(HRS) American Society Transformed, 1720-1770


                                                      Benjamin Franklin             William Penn

Hrs Chapter 4 Study Guide

In Chapters 2 and 3, we looked at American society in its infancy. Though this society was shaped by many forces, its basic belief and value systems came from England. At the end of Chapter 3, we saw that colonial society was showing signs of evolving in its own unique direction, a fact that caused England to formulate some rules and regulations (the Navigation Acts, for example) designed to control colonial behavior.

In Chapter 4, the authors analyze the internal makeup of colonial society to show more clearly how certain forces interacted to create the unique American society.

In the first section of the chapter, ?Population Growth and Ethnic Diversity,? we note the reasons behind the dramatic population growth in the colonies in the eighteenth century. By examining the migration of a variety of ethnic groups that made up that migration, we see the development of the cultural pluralism that distinguishes American society. At the same time we recognize some of the internal dynamics produced by that pluralism (the question of assimilation, as well as the emergence and consequences of ethnic antagonisms).

The economic evolution of the colonies is the main theme of the second section. Although there was slow economic growth between 1720 and 1750, growth was uneven. We examine in detail the economic forces operating in: (l) New England, (2) the middle colonies, (3) the Chesapeake area, and (4) the Lower South. The forces affecting the economy as a whole interacted with regional characteristics to create a separate set of economic dynamics within each region. Consequently, the colonies were not a unified whole and had no history of unity or sense of common purpose.

An examination of the characteristics of genteel and ordinary culture leads to a discussion of the religious, political, economic, and intercultural rituals in which eighteenth-century colonial residents participated and through which they forged their cultural identities. Due to differences in the historical experiences of Indians, people of mixed race, European-Americans, and African Americans, different family forms emerged within each group. Ethnicity, gender, and place of residence (rural versus urban) also affected patterns of daily life in eighteenth-century colonial America.

In the penultimate section, ?Politics: Stability and Crisis in British America,? we turn to political developments?chiefly the emergence of colonial assemblies as a powerful political force. We also look at the contrasts between the ideal and the reality of representative government in eighteenth-century colonial America.

Then we return to the theme that underlies all the sections in this chapter: the seeds of tension, conflict, and crisis present within eighteenth-century American society. If you look back at the earlier sections, you can see the potential for conflict in: (l) ethnic diversity; (2) the increase of urban poverty despite general economic growth, as well as the economic variations among the four regions; (3) the differences between city and rural life, between the status of men and women, and between white and African American families; (4) the clashing of the older and the newer cultures and of the genteel and the ordinary; and (5) the conflict between the ideal and the reality of the role of colonial assemblies. The crises and conflicts resulting from this diversity are exemplified in the Stono Rebellion, the New York conspiracy, the land riots, and the Regulator movements.

Finally, we consider the crisis that was the most widespread because it was not confined to a particular region?the First Great Awakening. This was a religious crisis, but its causes resembled those of the other crises of the period.

Norton (2008). A People and a Nation: A History of the United States, 8th Edition. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.


Culture: Continued immigration injected various cultural streams into the American colonies; this is particularly the case with religion, where European sects joined colonial dissenters to form new denominations. Puritan New England placed a stronger emphasis on education than the southern colonies. The hubs of learning and scientific inquiry were the cities such as Cambridge, which hosted the first college in America. The Massachusetts School Act, passed in 1647, provided for public education for white Americans only.

Demographic Changes: An increasing stream of immigrants flowed to the American colonies by the end of the seventeenth century. Deteriorating conditions in mainland Europe pushed German and French Protestants to the colonies, and Scot-Irish began to replace the English as economic conditions in England improved. Most significant was the increasing stream of black laborers from Africa and the Caribbean who replaced the declining number of indentured servants. Mortality rates decreased more so in the northern colonies than in the south, and by the mid-seventeenth century New England's population was increasing naturally. The southern colonies depended on immigration to grow until the eighteenth century. The American non-Indian population doubled nearly every twenty-five years.

Economic Transformations:
After the early years when survival was the first order, a thriving colonial economy developed accompanied by a growing consumer culture. Throughout English America agriculture was the dominant economic activity, and in the Carolinas rice and later indigo became important crops. The Navigation Acts were a boon to shipbuilding in New England, and other manufacturing ventures using the region's abundant water power developed there. Commercial farming in the middle colonies provided foodstuffs for New England, the Caribbean, and Europe, and the slave trade between Africa, the Caribbean, and America flourished. This all occurred in the context of a complex trading network labeled the "triangular trade." As Americans searched for markets throughout the Atlantic a more apt label would be the" Atlantic polygon."

Religion: Religion and religious intensity affected the various regions differently. The Anglican Church was most common in Virginia, but was not a commanding presence. Chesapeake Maryland's conflict between Catholics and Protestants diminished in the late seventeenth century. In New England religious declension worried many and reactions to this ran from witchcraft hysteria to religious revivals during the Great Awakening. Both point to the fact that religion played an important role in people's lives.

Slavery and Its Legacies in North America:
As American society matured, the black population developed a distinct slave culture that blended both European and African tradition. The slave family grew beyond the nuclear family into an extended network of kin to provide for those left behind when families were broken up. The church and religion provided major solace, and hope for freedom-if not in this life, then in the next. Slaves also developed distinct cultural tools to help cope with slavery's harsh realities. Languages forged from a mix of African and English were both signs of comfort and religion, and still exist today in some areas.

George, J. & Brown, J. (2007). AP achiever: Advanced placement american history exam preparation guide.  McGraw Hill.

Digital History

18th Century

England's efforts to create an empire based on mercantilist principles and the conflicts that these efforts to assert control produce. You will also learn about the forces that transformed colonial life, including an expanding population, economic stratification, the Enlightenment, and the Great Awakening. 

Biography of America (series 3)

Growth and Empire
Benjamin Franklin and Franklin's Philadelphia take center stage in this program. As the merchant class grows in the North, the economies of southern colonies are built on the shoulders of the slave trade. Professor Miller brings the American story to 1763 with the Peace of Paris and English dominance in America.

Lecture Outlines

18th Century American Colonies

Slavery in American Colonies

Great Awakening

Multimedia Presentations

Colonial Life

Scientific and Religious Transformation

PowerPoint Presentations

Middle and Southern Colonies 

Colonial Society 

Student Assignments

BOA #3 Growth and Empire

Chapter 3 LE1

Chapter 3 LE3 outline

Web Links