American Society Takes Shape, 1650 – 1763 Origins of Slavery



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American Society Takes Shape, 1650 – 1763
7. Origins of Slavery
The origins of slavery can be traced back much further than the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century plantations in the southern United States. By the time the English had begun to settle permanent colonies in North America, the Spanish and Portuguese had developed a model of slavery to provide labor for commercial agriculture. This model was critical for the development of slavery in Anglo-America.
The development of the slave trade began with the Portuguese exploration of West Africa, primarily from Senegal to Angola, in the fifteenth century. With funding from Prince Henry, a patron of sciences who devoted his life to sponsoring innovation, the Portuguese sent expeditions to West Africa in hopes of finding gold and, later, an eastern water passage to facilitate trade with Asia. In 1441, captains Antão Gonçalves and Nuno Tristão led a voyage to Cabo Branco (on the Atlantic “bulge” of Africa), returning with gold, ostrich eggs, and twenty slaves, beginning a four-century traffic in Africans across the Atlantic world.
Slavery had existed in Africa prior to the arrival of Europeans, although it did not take the form it would assume in the Western Hemisphere. There, it would become integrally connected to commercial agriculture and result in defining the slave as chattel, or personal property. In the African system, slavery was not generational; a child did not become a slave to his mother's owner. Furthermore, under the African system, slaves were not defined as property and they could rise to positions of influence. Under this system, slavery was not racially prescribed.
To facilitate and increase their African trade, the Portuguese built several fortified outposts along the African coast. One of these posts was Elmina, "the mine," founded in 1482, which became the first exchange point for slaves on the West African mainland. Coastal tribes captured slaves from the African interior and shipped them to these coastal outposts. These journeys were difficult, and it is estimated that 40% of the captured slaves perished before reaching the coast.
Under Portuguese, and later Dutch, control Elmina served as a major trading post for shipping slaves to the Americas. Africans brought people captured in raids and wars to Elmina and other such posts, exchanging them for European goods such as mirrors, knives, cloth, beads, iron, guns, and gunpowder. By the early 1500s, the slave trade was well established. It would grow exponentially, with an estimated 50 million Africans either becoming slaves or dying en route to slave outposts during the 17th and 18th centuries. Of this 50 million, 10-15 million were sent to the New World, primarily South America and the West Indies. However, 400,000 of those slaves landed in North America, primarily at auction blocks in Newport, Rhode Island, and Charleston, South Carolina.
When the Spanish and Portuguese established their own colonies in the Western Hemisphere, they tried to recreate the system of bound labor that had emerged on their Atlantic islands. The most obvious source of such labor was the indigenous peoples. But using native labor was problematic, especially as Indian populations decreased in size in the face of European-borne diseases like smallpox, diphtheria, and tuberculosis, for which the natives had little immunity. In some areas, including various Caribbean islands, the native population vanished entirely.
As a result, planters searching for labor had to find alternatives, which they found in the African slave trade. When the English began to colonize America, they had no experience with slavery. However, as they discovered a marketable crop and realized there was relative unavailability of European-born servants, they turned to slavery. Such a process occurred on the English colony of Barbados, where planters struggled to find a viable export. They eventually found it in sugar cane introduced by Dutch merchants eager to add the crop to their cargos.
The rise of sugar cane cultivation initiated major changes on the island: planters cut down the jungles and turned virtually every inch of land into sugar cultivation. The most successful formed an elite that amassed increasing amounts of land, labor, and wealth. As demand for labor increased, such men first turned to indentured servants—men and some women who were willing to bind their labor for typically four to seven years in return for their passage.
These indentured servants contracted with a merchant or shipmaster for passage to the New World. The merchant or shipmaster then sold the indenture to a buyer in America or the West Indies. During their servitude, individuals received food, shelter, and clothing. Upon completing their terms of service, they were issued "freedom dues," which could include seeds for planting, new clothes, or even land, although this was rare. Newly released indentured servants were free to make their own living in the New World.
Planters were willing enough to use servants, but the sheer brutality of sugar cultivation and the urge to squeeze as much labor out of a servant’s relatively short term of indenture eventually soured the English on indenturing themselves to Barbadian landowners. Moreover, freed servants found it virtually impossible to buy land, since the island’s small surface had been taken over by the large sugar planters. As the supply of servants dwindled, planters looked to slaves. Dutch traders—and later English ones—were happy to oblige. In turn, Barbados and other English West Indies colonies would eventually provide the first regular source of slaves for American mainland planters.
However, horrific conditions on slave voyages limited the number of slaves that arrived on the mainland. These “middle voyage” treks each carried hundreds of African slaves chained by their neck and extremities on the cargo deck. In most cases, the slaves were so crowded in that they had to lay on their back for the entire trip. Some captains allowed the slaves to be washed regularly, but harsher ones kept the slaves captive, laying in their own excrement, for the three-to-six month voyage. These conditions were a breeding ground for disease, and between one and two million slaves died en route to America.
Slavery took a far longer time to develop in England’s first permanent colony, Virginia, than it had in the West Indies. John Smith had hoped to integrate natives into the Jamestown settlement, but his strong-arm tactics caused the natives to regard the infant colony with attitudes ranging from wariness to hostility. Unwilling to enter into any kind of long-term cooperative relationship with the English, the natives certainly did not allow themselves to become English chattel.
