American society rose out of mere untitled humanity; monarchy, guilds, priests, and all aristocracy of a feudal nature having been left behind in Europe. The year 1700 found in all the American colonies together some 300,000 people. They were distributed about as follows: New England had 115,000; New York, 30,000; New Jersey, 15,000; Pennsylvania and Delaware, 20,000; Maryland, 35,000; Virginia, 70,000; the Carolina country, 15,000. Perhaps 50,000 were negro slaves, of whom, say, 10,000 were held north of Mason and Dixon's line. What is now New York City had, in 1697, 4,302 inhabitants.
Passing on to 1754, we find the white population of New England increased to 425,000; that of the middle colonies, including Maryland, to 457,000; that of Virginia, the Carolinas, and Georgia, to 283,000. Massachusetts alone now had 207,000; Rhode Island, 35,000; Connecticut, 133,000; New York State (1756), 83,744. There were now not far from 263,000 negroes, of whom 14,000 lived in New England, 4,500 in Rhode Island. The total population of the thirteen colonies amounted to nearly a million and a half. At this time Philadelphia about equalled Boston in size, each having 25,000 inhabitants. At the Revolution Boston had grown to be the larger. New York, with from 15,000 to 18,000, constituted the centre of trade and of politics. The city and county of New York together numbered 13,046 inhabitants in 1756; 21,862 in 1771; 23,614 in 1786. The whole State, in 1771 had 146,144. Connecticut, in 1774, had 197,856. There are said to have been, so late as 1763, woods where the New York City Hall now stands.
From North to South the population decreased in density, but it increased in heterogeneity and non-English elements, and in illiteracy. The South had also the stronger aristocratic feeling. Slaves, as the above figures show, were far more numerous in that section. Their condition was also worse there.
A large proportion of the white population everywhere was of Saxon-Teutonic blood. The colonial leaders, and many others, at least in the North, were men who would have been eminent in England itself. Not a few New England theologians and lawyers were peers to the ablest of their time. Numbers of the common people read, reflected, debated. While profoundly religious, the colonists, being nearly all Protestants, were bold and progressive thinkers in every line, prizing discussion, preferring to settle questions by rational methods rather than through authority and tradition. We have observed that there are exceptions to this rule, like the treatment of Roger Williams, but they were exceptions. The colonists possessed in eminent degree energy, determination, power of patient endurance and sacrifice. Their political genius, too, was striking in itself, and it becomes surprising if one compares Germany, in the unspeakable distraction of the Thirty Years' War, with America at the same period, 1618-1648, successfully solving by patience and debate the very problems which were Germany's despair.
In all the southern colonies the English Church was established, a majority of the people its members, its clergy supported by tithes and glebe. William and Mary secured it a sort of establishment also in New York and Maryland. Yet at no moment of the colonial period was there a bishop in America. No church building was consecrated with episcopal rites, no resident of America taken into orders without going to London. [footnote: See, for these facts, The Century for May, 1888.] Even in Virginia, till a very late colonial period, the clergy retained many Puritan forms. Some would not read the Common Prayer. For more than a hundred years the surplice was apparently unknown there, sacraments administered without the proper ornaments and vessels, parts of the liturgy omitted, marriages, baptisms, churchings, and funerals solemnized in private houses. In some parishes, so late as 1724, the communion was partaken sitting. Excellent as were many of the clergymen, there were some who never preached, and not a few even bore an ill name. It was worst in Maryland, and "bad as a Maryland parson" became a proverb. The yearly salary in the best Virginia parishes was tobacco of about 100 pounds value.
The Carolina clergy at first formed a superior class, as nearly all the early ministers were men carefully selected and sent out from England by the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel. Here there was special interest in the religious welfare of the slaves. All Over the South the Church ministers owed much to competition with those of sects, especially those of the Presbyterians, to which body belonged many of the Scotch and Irish immigrants after 1700. Dissent was dominant everywhere at the North. A vast majority of the people even in New York were dissenters, though the Episcopal clergy there successfully resisted all efforts against the Church tax, notwithstanding the fact that the same injustice in Massachusetts and Connecticut oppressed their brethren in those colonies. The New York clergy also fought every sort of liberal law, as to enable dissenting bodies of Christians to hold property. It was in good degree this attitude of theirs that filled the country, Virginia too, with such hatred of bishops.
But this spirit was fully matched by that of the Independent ministers in New England. Their dissent was aggressive, persecuting, puritanical. Meeting-houses were cold, sermons long and dry, music vocal only. Religious teaching and the laws it procured, foolishly assumed to regulate all the acts of life. Extravagance was denounced and fined. In 1750, the Massachusetts Assembly forbade theatres as "likely to encourage immorality and impiety." Rhode Island took similar action in 1762.
The ministers of Boston viewed bishops almost as emissaries of the devil. Herein in fact lay the primary, some have thought the deepest and most potent cause of the Revolution, since kings and the bishops of London incessantly sought to establish Anglicanism in Massachusetts, and English politicians deemed it outrageous that conformists should be denied any of that colony's privileges. For some time, under William and Mary's charter, in this province where Congregationalism had till now had everything its own way, only Church clergymen could celebrate marriage. In New York and Maryland, too, hostility to the establishment greatly stimulated disloyalty. This was true even in Anglican Virginia, where the Church found it no easier to keep power than it was in Massachusetts to get power, and where the clergy were unpopular, concerned more for tithes than for souls.
