness in towns throughout New England.


To call the commercial centers that emerged along the Atlantic coast in the eighteenth century "cities" would be to strain today's definition of that word, Even the largest colonial community was scarcely bigger than a modern small town. Yet by the standards of the eighteenth century, cities did indeed exist in America. The two largest portsPhiladelphia and New Yorkhad populations of 28,000 and 25,000 respectively, which made them larger than most English urban centers. Boston (16,000), Charles Town (later Charleston) in South Carolina (12,000), and Newport in Rhode Island (11,000) were also substantial communities by the standards of the day.

Colonial cities served as trading centers for the farmers of their regions and as marts for international trade. Their leaders were generally merchants who had acquired substantial estates. Although in most colonial communities disparities of wealth were generally not very great, in cities they sometimes came to seem enormous. Wealthy merchants and their families moved along crowded streets dressed in fine imported clothes, often riding in fancy carriages, coming in and out of large houses with staffs of servants. Moving beside them were the numerous minor tradesmen, workers, and indigents, dressed simply and living in crowded and often filthy conditions. It would be an exaggeration to claim that sharp class divisions emerged in the cities; but more than in any other area of colonial life (except, of course, in the relationship between masters and slaves), social distinctions were real and visible in urban areas.

There were other distinctive features of urban life as well. Cities were the centers of much of what industry existed in the colonies, such as the distilleries for turning imported molasses into exportable rum. They were the locations of the most advanced schools and sophisticated cultural activities and of shops where imported goods could be bought. In addition, they were communities with social problems that were peculiarly urban: crime, vice, pollution, traffic. Unlike smaller towns, cities were required to establish elaborate corporate governments. They set up constables' offices and fire departments. They developed systems for supporting the urban poor, whose numbers grew steadily and became especially large in times of economic crisis.

Perhaps most important for the political future of the colonies, cities became places where new ideas could circulate and be discussed. Because there were printers, it was possible to have regular newspapers. Books and other publications from abroad introduced new intellectual influences. And the taverns and coffee houses of cities provided forums in which people could gather and debate the issues of the day. It was hardly surprising that when the Revolutionary crisis began to build in the 1760s and 1770s, it manifested itself first in the cities.

The Colonial Mind

Two powerful forces were competing for the American mind in the eighteenth century. One was the traditional intellectual and religious outlook of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, with its emphasis on a personal God, intimately involved with the world, keeping watch over individual lives. The other was the new spirit of the Enlightenment, a movement that was sweeping both Europe and America and that stressed the importance of science and human reason. The old views made possible such phenomena as the belief in witchcraft and other superstitions; and they placed great value on a stern moral code in which intellect was less important than faith. The Enlightenment, by contrast, suggested that individuals had substantial control over their own lives and the course of their societies; that the world could be explained and therefore could be structured along rational scientific lines. The intellectual climate of colonial America was shaped by the tension between these two impulses.

The Pattern of Religions

The American colonists brought their religions with them from abroad. But like so many other imported institutions, religion took on a new and distinctive pattern in the New World. In part, this was because of the sheer number of different faiths established in America. With the immigration of diverse sectarians from several countries, the colonies became an ecclesiastical patchwork. Toleration flourished to a degree unmatched in any European nation, not because Americans deliberately sought to produce it, but because conditions virtually required it.

The experience of the Church of England illustrated how difficult the establishment of a common religion would be in the colonies. By law, Anglican-ism was established as the official faith in Virginia, Maryland, New York, the Carolinas, and Georgia. In these colonies everyone, regardless of belief or affiliation, was supposed to be taxed for the support of the church. Actually, except in Virginia and Maryland, the Church of England succeeded in maintaining its position as the established church only in certain localities. To strengthen Anglicanism, in America and elsewhere, the Church of England in 1701 set up the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts (SPG). Missionaries of the SPG founded a number of new Anglican communions in the colonies, especially in Massachusetts and Connecticut. But Anglicanism never succeeded in becoming the dominant religious force in America that some members of the SPG envisioned.

