HST 141                                                                                                                                   Dr. Kerns


The Unfinished Nation: Chapter 3 Society and Culture in Provincial America


Chapter 3 Main Themes

  1. The growth and diversification of the colonial population
  2. The expansion and diversification of the colonial economy to meet the needs of this rapidly growing population.
  3. The rise of slavery as the labor system of choice in British North America.
  4. The social and political life of English colonists in the various colonies.
  5. The emergence of a particularly American "mind and spirit" in literature, philosophy, science, education, and law.


A thorough study of Chapter 3 should enable the student to understand:


  • The sources of colonial labor, including indentured servants, women, and imported Africans.


  • The reasons behind the gradual shift from indentured servitude to African slavery.


  • How patterns of birth and death influenced and reflected cultural development in the colonies


  • The nature of colonial medicine and its impact on women of the seventeenth century.


  • The social and familial roles of women in both the Chesapeake and New England.


  • The historical dispute over the origins of slavery.


  • The origins and social contours of slavery and racial discrimination in English America.


  • The changing sources of European immigration throughout the seventeenth century.


  • The ways in which factors of soil and climate determined the commercial and agricultural development of the colonies, despite crown attempts to influence production.


  • The importance, extent, and early limits of technology in the colonial economic system.


  • The beginnings of colonial commerce and consumerism, and the early attempts at regulation by Parliament.


  • The emergence of the plantation system, and its impact on Southern society.


  • The New England witchcraft episode as a reflection of Puritan society.


  • The rise and importance of cities in the colonial system.


  • The reasons for the appearance of a variety of religious sects in the colonies, and the effect of the Great Awakening on the colonists.


  • The ways in which colonial literature, education, science, law, and justice began to diverge from their English antecedents.





Class Structure   The division of society into recognizable groups. Generally based on wealth, these divisions are also affected by education, family ties, religion, and a variety of other factors recognized by the society in which the divisions exist.


 Declension   A "falling away from." Puritans of the seventeenth and eighteenth century were deeply concerned about the religious declension in the Massachusetts Bay.


Enlightenment   The intellectual movement that dominated the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries in Europe. Believing that the universe operated through natural laws that human beings, using their powers of reason, could understand, "enlightened" thinkers argued that once these laws were understood, people could devise means of living within them. Also called the "Age of Reason," this era was marked by an explosion of activity that brought about significant advances in science (especially natural science), education, and government. Stressing that there were certain "natural rights" (life, liberty, and property) that were given to all people--and that it was the duty of government to protect these rights from selfish individuals (those not allowing reason to control their actions)--philosophers of this age called forth many of the principles that Americans later used in their struggle with Britain. From the Enlightenment came the beliefs that freedom is the natural condition of humanity, that governments should be responsible to the governed, and that it is the right of the people to oppose a government that violates the natural rights of its citizens.


Evangelicalism   The adherence to the belief that salvation comes through the personal recognition of one's sins, the awareness of one's inability to save oneself, and the acceptance of Christ as the only means of redemption. The process is usually a highly emotional one that culminates in the rebirth ("born again" state) of the sinner and his or her acceptance as one of the evangelical community of believers. The evangelical emphasis on the spiritual rather than the worldly was particularly appealing to the lower classes and to others (for example, women and slaves) who sought a means to affirm their personal worth. This often put evangelicals at odds with their social "betters," who regarded the evangelicals' rejection of those things that defined the social classes (fine dress, leisure activities, civil and religious ceremonies, and such) as an attack on the status and authority of ruling elites.


Jeremiads   Sermons of despair preached by ministers in the face of waning piety. The jeremiad is a longstanding religious and literary genre used throughout history.


Nuclear Family   The social unit composed of father, mother, and children.


Paper Money In The Colonies   In an effort to overcome the lack of money in America, some colonial governments issued paper money to serve as currency. The problem, however, was to get the colonists to accept these paper bills at face value. So, to keep the bills from declining in value, some colonies employed a system (currency finance) in which paper money would be issued for only a specific purpose (for example, to buy goods that the government needed, to pay for services to the government, and so on) and would be accepted by the government, at face value, as payment for taxes or other debts owed to the colony. It was generally hoped that this would be the only exchange and that the money would not circulate; but if it did, the fact that the government would accept it as full payment was believed to be enough to keep it from depreciating greatly. In practice, however, the system did not work. The bills lost their value as they circulated, creating the inflation that opponents of paper money feared. Nevertheless, under a more controlled situation, the concept was indeed workable and, with some changes, is used today.


Patriarchal   Having to do with a social system in which the father is the head of the family.


Primogeniture   The practice of passing all inherited property to one’s firstborn son.


Slavery   A legal status in which an individual is owned by another individual who controls his or her actions and benefits from his or her labor. The status is for life (unless altered by the owner) and is inherited, usually through the mother.


Staple Crop   The primary export (cash) crop of a region, the crop on which the region's economy rests. In the Chesapeake colonies, the staple was tobacco; farther south, it was rice or indigo. In later years, sugar (the staple in the Indies) was important in some areas on the mainland, but in time the classic staple--cotton--came to dominate the South's economy.