Furthermore, these natives of the Eastern Woodlands would prove poor subjects for slavery: their numbers declined in the face of disease; their values of individual autonomy and their agricultural methods did not translate easily into the kinds of collectivized agriculture slavery fostered; they knew the area and could easily escape into the forests; and their extended family networks led to trouble for anyone who might enslave a clan member.
However, by the early 1620s, the tobacco boon made it apparent that a reliable labor source for the back-breaking cultivation was absolutely necessary. Since Indians were unsuitable, and Virginia’s high mortality rates and a skewed sex ratio (males outnumbered females by almost 3:1) meant that finding a major source of labor in one’s children was out of the question, the planters turned to indentured servants from England.
In the earlier part of the seventeenth century, nearly half of England’s population lived at subsistence level, and the island was overpopulated. Some of the nation’s poor were willing to chance life in America, since their prospects at home were so bleak. Virginia’s planters, in turn, were only too happy to buy servants to cultivate their tobacco fields. Indentured servants provided the major source of the colony’s bound labor during the seventeenth century.
Yet servants were not a completely ideal labor source. For one thing, since servants provided labor for only a fixed period, their turnover rate was high. More importantly, their availability became more problematic as the century wore on. After about 1660, England’s population began to level off, and its economy, in the throes of the industrial revolution, proved better able to supply jobs. There was thus less reason for poor, single men and women to hazard their fortunes in America. In addition, the settlement of other American colonies meant that Virginia had to compete in an expanding labor market. Virginians began to have to pay more for the servants they employed. The number of freed servants was proving to be a political and social problem.
People indentured themselves with the hopes of gaining their own land, but by 1676, the opportunities for freed servants to obtain their own title had greatly diminished as wealthier colonists bought up vast amounts of undeveloped land for speculative purposes. In that year, the freedmen’s frustrations boiled over when a series of Indian attacks ravaged Virginia’s western counties.
Nathaniel Bacon, a member of Governor Sir William Berkeley’s council but also a planter whose foreman had been killed in a raid, demanded that the governor commission him to lead a volunteer army against the Indians. Berkeley refused, declared Bacon an outlaw, and started to recruit an army against him. As a result, a civil war broke out. In the end, Berkeley suppressed the rebellion but not before the colony had been thrown into turmoil and a hoard of complaints about how Virginia’s leaders ruled the colony had been given to a royal investigative commission. Bacon’s Rebellion reinforced how dangerous a mass of freed indentured servants might prove.
Meanwhile, a second form of bound labor was slowly taking shape. Since the first few African slaves arrived in Jamestown in 1619, a handful of black servants labored alongside whites. Indeed, small communities of free blacks—some of whom themselves held black slaves—appeared on the Eastern Shore in the mid-seventeenth century, living on seeming equal terms with their white neighbors. English law did not recognize the status of slave, and for decades Virginia’s planters struggled to define the legal status of people who were something other than indentured servants.
Some important court cases in the 1660s pointed toward the future; the results of these cases influenced laws known as the “slave codes” that were designed to control the population of slaves. One of them declared that a slave could not sue for his or her freedom just because he was a Christian (longtime convention had held that Christians could not enslave other Christians). Another decreed that the status of a child followed the status of the mother, since children of mixed lineage usually had a free white father and an enslaved black mother. Furthermore, these slaves and their children were pronounced to be slaves for life. Another important slave code made it illegal to teach slaves to read. With these slave codes, legal racial bias became part of the law in the American colonies.
The colonists were creating a category of people deemed subordinate to others on account not only of their race, but also because they were viewed as heathen and physically brutish by English canons of beauty and culture. Those same characteristics also argued against incorporating a mass of such people into Chesapeake society. The English preferred laborers of their own sort, and during the 1680s Virginia’s slaves constituted only some seven percent of the colony’s population.
Importation of slaves did not reach its height until the eighteenth century, between 1690 and 1720. During most of this period a softness in the international tobacco market forced numbers of planters out of tobacco and into wheat cultivation. Meanwhile, those who managed to prosper gained a comparative advantage by buying slaves, whose labor could be exploited for their entire lifetime. In addition, the average life expectancy was increasing, which meant that the number of workable years a slave could offer was also increasing, thereby reducing the overall cost of slavery.
The West Indies could no longer supply the number of slaves Virginians wanted, but slaves imported straight from Africa were expensive and hard to come by. In 1698, however, Parliament dispensed with the Royal African Company’s monopoly and opened the slave trade to any English merchant. Slave imports soared. By 1720, 20 percent of Virginia’s population consisted of black slaves, and by mid-century, that figure had climbed to over 50 percent. Likewise, in South Carolina, black slaves outnumbered whites 2 to 1. From this southern majority, a miniscule number of former black slaves became landowners and even owned slaves themselves.
Slavery provided planters with a long-term labor supply. Small planters, themselves tobacco farmers and, in many cases, slave owners, had the same interests in maintaining their labor force as the large planters. The “Old Dominion” had transformed from a society with slaves to a slave society.
