The People’s Army – Provincials in the 7 Years’ War

The central theme of Fred Anderson’s “People’s Army” seems to be distinguishing the cultural milieu of provincial volunteers from their British regular counterparts. By highlighting and evaluating these differences, Anderson is able to efficiently separate the New World society from that of the old mother country, allowing the New Englanders to develop and identify a distinct, separate identity, helping to foster revolutionary ideals a few years later.

Anderson supports his theme in many ways, by exploring several avenues of distinction between the regular and provincial forces.  Beginning by discussing the events leading up to the outbreak of the 7 years’ war as well as the makeup of armies in New England prior to the war, Anderson sets the stage for the forthcoming chapters.  Where the distinctions between the New England provincials and the British regulars really starts to take shape, however, is in discussing the various interactions that the two groups had with each other.  Anderson takes great care to explain normative societal functions in New England, with most young men not leaving their home town for the majority (if not all) of their lives.  To go out into the world as a fresh provincial volunteer and see the scope of the British army was a huge culture shock to a lot of these soldiers, and that was demonstrated time and time again with interactions between them and the British.[1]

Due to the short-term nature of service of the entire provincial force, they could not hope to obtain the experience, professionalism or battle-hardness of their British counterparts, and that was seen by the British as a deficiency that was noticed and commented on time and time again.[2]  Furthermore, the cultural ideas of covenants and contracts that the New Englanders held as the central understanding of their culture was so completely foreign to British commanders that they further held that against the provincial forces.[3]  For all intents and purposes, the soldiers volunteering for service in the 7 years’ war from New England viewed themselves, surprisingly, as employees working under contract – not for the British, but for the New England towns that raised the forces and sent them out.[4]  As such, they had little regard for authority of any stripe past their terms of enlistment, and were never capable of obtaining the same battle-hardness and efficiency of the British troops, making British leadership underestimate and devalue them – a costly error in judgement that was to cost the British North America in the years ahead.[5]

 

[1] Fred Anderson, A People’s Army: Massachusetts Soldiers & Society in the Seven Year’s War (Williamsburg, VA: University of North Carolina Press, 1984), 111-141.

[2] Ibid, 142-165.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

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Book Review: New England Bound

Wendy Warren’s “New England Bound: Slavery and Colonization in Early America” highlights the necessary relationship of the slave trade between the New England colonies and the West Indies, and focuses the vast research available from the time period with precise aim at the symbiotic nature between the institution of slavery and the prosperity of Colonial New England. By critically examining primary sources, diving deeply into the nature of the relationship between the slave trade and the growing wealth of many New England merchants, Warren is able to create the scope of the slave trade in the early American colonies and highlight the relationship between slaves and New England wealth in a way that has not previously been connected, examined or explored.  She goes further with her thesis than even establishing that symbiosis, however, to implicitly state that the social and economic life of the New England colonies rested on upon a foundation of institutionalized chattel slavery.[1]

Although ambitious in both scope and material, Warren’s relatively brief work takes a thorough look at the formation, practice and growth of industrialized slavery in the colonies of New England, and her precise and supported interpretations of sources highlighted connections that are often overlooked between economic growth, trade and slavery, indicating and demonstrably showing that the former could not have experienced such conclusive growth without the later.  Her early chapters draw on the early beginnings of slavery within New England as settlers began flocking to a new world, with the first mention of African slaves occurring in 1638.[2]  Although common to associate slavery in America with the Antebellum South, to do so does a great disservice to the entry of the institution very early in American history.  According to Warren, the common and acceptable practice of slavery in New England almost from the beginning of colonization is a critical piece to understanding the growth of slavery in the country as a whole, and the particular practice of slavery in the pious and prosperous Northeast.[3]  Very early in New England history, the colonies were indisputably tied to other English holdings – especially in the Indies – where slavery was not only a normal part of society, but a critical feature of it.[4]  Founding colonies was labor-intensive work, and while colonists made several attempts to meet this demand through either indentured servitude or through the enslavement of Native Americans, neither of these enterprises were as sufficient or profitable as imported, African slaves.[5]  Since Puritan society rested upon the idea of a social hierarchy, equality was not a necessary or doctrinally sound idea, and slavery did not contradict the religious beliefs of the early colonists.[6]

Although plantation-style slavery never developed in Colonial New England as it did in the American south, it was common in industries in the West Indies, one of the chief trading partners with the early colonies.  New England was able to trade food to the Indies – in many cases “racializing” food and exporting goods that were not fit for European consumption but was more than sufficient for slaves – and received cash crops like sugar and tobacco that could not be grown in the New England soil.[7] The establishment of this trade relationship cemented the need for slave labor in the colonies, and formed the basis for the institution of slavery in New England, lasting past the revolutionary war.[8]

