From the founding of the colonies through independence, contemporary commentators and many historians since have portrayed the independent yeoman farmer as the archetypal early American. Yet colonial Chesapeake social-economic historians have found that landownership rates in the tidewater fell from two-thirds of free household heads in the 1660s to one-half a century later. This article takes Prince George’s County, Maryland, as a test case and uses censuses and tax records to reveal that landownership rates fell further to one-third by 1800 and one-quarter by 1820. Moreover, the proportion of yeomen (broadly defined as owning 40 to 799 acres) fell from 24 percent of free householders in 1800 to under 19 percent in 1820. The decline was due to the precarious economic position of small yeomen, owners of 40 to 279 acres, who formed under 17 percent of free householders in 1800 and just 11 percent in 1820. Furthermore, while historians often portray yeomen as eschewing markets and slavery, the vast majority grew


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pp. 63-99
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