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

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I. Introduction

Eighteenth-century American culture moved in competing directions. Commercial, military, and cultural ties between good Britain and also the phibìc American swarms tightened if a new distinctly American culture began to type and bind together colonists from new Hampshire to Georgia. Immigrant from various other European nations meanwhile merged with native Americans and also enslaved africans to produce an significantly diverse colonial population. All—men and also women, European, indigenous American, and African—led distinct lives and also wrought new distinct societies. If life in the thirteen swarms was shame in component by English practices and also participation in the bigger Atlantic World, emerging cultural patterns significantly transformed phibìc America into something completely different.


II. Consumption and Trade in the british Atlantic

Transatlantic trade greatly enriched Britain, however it likewise created high requirements of living for plenty of North American colonists. This two-way relationship reinforced the colonial feeling of commonality v British culture. That was not until profession relations, disturbed by political changes and the needs of warfare, ended up being strained in the 1760s that colonists began to inquiry these ties.

During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, enhancements in manufacturing, transportation, and also the ease of access of credit boosted the opportunity for colonists to purchase customer goods. Instead of do their own tools, clothes, and also utensils, homesteaders increasingly purchased luxury items made by dedicated artisans and manufacturers. As the income of american rose and the price of these commodities fell, this items change from luxuries to typical goods. The average person’s ability to invest money on customer goods ended up being a sign of their respectability. Historians have dubbed this procedure the “consumer revolution.”1


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

Britain relied ~ above the swarms as a source of life materials, such together lumber and also tobacco. Americans engaged with brand-new forms the trade and also financing that raised their capability to buy British-made goods. However the ways in which colonists paid because that these items varied high solution from those in Britain. Once settlers first arrived in north America, they typically lugged very little hard or metallic brothers money through them. Finding out no precious metals (and doing not have the Crown’s government to mint coins), colonists relied ~ above barter and nontraditional creates of exchange, including every little thing from pond to the wampum used by indigenous American teams in the Northeast. To deal with the lack of currency, many swarms resorted come “commodity money,” which differed from place to place. In Virginia, for example, the early american legislature regulation a price of exchange for tobacco, standardizing it together a kind of money in the colony. Assets could be cumbersome and daunting to transport, so a device of notes developed. This notes permitted individuals come deposit a particular amount of tobacco in a warehouse and receive a note bearing the value of the deposit that might be traded as money. In 1690, colonial Massachusetts came to be the very first place in the Western world to issue file bills come be offered as money.2 this notes, called bills the credit, to be issued because that finite periods of time ~ above the colony’s credit and also varied in denomination.

While this notes listed colonists v a much-needed medium for exchange, that was not without that problems. Money that worked in Virginia could be worthless in Pennsylvania. Colonists and also officials in Britain discussed whether it was best or desirable to use mere paper, together opposed to yellow or silver, as a tool of exchange. Document money tended to lose value faster than coins and also was frequently counterfeited. These problems, and British merchants’ reluctance to accept depreciated document notes, caused the plank of profession to restrict the uses of document money in the money Acts that 1751 and 1763. Record money was not the only tool of exchange, however. Colonists also used metal coins. Barter and the expansion of credit—which can take the type of bills of exchange, akin come modern-day personal checks—remained necessary forces transparent the colonial period. Still, trade between colonies was greatly hampered through the lack of standardization money.

Businesses on both political parties of the Atlantic advertised both their goods and promises that obtaining credit. The consistent accessibility of credit allowed families the modest means to buy consumer items previously easily accessible only come elites. Cheap consumption permitted middle-class american to enhance many of the trends in clothing, food, and also household décor that traditionally marked the wealthiest, aristocratic classes. Provincial Americans, frequently seen by their London peers together less cultivated or “backwater,” can present themselves as lords and ladies of your own neighborhoods by purchasing and displaying British-made goods. Visiting the residence of a successful businessman in Boston, john Adams described “the Furniture, i m sorry alone expense a thousands Pounds sterling. A chair it is for a noble Man, a Prince. The Turkey Carpets, the painted Hangings, the Marble Table, the well-off Beds with crimson Damask Curtains and also Counterpins, the beautiful Chimney Clock, the Spacious Garden, are the many magnificent of any thing I have actually seen.”3 however many americans worried about the aftermath of rising consumerism. A writer because that the Boston evening Post remarked ~ above this new practice of purchasing status: “For ’tis famous how credit is a mighty inducement v many world to purchase this and also the other Thing i m sorry they may well sufficient do without.”4 american became an ext likely to uncover themselves in debt, whether to their local shopkeeper or a prominent London merchant, creating new feelings of dependence.

Of course, the thirteen continental colonies were not the only British nests in the west Hemisphere. In fact, lock were substantially less essential to the Crown 보다 the sugar-producing islands of the Caribbean, including Jamaica, Barbados, the Leeward Islands, Grenada, St. Vincent, and also Dominica. These British swarms were likewise inextricably associated to the continental colonies. Caribbean plantations dedicated nearly every one of their land come the wildly profitable crop of sugarcane, so phibìc American swarms sold surplus food and also raw products to these affluent island colonies. Hardwood was in high demand, specifically in Barbados, wherein planters almost deforested the island to make room because that sugar plantations. Come compensate for a lack of lumber, Barbadian homesteaders ordered house frames from brand-new England. This prefabricated frames were sent out via ships native which planters transported castle to your plantations. Caribbean colonists likewise relied ~ above the continental nests for livestock, purchase cattle and also horses. The most lucrative exchange was the slave trade.

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Connections between the Caribbean and also North America services both sides. Those living on the continent relied ~ above the Caribbean homesteaders to fulfill their craving for sugar and other products like mahogany. British colonists in the Caribbean started cultivating sugar in the 1640s, and also sugar take it the Atlantic people by storm. In fact, through 1680, sugar exports indigenous the tiny island of Barbados valued more than the complete exports of all the continental colonies.5 Jamaica, gained by the Crown in 1655, surpassed Barbados in sugar manufacturing toward the finish of the seventeenth century. North American colonists, favor Britons around the world, craved sugar to sweeten their tea and also food. Colonial elites also sought to decorate their parlors and dining rooms with the silky, sleek surfaces of rare mahogany together opposed to regional wood. While the bulk of this in-demand product went come Britain and Europe, brand-new England merchants imported the lumber from the Caribbean, where it to be then transformed into exquisite furniture because that those who might afford it.