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OPPORTUNITY AND URBANISM: POPULATION GROWfH IN NEW ENGLAND'S SECONDARY CITIES, 1790-1860 BruceC.Daniels For nearly two decades historians have argued that southern New England became an overcrowded society in the mid-eighteenth century. Population growth, soil depletion and the closing of the frontier in western Connecticut and Massachusetts diminished economic opportunity sufficiently to cause major dislocations and demographic readjustments. Hard data exist to show a large migration of southern New Englanders to New York, New Hampshire and Vermont in the Revolutionary era, and to the new West in the 1790sand afterwards. Although less conclusive and the subject of some debate, much other data suggest an increase in poverty, a decline in birth rates, as well as a correlation between political and religious unrest and declining economic opportunity. Much of this research was, of course, implicitly anticipated by the work of Frederick Jackson Turner: his view of the frontier as a "safety valve"for the East so obviously presupposes the conclusions of the new social historians that one has to wonder in retrospect why the overcrowding thesis seemed so iconoclastic in the 1960swhen it was first articulated.1 Moving west, reducing the size of families and accepting the presence of poverty were not the only responses of Easterners to a shortage of land. They could and did redirect their human and financial capital to nonagricultural activities. Crafts, small mills and commerce increased modestly but substantially during the Federalist and Jeffersonian eras. In Jacksonian America, the pace of economic expansion quickened as southern New England became one of the centers of the early industrial revolution. All of this activity promoted high rates of urban growth: cities and manufacturing towns became increasingly separated from farming communities by distinctive social and economic patterns. Many historians have argued that cities provided as much or more of a safety valve for the landless as the West. Would-be entrepreneurs, professionals and laborers moved from country to town in order to better their chances of success.2 174 Bruce C. Daniels Scholars have long debated which of the safety valves was the more important and effective. The flood of people across the continent after the opening of the Ohio Valley to settlement constitutes one of the great population movements of the modern world. The growth of New York, Philadelphia, Boston, Baltimore and other major cities provides an equally spectacular set of indices. Nor were frontier and city mutually exclusive categories: large urban centers sprang up in parts of the West that were only one decade removed from wilderness conditions. 3 It seems to be an inescapable conclusion that two powerful social movements that would have profound effects on the nation began more or less simultaneously in the first half of the nineteenth century: people began moving to the West and to the cityand are still doing so today. Both of these magnets of economic opportunity, the West and the big cities, have received much attention from historians. Aside from some celebrated small Eastern cities such as Lowell and Lynn, Massachusetts, or Manchester, New Hampshire, however, few of New England's secondary centers have been the subject of attention for the years before the CivilWar.4 Professional urban historians most frequently start their stories in the Gilded Age. Southern New England, however, did have a class of secondary cities that shared, to a degree, in the urban growth that swept the country. Six of them--Bridgeport, Hartford and New Haven, Connecticut; Springfield and Worcester, Massachusetts; and Providence, Rhode Island--continued to grow throughout the nineteenth century and today constitute in modern New England a recognizable and distinct level of urban development between the major cities such as New York and Boston and several dozen tertiary centers. Hartford, New Haven and Providence had been Colonial capitals and important political and social centers before the Revolution; Springfield and Worcester, county seats during the Colonial period, had been consequential large towns,but of less importance than the Colonial capitals; and Bridgeport had been a small unincorporated village in Colonial America.5 Bytoday's standards, these six cities represent the successful strand of urban development in southern New England. Bridgeport, Hartford and New Haven are Connecticut's three largest cities...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1710-114X
Print ISSN
0007-7720
Pages
pp. 173-193
Launched on MUSE
2019-01-02
Open Access
No
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