The Social Classes In 18th Century Colonial America
In the 18th century colonial America, the society was diverse and complex. In the three main geographic areas, the South, the North and the Mid-Atlantic, social classes were quite different from each other because of the natural environment and social policy.
Many poor and young men and women were sent to America through a system called indentured servitude. In return for their passage, food and shelter, these people were promised 50 acres of land if they worked as servants for a period of 4 years for the planter. Just one-half of the poor who survived became land owners while the remaining either perished because of disease or worked as tenant farmers or wage laborers on estates owned by large planters.
By the 18th century, indentured servitude gradually reduced because England’s population growth had slowed down. This led to large planters, who were powerful both financially and economically, to purchase African slaves to work in their estate. The South gradually became a society consisting of elite rich planters, family farms and a mass of enslaved Africans.
The North was a society of small independent farmers known as yeomen. These farmers owned more than 70 percent of the land and worked to maintain a society of equal property owners. The first settlers divided their large farms among their children, and the next generation did the same thing. However, by mid 18th century, most farmers ended up having farms that were too small to divide among their children.
This led to some farmers having small families so that they could divide the farms among their children. Others petitioned the government for new land grants and ended up migrating to the interiors to form new communities.
The Mid Atlantic:
Small independent farms were also prevalent through most parts of mid-Atlantic colonies. However, the society and classes in these colonies were formed based on ethnicity and religion. The mid-18th century saw Philadelphia having no less than 12 religious denominations which included Quakers, Anglicans, Swedish, Roman Catholics and German Lutherans among others. In Pennsylvania, the Quakers, who were pacifists, were the largest religious group and they controlled the state’s representative assembly until 1750s. Many Europeans, who were looking to escape religious persecution and poverty, were attracted to Quaker vision. Many Germans migrated to Philadelphia in the 18th century and this period also saw the Scots-Irish settlers.
The mid Atlantic colonies were a mix of various ethnic and religious communities who were tied together by trade and political institutions.
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