Colonial North American in the first half of the eighteenth century was a thriving and changing set of regional socities that had developed from turbulent seventeenth century beginnings. The colonies along the Atlantic seaboard were affected similarly by population growth and economic development. The exercise of political power of elected legislative assemblies and local bodies produced seasoned leaders. All regions experienced a religious awakening that was itself connected to secular changes. The tensions in late colonial society with the unfair acts and laws set by England eventually led to the war for American independance, the American Revolution.
The American Revolution dominated the lives of all who lived through it, families were disrupted, communities were destoyed, diseases were spread and the economy was in shambles. Liberty came at a high cost. Once independence was won, it had to be preserved. With the ratification of the new Constitution, the revoluntionary era came
to an end. (Nash 102, 182, 222)
By 1750 the eastern edge of North America had swelled to over one million.While North America was expanding through natural increase, the population also received waves of new immigrants. The eighteenth-century newcomers came from Ireland, Germany, Switzerland
and Africa, most were indentured servants and slaves.(Nash 102) The traffic in servants became a regular part of the commerce linking Europe and America. Shipowners made their profits fetching sugar, furs, fish, tobacco, rice and forest products eastward. (Nash 103)
The American colonists still occupied only a narrow strip of coastal plain in eastern North America by the mid-eighteenth century. Only a tiny fraction of 1.2 million settlers and slaves lived father than 100 miles from the shores of the Atlantic. (Nash 106) Between
them and the Pacific Ocean lay rich soils in the river valleys of the Ohio and Missippi and beyond that a vast domain that they had not imagines. In the beginning of the 1750’s, westward moving colonists in pursuit of more land would encounter four other groups already
established to their west: the populous Native American tribes and smaller groups of French Americans, Spanish Americans, and African Americans. Changes occuring among these groups would affect settlers breaching the Appalachian barrier and in the third quarter of the
eighteenth century would reach eastward to the origianl British settlements. (Nash 107)
Only about 5 percent of the eighteenth century colonists lived in towns as large as 2,500 and none of the commercial centers boasted a population greater than 16,000 in 1750 or 30,000 in 1775. The urban societies were at the leading edge of social change. Alterations associated with the advent of modern life occured first in the seaport towns and moved outward to the villages, farms, and plantations of the hinterland. The cities were the centers of intellectual life and the conduits through which European ideas flowed into the colonies. (Nash 121) Population growth, economic development and a series of wars the punctuated the period from
1690 to 1765 altered the urban social structure. Stately townhouses rose as a testimony to the fortunes acquired in trade, shipbuilding, war contracting and urban land development. Alongside urban wealth grew urban poverty. After 1720, poverty marred the lives of many more city dwellers. Many were war widows with many children and no means of support. Others were migrants seeking opportunities in the city. Some were recent immigrants who found fewer chances for employment than earlier. Boston was hit especially hard, it’s economy stagnated in the 1740’s and the taxpayers strained under the burden of paying for heavy war expenditures. (Nash 123)
Many of the social, economic and political changes occuring in the eighteenth-century colonies converged in the Great Awakening, the forst of many religious revivals that would sweep American society during the next two centuries. The timing, as well as the religious and social character of the awakening, varied from region to region. This quest for spiritual renewal challenged old sources of authority and produced patterns of thought and behavior that helped fuel a revolutionary movement in the next generation. The Great Awakening was not a unified movement, but rather a series of revivals that swept different regions between 1720 and 1760 with varying degrees of intensity. The first stirrings cam in the 1720’s in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. From New Jersey, the awakening spread to Pennsylvania in the 1730’s, especially among presbyterians, and then broke out in the Connecticut River valley. How religion, social change and politics became interwoven in the Great Awakening, but in different ways and at different times. (128-131)
