The American Family in the Colonial Period

The American Family in the Colonial Period
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But great as was the value of farm products, the fur trade also contributed to the growth of New York and Albany as cities of consequence. For from Albany, the Hudson River was a convenient waterway for shipping furs and northern farm products to the busy port of New York.

In direct contrast to New England and the middle colonies was the predominantly rural character of the southern settlements of Virginia, Maryland, the Carolinas, and Georgia. Jamestown, in Virginia, was the first colony to survive in the new world. Late in December , a motley group of about a hundred men, sponsored by a London colonizing company, set out in search of a great adventure. They dreamed of quick riches from gold and precious stones. Homes in the wilderness wefe not their goal. Among them, Captain John Smith emerged as the dominant spirit, and despite quarrels, starvation, and the constant threat of Indian attacks, his will held the little colony together through the first years.

In the earliest days, the promoting company, ever eager for quick returns, required the colonists to concentrate on producing for export naval stores, lumber, roots, and other products for sale in the London market, instead of permitting them to plant crops and otherwise provide for their own subsistence. After a few disastrous years, however, the company eased its requirements, distributed land to the colonists, and allowed them to devote most of their energies to private undertakings.

Then, in , a development occurred which ultimately revolutionized the economy, not only of Virginia, but of the whole contiguous region. This was the discovery of a method of curing Virginia tobacco which would make it palatable to European tastes. The first shipment of this tobacco reached London in , and within a decade the plant gave every promise of becoming a steady and profitable source of revenue.

The cultivation of tobacco required fresh and fertile land, since soil on which it had been grown for three or four years became so exhausted that it produced only weak stalks. Farmers were obliged therefore to have sufficient acreage to insure new ground, and since it was necessary for sites to be near easy transport, planters quickly scattered up and down along the numerous Waterways.

No towns dotted the region, and even Jamestown, the capital, had only a few houses. Planters quickly adapted themselves to a system of trade at long range, and London, Bristol, and other English ports were their market towns. Most immigrants to Virginia came to improve their economic position. But religious as well as economic reasons led to the growth of Maryland, the neighboring colony. Here the Calvert family sought to establish a refuge for Catholics in the new land. They were also interested, however, in creating estates which would bring them profit. To that end, and to avoid trouble with the British government, they encouraged Protestants as well as Catholics to settle.

In social structure and in government, the Calverts tried to make Maryland an aristocratic land in the ancient tradition, which they aspired to rule with all the prerogatives of kings. But the independence inevitable in a frontier society, whatever its technical structure, was not favorable to feudal trappings. In Maryland, as in the other colonies, the authorities could not circumvent the stubborn belief of the settlers in the guarantees of personal liberty established by English common law and the natural rights of subjects to participate in government through representative assemblies.

Maryland developed a civilization very similar to that of Virginia. Both colonies were devoted to agriculture with a dominant tidewater class of great planters; both had a back country into which yeomen farmers steadily filtered; both suffered the handicaps of a one-crop system; and before the mid-eighteenth century, the culture of both was profoundly affected by Negro slavery. In both colonies, the wealthy planters took their social responsibilities seriously, serving as justices of the peace, colonels of the militia, and members of the legislative assemblies.

But yeomen farmers sat in popular assemblies too and found their way into political office. Their outspoken independence of spirit served as a constant warning to the oligarchy of planters not to encroach too far upon the rights of free men. By the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, the social structure in Maryland and Virginia had taken on the qualities it would retain-until the Civil War.

The planters, supported by slave labor, held most of the political power and the best land. They built great houses, adopted an aristocratic manner of life, and maintained contact with the cultured world overseas. Next in the social-economic scale were the farmers who found their hope for prosperity in the fresh soil of the back country. Least prosperous were the small farmers who struggled for existence in competition with slave-owning planters. In neither Virginia nor Maryland did a large trading class develop, for the planters themselves traded directly with London.

It was the Carolinas, with Charleston as the leading port, which developed as the trading center of the south.

Here the settlers quickly learned to combine agriculture and commerce, and the colony owed much of its prosperity to the marketplace. Dense forests also provided revenue, and tar and rosin from the long-leaf pine were among the best ship stores in the world. Not bound to a single crop as was Virginia, the Carolinas produced and exported rice, indigo, and naval stores.

