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The Canadian Review of American Studies, Volume 12, No. 1,Spring 1981 The American Colonies Revisited Kenneth Coleman. Colonial Georgia: A Histo1:1•. ~e\\ )<)rk: Charles Scribner·s Sons. 1976.331 + xvii pp. foseph E. lllick. Colonial Penmylmnia: A Hist01:\'. New)ork: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1976.359 + xix pp. s,dney V.James. Colonial Rhode Island: A His/01:r. NewYork: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1975. 423 + xviii pp. rvhchaelKammen. Colo11ialNell' York: A His/01:r. NewYi.irk:Charles Scribner's Sons, 1975. 409 + xix pp. Hu"h T.Lefler and William S. Powell. Colonial North ca:'oli,w: A Histo,:v. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1973.318 + xvi pp. Robert J. Taylor. Colonial Connecticut: A Histo,:v. Nev,York: KTO Press, 1979. 285 + xvi pp. John Sainsbwy A cynic might be forgiven for assuming that America's Bicentennial celebrations -which included such bizarre events as Mayor Rizw of Philadelphia feting the Queen of England-would not encourage the production of any serious scholarship. Among the detritus of national celebration, however, one exceptional scholastic enterprise will deservedly endure: the Scribner's and KTO "History of the American Colonies" in thirteen volumes, six of which are under consideration here. These six works qualify as the best colonial histories currently available for Connecticut, Rhode Island, New York, Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Georgia. Such a judgment, though, is not in itself high praise, because treatments of pre-Revolutionary American history defined by colony have not exhibited the same sophistication as colonial analyses defined along local, thematic or chronological parameters. Historical writing on individual colonies (in itself, a nineteenth- rather than a twentieth-century genre) has customarily emphasized, and frequently distorted, exotic origins to the exclusion of process and development, with the result that misleading stereotypes have tended to attach to each colony's inhabitants: from the pugnacious , yet tolerant, democrats of Rhode Island to the silkworm-raising debtors of Georgia. All of the authors reviewed here have resisted the 58 John Sainsbw}· temptation to stereotype, while still legitimately conveying the genuine idiosyncracies in colonial development. Three of the histories-Joseph Illick on Pennsylvania, Michael Kammen on New York, and Sydney James on Rhode Island-not only offer this corrective , but in many other respects they are outstanding works of scholarship , combining primary research with a judicious use of recent interpretive material. Mature scholarship on the middle colonies is especially welcome at this time as an historiographical counterbalance to the outpouring of community analyses of Massachusetts and Connecticut, a trend which conveys (to students) the impression that colonial life north of the Chesapeake was New England writ large. As lllick and Kammen justly claim, it was the ethnic and political pluralism of the middle colonies that was more prototypical of later American experience than the model of New England development. In a broad sense, the volumes under review have a common theme: the emergence of institutions and social arrangements that accommodated the imperatives of expansive, frequently factious, societies. The motif was the search for order, and most of the authors employ this expression, or a close variant of it, to describe the development of their respective colonies. To regard colonial history in these terms is a satisfactory organizing approach (but scarcely a model), though it brings with it the danger of regarding social and political integration as the product of an external zeitgeist, rather than the result of the concrete needs of emerging elites finding expression in specific arrangements. Fortunately, the volumes here are so rich in detail that facile analogies about organic muturation are amply supported bj elucidation of the processes involved. Certain imperatives produced outcomes that were common to all colonies: for example, the universal desire for land brought with it the extermination or displacement of Indian tribes. This process-which is treated in detail in all the volumes- occurred more or less uniformly despite the different perceptions that colonists brought with them concerning their future rela· tions with native Americans. New Englanders came to regard Indians as agents of the devil- and Carolinians behaved as if they were- but, as Joseph Illick points out, "[William j Penn erred in the opposite direction by failing to give due weight to the real differences between natives and intruders'" (p. 26). The outcome in each case was the same, as static, passive and divided Indians proved unable to resist the dynamism of European societies. driven by the imperatives of economic gain and organized to attain their goals. In other respects, expansion took different forms and prompted a variety of social and political responses. In this regard, the volumes collectively transcend their individual worth by allowing for fruitful comparative insights. They offer the possibility of distinguishing the unique from the general and The American Colonies Revisited 59 ascertaining the extent to which the imported heritage and established polity of each colony survived to influence the character of its development. In this regard, the history of Connecticut represents something of an anomaly among the six colonies under