Colleges were founded early in several colonies. Harvard dates from 1638; William and Mary, in Virginia, from 1693; Yale, from 1701; the College of New Jersey, from 1746, its old Nassau Hall, built in 1756 and named in honor of William III. of the House of Nassau, being then the largest structure in British America. The University of Pennsylvania dates from 1753; King's College, now Columbia, from 1754; Rhode Island College, now Brown University, from 1764. Educational facilities in general varied greatly with sections, being miserable in the southern colonies, fair in the central, excellent in the northern. In Virginia, during the period now under our survey, schools were almost unknown. In Maryland, from 1728, a free school was established by law in each county. These were the only such schools in the South before 1770. Philadelphia and New York had good schools by 1700; rural Pennsylvania none of any sort till 1750, then only the poorest. A few New York and New Jersey towns of New England origin had free schools before the Revolution. Many Southern planters sent their sons to school in England. In popular education New England led not only the continent but the world, there being a school-house, often several, in each town. Every native adult in Massachusetts and Connecticut was able to read and write. In this matter Rhode Island was far behind its next neighbors.
Newspapers were distributed much as schools were. The first printing-press was set up at Cambridge in 1639. The first newspaper, Publick Occurrences Foreign and Domestic, was started in Boston in 1690. The first permanent newspaper, the Boston News Letter, began in 1704, and it had a Boston and a Philadelphia rival in 1719. The Maryland Gazette was started at Annapolis in 1727, a weekly at Williamsburg, Va., in 1736. In 1740 there were eleven newspapers in all in the colonies; one each in New York, South Carolina, and Virginia (from 1736), three in Pennsylvania, one of them German, and five in Boston. The Connecticut Gazette was started at New Haven in 1755; The Summary, at New London in 1758. The Rhode Island Gazette was begun by James Franklin, September 27, 1732, but was not permanent. The Providence Gazette and Country Journal put forth its first issue October 20, 1762. In 1775, Salem, Newburyport, and Portsmouth had each its newspaper. The first daily in the country, the Pennsylvania Packet, began in 1784.
Other literature of American origin flourished in New England nearly alone. It consisted of sermons, social and political tracts, poetry, history, and memoirs. The clergy were the chief but not the sole authors. Of readers, New York, Philadelphia, and Charleston had many. Much reading matter came from England. Charleston enjoyed a public library from 1700. About 1750 there were several others. That left to Philadelphia in 1751, by James Logan, comprised 4,000 volumes.
William and Mary had established a postal system for America, placing Thomas Neale, Esquire, at its head. The service hardly became a system till 1738. In ordinary weather a post-rider would receive the Philadelphia mail at the Susquehannah River on Saturday evening, be at Annapolis on Monday, reach the Potomac Tuesday night, on Wednesday arrive at New Post, near Fredericksburg, and by Saturday evening at Williamsburg, whence, once a month, the mail went still farther south, to Edenton, N. C. Thus a letter was just a week in transit between Philadelphia and the capital of Virginia. In New England, from here to New York, and between New York and Philadelphia, despatch was much better.
The learned professions also were best patronized and had the ablest personnel in New England, where all three, but particularly the clergy, were strong and honored. Outside of New England, till 1750, lawyers and physicians, especially in the country parts, were poorly educated and little respected. Each formidable disease had the people at its mercy. Diphtheria, then known as the throat disease, swept through the land once in about thirty years. Smallpox was another frequent scourge. In 1721 it attacked nearly six thousand persons in Boston, about half the population, killing some nine hundred. The clergy, almost to a man, decried vaccination when first vented, proclaiming it an effort to thwart God's will. Clergymen, except perhaps in Carolina and Virginia, were somewhat better educated, yet those in New England led all others in this respect.
Colonial America boasted many great intellectual lights. President Edwards won European reputation as a thinker, and so did Franklin as a statesman and as a scientist. Linnaeus named our Bartram, a Quaker farmer of Pennsylvania, the greatest natural botanist then living. Increase Mather read and wrote both Greek and Hebrew, and spoke Latin. He and his son Cotton were veritable wonders in literary attainment. The one was the author of ninety-two books, the other of three hundred and eighty-three. The younger Winthrop was a member of the Royal Society. Copley, Stuart, and West became distinguished painters.
Except for mails, there were in the colonies no public conveyances by land till just before the Revolution. After stage lines were introduced, to go from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh required seven days; from Philadelphia to New York, at first three, later two. The earliest coach to attain the last-named speed was advertised as "the flying machine," From Boston one would be four days travelling to New York, two to Portsmouth. Packet-boats between the main points on the coast were as regular and speedy as wind allowed. Stage-drivers, inn-keepers, and ship-captains were the honored and accredited purveyors of news.
