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

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I. Introduction

Eighteenth-century American culture moved in completing directions. Commercial, military, and cultural ties between good Britain and the north American nests tightened when a new distinctly American society began to kind and tie together homesteaders from brand-new Hampshire to Georgia. Immigrants from other European nations meanwhile merged with aboriginal Americans and enslaved afri to develop an progressively diverse early american population. All—men and also women, European, native American, and also African—led unique lives and also wrought new distinct societies. While life in the thirteen swarms was shaped in part by English practices and participation in the larger Atlantic World, emerging social patterns increasingly transformed north America into something wholly different.


II. Consumption and Trade in the brothers Atlantic

Transatlantic trade substantially enriched Britain, however it additionally created high requirements of living for numerous North American colonists. This two-way partnership reinforced the early american feeling that commonality with British culture. It was no until trade relations, disturbed by political changes and the demands of warfare, came to be strained in the 1760s the colonists began to question these ties.

During the seventeenth and also eighteenth centuries, improvements in manufacturing, transportation, and also the accessibility of credit enhanced the chance for colonists to purchase consumer goods. Instead of do their very own tools, clothes, and utensils, colonists increasingly purchased luxury items do by committed artisans and also manufacturers. As the incomes of americans rose and the prices of these products fell, these items shifted from luxuries to common goods. The mean person’s ability to invest money on consumer goods became a authorize of their respectability. Historians have dubbed this process the “consumer revolution.”1


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

Britain relied on the swarms as a resource of life materials, such together lumber and tobacco. Americans involved with brand-new forms the trade and financing that enhanced their capability to to buy British-made goods. Yet the methods in which colonists paid because that these items varied high solution from those in Britain. As soon as settlers first arrived in north America, castle typically brought very tiny hard or metallic british money through them. Learning no precious steels (and doing not have the Crown’s authority to mint coins), homesteaders relied on barter and nontraditional creates of exchange, including everything 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 location to place. In Virginia, because that example, the colonial legislature regulation a rate of exchange because that tobacco, standardizing it together a form of money in the colony. Products could be cumbersome and difficult to transport, for this reason a mechanism of note developed. These notes enabled individuals to deposit a specific amount of tobacco in a warehouse and also receive a note bearing the worth of the deposit that could be traded as money. In 1690, colonial Massachusetts ended up being the first place in the Western world to issue paper bills to be used as money.2 these notes, called bills the credit, were issued because that finite periods of time top top the colony’s credit and varied in denomination.

While this notes noted colonists v a much-needed tool for exchange, the was no without that problems. Currency that worked in Virginia might be worthless in Pennsylvania. Colonists and also officials in Britain questioned whether the was best or desirable to use mere paper, as opposed to gold or silver, as a tool of exchange. Record money tended to shed value much faster than coins and also was often counterfeited. This problems, as well as British merchants’ reluctance to expropriate depreciated record notes, led to the board of trade to limit the supplies of record money in the currency Acts the 1751 and also 1763. Record money was no the only tool of exchange, however. Colonists additionally used metal coins. Barter and the extension of credit—which can take the form of bills of exchange, akin come modern-day personal checks—remained necessary forces transparent the colonial period. Still, trade between colonies was substantially hampered by the lack of standardization money.

Businesses on both political parties of the Atlantic advertised both your goods and promises of obtaining credit. The consistent accessibility of credit enabled families of modest way to buy consumer items previously easily accessible only come elites. Cheap consumption allowed middle-class americans to complement many that the patterns in clothing, food, and household décor the traditionally significant the wealthiest, aristocratic classes. Provincial Americans, frequently seen by their London peers as less cultivated or “backwater,” could present themselves as lords and also ladies of your own neighborhoods by purchasing and also displaying British-made goods. Visiting the house of a successful businessman in Boston, man Adams explained “the Furniture, i beg your pardon alone expense a thousand Pounds sterling. A seat it is because that a noble Man, a Prince. The Turkey Carpets, the painted Hangings, the Marble Table, the well-off Beds with crimson Damask Curtains and Counterpins, the beautiful Chimney Clock, the Spacious Garden, are the most magnificent of any type of thing I have actually seen.”3 however many american worried around the consequences of rising consumerism. A writer for the Boston night Post remarked on this new practice of purchasing status: “For ’tis well known how credit transaction is a mighty inducement with many civilization to purchase this and the other Thing i m sorry they might well enough do without.”4 americans became an ext likely to uncover themselves in debt, whether to their neighborhood shopkeeper or a influential London merchant, creating brand-new feelings that dependence.

Of course, the thirteen continental swarms were no the just British swarms in the west Hemisphere. In fact, they were considerably less important to the Crown 보다 the sugar-producing islands of the Caribbean, including Jamaica, Barbados, the Leeward Islands, Grenada, St. Vincent, and Dominica. These British colonies were additionally inextricably associated to the continental colonies. Caribbean plantations specialized nearly all of their land come the wildly lucrative crop that sugarcane, so north American swarms sold excess food and also raw products to these affluent island colonies. Timber was in high demand, particularly in Barbados, wherein planters nearly deforested the island to do room for sugar plantations. To compensate for a lack of lumber, Barbadian homesteaders ordered home frames from new England. These prefabricated frames were sent out via ships from which planters transported lock to your plantations. Caribbean colonists likewise relied top top the continental nests for livestock, purchase cattle and also horses. The most financially rewarding exchange was the slave trade.

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Connections between the Caribbean and North America services both sides. Those living on the continent relied top top the Caribbean homesteaders to meet their craving for sugar and other items like mahogany. British homesteaders in the Caribbean began cultivating sugar in the 1640s, and sugar took the Atlantic people by storm. In fact, through 1680, street exports indigenous the small island the Barbados valued more than the complete exports of every the continent colonies.5 Jamaica, gained by the Crown in 1655, gone beyond Barbados in sugar production toward the finish of the seventeenth century. North American colonists, like Britons around the world, craved sugar to sweeten your tea and also food. Colonial elites additionally sought come decorate their parlors and dining rooms through the silky, polished surfaces of rarely mahogany together opposed to regional wood. If the bulk of this in-demand product went come Britain and also Europe, new England merchants imported the wood from the Caribbean, where it to be then transformed into exquisite furniture for those who could afford it.