consideration. Recent studies have revealed that Connecticut enjoyed remarkable political stability and social 4uiet until well into the eighteenth century, evidenced, for example, by the continuity of town leadership exercised by family oligarchies of selectmen. Robert Taylor offers a useful synthesis of such research, and he also provides a broad explanation for its findings. He shows how the Connecticut government regulated land sales to maintain community (an interesting contrast here with eighteenth-century Massachusetts), and he suggests that the Standing Order of Connecticut, together with the Presbyterian-style Saybrook Platform of 1708, enabled the churches to survive as powerful sociopolitical instruments, despite the stresses consequent upon economic and demographic change. His argument is interesting, and he is probably correct to emphasize the institutional, rather than the pietistic, survivals of Puritanism . But there are certain problems with his thesis. As Taylor himself implies, real political authority was deliberately loaded in favor of established groups, and it is possible that this merely obscured social divisions rather than mitigated them. Paradoxically, Taylor uncritically accepts Richard Bushman's explanation of the Great Awakening's profound impact in Connecticut-a thesis that stresses secularization and the loosening of traditional ties of authority. Like many apparent historical paradoxes, this one possibly contains the germ of an hypothesis, but, if so, Taylor has not nurtured it. Finally, he underplays the importance of the original homogeneity of Connecticut society and the slow,steady pace of its commercial development. There were no economic Salems in Connecticut, and hence no traumatic crisis in religious values and community interests such as afflicted that unfortunate Massachusetts community. This is not to underestimate the impact of economic expansion and land acquisition in Connecticut -which Richard Bushman and others have shown to be so important -but merely to place it in a comparative context. As Taylor himself acknowledges, the colony's external trade was underdeveloped compared to that of its neighbors and ··economic growth in Connecticut ... was largely of the extensive kind; that is, more people produced an increasing amount ofgoods'' (p. 107). Whatever the basis of Connecticut's distinctive development, it stands in sharp contrast to that of its neighbors to the west and south-east where heterogeneity and discord existed from an early date. The work of Perry Miller and others on the orthodox Puritan colonies provides a model of development in which the emphasis is on declension from a homogeneous cultural and religious order. The work of Kammen and James on New York and Rhode Island suggests an alternative model of development: from cultural and religious diversity towards a social order integrated by secular 60 John Sainsbu,), values and institutions. Both authors, though, are anxious to stress that the ..search for order" was far from completed in the colonial period. Factiousness - even transcending modern norms of institutionalized party striferemained a notorious feature of New York and Rhode island life well beyond the Revolutionary era. James shows that the emergence in Rhode Island of a secular order, embracing religious toleration, was in origin a matter of sheer necessity. He buries the enduring myth that the first settlers of Rhode Island instituted toleration as a matter of high principle. Rather they were obliged to sink their differences in order to survive as an entity in a potentially hostile regional and imperial context. The most original and illuminating sections of James's book deal with Rhode Island's eighteenth-century development: the chapters on Governor Cranston and the rise of Newport are particularlv outstanding. James explains how the extension of central authority at th~ expense of the towns, and the rise of an integrated economy centering onthe' commercial needs of Newport's economic elite, were processes that were mutually reinforcing. The tendency was facilitated because it was widelv supported. Newport's aims "harmonized with those of other towns. Everyon~ wanted expanded settlement, increased exports, and avenues of transportation connecting the newly cleared farms with a central market" (p. 1571. The government was able to make considerable headway in providing sucha commercial infrastructure, and in organizing the fiscal and monetar) arrangements conducive to it. Concerted and energetic efforts were especially necessary in these regards, in order to sustain Rhode Island's prosperity in the face of the continuing challenge posed by Boston's commercial nexus. The legacy of divisiveness to be overcome was perhaps even greater in New York than in Rhode Island. Many of these problems stemmed from the fact that New York was conquered by the English before it was settled by them, but Michael Kammen shows that even before the coming of the English, New Netherland was subject to internal stress because of a "lack of legitimacy in public institutions and excessive pluralism in political society" (p. 51). The main source of tension was engendered by towns seeking auto· mony in defiance of the centralizing regime of Peter Stuyvesant. The English takeover served to compound this tendency toward friction. After 1664. the motif of New York development, according to Kammen, became the Anglicization of the colony at the expense of its Dutch traditions and institu· tions. The process ultimately