Diversity
As the colonies along the Atlantic coast took shape in the mid-eighteenth century, they became grouped by region: New England, middle, Chesapeake, and southern colonies. Among these regions there were some general similarities, including temperate climates and more than adequate average rainfall, which are critical factors for maximizing agricultural production.
Surplus crops provided the most important exports in all regions except in New England, although what colonists grew depended on a variety of factors such as climate, topography, and soil types. All of the regions depended heavily on Britain for manufactured goods. Most colonies enjoyed easy access to the Atlantic Ocean both along their coasts and via river systems navigable for miles inland. However, provinces like North Carolina, whose Outer Banks blocked the passage of larger ocean-going vessels, and New Jersey, which had no major river system, became dependent on their neighbors for transporting their products. Despite these similarities, the colonies displayed regional differences.
The area known as New England was comprised of Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island. This region was highly English, with scatterings of Scotch-Irish population. With its proximity to the ocean, this area’s major commodity was fish. Other major exports included whale products and timber. Major imports included sugar from the West Indies, wheat from the Chesapeake region, and manufactured items from Britain.
The middle, or mid-Atlantic, colonies included New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Delaware. This region was known for being the most ethnically diverse during the colonial period. Large concentrations of Dutch, Scots, and Scotch-Irish settled in New York, along with some Germans and a few Huguenots, or French Protestants. New York also had the largest concentration of Africans in the middle colonies. New Jersey had a similar ethnic makeup, with a handful of Swedes in the Delaware River Valley. Delaware was heavily English, while Pennsylvania was predominantly German and Scotch-Irish.
The middle colonies had a greater population of slaves than New England. These slaves were necessary for the wheat harvests of New York. As a result of their bountiful harvests, New York’s major exports were wheat and wheat products. Like New England, the middle region relied upon Britain for manufactured goods and upon the West Indies for sugar imports.
The Chesapeake region of Maryland and Virginia, also known as the Upper South, was the wealthiest of the eastern regions. A heavily English region, this area was also populous with Germans and Scotch-Irish. The Chesapeake also had a great deal of racial diversity, with a population of 60 percent white, 40 percent black. Not surprisingly, then, slaves were common on both large and small farms. Tobacco served as the major crop of this region, although wheat also became a popular crop. The Chesapeake exported both tobacco and wheat, along with some food to the West Indies, and imported manufactured goods from Britain and slaves from the West Indies and Africa.
The final region along the eastern coast was the southern colonies, or Lower South, which included North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia. This region was the most racially diverse, with South Carolina being the only colony with a black majority. In addition to the multitude of Africans, this region was populated mainly by the English, with Scots, Scotch-Irish, Germans, and Huegenots figuring into the mix.
Like the Chesapeake, the Africans were necessary in the Lower South as a labor source for the plantations, and were commonly seen on smaller family farms as well. In addition to tobacco, major exports included rice and indigo. Cultivation practices for rice and indigo were extremely brutal and labor-intensive, and many slaves died from the brutal conditions. As a result, slaves from the West Indies and Africa were a major import to the area to replenish the supply and sustain productivity. Other major imports included manufactured goods from Britain and sugar and rum from the West Indies.
Family and Social Life
Family and social life for all Anglo-American colonists was colored by certain common conditions: a pre-industrial economy that put a premium on owning land, primitive knowledge of medicine by modern standards, and a social hierarchy shaped by the notion that God had ordained some to be rich and others poor. While these characteristics shaped life throughout the colonies, there were regional differences, especially between the two most ethnically English regions, the Chesapeake and New England.
The Chesapeake colonies were typically considered to have a more challenging environment, both physically and emotionally. Mortality rates in the Chesapeake were high, and most children had lost one or both parents before adolescence.
In the Chesapeake region, all white men and women were expected to marry. Women were expected to give birth, rear children, and manage the household. Respectively, it was the husband’s responsibility to participate in public life, including taking leadership roles in the church and government.
Many seventeenth-century men in the Chesapeake region found the expectation of marriage and family difficult to meet. Males outnumbered females, although this ratio became more balanced by the eighteenth century. Those who did marry entered into a permanent union; divorce was unimaginable and separations were rare. Chesapeake’s gentry, or upper-class men, married at an average age of 27, women at 22. Parents chose their children’s spouses, usually putting an emphasis on power and property. This emphasis eased somewhat during the latter part of the eighteenth century, and marriage for love became more common, particularly among the non-elite.
Throughout the colonies, wives suffered a “civil death,” the extinguishing of their property rights in marriage. Virtually alone among the eighteenth-century colonies, Virginia and Maryland continued the practice of granting a woman whose husband died without a will one-third of his personal property and life interest in one-third of his estate, but many husbands actually willed their wives far less.
Necessity and availability of materials dictated housing in the Chesapeake region. Homes in this area were generally built of wood. A typical eighteenth-century Chesapeake home was 16’ by 20’, one or one-and-a-half stories high, and with a steeply pitched roof. Homes on elite Southern plantations were larger, usually two stories, and made from brick. Although servants on small family farms would sleep in lofts under the homeowner’s roof, plantation slaves shared small wooden huts segregated from the planter’s home.