Even in areas where a single faith had once predominated, the forces of denominationalism soon began to be felt. In New England, for example, Puritans had originally believed themselves all to be part of a single faith: Calvinism. In the course of the eighteenth century, however, there was a growing tendency for different congregations to affiliate with different denominations. Some became Congrega-rionalists; others identified themselves as Presbyterians. In belief, these two groups were essentially the same, but they differed in ecclesiastical organization. Although each Congregationalist church was virtually autonomous, the Presbyterians had a more highly centralized government, with a governing body of presbyters (made up of ministers and lay elders) for the churches of each district. In the early eighteenth century, many of the Puritan churches of Connecticut, and most of those founded in colonies to the south by emigrants from New England, adopted the Presbyterian form of government.

In parts of New York and New Jersey, Dutch settlers had established their own Calvinist denominationDutch Reformedwhich survived long after the colonies became part of the British Empire. The American Baptists (of whom Roger Williams is considered the first) were also originally Calvinist in their theology. Then, in Rhode Island and in other colonies, a bewildering variety of Baptist sects sprang up. They had in common a belief that infant baptism did not suffice and that rebaptism, usually by total immersion, was necessary when individuals reached maturity. Some Baptists remained Calvinists, believers in predestination; others came to believe in salvation by free will.

Protestants extended toleration to one another more readily than to Roman Catholics. To strict Puritans, the pope seemed no less than the Antichrist. They viewed their Catholic neighbors across the border in New France (Canada) not only as commercial and military rivals but as agents of the devil, bent on frustrating the divine mission of the wilderness Zion in New England, In most of the English colonies, however, Roman Catholics were far too small a minority to occasion serious conflict. They were most numerous in Maryland, and even there they numbered no more than 3,000. Ironically, they suffered their worst persecution in that colony, which had been founded as a refuge for them and had been distinguished by its Toleration Act of 1649. According to Maryland laws passed after 1691 (after the overthrow of the original proprietors). Catholics not only were deprived of political rights but also were forbidden to hold religious services except in private houses.

Jews in provincial America totaled no more than about 2,000 at any time. The largest community lived in New York City. Smaller groups settled in Newport and Charleston, and there were scattered Jewish families in all the colonies. Nowhere could they vote or hold office. Only in Rhode Island could they practice their religion openly.

The Decline of Piety

By the beginning of the eighteenth century, Americans had become deeply troubled by the apparent decline in piety in their society. In part, this was a result of the rise ofdenominationalism. With so many diverse sects existing side by side, some people were tempted to doubt whether any particular denomination, even their own, possessed a monopoly of truth and grace. More important, however, were other changes in colonial society. The movement of the population westward and the wide scattering of settlement had caused many communities to lose touch with organized religion. The rise of towns and the multiplication of material comforts led to an increasingly secular outlook in densely settled areas. The progress of science and free thought in Europeand the importation of Enlightenment ideas to America caused at least some colonists to adopt a rational and skeptical view of the world.

Concerns about declining piety were not new to the eighteenth century. They had surfaced as early as the 1660s in New England, where the Puritan oligarchy found itself faced with a steady deterioration of the power of the church. As the first generation of American Puritans died, the number of church members rapidly declined, for few of the second generation seemed to harbor enough religious passion to demonstrate the "saving grace" that was a prerequisite for membership. The children of "saints" had generally been baptized and had attended church; but in the absence of a true "conversion experience," many had never become full members. When these people began to have children of their own, the clergy was faced with a dilemma. Should the infants of these unconverted churchgoers be baptized? In 1662, a conference of ministers attempted to solve the problem by instituting the Halfway Covenant, which gave people of the third and later generations the right to be baptized but not the right to partake of communion or vote in church affairs.