Warren also points out that, by necessity, the experience of slavery in New England was much different than what could be expected either in the south or in the West Indies.  Slaves in the Northeastern colonies were very much a part of the daily lives of their masters, often working side by side and inside the household instead of segregated to back-breaking plantation work and separated from their white masters.[9]  Although proximity and access differed from that of other places and slaves were thereby members of their master’s household, it would be a mistake to think that it meant they were members of the family.[10]  Slaves were set apart socially and culturally, and many prolific writers of the New England colonies like Cotton Mather maintained that control over slaves was necessary and obedience must be demanded.[11]  Slavery reached its peak in New England around 1750, and then began to decline with revolutionary ideology and a growing abolitionist movement.[12]

While Warren’s thesis and supporting sources are sound, the vast scope of the often-overlooked aspect of New England’s history make it difficult to explore in its entirety without taking licenses to gloss over aspects that should be more thoroughly examined, and the jump from chapter to chapter, while connected, feels like moving from one book to the next.  The book’s theme is cohesive, but individual chapters are less-so, and the layout could have been made more acceptable for the lay-reader who is less than familiar with the topic.  While breaks in chapters make sense in the context of the chapter itself, they make less sense with the scope of the work overall, and make the reading seem choppy instead of smooth-flowing from one overarching focus to the next.  A thorough look at all of the themes in this book would require an encyclopedia’s worth of pages, so an in-depth approach to any one of this books’ many tributaries would be impossible to convey in a single work, making the choppiness more understandable.  The abrupt beginnings and endings, however, seem to alienate the reader from the topic which is a critical mistake for a book that focuses on something so fundamental important to the understanding of American history and the institution of slavery in the United States overall.  Legislative matters and interpersonal relationships could have been better served interspersed throughout a more cohesive, over-arching progression through events rather than be given their own respective chapters, and the timeline throughout the work is not consistent.  The reader, therefore, is forced to go back and forth between multiple chapters that all rest on the same decade, attempting to piece together chronological events.  The book could have been better off as a chronological progression from the origins of the New England colonies through the revolution, with all aspects of slavery discussed in their particular space, rather than disjointed into multiple chapters for the same period of years based on the chapter’s particular theme.

Although structurally and chronologically the book falls short of its potential, the content within it is more than adequate to paint a clear picture of early American history and put institutionalized slavery in the North Eastern colonies in its rightful place of prominence.  By highlighting just how essential slavery was for economic success in Colonial New England and hinting towards the abolitionist sentiments already on the horizon by the early to mid-18th century, Warren leaves room for growth in future works while setting the stage for a comprehensive view on slavery’s symbiotic relationship with the colonies’ economic success.

 

 

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Warren, Wendy. New England Bound: Slavery and Colonization in Early America. New York: Liveright Publishing Corporation, 2016.

[1] Wendy Warren, New England Bound: Slavery and Colonization in Early America (New York: Liveright Publishing Corporation, 2016), 1-16.

[2] Ibid, 17-49.

[3] Warren, 17-49.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid, 49-82.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid, 84-97.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid, 259.

Gender, Class and Society in Early 18th Century New England

The mid-18th century saw a developed and gradual change away from previous norms in terms of class, economic development, wealth, status and gender roles that appears to have often gone unnoticed.  As these changes took place, colonists in New England adapted in various methods to new cultural expectations and purposes in ways that reflect the shifting understanding of gender, religion and status.  Some accepted this change far more gracefully than others, and there appears to have been conflict not only along gender lines, but along religious lines and understandings as well.

The article from Chamberlain highlighted the diminishing influence of Puritan religious ideologies as social distinctions between genders became more and more pronounced.  In the early days of the New England colonies, there was really little difference between public and private affairs, so when Jonathan Edwards sought to prosecute young men for sexually charged speech, it is natural that he would expect little resistance.[1]  What he found, however, was a growing disparity throughout New England between men and women, and what was considered socially acceptable for each.[2]

Changing economic relationships also highlighted the need of the clergy to try and curtail the accumulation of wealth for wealth’s sake, and to try and channel that money into charitable means.[3]  Doing so, however successful, served to dehumanize those less fortunate by focusing on the blessings and increase of charity for the sake of public piety, rather than the needs of those who were in desperate for help in a harsh and often unforgiving climate.[4]  For the ministers of the flock, however, tying economic prosperity with piety served to further the charitable leanings of society and religion, but also increased the clergy’s influence and rebounding from a gradual waning trend.[5]

Most interestingly to me, however was the view of gender and social roles studied by Kathleen Bradon in her article about Native American Women converting and becoming a part of Christianity in New England.  Though gender roles were not as rigidly defined among many Native American communities as they were thought to be in the Christian communities of New England, there did seem to be distinct differences between the roles of women and men among Native Americans.[6]  It is arguable, however that the supposed rigid gender roles in Puritan society were not quite as well-defined and dogmatic as stereotypical history would have us believe.[7]

Despite all of these shifting trends in New England society, it is clear that there was still a defined social norm for gender as well as class, and religion still had a steady foothold throughout society as the New England colonies pushed relentlessly on towards the inevitable revolution.