In the south, food was considered a pleasure rather than just a means of sustenance. Herbs and spices were used liberally, particularly among the elite. Fowl, meat, and game were standards, with the gentry occasionally enjoying shellfish as well. The southern climate was conducive to a variety of vegetables, and the residents of the Chesapeake region made these vegetables a staple of their diet. Slaves subsisted on a diet made primarily of corn, often served as a thick gruel.
Education was emphasized by the Chesapeake’s gentry. They were to a great extent self-educated, studying classical literature, history, philosophy, and science. They hired tutors for their children and sent their sons to England to learn dancing and other arts of gentility. For the rest of the Chesapeake population, schools were few and far between; some planters hired a schoolmaster to teach in the field, and the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts built charity schools. William and Mary, the only institution of higher learning in the colonial South, was chartered as a grammar school in 1693 and did not function fully as a college until the 1720s. It was designed primarily to develop ministers, but did offer non-theological subjects, too. Religious instruction was limited for younger students, with children learning primarily from catechisms.
Chesapeake families tended to live on isolated farmsteads or plantations, so the church was the primary outlet for socialization. Recreational activities, including dancing, card games and gambling, took place in people’s homes. Feasting was important, both as part of the church calendar and as a purely social affair. But the premier event was the horse race, which everyone could view, but on which only the gentry might bet.
Another major form of diversion for the Chesapeake settlers involved the pursuit, capture, and slaughter of wild animals. The gentry hunted deer and, less desirably, foxes. The middle-class southerners coursed, which is the act of hunting small game such as rabbits on foot. Farmers and laborers—the low end of the social ladder—engaged in ganderpulling (pulling off the neck of a goose hung from a tree while riding by it), cockshailing (throwing objects at a tethered fowl to torture or kill it), and “mizzling the sparrow” (placing a small bird’s wing in one’s mouth and trying to bite off the bird’s head without using one’s hands).
Life for New Englanders bore more differences than similarities to life in the Chesapeake region. The basic family structure was the same—adult men and women were expected to marry and reproduce. However, seventeenth-century New England offered a much lower mortality rate, with estimated life spans of nearly seventy for men and over sixty for women, with death in childbirth accounting for the gender difference. The average number of births in a family was eight, with six children surviving to adulthood.
Although the expectation of marriage existed in both the Chesapeake and New England, the reasons for marriage and the methods for attaining it were very different. New England’s Puritans considered marriage to be a civil covenant rather than a religious sacrament, and that love should occur prior to marriage, so arranged marriages were highly uncommon. Elite families in New England did still try to arrange marriage based on financial and political considerations, but most marriages required the consent of both parents, as well as the children. Unlike the Chesapeake, where divorce was unheard of, New England allowed divorce for such things as adultery, excessive cruelty, or desertion.
Believing that a companionate marriage was a woman’s best security, New Englanders frowned on trusts and other devices meant to secure a woman’s property in marriage. However, they did allow a jointure, or marriage settlement, in which the bride’s family contributed money or property to a dowry, and the groom’s family set aside an equivalent amount in real estate in the bride’s name.
Family connections were equally important among African slaves in New England. With slave owners living in closer proximity to one another than in the south, slaves could better maintain family and friendship bonds. The slave population in this area began to sustain itself as a higher number of female slaves resulted in a higher slave birth rate. This made America one of the few slave societies in history to grow by natural reproduction.
New Englanders typically made their houses of hardwoods, switching to softwoods in the eighteenth century as deforestation claimed oaks and cedars. Even the upper classes relied primarily on wood, facing their houses with brick only late in the eighteenth century. Two common designs for middle-class families were the “salt box”—two stories in front, one in back, with two large chambers on the first floor and smaller rooms on the second—and the “Cape Cod,” one and one-half stories with bedding areas above the first floor. Common New England houses were built to accommodate large, nuclear families without servants. They often contained a hall with the great fireplace, a parlor where husband, wife, and perhaps the new baby slept, and a full kitchen, placed in the rear under the slanted roof. New Englanders also had underground cellars for storage, salting, and dairying. Like people in the Chesapeake, eighteenth-century New Englanders could increasingly purchase utensils, furniture, and other such items from Britain.
Puritan tendencies toward minimalism carried over into food choices and preparation. The usual fare included fish, especially cod, porridge, baked beans, and brown bread. More than other colonists, New Englanders boiled their food, without spices, and including all the items within a single pot. Baked goods were quite important to the diet, and baking in general was a very common method of preparing food. New Englanders became famous for their pies. Because of the wheat blast (a fungus that affected crops after 1660), New Englanders used cornmeal and rye, reserving wheat for special occasions. They also consumed vegetables in season. The diet was quite nutritious but aesthetically very plain, and there was little difference among classes.
Education was particularly highly valued in New England, especially as a way to promote piety. New England made a greater commitment to public education and to the creation of colleges than any other region, a commitment reflected by the fact that New England had the highest literacy rates throughout the colonies.
In New England, as in the Chesapeake, learning took place first in the home, where children learned basic skills such as reading and writing. Learning also occurred in the church, where the sermon was the principal device for teaching religious lessons, though children were also catechized. In 1647, Massachusetts decreed that towns with 50 families had to support a petty school, where young girls and boys would learn reading and ciphering, and towns with 100 families a grammar school, which might teach Latin, Greek, and even Hebrew. Other New England colonies soon followed suit.