As time passed, this carefully drawn distinction between full and half members was often forgotten, and in many communities the church came to include as voters and officeholders the families of all who could take part in colonial politics. Qualification for membership in the church, in other words, became largely secular. Orthodox Puritans, however, continued to oppose the transformation that was enveloping the erstwhile land of the saints. Sabbath after Sabbath, ministers preached sermons of despair (known as jeremiads) deploring the signs of waning piety. "Truly so it is," one minister lamented in 1674, "the very heart of New England is changed and exceedingly corrupted with the sins of the times." There was, he said, a growing spirit of profaneness, pride, worldliness, sensuality, gainsaying and rebellion, libertinism, carnality, formality, hypocrisy, "and a spiritual idolatry in the worship of God." Only in relative terms was religious piety actually declining in New England. By the standards of later times (or by the standards of other societies of the seventeenth century), the Puritan faith remained remarkably strong. It did not, however, remain the pervasive force it once had been for maintaining stability and social order.

The Great Awakening

By the early eighteenth century, similar concerns were emerging in other regions and among members of other faiths. Everywhere, it seemed, piety was in decline and opportunities for spiritual regeneration were dwindling. At the same time, social and economic changes were creating new tensions within communities. For many colonists, the anxieties were becoming nearly unbearable. The result was the first great American revival.

It was known as the Great Awakening. Although the first stirrings (or "freshenings") began in some places early in the century, the Great Awakening was truly launched in the 1730s and reached its climax in the 1740s. Then, for a time, a new spirit of religious fervor seemed for thousands of Americans to have reversed the trend away from piety.

That the movement was not purely religious in origin is suggested by the identity of those who responded most frequently to it: residents of areas where social and economic tensions were greatest; women (who constituted the majority of converts) frustrated by their social and familial subjugation; younger sons of the third or fourth generation of settlersthose who stood to inherit the least land and who thus faced the most uncertain futures. The social origins of the revival were evident too in much of its rhetoric, which emphasized the potential for every individual to break away from the constraints of the past and start anew in his or her relationship to God (and, implicitly, to the world).

Wandering exhorters from England did much to stimulate the revivalistic spirit. John and Charles Wesley, the founders of Methodism (which had begun as a reform movement within the Church of England), visited Georgia and other colonies in the 1730s with the intention of revitalizing religion and converting Indians and blacks, George Whitefield, a powerful open-air preacher and for a time an associate of the Wesleys, made several evangelizing tours through the colonies. Everywhere he went Whitefield drew tremendous crowds, and it was said (with some exaggeration) that he could make his hearers weep merely by uttering, in his moving way, the word "Mesopotamia."

But the Wesleys, Whitefield, and other evange-lizers from abroad were less important to American revivalism in the long run than the colonial ministers attempting to restore religious fervor in America. Theodore Frelinghuysen, of the Dutch Reformed church, and Gilbert Tennent, a Presbyterian, were important native voices of evangelism. The outstanding preacher of the Great Awakening, however, was the New England Congregationalist Jonathan Edwardsa deeply orthodox Puritan but also one of the most profoundly original theologians in American history. From his pulpit in Northampton, Massachusetts, Edwards attacked the new doctrines of easy salvation for all. He preached anew the traditional Puritan ideas of the absolute sovereignty of God, the depravity of the human race, predestination, the necessity of experiencing a sense of election, and salvation by God's grace alone. His vivid descriptions of hell could bring his listeners to their knees in terror. Day after day, agonized sinners crowded his parsonage to seek his aid; at least one committed suicide in despair at his inability to experience grace.

The Great Awakening spread over the colonies like a religious epidemic. It was most contagious in frontier areas and among the comparatively poor and uneducated. Its particular impact on women was perhaps partly because of their lower rates of literacy. It was strongest of all in the Southern back country. The Awakening created a sharp division in the Presbyterian church between a large and rapidly growing group of revivalistic "New Light" Presbyterians and the traditional "Old Lights." New Methodist and Baptist sects attracted other converts.

The Great Awakening not only led to the division of existing congregations and the founding of new ones. It also affected areas of society outside the churches. Some of the revivalists denounced book learning as a snare and a delusion, a positive hindrance to salvation; and in some communities the result was a retreat from commitments to secular education. But other evangelists saw education as a means of furthering their own brand of religion and founded schools for the preparation of New Light ministers. Perhaps more important, by challenging the importance of formal church hierarchies and insisting that salvation could come only through individual grace, the revival implicitly challenged traditional sources of authority and traditional patterns of deference in colonial society. It injected a vaguely egalitarian spirit into what had traditionally been a strongly hierarchical and deferential society.

