From British Peasants to Colonial American Farmers

From British Peasants to Colonial American Farmers

From British Peasants to Colonial American Farmers

From British Peasants to Colonial American Farmers

Synopsis

With this book, Allan Kulikoff offers a sweeping new interpretation of the origins and development of the small farm economy in Britain's mainland American colonies. Examining the lives of farmers and their families, he tells the story of immigration to the colonies, traces patterns of settlement, analyzes the growth of markets, and assesses the impact of the Revolution on small farm society.

Beginning with the dispossession of the peasantry in early modern England, Kulikoff follows the immigrants across the Atlantic to explore how they reacted to a hostile new environment and its Indian inhabitants. He discusses how colonists secured land, built farms, and bequeathed those farms to their children. Emphasizing commodity markets in early America, Kulikoff shows that without British demand for the colonists' crops, settlement could not have begun at all. Most important, he explores the destruction caused during the American Revolution, showing how the war thrust farmers into subsistence production and how,they only gradually regained their prewar prosperity.

Excerpt

As John Winthrop agonized in 1629 over the reasons to found an “Intended Plantation in New England,” he reflected on England's economic condition. He put economic problems into a religious context; a colony would “carry the Gospell” and “raise a Bulworke against the kingdom of Ante-Christ.” As a justice of the peace in a depressed textile county, Winthrop saw England's devastation firsthand and thought colonization would provide an economic refuge for suffering families. England, he insisted, “grows weary of her Inhabitantes, soe a man whoe is the most praetious of all creatures, is her more vile and base than the [earth?] we treade upon, and of lesse prise among us than a horse or a sheepe.” the poor were everywhere, unable to make a living; the rest of the people were “growne to that height of Intemperance in all excesse of Riott, as noe mans estate allmost will suffce to keepe saile with his aequalls.” How much worse it would be, Winthrop reasoned, to stay in England, where “many men” spend “as much labour and coste to … keepe sometimes an acre or twoe of Land,” than go where they “would procure many C [hundred] as good or better.”

Winthrop circulated his “Reasons to be Considered” widely, eliciting comments from potential investors and colonists. As he heard objections, Winthrop honed his text. the faithful were not abandoning England, taking “awaye the good people,” as some believed. “The number wilbe nothing in respecte of those that are lefte,” for “many that live are no use heere” and “are likely to doe more good there than here.” Nor should the “many and great diffculties” of colonization or the “ill successe of other Plantations” dissuade prospective colonists. Immorality and irreligion explained the failure of Virginia's colonizers, whose “mayne end was Carnall and not Religious,” and who transported “a multitude of rude and misgouernd persons the very scumme of the Land.” A

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