Massachusetts chartered Harvard College in 1636, just seven years after the colony itself was chartered, primarily to educate ministers, though by the end of the seventeenth century half of the graduates were taking other occupations. Connecticut chartered Yale in 1701 to fight off Harvard’s perceived theological liberalism. The late colonial period witnessed the founding of The College of Rhode Island, renamed Brown, and Dartmouth, which was originally an Indian school.
Recreation in New England differed greatly from recreation in the Chesapeake. Whereas the Chesapeake peoples loved competitions that demonstrated individual skills, New Englanders focused on team events. One, the “Boston game,” involved kicking a ball from one end of a town, field, or beach, to the other, preceding football. The other, the “New England game,” also known as bittle-battle, or town ball, involved players hitting a ball and running bases, the antecedent of baseball. Due to New England’s strict religious principles, Sunday sports were forbidden, and games of chance, racing, and activities involving drinking were strongly discouraged.
Certainly, New England’s piety affected every aspect of its population’s lives, prevailing in a kind of cultural austerity, while Chesapeake life took on a more festive, less inhibited cast. However, the festivity of the Chesapeake was tempered by the high mortality rates and expectations of loss, whereas New Englanders grew to expect a longer, healthier life.
9. The Enlightenment
The first Puritans who settled in New England brought with them a passion and conviction in their religious beliefs. Many also believed in the reality and efficacy of magic. Especially in New England, the culture of wonders was rooted in providentialism, a belief that God governs the world at each moment through His will and that all events occur as part of His ordained plan. Providentialism provides that one can best understand the natural world as the organic expression of God’s desire.
Subsequent generations of settlers remained tied to the church, but their piety weakened over time. As settlers turned their focus to the profitability and day-to-day management of their settlements, the number of conversions, or testimonials of God’s grace which gave them the right to join the church’s elite, decreased.
In an effort to reverse this trend, Puritan ministers developed the Half-Way Covenant in 1662. This declaration allowed for a new category of members who were converted but did not have full communion rights. In addition, this covenant allowed children of the converted to have church membership even if they had not been baptized. This partial church membership led to greater religious participation, but at the same time weakened the purity of religion. As members of the church’s elite grew increasingly frustrated and concerned about the effects of the Half-Way Covenant, these tensions spilled over into the events that would come to be known as the Salem Witch Trials.
As concerns about religious purity were at their pinnacle, members of struggling rural families began to accuse their more successful counterparts of witchcraft. Although primarily women were accused, some men also fell under the shadow of suspicion. Some of the accused received trials in 1691 and 1692, many others did not, and suspected witches were often burned at the stake, hanged, or drowned. The hysteria finally ended in 1693 when the governor’s wife was accused of witchcraft. The governor intervened, prohibiting further trials and pardoning those who had already been convicted, even pardoning some people posthumously. Facilitating the governor’s declarations was a changing mindset among the New England population that encouraged more rational thinking, as the Enlightenment spread from Europe to America.
The Enlightenment, also called The Age of Reason, is described by scholars as an epistemology (a method of thinking and knowing) based on the presumption that the natural world is best understood through the use of close observation by the human faculties coupled with a reliance on reason. Intellectuals began to see the universe as an ordered creation, a place of balance and order, which promoted the mathematical revolution found in poetry, music, art, and architecture from this period. Observation and reason began to supplant revelation, reliance on tradition or traditional authority, and inward illumination as the dominant means of acquiring knowledge.
The Enlightenment in Anglo-America was greatly influenced by two revolutionary English thinkers: John Locke and Sir Isaac Newton. Locke, an English philosopher, argued in 1690 the “tabula rasa” theory of human development. In his Essay on Human Understanding he proposes that the mind is a blank slate, formed and shaped by its environment and experiences. Newton published his theories on gravity in Principia in 1697, and defined a set of laws that govern nature. Few colonists read Locke and Newton directly, but popularized versions of their theories had a great impact. Colonists followed European developments with great interest in an effort to emulate and adapt them to the American environment.
The Enlightenment had a profound effect on religion. Many Christians found the enlightened view of the world consistent with Christian beliefs, and used this rational thinking as support for the existence and benevolence of God. Preachers incorporated the vocabulary of reason and natural law into their sermons to explain how God works through natural causes without giving up their postulates that He is the first cause of everything.
However, the Enlightenment led other Protestants in a very different direction. More liberal Congregationalists as well as Anglicans denounced traditional doctrines about the nature of God, arguing that He was a benevolent, rather than arbitrary, deity. They also disputed the divinity of Christ (some began to think he was entirely human) and the process of salvation, arguing that God saves sinners not because he predestines them to grace but because he foresees the good works they will perform through their own volition. These positions fostered Anglicans' complacency that the world was ordered in the best possible way, and generated liberals' distaste for the spiritual frenzies of religious enthusiasm.
Another outcome of the Enlightenment was deism, a belief held by some intellectuals that God functioned as a clock-maker, creating the universe and then stepping back to watch his creation function. Over time, this theory came to be known as the “Ghost in the Machine.” Rejecting most commonly accepted beliefs of Christianity, great thinkers of the Enlightenment, including Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, and Thomas Paine adopted deistic beliefs.
