American Life in the 17th Century

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The Unhealthy Chesapeake

Life in the American wilderness was harsh.
Diseases like malaria, dysentery, and typhoid killed many.
Few people lived to 40 or 50 years.
In the early days of colonies, women were so scarce that men fought over all of them. The Chesapeake region had fewer women and a 6:1 male to female ratio is a good guide. Few people knew any grandparents.

A third of all brides in one Maryland county were already pregnant before the wedding (scandalous). Virginia, with 59,000 people, became the most populous colony. II. The Tobacco Economy

The Chesapeake was very good for tobacco cultivation.
Chesapeake Bay exported 1.5 million pounds of tobacco yearly in the 1630s, and by 1700, that number had risen to 40 million pounds a year. More availability led to falling prices, and farmers still grew more. The headright system encouraged growth of the Chesapeake. Under this system, if an aristocrat sponsored an indentured servant’s passage to America, the aristocrat earned the right to purchase 50 acres land, undoubtedly at a cheap price. This meant land was being gobbled by the rich, and running out for the poor. Early on, most of the laborers were indentured servants.

Life for them was hard, but there was hope at the end of seven years for freedom. Conditions were brutal, and in the later years, owners unwilling to free their servants extended their contracts by years for small mistakes. III. Frustrated Freemen and Bacon’s Rebellion

By the late 1600s, there were lots of free, poor, landless, single men frustrated by the lack of money, land, work, and women. In 1676, Nathaniel Bacon led a few thousand of these men in a rebellion against the hostile conditions. These people wanted land and were resentful of Virginia governor William Berkeley’s friendly policies toward the Indians. Bacon’s men murderously attacked Indian settlements after Berkeley refused to retaliate for a series of savage Indian attacks on the frontier. Then, in the middle of his rebellion, Bacon suddenly died of disease, and Berkeley went on to crush the uprising. Still, Bacon’s legacy lived on, giving frustrated poor folks ideas to rebel, and so a bit of paranoia went on for some time afterwards. IV. Colonial Slavery

In the 300 years following Columbus’ discovery of America, only about 400,000 of a total of 10 million African slaves were brought over to the United States. By 1680, though, many landowners were afraid of possibly mutinous white servants, by the mid 1680s, for the first time, black slaves outnumbered white servants among the plantation colonies’ new arrivals. After 1700, more and more slaves were imported, and in 1750, blacks accounted for nearly half of the Virginian population. Most of the slaves were from West Africa, from places like Senegal and Angola. Some of the earliest black slaves gained their freedom and some became slaveholders themselves. Eventually, to clear up issues on slave ownership, the slave codes made it so that slaves and their children would remain slaves to their masters for life (chattels), unless they were voluntarily freed. Some laws made teaching slaves to read a crime, and not even conversion to Christianity might qualify a slave for freedom. V. Africans in America

Slave life in the Deep South was very tough, as rice growing was much harder than tobacco growing. Many blacks in America evolved their own languages, blending their native tongues with English. Blacks also contributed to music with instruments like the banjo and bongo drum. A few of the slaves became skilled artisans (i.e. carpenters, bricklayers and tanners), but most were relegated to sweaty work like clearing swamps and grubbing out trees. Revolts did occur.

In 1712, a slave revolt in New York City cost the lives of a dozen whites and 21 Blacks were executed. In 1739, South Carolina blacks along the Stono River revolted and tried to march to Spanish Florida, but failed. VI. Southern Society

A social gap appeared and began...
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