By , , or more people lived in the two colonies of North and South Carolina. In the south is everywhere else in the colonies - from the mountains of Vermont to the ragged forest clearings of the Mohawk River in New York, down along the eastern fringes of the Alleghenies and into the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia-growth of the back country, the frontier, became a significant development. Men seeking greater freedom of conscience than could be found in the original tidewater settlements had early pushed beyond their borders. Those who could not secure fertile land along the coast or who had exhausted the lands which they held found the hills farther west a fruitful place of refuge.

Soon the interior was dotted with successful farms, worked by men economically as well as spiritually independent of the older regions. Humble farmers were not the only ones who found the hinterland attractive. Peter Jefferson, an enterprising surveyor and father of Thomas Jefferson, third President of the United States, settled in the hill country, buying acres of land for a bowl of punch.

Although there was a sprinkling of large landowners among those who found their way into the foothills, most of those who left the settled colonies in the east were small, independent pioneers. Living on the edge of the Indian country, their cabins were their fortresses, and they relied for protection on their own sharp eyes and trusty muskets. By necessity, they became a sturdy and self-reliant people. They cleared tracts in the wilderness, burned the brush, and cultivated com and wheat among the stumps.

The men dressed in hunting shirts and deerskin leggings, the women in homespun petticoats. Their food was "hog and hominy" and roast venison, wild turkey, or partridge and fish from a neighboring stream. They had their own boisterous amusements - great barbecues where oxen were roasted whole, house-warmings for newly married couples, dancing, drinking, shooting matches, quilting bees. Already discernible were lines of cleavage between the old and the new, the east and west, the settled regions of the Atlantic seaboard and the inland frontier.

These differences at times were great and dramatic. Nevertheless, each region strongly influenced the other, for despite physical separation, there was a constant interplay of forces. As pioneers moved westward, they carried forward something of the older civilization and established in fresh soil traditions which were a part of their common heritage. Many western pilgrims returned to tell their stories and excite the imaginations of the stay-at-homes.

Men from the western country made their voices heard in political debate, combating the inertia of custom and convention. Even more important was the fact that anyone in an established colony could easily find , a new home on the frontier. This was a powerful factor in preventing authorities in the older communities from successfully obstructing progress and change. Thus, dominant tidewater figures were forced, time after time, to liberalize political policies, land-grant requirements, and religious practices, on popular demand, which was always supported by a direct or implied threat of a mass exodus to the frontier.

Complacency could have small quarter in the vigorous society which an expanding country generated. The movement into the foothills was a movement of tremendous import for the future history of the whole of America. Of equal significance for the future were the foundations of American education and culture established in the colonial period. Harvard College was founded in in Massachusetts.

Near the end of the century, the College of William and Mary was established in Virginia, and a few years later, Connecticut legislation provided for the establishment of Yale University. But the most noteworthy feature of America's educational history was the growth of a public school system.

To New England goes much of the credit for this contribution. There the settlers acted together as a single public body, bringing to bear upon the school the concentrated resources of the community and, in , Massachusetts Bay legislation - followed shortly by all the New England colonies except Rhode Island -provided for compulsory elementary education.

In the south, the farms and plantations were so widely separated that community schools like those in the more compact settlements were impossible. Planters sometimes joined with their nearest neighbors and hired tutors to teach all the children within reach. Often, children were sent to England for schooling. In the more thickly settled areas, a few neighborhood schools provided instruction but, in general, the individual planter was obliged to assume the cost and responsibility of hiring tutors.

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In poorer families, the parents themselves undertook to give their children the rudiments of learning. In the middle colonies, the educational situation was varied.

Foundation of the American Family

Too busy with material progress to pay much attention to cultural matters, New York lagged far behind both New England and the other middle colonies. Schools were poor, and well-to-do citizens were obliged to hire tutors for their children. For a large proportion. Only spasmodic efforts were made by the royal government to provide public facilities, and not until the mideighteenth century were the College of New Jersey at Princeton, King's College now Columbia University , and Queen's College Rutgers established.