Language and Letters

The divergence of American culture from its English origins was evident, too, in the development of a distinctive colonial language and literature. As early as the mid-seventeenth century, newcomers to the colonies noticed a gradual Americanization of the English language. New words originated in borrowings from the Indians (for example, skunk, squash), from the French (prairie, cuisine), and from the Dutch (boss, cookie). Americanisms also arose from the combining of words already in the English language (bullfrog, snowplow), from the formation of new adjectives based on existing nouns (kinky, chunky), from the adoption of unfamiliar uses for familiar words (branch, to mean "stream"), and from the retention of old English expressions that were being dropped in England. After 1700, English travelers in America began to notice a strangeness in accent as well as vocabulary, and in 1756 the great lexicographer Dr. Samuel Johnson mentioned the existence of an "American dialect." In fact, there were several American dialects and several American accents, reflecting the distances between and the social diversity among the various colonies.

Colonial America produced relatively little literature of real artistic importance, certainly nothing to compare with the literary output of England or Europe in the same years. Benjamin Franklin was one of the most significant of the colonial writers, although his work consisted largely of pragmatic, advisory essaysas suggested by such titles as Advice to a Young Man on Choosing a Mistress (1745), Reflections on Courtship and Marriage (1746), Observations Concerning the Increase of Mankind (1755), and Advice to a Young Tradesman (1762). The most prolific colonial literary figures, however, were theologians such as Jonathan Edwards.


Most colonists placed a high value on education, despite the difficulties they confronted in gaining access to it. Families provided schooling for their children as best they could, generally teaching their children to read and write at home. In Massachusetts, a 1647 law required every town to support a public school; and while many communities failed to comply, a modest network of educational establishments emerged as a result. Elsewhere, the Quakers and other sects operated church schools. And in some communities, widows or unmarried women conducted "dame schools" by holding private classes in their homes. In cities, master craftsmen set up evening schools for their apprentices; at least 100 such schools appeared between 1723 and 1770.

Only a relatively small number of children received education beyond the primary level; but white male Americans, at least, achieved a high degree of literacy. By the time of the Revolution, well over half of all white men could read and writea rate substantially higher than in most European countries. The literacy rate for women lagged behind that for men until the nineteenth century; and while opportunities for further education were scarce for males, they were almost nonexistent for females. Nevertheless, colonial girls often received the same home-based education as boys in their early years, and their literacy rate was substantially higher than that of their European counterparts.

Black slaves had virtually no access to education. Occasionally a master or mistress would teach slave children to read and write, but they had few real incentives to do so. Indeed, as the slave system became more firmly entrenched, strong social (and ultimately legal) sanctions developed to discourage any efforts to promote black literacy, lest it encourage slaves to question their stations in life.

Nowhere was the intermingling of the influences of traditional religiosity and the new spirit of the Enlightenment clearer than in the colleges and universities that grew up in colonial America. Of the six colleges in operation by 1763, all but two were founded by religious groups primarily for the training of preachers. Yet in almost all, the influences of the new scientific, rational approach to knowledge could be felt.

Harvard, the first American college, was established in 1636 by the General Court of Massachusetts at the behest of Puritan theologians who wanted to create a training center for ministers. Two years later, in 1638, instruction began in Cambridge. In that same year the college was named for a Charlestown minister, John Harvard, who had died and left his library and half his estate to the college. Decades later, in 1693, William and Mary College (named for the English king and queen) was established in Wil-liamsburg, Virginia, by Anglicans; like Harvard, it was conceived as an academy to train clergymen. And in 1701, conservative Congregationalists, dissatisfied with the growing religious liberalism of Harvard, founded Yale (named for one of its first benefactors, Elihu Yale) in New Haven, Connecticut. Out of the Great Awakening emerged the College of New Jersey, founded in 1746 and known later as Princeton (after the town in which it was located). One of its first presidents was Jonathan Edwards.

