The following deals with events, conflicts, and people during 1607-1692.
DISCLAIMER: This does NOT serve as a replacement for reading Chapter 4.
Though at first they resembled slums, early American settlements soon grew into complicated towns and cities. Both Native Americans and Africans assimilated and the pious laws of old were thrown out the window.
Picture the worst, smelliest place you’ve ever been. For most of us, it’s New Jersey. That’s what the Chesapeake Bay was like in the early 1600s. Diseases like malaria and typhoid ravaged the area. Men outnumbered women at increasing high rates. Single ladies quickly put a ring on it, but only because they liked it. Thankfully, the children bore by these women developed an immunity to the diseases that killed off so many others and the population boomed.
Tobacco grew wonderfully in the Chesapeake soil, but ended up permanently messing it up. This led people to look for new land, which provoked the Indians. More and more tobacco was being produced (40 million pounds annually by the 1700s), which drove the price down. At this time, African labor was too pricey, so they had to look to English indentured servants, who would serve for a few years and then were free, to help them on their lands.
Virginia and Maryland used the ‘headright’ method to employ servants. If someone paid for the passage of their indentured servant, they got 50 acres of land. This led to a plantation boom as land and servant was bundled into a two-for-one package and masters reaped the rewards. 100,000 ISs entered by 1700 and represented 3/4 of all European immigration. But sadly, after the ISs were granted freedom, they usually ended up working for their former master for low wages, something mirrored in the Reconstruction, but more on that later.
Remember all those poor, single men? They were getting angrier. In Virginia, Bacon’s Rebellion took place in 1676 as he and a thousand others tried to overthrown the governor, whose policies favored the Indians, who in turn monopolized the fur industry. They killed friend and foe Indian alike, chased Berkeley, the governor, from town, and torched the state capitol. Unrest like this would continue for a while.
Meanwhile, plantation owners looked towards Africa for loyal laborers that they could rely on. A total of 10 million Africans were brought to the New World against their will, 400,000 of them to America. The rest went to the West Indies and were continually imported, due to the high death rate. The expensiveness of the African slave changed during the 1680s, as wages rose in England, less men wanted to become indentured. Thus, by 1685, black slaves outnumbered white men. A pivotal move came in 1698, when the Royal African Company lost their monopoly on the African slave trade. It was now anyone’s game.
Most of the slaves came from West Africa, having been captured by coastal tribes and traded in for valuables. From there, they were branded with the seal of their capturing company’s country and then went on the middle passage, a grueling 5,000 mile trip during which 20% of the slaves died. They were finally sold on an auction block and went to do the whiteman’s bidding.
At first, there was no distinction between a servant and a slave. Now, with most slaves being a different race, slave codes were enacted that passed slavery down to a slave’s child. Nothing but the word of a master could free a slave. It was one of the worst follies mankind has ever seen.
The newly-imported slaves felt it the worst in the deep south. The climate was worse than back home and if the labor didn’t kill you, a white guy probably would. Up around the Chesapeake Bay, slaves had it easier with the tobacco plant. Unlike in the South, plantations in the Bay were closer, and slaves often knew other slaves in other plantations. By the 1720s, female slaves in the North rose greatly and soon slave families were a thing. Instead of getting new imports, the slaves actually sustained their numbers themselves.
The African culture quickly intertwined with American culture. We now use words like goober (think Spongebob), voodoo, and gumbo all the time. The development of jazz actually started with ritualistic dances called ringshouts. Coolbeans. The first recorded slave revolt occurred in New York in 1712, when 21 slaves, later executed, killed a dozen whites. There was another revolt in South Carolina in 1739, but nothing matched Bacon’s Rebellion.
Down in the South, it was obvious who was on top. The small, elite group of plantation owners ruled the economy and the political system. In Virginia, the three families of Fitzhughs, Lees, and Washingtons dominated the House of Burgesses. Though many of these men would eventually take on aristocratic-like roles, they were hard-working laborers just the same- managing a plantation. After the plantation owners, the largest social class was the farmers.
Most of the farmers were so poor that the only people that provided for were themselves (a sustenance farm). They might own a slave or two, but probably not. Lower down on the social scale were the last of the indentured servants. As you might have guessed, the African slaves were at rock bottom of the social scale.
The plantations in the South were isolated from each other and there were few large cities. Professionals like lawyers and financiers were unlikely to be found. Most traveled by water and the roads absolutely sucked.