[1] Ava Chamberlain, “Bad Books and Bad Boys: The Transformation of Gender in Eighteenth Century Northampton, Massachusetts,” The New England Quarterly 75, no. 2 (2002): 179-203.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Christine Leigh Heyrman, “The Fashion Among More Superior People: Charity and Social Change in Provincial New England, 1700-1740,” American Quarterly 34, no. 2 (1982): 107-124.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Kathleen Brandon, “Gender as a Social Category in Native Southern New England,” Ethnohistory 43, NO. 4 (1996): 573-592.

[7] James E. McWilliams, “Butter, Milk, and a ‘Spare Ribb’: Women’s Work and the Transatlantic Economic Transition in Seventeenth-Century Massachusetts,” The New England Quarterly 82, no. 1 (2009):5-24.

The Institution of Slavery in the New England Colonies

Over the past 5 weeks, I have had a lot of research on the practice and institution of slavery in Colonial New England, since that is what my final paper will be about, so I’m incredibly happy that this week’s module coincides with the writing of the rough draft.

Slavery in New England in the colonial period, although technically considered chattel slavery as was practiced both in the south and in the West Indies, was a different type of slavery than may be expected when studying the subject. It is inarguable that slavery in the colonies was in much smaller numbers than that which was practiced elsewhere, and it is also impossible to argue that the slavery that existed in the New England Colonies was not fundamentally tied to the trade agreements between the colonists and the Indies.[1] The passing back and forth of labor in the form of slaves (both African and Native American) to the Indies in exchange for the selling of sugar, tobacco and other cash crops enabled large-scale economic growth in the New England colonies, further increasing the demand for labor which, in turn, required more slaves.[2]

It is hard to argue, however, that slavery was ever “embraced” by the colonists in New England. While true that it was an accepted and justified way of life and was normalized long before revolutionary sentiments began, it was never as prolific as it was in the southern colonies, and very early on it had its critics.[3]  The interesting part about slavery in religious terms was that it was both justified and condemned by the Bible and shared religious beliefs.[4]

By the mid-18th century, racial biases and understandings in the New World were just beginning to be formed.[5]   While some like Cotton Mather argued that physical differences did matter to God and therefore should not necessarily matter to humankind, others took a very different position, justifying both superiority and inferiority on racial lines.[6]

In hindsight, it’s all too easy for those of us in the 21st century to look back on the institution of slavery and its history in our country with disdain and judgement, but to do so minimizes the variations and arguments against it that began to stoke the fires of abolition in New England which would eventually spread and consume the rest of a fledgling nation.

[1] Winthrop D Jordan, “The Influence of the West Indies on the Origins of New England Slavery,” The William and Mary Quarterly 18, no. 2 (1961):243-250.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Robert E Desrochers Jr., “Slave-for-Sale Advertisements and Slavery in Massachusetts, 1704-1781,” The William and Mary Quarterly 59, no. 3 (2002):623-664.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Margot Minardi, “The Boston Inoculation Controversy of 1721-1722: An Incident in the History of Race,” The William and Mary Quarterly 61, no. 1 (2004):47-76.

[6] Ibid.

Environmental Changes in Colonial New England

It is clear from the reading of Changes in the Land that the two myths proposed in this weeks’ prompt need to be clearly disregarded.  Neither were Native Americans early environmentalists, nor did the first European settlers on the shores of the New England coast encounter a “virgin land” virtually untouched by human hands.  Native Americans had long used the land to their purposes – the myth of the virgin land only occurred because European settlers did not recognize Native American use of the land as either owning or utilizing it.[1]

When combining the lessons learned in previous modules with the ecological impact studied in this one, similar themes are discovered.  The cultural differences between the Native American inhabitants of the European’s new world were simply too vast for either side to gain ground in attempting to understand the other.  Two conflicting views of property, land and ownership made it impossible for either side to come to terms with an opposing culture in any real, meaningful way.[2]  Regardless of what cultural differences existed (and they were almost too numerous to count) it is impossible that the inhabitants from either cultural tradition could live in and work the land without fundamental changing it, making ecosystems and environments far different than they originally were prior to human contact.[3]

Native Americans were also not united in a single, culture-wide way of life.[4]  Southern New England Native Americans did cultivate crops, but even their agriculture was mobile which simply could not be understood by their European neighbors.[5]  Native Americans that lived further north, however, relied on a purely hunter/gatherer society, and did not cultivate the land at all.[6]  The fact that the Native Americans did not create permanent settlements or claim personal property, in fact, was the lynchpin that became the undercurrent in European rights to the land and everything on it.[7]  Due to the growing of the European population and the lower available of both land and resources for the Native Americans, the remaining indigenous population had to resort to participating in the fur trade, further depleting the land’s natural resources and causing permanent changes to the landscape and Biosystems of the North East.[8]

[1] William Cronon, Changes in the Land, (New York: Hill and Wang, 1983): 164.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid, 55.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.