One of the most enterprising of the colonies in the educational sphere was Pennsylvania. The first school, begun in , taught reading, writing, and the keeping of accounts. Thereafter, in some fashion, every Quaker community provided for the elementary teaching of its children. More advanced training -in classical languages, history, literature - was offered at the Friends Public School, which still exists in Philadelphia as the William Penn Charter School. The school was free to the poor, but parents who could were required to pay tuition for their children.

In Philadelphia, numerous private schools with no religious affiliation taught languages, mathematics, and natural science, and there were night schools for adults.

Nor was the education of women entirely overlooked, for private teachers instructed the daughters of prosperous Philadelphians in French, music, dancing, painting, singing, grammar, and sometimes even bookkeeping. The advanced intellectual and cultural development of Pennsylvania reflected, in large measure, the vigorous personalities of two men. One of these was James Logan, secretary of the colony, at whose fine library young Benjamin Franklin found the latest scientific works. In , Logan erected a building for his collection and bequeathed it and his books to the city.

There is no doubt, however, that Franklin himself contributed more than any other single citizen to the stimulation of intellectual activity in Philadelphia. He was instrumental in creating institutions which made a permanent cultural contribution, not only to Philadelphia, but to all the colonies. He formed, for example, a club known as the Junto, which was the embryo of the American Philosophical Society. As a result of his endeavors, a public academy was founded which developed later into the University of Pennsylvania.

His efforts in behalf of learning resulted also in an effective subscription library which he called "the mother of all the North American subscription libraries. For, on the frontiers, the hardy Scotch-Irish, though living in primitive cabins, refused to fall into the slough of ignorance. Convinced devotees of scholarship, they made great efforts to attract learned ministers to their settlements and believed implicitly that laymen likewise should cultivate all their mental talents. In the south, planters depended very largely on books for their contact with the world of cultivation.

Books from England on all subjects - history, Greek and Latin classics, science, and law -were exchanged from plantation to plantation. In Charlestown, a provincial library was established in Music, painting, and the theater, too, found favor there. Indeed, actors long regarded Charlestown with special affection, for they were certain of a more cordial welcome there than in other colonial cities.

In New England, the first immigrants brought along their little libraries and continued to import books from London. The Puritans, to be sure, had an inordinate appetite for religious writings, but they did not confine their reading to such works. By the 's, Boston booksellers were doing a thriving business in works of classical literature, history, politics, philosophy, science, sermons, theology, and belles-lettres.

Cambridge, Massachusetts, early boasted a printing press, and in , Boston's first successful newspaper was launched. Several others soon entered the field, not only in New England but in other regions. In New York, for instance, there occurred one of the most important events in the development of the American press. This was the case of Peter Zenger, whose New York Weekly Journal, begun in , was the mouthpiece of opposition to the government.

When, after two years of publication, the colonial governor could tolerate Zenger's satirical barbs no longer, he had him thrown into prison on a charge of libel. Zenger edited his paper from jail during the nine-month trial which excited intense interest throughout the colonies. Andrew Hamilton, a great lawyer, defended him, arguing that the charges printed by Zenger were true and hence not libelous in the real sense of the term. The jury returned a verdict of not guilty, and Zenger went free. The consequences were far-reaching, not only for colonial America, but for the America of the future.

The decision was a landmark in the establishment of the principle of freedom of the press. Literary production in the colonies was largely confined to New England. Here attention was concentrated principally on religious subjects. Sermons were the most numerous products of the press. A famous "hell and brimstone" minister, the Reverend Cotton Mather was alone the author of about works, and his masterpiece , Magnalia Christi Americana , was so large a work that it had to be printed in London.

In this folio, the pageant of New England's history is displayed as it appeared to the prejudiced eyes of its most prolific and pedantic writer. The most popular single work was the Reverend Michael Wigglesworth's long poem, The Day of Doom , which described the Last judgment in terrifying and sulphurous terms. Everybody read it and everybody owned a copy of the fearful epic. In , the U.

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Department of Labor reported that women made up almost 50 percent of the paid labor force, putting them on equal footing with men when it comes to working outside the home. In addition, single-parent families headed by mothers, families formed through remarriage, and empty-nest families have all become part of the norm. Along with these shifts have come declining marriage and birthrates and a rising divorce rate. The American birthrate is half of what it was in , and hit its lowest point ever in In addition, the number of cohabitating couples increased from less than half a million in to 4.