prevailed but at a considerable cost in social turmoil. The delay in establishing a representative assembly retarded inte· gration by ensuring the survival of local attachments and a parochial view of politics. Added to all these problems was the divergence of economic interests in the colony (a contrast here with Rhode Island) between mer· chants and landowners and landowners and tenants. Kammen handles these themes in a masterly fashion. His broad approach enables him to analyze convincingly Leisler's rebellion and its aftermath in TheAmerican Colonies Revisited 61 a manner that has eluded many commentators not thoroughly versed in the idiosyncratic and Byzantine quality of New York politics. Kammen also provides an excellent and detailed account of the transition from English to Dutch forms in a wide range of non-political categories. The sections onthe switch from Roman Dutch to English law, and the transition in modes l.)f education, are especially illuminating. Myonly regret concerning Kammen's book is that he has been limited by the scope of his brief. The triumph of political order in New York was l;ss a result of changing practice than of a revolution in political values and a redefinition of legitimate political practice. The transition was completed duringthe Jacksonian period rather than the Revolutionary era. By 1840, thevexatious party squabbling of the eighteenth century, with its easy resort toaccusations of treason, had become the very stuff of American democracy. Factionalism was also a quality of Pennsylvania's social and political life. Once again the problem was a crisis of legitimacy during the early decades of the colony's existence. This crisis proceeded from different causes than inNewYork, and its effects were less severe, but the turmoil of Pennsylvanian politicsrepresented a major set-back for the colony's founder, William Penn. Illickshows how Penn's schemes for a "green country town" in Philadelphia, andharmonious colonial development under a regime of enlightened feudalism ,were ultimately thwarted, because, in order to underwrite his project, Penn was obliged to make economic concessions to settlers of a kind that helped induce an aggressive materialism totally inimical to his plans. Penn wasa proponent of religious toleration but not of what in his perceptions wassocial anarchy. Certainly, in the first decades of its settlement, Pennsylvania was a highly volatile and mobile society. Illick provides an illuminating pen portrait of theremarkable career of David Lloyd as an indicator of the ··pervasive social mobility arising from the absence of anything like permanent stratification in Pennsylvania" (p. 57). A more ordered society would develop in Pennsylvania as the economic elite cohered and established its power, though as in NewYork and Rhode Island the quest for political stability proved elusive. Illick provides a lucid appraisal of the work of J. T. Lemon and Gary Nash on class differentiation in Chester County; but he is at his best when he discusses the emerging merchant elite of Philadelphia. He shows how this group used its political power "to forestall the sort of competition that would have enabled those in lower positions to grasp a larger portion of business profits''(p. 142).In addition, Illick, in a masterly section, defines the changing value structure associated with emerging bourgeois hegemony. He uses Benjamin Franklin as his model to illustrate the rise of a mentalite and an ethical system very different from those of William Penn. The primary values of Penn were patience, mercy and liberality; by contrast Franklin posited order, resolution and industry: the salient values of a work-oriented society.Franklin also relegated humility to an essentially cosmetic role in his 62 John Sainsb1 ui ethical structure. Humility for Penn (or indeed for any Calvinist, Quaker or otherwise) was a necessary bulwark against the sin of pride and hence damnation. "Avoid pride as you would the devil," Penn had counseled. It was a telling demonstration of Franklin's secular-mindedness that he "valued good citizenship over salvation" (p. 148).Penn and Franklin were not poles apart in religious or moral attitudes; however, the differences in the values they celebrated were real enough and reflected the changing value structure of colonial America as a whole. This process was neither regionally nor, chronologically uniform, but it was, nonetheless, inexorable. For this reason. Illick's discussion is of central importance for any student of early American ideas. There is, howeve1~one piece of research that Illick might have fruitfull\ incorporated into his discussion of the dialectic of change in Quaker societ~·. In a recent article, Barry Levy has shown how the first Quaker settle~s 1 sought material prosperity, not as an end in itself, but as a means for providing a wholesome and protective environment in which Christian fellm\ship and "holy conversation" would flourish in the family and the broader Quaker community. Eventually, the pursuit of material gain undermined the very values which prosperity was intended to preserve. It was an ironic1f predictable process, and one which was at the heart of changing belief structures in Pennsylvania. 