Despite the religious basis of these colleges, students at most of them could derive something of a liberal education from the curricula, which included not only theology but logic, ethics, physics, geometry, astronomy, rhetoric, Latin, Hebrew, and Greek. From the beginning, Harvard was intended not only to provide an educated ministry but also to "advance learning and perpetuate it to posterity." King's College, founded in New York in 1754 and later renamed Columbia, was even more devoted to the spread of secular knowledge. It had no theological faculty and was interdenominational from the start, The Academy and College of Philadelphia, which became the University of Pennsylvania, was from its birth in 1755 a completely secular institution, founded by a group of laymen under the inspiration of Benjamin Franklin. It offered courses in utilitarian subjectsmechanics, chemistry, agriculture, government, commerce, and modern languagesas well as in the liberal arts.

By the mid-eighteenth century, the colonies were (in comparison with most European nations) well supplied with colleges; and from them emerged a group of men steeped in the ideas and principles of the Enlightenment. Some Americans continued to travel to England for a university education, and they brought home with them still more new theories and philosophies. After 1700, however, most colonial leaders received their entire education in America. But the advantages of higher education were not widely shared. Women and blacks were excluded from all colleges and universities. And among white men, only those from relatively affluent families could afford to attend.

The Allure of Science

The clearest indication of the spreading influence of the Enlightenment in America was an increasing interest in scientific knowledge. Most of the early colleges established chairs in the natural sciences and introduced some of the advanced scientific theories of Europe, including Copernican astronomy and Newtonian physics, to their students. But the most vigorous promotion of science in these years occurred outside the colleges, through the private efforts of amateurs and the activities of scientific societies. Leading merchants, planters, and even theologians became corresponding members of the Royal Society of London, the principal English scientific organization. Benjamin Franklin, the most celebrated amateur scientist in America, won international fame through his experiments with electricity (and most notably through his 1752 demonstration, using a kite, that lightning and electricity were the same).

The high value that influential Americans were beginning to place on scientific knowledge was clearly demonstrated by the most daring and controversial scientific experiments of the eighteenth century: inoculation against smallpox. The Puritan theologian Cotton Mather had learned of experiments in England by which people had been deliberately infected with mild cases of smallpox in order to immunize them against the deadly disease. Despite strong opposition from many of his neighbors, he urged inoculation on his fellow Bostonians during an epidemic in the 1720s. The results confirmed the effectiveness of the technique. Other theologians (including Jonathan Edwards) took up the cause, along with many physicians. By the mid-eighteenth century, inoculation had become a common medical procedure in America.

Concepts of Law and Politics

In law and politics, as in other parts of their lives, Americans in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries believed that they were re-creating in the New World the practices and institutions of the Old. But as in other areas, they managed, without meaning to or even realizing it, to create something very different.

Changes in the law in America resulted in part from the scarcity of English-trained lawyers, who were almost unknown in the colonies until after 1700. Not until a full generation after that did authorities in England try to impose the common law and the statutes of the realm on the provinces. By then, it was already too late. Although the American legal system adopted most of the essential elements of the English system, including such ancient rights as trial by jury, significant differences had already become well established.

Pleading and court procedures were simplified in America, and punishments were made less severe. Instead of the gallows or prison, colonists more commonly resorted to the whipping post, the branding iron, the stocks, and (for "gossipy" women) the ducking stool. In a labor-scarce society, it was not in the interests of communities to execute or incarcerate potential workers. Crimes were redefined. In England, a printed attack on a public official, whether true or false, was considered libelous. In the colonies, at the 1734 trial of the New York publisher John Peter Zenger, who was powerfully defended by the Philadelphia lawyer Andrew Hamilton, the courts ruled that criticisms of the government were not libels if factually truea verdict that brought some progress toward freedom of the press. There was a subtle but decisive transformation in legal philosophy; colonists came to think of law as a reflection of the divine will or the natural order, not as an expression of the power of an earthly sovereign.

