By 1769 the sea change that would transform the American colonies was sending ripples through colonial life. In 1766 the New York Sons of Liberty led a protest against the Quartering Act, which required colonists to provide housing for British solders, and the protest turned violent. England passed the Townshend Revenue Acts and sent additional soldiers to enforce them. In 1769 the Boston Massacre, in which five colonists died, was only months away. Still for most colonists, daily life continued.
The colonists' quality of life and daily activities in 1769 depended on where they were in the social hierarchy. At the top of the hierarchy were the gentry, the rich landowners in the North and the South. In the North, wealthy merchants and bankers joined the upper class. Wealthy gentlemen often believed it was their responsibility to participate in local government. Women of the upper class closely followed the styles of England and France and often hosted extravagant parties. The upper class lived in large homes with rooms specially designed for dancing and tea parties. Much of the fine furniture, including the elegant tea service, was imported from England, but importing English goods was becoming a problem. Colonists were angry about a new series of taxes, the Townshend Revenue Acts, and began to boycott English goods.
Immigrants and the Middle Class
The population of the colonies had grown to about 2,210,000 by 1769, having increased from a population of about 475,000 in 1720, according to Dr. Quintard Taylor Jr. at the University of Washington History Department website. Some of the population growth was due to large, healthy families. But many of the 2 million inhabitants were immigrants. Among these immigrants, the Scotch-Irish made up the largest group in 1769; Germans also came in large numbers. Many of the immigrants came with skills, from silversmithing to hat making, and assimilated easily. Already in 1769 a new class, the middling class, was becoming influential. People who worked in trades -- the blacksmiths and printers, as well as doctors and lawyers -- made up this new middle class. Other new arrivals came unwillingly. Historian Paul Johnson noted in "A History of the American People" that the number of African slaves in the colonies grew from about 78,000 in 1720 to more than 263,000 by 1769.
In 1769 most colonists were farmers. A few were wealthy plantation owners with land close to the coast from Maryland to Georgia. These plantations specialized in growing tobacco for export. By 1769 the colonies were exporting about 100 million pounds of tobacco each year. Most farmers worked family farms, growing as much as possible of what the family needed. Men, women and children worked on the farm, perhaps with the help of oxen or horses, maybe even a slave. Wooden plows were crude, and farmers sowed seed by hand. Depending on how successful they were, farmers lived in crude log cabins or substantial brick or stone homes.
Educating children was the responsibility of the family. Wealthy parents employed tutors, but for many families, educating children meant teaching them what they needed to know to carry on the family business or work the family farm. Parents might also find apprenticeships for their children as a way of educating them. Children of wealthy parents often went to England for higher education, but by the time Dartmouth College was chartered in 1769, it was the ninth institute of higher learning in the colonies. However, according to Dartmouth.edu, the college was the first chartered "for the education and instruction of Youth of the Indian Tribes in this Land…and also of English Youth and any others."
- Colonial Williamsburg: Colonial Social Classes
- Colonial Society and Culture: 17th and 18th Centuries
- University of Washington: Dr. Quintard Taylor Jr -- United States History Timeline: 1700 - 1800
- Immigration: Colonial Immigration
- "A History of the American People"; Paul Johnson; 1970
- Florida Atlantic University; A Marketing History of the U.S. Tobacco Industry; Stuart Alan
- Photos.com/Photos.com/Getty Images