The 18th Century

By the 18th century the Swedish colony had been absorbed by New Netherland, which in turn had been seized by the English and renamed New York. Although New York City was rapidly anglicized, the Dutch influence remained strong in the Hudson Valley. New influences were making themselves felt in the region between New England and Chesapeake Bay. A Quaker colony, Pennsylvania, had been founded, with its capital at Philadelphia on the Delaware River. Offering low-priced land and religious freedom to colonists, Pennsylvania attracted thousands of German settlers. Large numbers of Scotch-Irish came also, settling mainly in frontier country.

Economic Developments

The Pennsylvania Quakers and Germans were not only industrious, but they had some of the most fertile land in the colonies. In the mountain areas were bountiful forests and plentiful deposits of iron ore. Agriculture and industry brought quick prosperity to Pennsylvania, while Philadelphia thrived on commerce and soon became the busiest port in the country.

New England, which could now import wheat and flour from the Middle Colonies, turned increasingly from subsistence farming to manufacturing. Shipbuilding became a major industry along the coast, vessels being constructed for both English and colonial owners. The cod-fishing fleets were joined by far-ranging whaling fleets and by increasing numbers of merchant vessels trading with the West Indies, Great Britain, and Africa. Rum, distilled from West Indian molasses, was an important New England product, as were salt and barrels.

Of the five colonial communities that ranked as cities, four were in the North—Philadelphia, Boston, New York, and Newport. (The fifth was Charleston.) Throughout the North population was dense enough that towns grew up in the midst of farmlands as well as in industrial regions. Life took on an increasingly urban character. More and more artisans set up shop and produced commercially articles that previously had been made at home or imported.

Tobacco continued as Virginia's main commercial crop, while rice and indigo were grown for export in the Carolinas and Georgia. The great size of the plantations made each one a community in itself, complete with all the necessary craftsmen, many of whom were indentured servants or slaves. With abundant slave labor for manual tasks, there was no incentive toward efficiency or invention. Although artisans' shops were to be found in Baltimore, Annapolis, Williamsburg, and Charleston, most luxuries were still imported from England.

Domestic Developments

The Germans introduced a new style of architecture—the narrow stone house and the great barn, in part of stone and often built into a hillside that formed a natural ramp to the hayloft. Brick homes became fashionable in the South, and brick began to be used throughout the colonies for fine mansions. Dormer windows, which permitted more use of the attic, came into style.

House furnishings of prosperous families became more comfortable. Floors were covered with carpets and rugs, and walls were surfaced with wood paneling or imported wallpaper. The best candles were made of spermaceti, a wax extracted from whale oil, and were manufactured mainly in Newport. Handsome furniture was available from the cabinetmakers of Newport, New York, Philadelphia, and Baltimore. Colonial silversmiths and glassblowers produced luxury wares.

The introduction of potatoes and rice added important new staples to the diet. Rum became popular with the well-to-do, gin with the poorer classes. Fine china was imported from England, and some was produced in the colonies—but china plates were only for display, not for use. Food was eaten from silver plates in fine homes and pewter in most others, although wooden ware still served the frontier family. Table knives and spoons were common implements, forks a novelty. Cooking was still done in the fireplace, although iron heating stoves began to be used in mid-century.

Restrictions on elaborate dress were no longer enforced, and everyone emulated European styles as far as his means permitted. Among the gentry, men wore coats of fine imported broadcloth; breeches of silk, brocade, velvet, or plush; silk hose; and lace ruffles at wrist and throat. Wigs were immensely popular and were worn by servants and youngsters as well as the men of the household, especially in New England. For comfort, a man kept his head shaved and when at home exchanged the wig for a turban.

Women's overskirts were draped up in various ways, and in the 1730's hoop skirts came into fashion. Hair was still always covered with a cap, now usually frilled. In the 1760's women in the colonies began to wear the elaborate, towering coiffures then stylish in Europe. Later, fashionable women took to wearing wigs, also elaborate and towering. Shoes, too, became showy, with slender high heels.

Religion, Education, and Recreation

Religious belief in New England had become liberalized by 1700, and the church no longer ruled the community. In the 1720's, however, a revival known as the Great Awakening began in New Jersey. It was a highly emotional movement that during the next 10 years swept through all denominations throughout the colonies.

During the Great Awakening church groups founded four new colleges, bringing the total number in the colonies to nine. By the 18th century statutes calling for free elementary schools were on the books in most colonies, but little effort was made in some places to provide them. In cities and towns, however, most children received schooling.

The religious revival did not keep dancing from spreading to the North. Among the entertainments at the annual fairs held in many Northern communities were dancing and singing contests as well as races, wrestling matches, and other sports. Many men belonged to social clubs, which often held their meetings in public taverns. The social clubs helped to bring the colonial period to an end, as the exchange of news and views centered increasingly on America's grievances against Great Britain. From the clubs grew the patriotic societies of the Revolutionary War, such as the Sons of Liberty.