Even more significant for the future of the relationship between the colonies and England were important differences that were emerging between the American and British political systems. Because the royal government that was in theory the ultimate authority over the colonies was so far away, Americans created a group of institutions of their own that gave themin reality, if not in theorya large measure of self-government. In most colonies, local communities grew accustomed to running their own affairs with minimal interference from higher authorities. Communities also expected to maintain strict control over their delegates to the colonial assemblies; and those assemblies came to exercise many of the powers that Parliament exercised in England (even though in theory Parliament remained the ultimate authority in America). Provincial governors had broad powers on paper, but in fact their influence was sharply limited. They lacked control over appointments and contracts; such influence resided largely in England or with local colonial leaders. Nor could they ever be certain of their tenure in office; because governorships were patronage appointments, a governor could be removed any time his patron in England lost favor. And in many cases, governors were not even familiar with the colonies they were meant to govern; some were native-born Americans, but most were Englishmen who came to the colonies for the first time to assume their offices. The results of all this were that the focus of politics in the colonies became a local one; the provincial governments became accustomed to acting more or less independently of Parliament; and a set of assumptions and expectations about the rights of the colonists took hold in America that was not shared by policymakers in England. These differences caused few problems prior to the 1760s, because the British did little to exert the authority they believed they possessed. But when, beginning in 1763, the English government began attempting to tighten its control over the American colonies, a historic crisis resulted.





Facts" Versus Interpretations

Unlike some other fields of scholarship, history is not an exact science. We can establish with some certainty many of the basic "facts" of history that the United States declared its independence in 1776. for example; or that the North won the Civil War; or that the first atomic bomb was detonated in 1945. But wide disagreement remains, and will always remain, about the significance of such facts. There are as many different ways of viewing a historical event as there are historians viewing it. In reading any work of history, therefore, it is important to ask not only what facts the author is presenting but how he or she is choosing and interpreting those facts.

Historians disagree with one another for many reasons. People of different backgrounds, for example, often bring different attitudes to their exploration of issues. A black historian might look at the American Revolution in terms of its significance for the members of his or her race and thus draw conclusions about it that would differ from those of a white historian. A Southerner might view Reconstruction in terms different from a Northerner. Social, religious, racial, ethnic, and sexual differences among historians all contribute to the shaping of distinctive points of view.

Historians might disagree, too, as a result of the methods they use to explore their subjects. One scholar might choose to examine slavery by using psychological techniques; another might reach different conclusions by employing quantitative methods and making use of a computer. Because history is an unusually integrative disciplinethat is, because it employs methods and ideas from many different fields of knowledge, ranging from science to the humanities, from economics to literary criticismthe historian has available an enormous range of techniques, each of which might produce its own distinctive results.

One of the greatest sources of disagreement among historians is personal ideologya scholar's assumptions about the past, the present, politics, society. Historians who accept the teachings of Karl Marx and others that economics and social classes lie at the root of all historical processes will emphasize such matters in their examination of the past. Others might stress ideas, or the influence of particular individuals, or the workings of institutions and bureaucracies. A critic of capitalism, for example, might argue that American foreign policy after World War II was a reflection of economic imperialism. A critic of communism would be more likely to argue that the United States was merely responding to Soviet expansionism.

Perhaps most important, historical interpretations differ from one another according to the time in which they are written. It may not be true, as many have said, that "every generation writes its own history." But it is certainly true that no historian can entirely escape the influence of his or her own time. Hence, for example, historians writing in the relatively calm 1950s often emphasized very different issues and took very different approaches from those who wrote in the turbulent 1960s, particularly on such issues as race and foreign policy. A scholar writing in a time of general satisfaction with the nation's social and political system is likely to view the past very differently from one writing in a time of discontent. Historians in each generation, in other words, emphasize those features of the past that seem most relevant to contemporary concerns.