According to the American Community Survey, more than 50 percent of households in America were headed by an unmarried person during that year. And by , almost 40 percent of children were born to unmarried, adult mothers. There were also medical advances in contraception, including the invention of the birth control pill in As a result, the way children were brought into families became more varied than ever before. Included in these trends is the expansion of rights granted to same-sex couples. However, all of this change does not mean that the family is a dying institution.

About 90 percent of Americans still marry and have children, and those who divorce usually remarry. Many who are interested in family development and culture choose to pursue a career in family science. Because of this, professionals in the field practice in a variety of contexts, including:. Though the families of today have little in common with those in previous decades and centuries, family science professionals have a clear perspective on how to approach the complexities of a constantly evolving institution.

And these skills will only become more valuable as families continue to evolve. Concordia University, St. Paul offers online family science degree programs at both the undergraduate and graduate level. The comprehensive education students receive through these programs allows them to become practitioners in this dynamic and interdisciplinary field. To learn more about these online degree programs, visit the online campus. Paul has been accredited since , with reaccreditation given in Paul Concordia Avenue, St.

Paul, MN P: 1. A housewife was responsible for the family garden, not only for planting and tending it but for preserving vegetables and herbs for the winter. This was an elaborate process of either storing vegetables in barrels, layered with sawdust which would prevent the entire barrel from rotting if something spoiled or storing vegetables and fruits in a cellar in the ground.

Other vegetables, such as corn, were dried so they could be used in stews in the winter. A woman was also responsible for milking the cows and making butter and cheese. She made soaps and candles, sewed and mended all of the families clothing.

She cooked, cleaned the house, and did laundry. Without any of our modern technologies, all of these tasks were done by hand, so we can only imagine how hard these women had to work! It would have been a luxury for a white family to own a household slave. Most slave-owning families in North Carolina had fewer than ten slaves, and these men and women primarily worked as farm hands or in the workshop. To help the wife with her work, wealthy families would have hired a servant, usually the daughter of a neighbor or a family member.

Eventually, a woman would have several daughters who would help her with her duties. Childhood ended very early in colonial society. Until the age of four, children were dressed in gender-neutral gowns, which marked their non-adult status. They were usually free to play and had few responsibilities. But by the age of three or four, children were given small chores to do around the house, such as gathering sticks to be used to start fires or feathers to be used to make beds and pillows.

Children as young as four were taught to knit and make stockings. Once they turned five, they were dressed in clothing very similar to adult clothing and given more responsibilities. Boys would go to work with their fathers, and daughters were given more household chores. Parents put their children to work for practical and economic reasons. There was so much work to be done in a household that parents needed children to help out as soon as they were able.

Giving children work tasks also kept them occupied and out of danger. Fathers and mothers had many responsibilities, and they could not be constantly watching or entertaining small children. There were also religious motivations behind putting children to work as early as possible.

About Colonial Family Life

Idleness was considered a sin, even in children. Parents believed that it was their moral responsibility to teach children to be productive. While there might be some time for children to play, they were expected to be busy working for most of the day. Adults in colonial America often died young by today's standards, and many children lost their parents and were raised by step-parents.

When a parent remarried, their new spouse often had children from a previous marriage, so families were a blend of full-, half-, and step-siblings. And because a married woman usually continued to have children into her forties, older children might be married and starting their own families while their parents continued to have children. It was not uncommon for a youngest child to have a niece or nephew older than he or she was! Children were to show the utmost respect to their parents. A father would whip a child who was rude, stubborn, or impolite.

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Colonists generally believed that society should be a hierarchy in which people were ordered from top to bottom and that everyone in society should know their place in the social order. People should be kind to those beneath them but show the utmost respect to their superiors. This was modeled at home. Children were supposed to do as they were told by their parents and be polite to any servants or slaves in the household. Once a child was grown, he or she was still expected to seek advice and guidance from his or her parents.

We have letters between grown children and their parents in which children not only provided their parents with news and gossip, but also sought advice on finances, business, household management, and rearing their own children. Skip to main content. Board of Education and School Desegregation Brown v. Bush: U. Reading Primary Sources: an introduction for students Appendix B. Wills and inventories: a process guide Appendix C.