In a new environment, where they met unexpected circumstances, the colonists modified familiar political forms to suit their needs. (Nash 136) Tensions between English and French colonizers intensified with the population growth of the English colonies. Thousands of settlers went towards the Applachians, fur traders and land
speculators arrived in the French influenced region and created competion between the two. The English established the first outposts in the Ohio Valley in the 1740’s and challenged the French. The French had driven the English out of the Ohio by 1755 and the English sent thousands of troops to America to destory French trade in 1754. When the troops neared Fort Duquesne, both sides had surprised
eachother and the battle began. At first it was a standoff but the French brought out more of their Indian allies and finished off the English and American soliders. The French would continue to win for 2 more years. (Nash 147-148) The English would continuously try to lure Iroquois to alli with them, Iroquois never made a solid decision until the English fought victories over the French in 1758. The English navy cut off French trading by blocking them off in the St. Lawrence River. (Nash 149)
In 1751 there was the Currency Act. It forbid all colonies to issue paper money as a legal tender, the colonial economy was short of hard cash so this constricted trade. In November 1765, the Stamp Act became effective. It required revenue stamps on every newspaper, pamphlet, almanac, legal document, liquor license, college diploma, pack of playing cards and pair of dice. Reaction to the Stamp Act ranged from disgruntled submission to mass defiance.(Nash 153)
In 1773 the Tea Act was passed by parliament, this act allowed the East India Company to ship its tea directly to America. This eliminated English import taxes and gave Americans the opportunity to buy tea cheap. The East India Company had 600,000 pounds of tea ready for shipment to America. Merchants denouced the new act a monoploy on the American tea market and that other monopolies would follow. The colonists also objected that the government was trying to gain acceptance of Parliament’s taxing.
Meetings in the port towns caused agents from the East India Company to resign and citzens promised not to buy the tea. A party led by Samuel Adams had been urging citzens to send the tea back to England.
Hutchinson refused to give clearance papers to the ships to return to England, and on December 16, 1773 5,000 people gather in Old South Church and passed resolutions urging the governor to clear the ships, but Hutchinson still refused. At night a band of Bostonians dressed like Indians, got on the ships and threw 10,000 worth of tea into Boston harbor. (Nash 163)
General Gage became the governor of Massachusetts and occupied Boston with 4,000 troops. In April 1775 the London government ordered Gage to arrest the actors and abettors of insurrection in Massachusetts. He sent 700 redcoats at night to seize colonial arms and ammunition in Concord. When the troops reached Lexington 70 townsmen occupied the village green. In this fight 18 farmers were hurt and 8 died. The British entered Concord where there was another skirmish, the redcoats withdrew and made their way back to Boston. Before the day was over 273 British and 95 Americans were dead or wounded. In May 1775 the Second Continental Congress assembled in Philadelphia. (Nash 165) The people of America wanted their independance from England and in 1775 they all joined together to fight the Revolutionary War to give America its freedom.
The War for American Independence was terrifying to the people caught up in it as well as destructive of lives and property. Throughout the war soliders suffered from shortages of supplies. During the terrible winter of 1777-1778 men hobbled about without shoes or coats. Many soliders died for Americas freedom, how many soliders actually died we do not know. The most conservative estimate is over 25,000 a higher percentage of the total population than for any other American conflict except the Civil War. The Revolution altered people’s lives in countless ways that reached beyond the sights and sounds of battle. No areas of American life were more powerfully charged than politics and government. As the war ended, problems of demobilization and adjustment to the novel conditions of independence troubled the new nation. Whether the Confederation
Congress could effectively deal with the problems of the postwar era remained unclear. (Nash 194, 203, 222)
The American colonies robust and expanding, matured rapidly between 1700 and 1750. Full of strength yet marked by awkward incongruities, colonial America in 1750 approached an era of strife and momentous decisions. The colonial Americans who lived in the third-quarter of the eighteenth century participated in an era of political tension and conflict that changed the lives of nearly all of them. Yet it left them with difficult economic adjustments, heavy debts and growing social divisions. Independence and war redrew the
The American People. Gary B. Nash, 1988.