All of this is not to say that present concerns dictate, or should dictate, historical views. Nor is it to say that all interpretations are equally valid. On some questions, historians do reach general agreement; some interpretations prove in time to be without merit, while others become widely accepted. What is most often the case, however, is that each interpretation brings something of value to our understanding of the past. The history of the world, like the life of an individual, has so many facets, such vast complexities, so much that is unknowable, that there will always be room for new approaches to understanding it. Like the blind man examining the elephant, in the fable, the historian can get hold of and describe only one part of the past at a time. The cumulative efforts of countless scholars examining different aspects of history contribute to a view of the past that grows fuller with every generation. But the challenge and the excitement of history lie in the knowledge that that view can never be complete.



The Origins of Slavery

How did the institution of slavery establish itself in the New World? How did white people come to believe that Africans should be kept in bondage? Historians have offered a number of different in-terpretations.

The debate had its origins in an important 1950 particle by Oscar and Mary Handlin ("Origins of the Southern Labor System," William and Mary Quarterly). They pointed out that in the seventeenth century many residents of the American colonies (and of England) lived in varying degrees of 'unfreedom," that there was nothing unusual lor new about a dependent labor force. What was new was the transformation of black servitude in America into a permanent system, based on race, (with the condition of slavery passed from one generation to the next. The Handlins identified this .transition from "servant" to "slave" more as a legal process by which colonial legislatures sought to increase the available labor force than as a response to racial prejudice. The leaders of the Chesapeake hoped to attract white laborers to the New World; to do so, they had to make clear the distinction between voluntary and involuntary servitude. Hence the institutionalization of slavery: It was an effort to persuade whites that their status Would be higher than that of blacks.

Winthrop Jordan, in White over Black (1968), offered a different view of how slavery developed in America. Jordan emphasized that Europeans had long viewed people of colorand particularly black Africansas inferior beings preeminently fit to serve whites. Slavery did not evolve slowly from a system of relative racial equality. Blacks and whites were viewed and treated differently from the beginning; and the institution that finally emerged was a natural reflection of the deep-seated racism that the white settlers had brought with them. David Brion Davis. similarly, argued in The Problem of Slavery in Western Culture (1966) and later works that American slavery emerged not so much from the legal or economic conditions of the colonies as from a deeply embedded set of cultural assumptions. Davis placed less emphasis than Jordan on racism; he argued, instead, that the notion of slavery was an integral part of Western culture and that African servitude in America was not profoundly different from other forms of slavery in other societies.

Several historians in the 1970s returned to an emphasis on the particular conditions within the American colonies that helped produce the slave system. But unlike the Handlins, they saw the legal process by which slavery emerged as secondary to other issues. Peter Wood, in Black Majority (1974), emphasized the economic benefits that the black labor force provided whites in colonial South Carolina. In the early years of settlement (the "frontier period") in South Carolina, blacks and whites often worked together. Black workers were relatively few in number, and differentiations in status were relatively vague. After the 1690s, however, whites discovered that African workers were better suited than Europeans to do the arduous work of rice cultivation, which was now coming to dominate the economy of the colony. Importation of black workers rapidly increased; and by the early eighteenth century, whites were becoming uneasy about the presence of a black majority in the colony. The hardening of the slave system, through legislation and in practice, reflected white fears of black resistance or even revolt.

Edmund S. Morgan, in American Slavery, American Freedom (1975), also argued that the labor system in the South was at first relatively flexible and later grew more rigid. In an examination of colonial Virginia, Morgan suggested that the early colonists did not at first intend to create a permanent system of human bondage. By the late seventeenth century, however, the flourishing tobacco economy had created a growing need for cheap labor. The existence of a large, dependent white labor force, which was difficult to recruit and even more difficult to control, was unappealing to the colonists. African workers could be recruited and controlled more easily. The creation of a rigid slave system in the eighteenth century was, therefore, less a result of historic racism than a response to economic and social needs. Racism emerged largely as a result of slavery; it was not the cause of slavery. (Morgan went on to argue that the later development of democratic ideas in Virginia was made possible by the existence of slavery. A dependent white labor force would have made the idea of political equality difficult to sustain; but by making the dependent workers into slaves, outside the political world of whites, it was possible to believe that all white citizens were politically equal.)



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