1 Georgia, like Pennsylvania, was intended to be a Utopian Christian corn· munity-in this case presided over by an evangelical philanthropist, General Oglethorpe. But the scheme of Oglethorpe and his associates for a settlement of English debtors, engaged in harmonious and picturesque activities such as silkworm raising, was doomed from the start. Kenneth Coleman provides a competent explanation of how Georgia became a viable colon) only when it entered the mainstream of Southern economic life-a process that involved the introduction of slave plantations producing staple corn· modities required by the mercantilist system. The character of Georgia's cultural, political and religious life was essentially determined by the fact that most of its inhabitants came from other southern colonies. Perhaps nowhere is the submersion of original intention by economic opportunities and imperatives more clearly illustrated than in the case of Georgia. In the southern context, the anomalous colony was not Georgia, but rather North Carolina, which failed to develop large-scale plantation agriculture of a kind that was prevalent to the north and dominant to the south. Hugh Lefler and William Powell carefully elucidate North Carolina's earl) history as a renegade offshoot from the quasi-feudal schemes of Carolina's proprietors. They then proceed to an analysis of North Carolina's econorn1 and social order which, as in other Southern colonies, was molded by the availability of land and a shortage of labor. Elsewhere, this imbalance encouraged the introduction of full scale slave labor; but a large-plantation The American Colonies Revisited 63 economywas precluded in North Carolina by an inadequate system of transport and communications, and thus North Carolina remained predominantly a society of yeoman farmers. Lefler and Powell can perhaps be faulted for failingto define such discrepancies in socioeconomic development as did occur by the middle of the eighteenth century. Their account of the economicgrievances of the Regulators is thus somewhat sketchy, and should be supplemented by the more recent essay of Marvin L. Michael Kay.2 Lefler and Powell's general thesis concerning sectional division in the colony, however,though by no means original, deserves serious consideration. In their view, "the most serious causes of sectional rivalry and conflict were political in origin" (p. 218). What prevented a solution to problems involving land, religion, money, trade and local government was the lack of western representation in North Carolina's assembly. By implication, then, Lefler and Powell support the argument that it was the extenison of indigenous political institutions in other colonies that assisted the process, however erratic, of social and political integration-a phenomenon that markedly failedto occur in North Carolina. After all, there were colonies that were as heterogeneous simply in terms of socioeconomic interest but which avoided the degree of internecine strife that afflicted North Carolina. As the negative evidence of North Carolina confirms, the "rise of the assembly" (a phrase with an antique ring for colonial historians) was thus an essential ingredient of socio-political integration. But the phrase "rise of the assembly'' also connotes the extension of colonial autonomy at the expense ofimperial or proprietorial authority. This trend is a common theme in the accountsunder consideration here. Even in New Yorkthe process was evident. That province provided more opportunities for imperial management than other colonies because of the possibilities for patronage there and because the colony's heterogeneous population could be politically manipulated. This meant that provincial politics in New York were "less self-contained than elsewhere and more subject to the vagaries of pressure from overseas" 1Kammen,p. 200). But despite this, the tendency toward legislative autonomy inNewYorkcontinued apace through the eighteenth century. In the southern coloniesthe movement was even more pronounced, and there were continual disputes between governors and assemblies over such issues as quitrents, taxation, fees and the tenure of judges. (The inequities of representation inNorth Carolina did nothing to undermine its assembly's posture as representative of the colonial versus the imperial interest.) The situation in Pennsylvaniawas complicated by the survival of the Penn proprietorship until right up to the Revolution. Occasionally, the proprietors sought to protect the assembly against the infringements of imperial policy; but normally the proprietor was treated by his opponents as if he were a de facto surrogate ofimperial authority. As Illick makes clear, the movement for royal government in Pennsylvania, supported by Benjamin Franklin, can in no way be regarded as an expression of enthusiasm for tighter imperial control. 64 John Sainsbw}· The two charter colonies of Rhode Island and Connecticut, of course, elected their own colonial executives; but, if anything, this made them even more sensitive to any possible imperial infringements on their privileges. SydneyJames describes how in Rhode Island the colony's government became extremely adept at satisfying the needs of colonial officials without conceding any loss of autonomy. Thus, for example, Rhode Islanders agreed to send soldiers for the imperial wars; but at the same time they denied the legitimacy of any commission to an outsider to take command of the , colony's militia. While the movement toward political autonomy was evident in all the colonies, the books under review point at the same time to a movement toward a general Anglicization of customs and institutions as colonial societv matured. The movement can perhaps be earliest identified, ironicalli enough, in Rhode Island, whose early settlers sought legitimacy