Everywhere was great prosperity, little luxury. Paucity of money gave rise to that habit of barter and dicker in trade which was a mannerism of our fathers. Agriculture formed the basal industry, especially in the Southern colonies; yet in New England and Pennsylvania both manufactures and commerce thrived. Pennsylvania's yearly foreign commerce exceeded 1,000,000 pounds sterling, requiring 500 vessels and more than 7,000 seamen. From Pennsylvania, in 1750, 3,000 tons of pig-iron were exported. The annual production of iron in Maryland just before the Revolution reached 25,000 tons of pig, 500 of bar. The business of marine insurance began in this country at Philadelphia in 1721, fire insurance at Boston in 1724. New England produced timber, ships, rum, paper, hats, leather, and linen and woollen cloths, the first three for export.
In country places houses were poor save on the great estates, south, but in the cities there were many fine mansions before 1700. From this year stoves began to be used. Glass windows and paper hangings were first seen not far from 1750.
The colonists ate much flesh, and nearly all used tobacco and liquor freely. Finest ladies snuffed, sometimes smoked. Little coffee was drunk, and no tea till about 1700. Urban life was social and gay. In the country the games of fox and geese, three and twelve men morris, husking bees and quilting bees were the chief sports. Tableware was mostly of wood, though many had pewter, and the rich much silver. The people's ordinary dress was of homemade cloth, but not a few country people still wore deerskin. The clothing of the rich was imported, and often gaudy with tasteless ornament. Wigs were common in the eighteenth century, and all head-dress stupidly elaborate.
William Lang, of Boston, advertises in 1767 to provide all who wish with wigs "in the most genteel and polite taste," assuring judges, divines, lawyers, and physicians, "because of the importance of their heads, that he can assort his wigs to suit their respective occupations and inclinations." He tells the ladies that he can furnish anyone of them with "a nice, easy, genteel, and polite construction of rolls, such as may tend to raise their heads to any pitch they desire."
"Everybody wore wigs in 1750, except convicts and slaves. Boys wore them, servants wore them, Quakers wore them, paupers wore them. The making of wigs was an important branch of industry in Great Britain. Wigs were of many styles and prices. Some dangled with curls; and they were designated by a great variety of names, such as tyes, bobs, majors, spencers, foxtails, twists, tetes, scratches, full-bottomed dress bobs, cues, and perukes. The people of Philadelphia dressed as the actors of our theatres now dress in old English comedy. They walked the streets in bright-colored and highly decorated coats, three-cornered hats, ruffled shirts and wristbands, knee-breeches, silk stockings, low shoes, and silver buckles." [footnote: Mrs. M. J. Lamb, in Magazine of Am. History, August. 1888.] Lord Stirling, one of Washington's generals, had a clothing inventory like a king: a "pompidou" cloth coat and vest, breeches with gold lace, a crimson and figured velvet coat, seven scarlet vests, et cetera, et cetera.
The wigs encountered the zealous hostility of many, among these Judge Samuel Sewall. His highest eulogy on a departed worthy was: "The welfare of the poor was much upon his spirit, and he abominated periwigs." A member of the church at Newbury, Mass., refused to attend communion because the pastor wore a wig, believing that all who were guilty of this practice would be damned if they did not repent. A meeting of Massachusetts Quakers solemnly expressed the conviction that the wearing of extravagant and superfluous wigs was wholly contrary to the truth.
There was an aristocracy, of its kind, in all the colonies, but it was far the strongest in the South. Social lines were sharply drawn, an "Esquire" not liking to be accosted as "Mr.," and each looking down somewhat upon a simple "Goodman." These gradations stood forth in college catalogues and in the location of pews in churches. The Yale triennial catalogue until 1767 and the Harvard triennial till 1772 arrange students' names not alphabetically or according to attainments, but so as to indicate the social rank of their families. Memoranda of President Clap, of Yale, against the names of youth when admitted to college, such as "Justice of the Peace," "Deacon," "of middling estate much impoverished," reveal how hard it sometimes was properly to grade students socially. At the South, regular mechanics, like all free laborers, were few and despised. The indentured servants, very numerous in several colonies, differed little from slaves. David Jamieson, attorney-general of New York in 1710, had been banished from Scotland as a Covenanter and sold in New Jersey as a four years' redemptioner to pay transportation expanses. Such servants were continually running away, which may have aided in abolishing the system. Paupers and criminals were fewest in New England. All the colonies imprisoned insolvent criminals, though dirt and damp made each prison a hell. All felonies were awarded capital punishment, and many minor crimes incurred barbarous penalties. Whipping-post, pillory, and stocks were in frequent use. So late as 1760 women were publicly whipped. At Hartford, in 1761, David Campbell and Alexander Pettigrew, for the burglary of two watches, received each fifteen stripes, the loss of the right ear, and the brand-mark "B" on the forehead. Pettigrew came near losing his life from the profuse bleeding which ensued. A husband killing his wife was hanged. A wife killing her husband was burned, as were slaves who slew their masters.
In care for the unfortunate and in the study and in all applications of social science, Philadelphia led. The Pennsylvania Hospital, the first institution of the kind in America, was founded in 1751. The Philadelphia streets were the first to be lighted; those of New York next; those of Boston not till 1773. Before the end of the period now before us Philadelphia and New York also had night patrols.