The Social Structure of the Eighteenth-Century
In the eighteenth century, Britain was not as large as it is today, as its population was still below 10 million people. Most of its population resided in rural areas while the urban population was growing at a very slow pace. However, what differentiated Britain from other Western countries was the social ranking that illustrated three broad types of social status. They included the gentry (or the upper class), the middle classes (mostly civil servants), and the lower classes (or the laboring classes). During the colonial era, the colonial society that settled in North America consisted of members from the highest social classes, who were free to explore the world to make change.
The quest to increase wealth and to enhance their stand in the world affairs made English men and their families to move to America in the seventeenth century. After settling in various parts in American, the British families began working in farms while other engaged in merchant, but responsibilities were shared among family members. However, life began to change in the eighteenth century when crop cultivation became extensive. A few British families migrated to America while other European citizens arrived in North America. Africans also began to arrive in North America as slaves. Owning a parcel of land became the main form of achieving wealth.
Social classes began to emerge, as each class had specific responsibilities to undertake. The gentry formed the upper class of colonial society while the middling or the middle class incorporated professionals and business owners. The two social classes formed the group of the rich. The colonies in North America portrayed a social and political structure, which originated from economic circumstances (Grigg 192). White famers began to employ slaves from Africa to work on their farms, as well as in their homes. The gentry incorporated the richest and most prominent whites, and they were quite few. The rich people owned plantations and built large houses for their families. They were highly educated and held high public offices. Due to their influence, the white farmers and professionals were capable of owning slaves and employ servants to work in their homes.
The colonial leaders ensured that they have categorized people based on their races. All Europeans joined the class of “Whites” while the rest were Negroes or Blacks. The physical features of individuals became the marker of social status. The white people perceived Africans as aliens or some form of animals, and they treated them as properties. American laws emphasized more on property rights than the plight of slaves. Africans were easier to manage as slaves than the lower-class English slaves. Thus, the black slaves fell into the category of the poorest people in the colony. Most slaves were not educated; hence, they could not be employed as skilled laborers in industries. Slaves were poorly housed, ill fed, and were punished maliciously for petty offenses.
The black community could not own properties due to poverty and harsh conditions. If a slave could survive a period of seven years in slavery, he/she was set free and had an opportunity to acquire land, but most slaves could not survive under such hardship. Poverty also took a toll on urban women from both white and black communities, as women did not possess professional skills as men (Grigg 112). The British American colonies also incorporated a small group of free men, as well as women, who had an African origin. Although this population did not enjoy much privilege as white population, the black men and their women from Britain were allowed to own properties. Poverty was a custom for black people, whether from Britain or from Africa. The world was never open for black communities, even when they were free. Being free without the means to own property was not helpful to the black people.
Firmly established gender roles played a critical role in maintaining strong family structures among the British colonies. Men took the responsibility of giving orders, solving disputes, administering justice, as well as instilling discipline. They were expected to cater for their family needs and contribute in community work. Men were mostly the property owners and thus, enjoyed power within their families, as well as in public life. Women were subordinate to men, and their main responsibility was to uphold household order. Women living in cities also carried out house chores, but they were allowed to do manual jobs in industries. Slave women worked in their masters’ homes or toiled as unskilled laborers in plantations.
The British colonists took adopted their culture in the countries that they colonized, hence, contributing to marginalization among some communities. The issue of social structures began in Britain where people were categorized as in upper class, middle class, or lower class. However, the colonial society in the eighteenth century only incorporated the highest social classes. The British colony contributed largely in the creation of White and Black communities. Native Americans belonged to lower class who carried out manual work while the black community belonged to the poorest class of slaves. Despite having a social structure, women in all social classes performed almost the same responsibilities, except where women slaves worked in plantations as unskilled laborers.
Grigg, John A. British Colonial America: People and Perspectives. Santa Barbara, Calif: ABC-CLIO, 2008. Print.