for their enterprise and order for their activities, by seeking a royal charter and resorting to English common law in routine legislation. In New York, Anglicization involved an institutional revolution as Dutch ways were replaced by English ones. In all the colonies, the missionary wing of the Anglican church was vigorous and successful. The movement toward Anglicanization did nothing to retard independence , however. Indeed, it may have advanced it by encouraging Americans in their self-perception as freeborn Englishmen. All the volumes allot considerable space to the Revolution at the colony level; but they have the merit that they have not been deliberately written as extended introductions to emerging American statehood- a tendency that has bedeviled a great deal of writing on the colonial period. The general editors nonetheless express the hope that the volumes will provide a collective account that will further understanding of the ·'melo· drama of 1776 which saw, in John Adams's [sic] words, 'thirteen clocks somewhat amazingly strike as one."' This expectation is to a large degree fulfilled. No well-defined historiographical interpretation is endorsed, explicitly or implicitly, in these volumes; but the extent of social development and political maturation in the colonies is made abundantly clear, and this explication in itself helps to explain the concerted response from all regions to apparent British infringements on acquired colonial rights. The character of that response varied according to the peculiarities of colonial develop· ment. In Rhode Island and Connecticut, it was the colonial charters which were widely regarded as the guarantors of colonial autonomy, and British attempts at firmer control-from the Stamp Act to the naval harassment of suspected smugglers-were invariably denounced as violations of charter rights. Only slowly, and with little real conviction, did patriot spokesmen in the charter colonies invoke natural rights as the basis for their resistance. One of the most enlightening sections on the Revolution is contained in Joseph lllick's account of revolutionary Pennsylvania. Political partisan· The American Colonies Revisited 65 ship in colonial Pennsylvania has attracted a great deal of historical attention because of its intriguing admixture of ethnic, religious and class components; and the course of the patriot struggle in the colony has likewiseattracted a considerable amount of scholarly interest because, at least in the 1770s, it contained elements of a genuine social and political revolution . But, to my knowledge, Illick's account represents the only satisfactory attempt to link the character of the revolution in Pennsylvania with antecedent political strife in the colony. Illick describes how, at the beginning of the imperial crisis, opposition assemblymen continued to wage an incTeasinglyirrelevant crusade against the proprietary. This situation meant that leadership in the patriot struggle passed into the hands of those excluded from formal colonial politics but who came to dominate the extraleoal committee movement engendered by resistance to the British. The radicalism of these new leaders was sharpened by class hostilities accentuated by the inequities of Philadelphia's economic development; but, at the same time, the colonial tradition of toleration enabled the emerging patriots to transcend potential divisions of religion and ethnicity. In this account, Illick displays synthetic scholarship at its best, skilfully drawing on detailed monographic studies and indicating exciting possibilities for further investigation . ~ Although, in 1776,the thirteen colonies did indeed ''strike as one" against Britishauthority, there is little sense in which this movement was inspired by burgeoning national sentiment. In the Lefler and Powell account of North Carolina, there is even the suggestion (though hardly a rounded hypothesis) that the colony's involvement in the revolutionary struggle was partly motivatedbyits desire to preserve independence from the other colonies. Strangely, onlyin the case of the shortest-settled colony, and the least developed one, is there any suggestion that American nationalism per se inspired resistance to British rule. Kenneth Coleman makes the unequivocal statement that··Georgians were Americans and realized it more and more as objections to Britishactions became increasingly common" (p. 272). He offers the plausible suggestion that the colony's population on the eve of revolution, composed asit was of recent immigrants from other southern colonies, tended naturally to have a non-parochial view of the Revolutionary struggle. The volumes deal with the constitutional debate synoptically, but in view of their scope, this hardly represents a criticism. For the colonial historian seeking elegant syntheses of recent research, spiced with originality, or looking for suggestive directions for future research, this series should prove invaluable. Notes 1 BarryLevy,""Tender Plants': Quaker Farmers and Children in the Delaware Valley,1681-1735," Jo11ma/of'FamifrHistor1', Ill (1978), 116-35. :Marvin L.Michael Kay, "'The North Carolina Regulators, 1766-1776:A Class Conflict," in Alfred F. Young, ed., The Amencan Re11olutro11: Exp/01at1011s in the H1sto1:i• of American Radicaltsm (DeKalb, Ill., 1976),71-123. ...

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ISSN
1710-114X
Print ISSN
0007-7720
Pages
pp. 57-65
Launched on MUSE
2019-01-02
Open Access
No
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