In the colonies, the Enlightenment was embraced by influential colonials who were intent on keeping up with the Europeans’ advancements. Among those responsible for spread of the Enlightenment in America was Professor John Winthrop, the long-time governor of Connecticut and a member of the Royal Society of London. His cousin, also of the same name and also a professor, brought calculus to the colonies. In Philadelphia, self-taught scientist David Rittenhouse built the first telescope in America, while fellow Philadelphian John Bartram made a lifetime study of American plant life.
Both Americans and Europeans identified Benjamin Franklin as exemplary of the age of Enlightenment. In the course of his life, Franklin owned a printing press, published Poor Richard's Almanac which he filled with his colorful maxims, founded a fire company and a library, and helped start a debating club. As a self-made scientist, Franklin published valuable theories on electricity, medicine, physics, and astronomy. He is also credited with several inventions, including the lightning rod, a glass harmonica, and the Franklin stove.
The Enlightenment also had an impact on education. Franklin helped found the College of Philadelphia, which later became the University of Pennsylvania. At the same time, a spate of other learning institutions arose, including the College of New Jersey, College of Philadelphia, Kings, Queens, Brown, and Dartmouth. Though these colleges’ primary focus remained to train ministers, the Enlightenment opened up education beyond that single purpose. The focus on education led to the establishment of public libraries and an increasing amount of social activism.
The Enlightenment’s influence on eighteenth-century America was profound. Advances in science and the arts, along with increased religious freedom, carried over into modern society. Furthermore, the focus on balance and order set the groundwork for an American governing system that included a balance of power.
The Great Awakening
The Enlightenment brought logic and reason into the way colonists thought about the natural world. However, religion remained a critical aspect of each colonist’s daily life. The biggest issue the church faced at the beginning of the eighteenth century was the fact that many settlers lived outside the reach of organized churches.
Isolated from their seaboard peers, the pioneers were often too far away to attend churches and religious gatherings. They, too, were caught up in the pursuit of wealth, defending their land holdings, and exploiting labor. It was a common opinion in the eastern settlements that the westerners had become as "savage" as their Native American neighbors. Churches still used traditional means of gaining new members, including building new churches and teaching children the articles and liturgies, but ministers were inching toward the discovery of a new mechanism—the revival—that would recruit not just an individual or a family but hundreds of people at once. The stage was set for a series of religious revivals, which would collectively become known as The Great Awakening.
As American thinking grew more scientific and settlers grew more prosperous, the colonists began to desire a more relaxed way of life. As a result, the dependency on strict religious tenets eased. Harsh Calvinist beliefs began to fall by the wayside as preachers such as Jonathan Edwards and George Whitefield began taking over the pulpits.
Jonathan Edwards, besides being a superb preacher in his own right, became his generation’s greatest theorist of revivalism. His most famous speech, Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God, preached at Enfield, Connecticut in 1741, is arguably the most famous American sermon of all time. But the model Edwards perfected—the traditional New England revival in which a pastor awakens a spiritual outpouring in his own congregation—did not become the American standard.
That honor fell to George Whitefield’s technique of “field preaching” that gathered hundreds, even thousands of people into a public space and subjected them to highly emotional, dramatic sermons. When performed by someone with Whitefield’s charisma and theatrical flair, dozens of people at a time were excited to experience conversion. Even logic-ruled Benjamin Franklin could not resist emptying his pockets into the offering plates at a Whitefield sermon.
Whitefield’s practice fit even better with conditions south of New England, where religious pluralism was greater, ecclesiastical organizations often weaker, and a greater percentage of the population were not church members. Reaching all thirteen colonies in 1739-41 and returning to many of them a few years later, Whitefield captivated audiences, who followed his movements through newspaper articles and journals that he wittingly published in order to advertise his journeys and their accomplishments. This was the first time a religious leader had done such a thing.
In the short run, the Great Awakening accelerated church membership, dropping the age of conversion and temporarily increasing the percentage of converts who were male. It also increased competitiveness among American churches for the new converts brought in by preachers like Edwards and Whitefield. In the long run, it had the effect of recruiting people who would likely have joined churches anyway, though more gradually. It also represented the first concerted effort to convert African Americans and native peoples living within the boundaries of colonial settlement, which brought about a new emphasis on missionary work by these people. Revivalists’ appeal for all to take Christ crossed ecclesiastical lines and reinforced the evangelical position that salvation could not be obtained without conversion.
The Awakening also spurred enormous controversy. Many ministers were influenced by the Enlightenment to distrust spiritual claims based solely on personal revelation. Thus, they doubted the authenticity of conversions, shuddered at traveling preachers luring people out of their own congregations, and disliked the self-righteousness displayed by converts who claimed to be able to determine whether their ministers and other church members enjoyed grace or not. As a result, many Congregationalists and Presbyterians split off from their churches and joined the Baptists, Methodists, and other moderate sects. The need for ministers of these new and emergent sects spurred the growth of colleges and universities throughout the colonies.
