Charles Willson Peale, The Peale Family, c. 1771–1773. Collection of the New-York historical Society, thing #1867.298.

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I. Introduction

Eighteenth-century American culture moved in contending directions. Commercial, military, and social ties between good Britain and the phibìc American nests tightened when a new distinctly American society began to type and bind together colonists from new Hampshire to Georgia. Immigrants from other European nations meanwhile combined with aboriginal Americans and enslaved africans to develop an progressively diverse early american population. All—men and also women, European, native American, and African—led distinctive lives and wrought brand-new distinct societies. When life in the thirteen swarms was shame in part by English practices and also participation in the larger Atlantic World, emerging social patterns progressively transformed phibìc America right into something wholly different.


II. Consumption and Trade in the brother Atlantic

Transatlantic trade substantially enriched Britain, however it also created high standards of living for numerous North American colonists. This two-way connection reinforced the colonial feeling the commonality with British culture. That was no until trade relations, disturbed by politics changes and also the requirements of warfare, came to be strained in the 1760s that colonists began to inquiry these ties.

During the seventeenth and also eighteenth centuries, enhancements in manufacturing, transportation, and also the availability of credit boosted the chance for homesteaders to purchase consumer goods. Instead of do their very own tools, clothes, and also utensils, colonists increasingly purchased deluxe items make by dedicated artisans and also manufacturers. As the incomes of american rose and the price of these commodities fell, this items shifted from luxuries to typical goods. The median person’s capacity to invest money on consumer goods came to be a authorize of your respectability. Historians have dubbed this process the “consumer revolution.”1


Joseph Highmore, The Harlowe Family, from Samuel Richardson’s “Clarissa,” 1745–1747. Wikimedia.

Britain relied top top the nests as a resource of raw materials, such together lumber and also tobacco. Americans involved with brand-new forms of trade and financing that boosted their capacity to buy British-made goods. Yet the ways in which colonists paid for these items varied high solution from those in Britain. When settlers an initial arrived in north America, lock typically lugged very little hard or metallic british money with them. Discovering no precious steels (and doing not have the Crown’s authority to mint coins), colonists relied ~ above barter and nontraditional creates of exchange, including everything from nails to the wampum offered by aboriginal American teams in the Northeast. To attend to the lack of currency, many swarms resorted come “commodity money,” which differed from ar to place. In Virginia, for example, the colonial legislature stipulated a price of exchange for tobacco, standardizing it together a kind of money in the colony. Commodities could be cumbersome and complicated to transport, therefore a system of note developed. This notes permitted individuals to deposit a details amount that tobacco in a warehouse and receive a keep in mind bearing the value of the deposit that could be traded together money. In 1690, colonial Massachusetts became the an initial place in the Western civilization to issue record bills to be supplied as money.2 these notes, referred to as bills of credit, were issued for finite periods of time ~ above the colony’s credit and varied in denomination.

While these notes detailed colonists through a much-needed medium for exchange, the was not without its problems. Currency that operated in Virginia might be unsecured in Pennsylvania. Colonists and also officials in Britain discussed whether that was best or desirable to usage mere paper, as opposed to yellow or silver, together a tool of exchange. Record money had tendency to shed value faster than coins and also was frequently counterfeited. This problems, and British merchants’ reluctance to accept depreciated file notes, led to the board of profession to limit the uses of record money in the currency Acts that 1751 and also 1763. Document money was not the only medium of exchange, however. Colonists additionally used steel coins. Barter and also the expansion of credit—which might take the form of bills of exchange, akin to modern-day an individual checks—remained necessary forces transparent the colonial period. Still, trade in between colonies was substantially hampered by the absence of standardization money.

Businesses on both sides of the Atlantic advertised both their goods and also promises the obtaining credit. The consistent access of credit permitted families that modest way to buy consumer items previously accessible only come elites. Cheap consumption enabled middle-class american to match many that the patterns in clothing, food, and also household décor that traditionally marked the wealthiest, aristocratic classes. Provincial Americans, often seen by their London peers together less cultivated or “backwater,” could present themselves as lords and also ladies of their own communities by purchasing and also displaying British-made goods. Visiting the home of a successful businessman in Boston, man Adams defined “the Furniture, i beg your pardon alone expense a thousand Pounds sterling. A chair it is because that a noble Man, a Prince. The Turkey Carpets, the painted Hangings, the Marble Table, the rich Beds v crimson Damask Curtains and Counterpins, the beautiful Chimney Clock, the Spacious Garden, room the most magnificent of any thing I have seen.”3 however many american worried about the aftermath of climbing consumerism. A writer because that the Boston evening Post remarked ~ above this brand-new practice of purchase status: “For ’tis well known how credit is a mighty inducement through many civilization to acquisition this and the various other Thing i m sorry they may well enough do without.”4 american became more likely to uncover themselves in debt, whether to their local shopkeeper or a influential London merchant, creating new feelings that dependence.

Of course, the thirteen continental nests were no the only British colonies in the west Hemisphere. In fact, castle were substantially less necessary to the Crown 보다 the sugar-producing islands of the Caribbean, including Jamaica, Barbados, the Leeward Islands, Grenada, St. Vincent, and Dominica. This British colonies were likewise inextricably associated to the continent colonies. Caribbean plantations dedicated nearly every one of their land to the wildly financially rewarding crop the sugarcane, so phibìc American colonies sold surplus food and also raw products to these affluent island colonies. Timber was in high demand, especially in Barbados, whereby planters virtually deforested the island to do room for sugar plantations. To compensate because that a lack of lumber, Barbadian colonists ordered house frames from brand-new England. This prefabricated frames were sent via ships from which planters transported lock to their plantations. Caribbean colonists likewise relied on the continental swarms for livestock, to buy cattle and also horses. The most lucrative exchange was the slave trade.

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Connections in between the Caribbean and North America services both sides. Those life on the continent relied on the Caribbean homesteaders to accomplish their craving for sugar and also other goods like mahogany. British homesteaders in the Caribbean started cultivating sugar in the 1640s, and also sugar took the Atlantic civilization by storm. In fact, through 1680, street exports from the small island of Barbados valued more than the complete exports of all the continental colonies.5 Jamaica, obtained by the Crown in 1655, gone beyond Barbados in sugar manufacturing toward the finish of the seventeenth century. Phibìc American colonists, prefer Britons about the world, craved street to sweeten their tea and food. Colonial elites additionally sought to decorate your parlors and dining rooms v the silky, polished surfaces of rarely mahogany together opposed to regional wood. When the bulk of this in-demand material went come Britain and Europe, brand-new England merchants imported the lumber from the Caribbean, where it to be then transformed into exquisite furniture for those who could afford it.