This article contains fast facts and information about Colonial Society during the 1700's. The structure of Colonial Society was determined by the social class of each colonist. The early American colonists had immigrated from Europe where strict social classes were in place, and despite America being a land of opportunity, these class-ridden social structures were imported to America and determined Colonial Society. The most important factor that determined which class a person belonged to in America was wealth. The people that you might mix with, as in Europe, was also initially determined by class, education, family background (power and influence) and social standing. There was a strong tendency, especially amongst those in the Southern Colonies to emulate British society. In Colonial Society your social life and contacts would all be with people from a similar social class.
Colonial Society - The Population of the Colonies
The structure of Colonial Society was at first based on British society - the old ways were brought from the old European countries. But as the population in the colonies of North America grew so did the rules for inclusion into Colonial Society. The population changes in 18th Century Colonial America were as follows:
- Colonial Society: In 1700 there was less than 300,000 people
- Ratio of English settlers to other colonists: 20 to 1
- Colonial Society: By 1775 there were 2.5 million people
- Ratio of English settlers to other colonists dramatically dropped to: 3 to 1
- Colonial Society: The biggest colonies were Virginia, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Maryland
- Colonial Society: 90% of all people lived in rural areas and worked on farms
- Colonial Society: There were only 4 major cities: Philadelphia, New York, Boston and Charleston
- Colonial Society: 80% of of the total British and continental emigration to America prior to the Revolutionary War were Indentured Servants
- Colonial Society: 20% of population of North America were slaves
- 90% of slaves were in the South
Colonial Society - Social Classes
Colonial Society was determined by social classes and much like a pyramid shape. The top consisted of just a tiny number of people who were the most powerful and wealthy people in the colonies. The lower down the pyramid, the more number of people there were and the lower their status. Just as Europe there were several social classes in the colonies of 18th century North America as depicted in the following chart - also refer to Colonial Work and Colonial Trades:
Chart of Social Classes in Colonial Society - 1700's
These men were the elite, wealthy, well bred and well educated minor aristocrats. Men of the Upper class could vote and held high public office.
| ||Middle Classes||Men of the middle class could vote but few held public office. These men owned small farms, ran stores or small businesses, were skilled tradesmen or belonged to professions such as ministers, doctors and lawyers|
| ||Lower Classes|
& 'Poor Whites'
|Men of the lower class could not vote, none held public office, few owned property and most were illiterate. These were manual workers, servants, apprentices, sailors and hired hands but also included semi-skilled tradesmen. "Poor whites" were increasingly forced to become tenant farmers |
| ||Indentured Servants & Convicts||Indentured Servants: Indentured servants (who included about 50,000 convicts) were were not paid any wages for up to 7 years. Indentured servants had few rights, they could not vote, they were not allowed to marry or to leave their houses and travel without permission and were not allowed to buy or sell anything.|
| ||Slaves||20% of population of North America were slaves and had no rights|
Chart of Social Classes in Colonial Society
Definition of Colonial Society
Colonial society was represented by only the wealthiest and most influential people. Definition of Colonial Society: Colonial society in the North America colonies in the 18th century (1700's) was represented by a small wealthy social group having a distinctive cultural and economic organization. The members of Colonial society had similar social status, roles, language, dress and norms of behavior. Often described as 'Old Money'. Members of Colonial Society in the 18th Century were:
- Owned land, plantations and large houses
- Engaged in highly profitable trade
- Often owned slaves and employed servants
- Well educated
- Held high public office
- Well-born or well-bred - a few were minor aristocrats
Colonial Society - The Gentry
Other members of Colonial Society in the 18th Century later included merchants, doctors, lawyers and ministers who held positions of influence and leadership in the community. Members of Colonial Society were commonly referred to as the gentry.
Colonial Society - The Nouveau Riche (New Rich)
The inclusion of members of the Colonial Society in the 18th Century extended even further and was based on the accumulation of wealth. The 'Nouveau Riche' were self-made men who took the opportunities that the colonies had to offer to acquire new wealth. The 'Nouveau Riche' would have previously belonged to a lower social class and rank. The men with the 'New Money' allowed upward social mobility into Colonial Society. Their new wealth provided them with the means to purchase and acquire expensive goods and services formerly exclusive to the upper class - Colonial Society. The nouveau riche were often deemed to be ostentatious, vulgar, lacking in culture and the understanding of the system of values associated with 'Old Money' including of inherited wealth and status.
Colonial Society in New England, the Middle Colonies and the Southern Colonies
No matter where a person in 18th century North America might live there were fully understood social lines, which people rarely crossed. The colonies were divided into three regions - the New England Colonies, the Middle Colonies and the Southern Colonies. The wealth and way of life in these regions were dictated by the geography and natural resources of the area. In New England great industries and town life developed. In the Middle Colonies farming communities were established. The economy of the Southern Colonies were largely based on plantations. There were therefore differences in the activities and interests of Colonial Society across the regions. the members of the New England colonial society met more frequently. Their social life was centered around towns. Roads had been built making travel easy and led to a highly active social circle. The activities of Colonial Society in the Middle and Southern colonies were generally determined by special events. Travel was difficult. There was not a developed system of roads. The easiest form of travel was along the waterways or on horseback. Without roads carriages were useless, so women travelled on far less occasions as men. Shopping was more difficult, most of the farms and plantations were therefore self-sufficient. Some members of Colonial Society were so far away from small towns that religious services were conducted in their own homes.
|New England Colonies|