Back in New England, Mother Nature hugged the colonists tightly. Cool temperatures and clean water killed killer microbes and everywhere, except the Chesapeake Bay, colonists added ten years to their lifespan. People also procreated. A lot. Women married in their early twenties and typically had a baby every other year ’til they hit menopause. Death during childbirth was prevalent and many women lived a fearful life.
Seeing as all these children grew up in nurturing, albeit strict environments, they had great obedience towards their parents and their grandparents, who were actually still alive. It’s said that New England created grandparents. OK, textbook, settle down. You’re starting to sound like the Nazis and airplanes. Anywho, down in the South, if a man died, the widow inherited all the land, due to the high male death rate and the fragility of the Southern family. In the North, law-makers were scared to do the same. In New England, a woman gave up property rights when she got married.
But things got gradually better for wives as abusive husbands were punished and they formed a monopoly on midwifery. Divorce only happened in cases of adultery, in which the adulterer in question had to wear an ‘A’ on his/her clothing. Sounds oddly familiar, doesn’t it?
New England was founded on close-knit villages and towns, which was only to be expected of settlers with common interests. In Chesapeake Bay, heck, I’ll just call it ‘Hell Hole’, settlement was completely screwy. In New England, new towns grew from colonial charters, which entrusted the distribution of land to proprietors. They then laid out their town and set up a meetinghouse, which would serve as a place of worship and politic. Towns with more then 50 families were required to provide education, as the literacy rate was only 50% back then.
In 1636, the first school in America was founded in Massachusetts. Harvard College was built for the express purpose of preparing boys for the ministry. Virginia finally followed with the making of their own college, William and Mary, in 1693.
In Puritan-run towns, the model for democracy was being formed. They ran their own churches and if their church government was democratic, their actual government would be democratic. New England men would vote in their meetinghouses for the election of school masters and to discuss things like road repairs and where to score sideline tickets for the Patriots games. Democracy was in its infancy.
As the population kept growing, people spread out, leaving behind the control of the church. The Puritans switched their story and starting preaching in a ‘jeremiad’ fashion, by talking about an old prophet named Jeremiah who doomed everyone. Ministers began to curse people for their loss of piety and the conversion rate sank. A new formula called the Half-Way Covenant started in 1662 in hopes of regaining church membership.
Originally, you could only belong to the Puritan church if you had had a conversion experience. Only the children of members would be baptized. Any other Christian was out of the luck. But with the Covenant, people gained partial membership to a once-elite church. Women would soon outnumber men. Eventually, like most churches, the Puritans would open their doors to almost anyone.
The Salem Witch Trials in 1692 led to the legal lynching of twenty, nineteen hangings, and the pressing to death of one man (Giles Corey FTW!). Witch hunts were all the rage in Europe, though none was quite like the one in Salem. Most of the people who accused others of being witches were subservient to the witches they accused. It finally ended a year later in 1693, when the governor’s own wife was accused. ‘Witch-hunting’ would eventually make its way into our vocabulary, being described as a scapegoat for social resentment.
Soil shaped New England. Alas, the soil was being a tad bitchy, nothing really grew, and it put a premium on industry. The bad lands and extreme climate made people less likely to immigrate there and made the place less ethnically diverse. Since we’re on the subject, the Native Americans recognized that they used the surrounding land for hunting and fishing, but they knew they didn’t own it. No one could own land, they thought.
The English hated the Native Americans for their weird love for the planet. The land should cleared for farms and fences and sewers and settlements, they sang in unison. Because of all the European livestock, land had to be continually cleared so that the animals could graze somewhere. But the animals got grazy and soon the land was too eroded for water to get into it. Since nothing would grow, the settlers turned to the lumber industry and built fishing boats to reel in some cash.
The soil, climate, and Calvinism all shaped New England and made it into the self-reliant, resourceful son-of-a-bitch that it still is today. As people spread out to get away from the soil, they took with them New England values and everyone loved it. High idealism and all that jazz.
BONUS (NOT REALLY)
The colonists had it hard. Most were farmers and worked year-round, planting in the spring and harvesting in the fall. Up at dawn and to bed at dusk. Women spent more of their time in the kitchen doing menial work. Man cleared forests and planted and killed things. Typical guy stuff. People were a lot richer than in England and land was really, really cheap. Only middle class people came to the New World, with the exception of indentured servants and slaves. The rich didn’t want to risk everything and the poor had no means to travel.
Most set out to recreate the Old World, but soon the elites fell to rebellions like Bacon’s and the Puritans’s revolt in Maryland. In the interest of equality, poor people couldn’t wear silver or gold and no one could race horses. Go figure.