Some traditionalists rejected the teachings of Whitefield, Edwards, and other preachers of the Great Awakening as too radical, which divided their churches into two distinct groups. The traditionalists became known as “Old Lights” in the Congregational Churches and “Old Sides” in the Presbyterian Churches. Their counterparts who were accepting of the new doctrines became known as “New Lights” and “New Sides.” Both sides agreed on the need for living a life that glorified God, but the New Lights and New Sides took the view that salvation was man’s responsibility, rather than God’s. The New Light influence during this time brought about the foundation of several colleges, including Dartmouth, Brown, Rutgers, and Princeton.
The Great Awakening was the first true “American” event. Even as those with differing beliefs developed new religious organizations, the shared experiences of the revivals encouraged settlers to begin identifying themselves as Americans. The Awakening established revivalism as a major recruitment tool for many American Protestants.
The Awakening and the Enlightenment interacted in complex ways. The Enlightenment had its greatest impact among colonial elites, who in years to come would write a national constitution that balanced power among agencies of the government, protected religious liberty, and prevented the establishment of a national church. Most colonists, however, continued to subscribe to Protestant views of grace and salvation.
Both the Enlightenment and the Awakening fostered religious liberty, albeit in different ways. The Enlightenment underlined an individual’s natural rights to choose one’s faith. The Awakening contributed by setting dissenting churches against establishments and trumpeting the right of dissenters to worship as they pleased without state interference. During the Great Awakening, a coalition of enlightened liberals and evangelicals would write religious liberty into the law of the land.
9. French and Indian War - North American Alliances
By the mid-eighteenth century, the face of North America was changing. The British soldiers, officials, and colonists were moving west from the Atlantic coast and starting to cross into the Ohio River Valley. The Spanish occupied a vast region extending from the Gulf of California, across the desert, and along the Gulf Coast to Florida. The French settled primarily in New France, the area that would later become Canada.
The changes in North America were dramatic for the Native Americans. European expansion displaced many indigenous peoples. European diseases decimated whole tribes. Changing trade relations and the arrival of firearms allowed some tribes to become more powerful and expand their influence at the expense of rival tribes. The Native American tribes often struggled against each other as much as against the whites.
Both Europeans and Native Americans took advantage of shifting alliances within and between factions to expand territory, gain prestige, and settle grudges. In the 1600s, Native Americans were seen as obstacles to European advancement. By the 1700s, a new collection of allies and rivals developed as the political battles of Europe merged with the existing tensions among the Native American tribes of the New World.
One system of alliances pitted the French and the Huron Indians against the English and the Iroquois Indians. France and the Huron Indians had allied themselves as early as the 1600s in Quebec. The relationship between the French and the Huron dated back to the early 1600s when French fur-traders and explorer Samuel de Champlain established a friendly relationship between the Quebec settlers and the Huron. The Huron asked for, and received, assistance from the French in overcoming their primary rival, the Iroquois tribe of upper New York. Meanwhile, the British developed a trade relationship with the Iroquois. As a result of this relationship, the Iroquois aligned themselves with the colonists and became extensions of British authority just as the Huron became an important tool for French ambitions.
Tensions mounted as the settlers of New France wanted to increase their land holdings to build up the fur trade. Their primary focus was the lush Ohio River Valley and the Great Lakes. Meanwhile, the British also started moving into the Ohio River Valley, with the Crown granting lands to companies such as the Ohio Company to encourage settlement.
The conflict between the British and the French in North America played into power struggles in Europe. In the 1740s war broke out between George II of England and his allies in northern Germany against France and Austria who had connections to the Hapsburg rulers of Spain. As part of this struggle for power, in 1745, the British captured the French city of Louisbourg, in what is now Nova Scotia. The French tried to retake the area but were unsuccessful. With the French on the St. Lawrence threatening British holdings on the Atlantic coast, colonists in New England began contemplating an invasion of Canada to prevent the French from gaining any strongholds in North America.
A peace treaty in 1748 was only a temporary lull in the hostilities. By the 1750s, tensions in North America were again on the rise. The French, under New France’s leader Marquis Duquesne, established new settlements in the North American interior and unsuccessfully tried to persuade the Iroquois to break their ties to Britain. As the French prepared to mount an attack, the British were making plans for an attack of their own.
In 1754, the Virginia government dispatched 22-year-old Lieutenant Colonel George Washington with 150 men to an area near the forks of the Ohio River in modern-day Pennsylvania, where the French were building a fortified post named Fort Duquesne. Washington hoped to prevent the French from completing the fort, and to develop the fort for the British. However, before Washington and his troops reached the Fort, they came into contact with a small contingent of French and Huron Indians in the woods. After a bloody battle, the French and Indians emerged as victors. They allowed Washington to retreat with what was left of his troops. This battle marked the beginning of the French and Indian War.
In that same year, colonists called for an intercolonial congress—a meeting of representatives of all British colonies and six allied Native American nations to develop a plan to defend their land from the French. The congress took place in Albany, New York, where Benjamin Franklin, one of the congress organizers, proposed the Albany Plan of Union. The plan focused on two issues: developing a colonial force of defense, and self-imposed taxation to pay for that defense.
However, the distance and harsh traveling conditions kept representatives of six colonies from attending. Furthermore, although colonists agreed that unification was their goal, they could not agree on the terms. Colonists were not happy with the prospect of taxation, just as the British government was unhappy with the prospect of more colonial self-control. Even though the representatives returned home with no consensus having been reached, they had laid the groundwork for the republic that would eventually become the United States of America.
By 1756, the tensions in North America developed into a global conflict. Previous global conflicts had started in Europe and spread to the colonies, but this was the first example of aggression that started in the colonies and spread to Europe. Battles between Britain, France, Spain, and other European powers erupted in the West Indies, the Philippines, Africa, and Europe. This conflict, which started in North America as the French and Indian War, came to be known as the Seven Years’ War in Europe.
Britain emerged as the eventual victor in this war, but the triumph did not come easily. The British and colonial forces were notoriously disorganized and lost several battles along the way. In 1755, British General Edward Braddock lost an important battle, as well as his own life, when he set out to capture Fort Duquesne. Prior to arriving at the fort, he met a small contingent of French and Indian troops, which, despite being outnumbered, quickly dispatched Braddock’s troops. Among the routed British troops was Braddock’s second-in-command, George Washington, a veteran of the battle near Fort Duquesne in 1754.
To the British, the true hero of the war was William Pitt, who became prime minister of England in 1756. His administration orchestrated a British offensive under the command of Lord Loudon that finally succeeded in toppling Fort Duquesne in 1758. It was promptly renamed Pittsburgh in honor of the prime minister.
Pitt then set out to conquer the heart of French holdings in North America: the Montreal-Quebec area of New France (Canada). Pitt put James Wolfe in charge of a sneak attack on Quebec. Although Wolfe and his French counterpart, Marquis de Montcalm, were killed in the battle, the French surrendered, and the Battle of Quebec became the defining battle in the French and Indian War. With this victory in 1759, and a victory over Montreal a year later, France was removed from power in Canada. The Paris Peace Settlement of 1763 confirmed that France no longer held control over any part of North America, except for two small islands near Newfoundland.
French and Indian War - Proclamation of 1763
The British victory opened new territory for exploration and expansion, but it also brought the responsibility for overseeing three troublesome groups. The first were thousands of resentful former French subjects. French settlements remained in Canada and even today the French are a prominent minority in Quebec and Montreal. To keep the settlements under control, the British maintained a close watch and employed harsh tactics to quell rebellion. One tactic was mass deportation of former French colonists. One group, the Acadians, left New France and settled in Louisiana, particularly around New Orleans. Over time, the name Acadian was condensed to the now familiar “Cajun.”
France’s Native American allies were Britain’s second problem. With Britain’s victory in the French and Indian War, the Indian supporters of the French were now in a precarious position. The French were no longer able to back their Indian allies, which left tribes such as the Huron out of an increasingly British-dominated power and trade network. While the French tended to develop trade and mission connections with local tribes, the British colonial authorities were much more inclined to remove indigenous peoples altogether and clear the land for white settlement. Some tribes feared that the influx of British colonists would result in their eventual removal from their lands.
With the colonists marching forward onto his people’s land, Chief Pontiac of the Algonquian-speaking Ottawa tribe led a bloody rebellion that resulted in the death of thousands of soldiers and settlers. The Ottawa besieged all but three of the British forts west of the Appalachians.
The British countered by giving smallpox-infected blankets and handkerchiefs to the Indians. This disease swept through the Indian tribes and decimated their forces. The British regained the upper hand, but nonetheless realized the need to cohabitate peacefully with the Indians to prevent further turmoil.
The third troublesome group was, ironically, the British colonists, who were beginning to test the boundaries of Britain’s rule and were becoming increasingly aggressive toward the natives. In an attempt to maintain the situation until a peaceful resolution could be reached, London’s government issued the Proclamation of 1763, which called for a halt to westward expansion beyond the Appalachians. The desired effect of this proclamation was two-fold. First, the Britons hoped to keep the colonists tied more closely to English colonial authorities by confining them to the coast. Second, the Seven Years’ War had put England in dire financial straits, and keeping colonists east of the Appalachians would facilitate the collection of taxes and allow England to refill its coffers.
However, the Proclamation incensed the colonists, who felt they had earned the right to expansion by risking their lives in the new country. They openly defied British rule and rushed westward, creating new settlements, facing new challenges, and becoming more self-reliant.
The Proclamation of 1763 surfaced some resentments harbored by the colonists as a result of the French and Indian War. The colonists who fought alongside their British counterparts viewed the Brits as overly and unnecessarily formal. The colonists preferred Indian-style guerrilla tactics, while the British favored organized entry into battle. Colonists in New England also resented having to quarter British troops in their homes during the war. And Britain’s attempts to tax the colonists to pay for Britain’s wartime support angered the colonists.
In addition, Britain’s authoritarian rule over Canada brought deep concerns to the settlers. The loss of liberties in Canada, such as the right to trial by jury, raised fears among colonists that the Crown might impose a similar rule in New England. To the British, the end of the French and Indian War was a costly victory but one that opened the North American continent to their total control and development.
To the colonists the war was one of the first signs that they were not just transplanted Englishmen. They were a society with their own traditions, customs, and identity that was increasingly distinct from the mother country. They also had realized they had the resources to handle some of their own affairs without looking to Britain for support.
At one time, the British government was an important source of support and protection for the colonies. Increasingly, the British government was perceived as a nuisance whose demands for taxes became symbolic of an increasingly irrelevant colonial authority.
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