Monday, August 6, 2012

Colonial Facts and Stats: Culture and Life

Continuing on from the post about immigration and settlement with interesting facts about the 17th and 18th centuries, the following are related more to culture and life in the colonies. Everything is from Family Life in 17th- and 18th-Century America by James M. Volo and Dorothy Denneen Volo, which I highly recommend buying, though the facts below may seem extensive, it's only a very small portion of this highly informative book.

Culture and Life:
  • Puritans and Quakers were often literate and many Germans and Dutch may have been literate in their own languages too. In the 17th century, men on the frontier had a literacy rate around 50%, which grew to 65% by the early 18th century. German Protestants and French Huguenots may have been as high as 90% literate. By comparison, today's literacy rate is about 86% so the colonial rates were lower but not as low as what people might assume. Women were twice as likely to be illiterate in the south and mid Atlantic while the difference was not so great in New England but this may have only been an indicator of ability to write rather - reading rates may have been higher.
  • New England Puritans and frontier Scotch-Irish supported schools, but southern aristocrats and sectarian Quakers and Pietists tended to "distrust" institutionalized instruction. So education ranged regionally from home schooling to university education.
  • In 1625 Virginia there were about 460 indentured servants but only 22 blacks (some being slaves). Dutch farmers generally only owned a few slaves in contrast to the large numbers on Southern plantations.
  • Autumn was the healthiest period of the year due to moderate temperatures and recent harvests. Winter brought rheumatic pains, consumption, and lung disease, then Spring was riddled with pleuresies, inflamatory fevers, distempers, and colds, and Summer had epidemics of cholera, dysentery, typhoid, assorted fevers, and both bloody and black fluxes. Scurvy was also a health problem through the winter. 
  • In some parts of the Chesapeake, 25% of children would lose at least one parent by the time they were 5 years old, 50% by age 13, and 70% by age 21.
  • Widows often continued to run the family business (such as shops or taverns) after their husband's death.
  • Child mortality rates in the overall colonial period ranged from 20% to 30% (today it is only about 1%). Men who survived into their 20s had a good chance to living to about 70 years. Women who survived to adulthood had a lower life expectancy of 65, due to dangers of pregnancy and childbirth - women who survived past childbearing years could expect to live as long as men. Average life expectancies which quote 40-50 year age ranges include child and infant mortalities. 
  • Reproduction was considered such an expectation that bachelors and spinsters were scorn and childless couples seen as disfavored by God. Though not as effective as today's methods, contraceptives were available but not well known, approved of, or used. As a result, some families had as many as 12 to 14 children and the population grew very fast. In New England, from 1700 to 1750, the population almost doubled to 400,000 and the average number of children rarely dropped below 7. Fathers quickly became unable to partition enough of their farm land among all their children which forced them to move out of the community and find land elsewhere. Women were reproducing so quickly that they would sometimes conceive again before fully recovering from their last pregnancy and either miscarry or give birth to underweight infants who died early. White women generally nursed for 2 years which can be a natural contraceptive (but it's effectiveness is reduced if not nursing full time) - plus some cultures banned sexual relations while the wife was still nursing. Slaves tried to extend the period of contraception by nursing for 3 years. 
  • In the south, the average number of surviving children per family was lower, around 5 or 6, because the child mortality rate was much higher. Almost half of children never reached adolescence.
  • The Dutch had large families but could expect about a third of their children to die young.
  • It was not unusual for children to be farmed out to other families to learn a skill or trade, especially in Puritan homes and especially after the death of one of the parents (i.e. if the mother died, the daughters might be sent to other homes to learn domestic skills).
  • The average age at first marriage for women in New England was about 22 to 23 years old. In the south, it was much lower, only 18. In Quaker families, it was 24 and within the Dutch communities, 22. Dutch men typically married between ages 23 and 25, especially in rural areas (those in the city tended to marry later). 
  • Premarital pregnancy in New England was rare as long periods of privacy before marriage were nearly impossible but there are records of "seven month" births after marriage, of which there were more in the 17th century than the 18th. Rates were higher in the south, reaching 40% in some areas, as was fathering children out of wedlock (almost 12%). The Puritans often didn't record illegitimate births and the Dutch often omitted marriage or birth dates from records in attempts to brush such embarrassments under the rug.
  • Families in the south tended to maintain closer ties to extended family than communities in the north and nepotism was common. Female relatives would often get together to trace their families lineages, especially those of aristocratic background. Intermarriage between second and third cousins was promoted in the south, to keep their money, power, and social standing within the family.
  • Almost 60% of southern males owned no land and were instead tenant farmers or indentured servants or slaves.
  • Initially, Quakers and other minorities religions were prosecuted in many colonies, Pennsylvania being the only exception.
  • Unlike other communities, Quakers gave their women much authority, especially within the family unit but also in their religion - 12 female Quaker ministers could be found between 1690 and 1765.
  • The Germans contained many different dialects and religions including Lutheran, Mennonite, Moravian, Baptist, Amish, and Calvinist. Lutherans and Calvinists were similar to most mainstream English Protestants but other pietist sects were viewed as radicals and closer to the Quakers. Germans were more hierarchical and patriarchal in their families with more children (average of 9 with about 75% surviving to adulthood) but otherwise very similar to Quakers. But Germans of all types rarely married outside their nationality.
  • Baptists were known as "Dunkers" for their practice of total immersion during baptisms. There were about 300 original "Dunkers" in the colonies and 90% of them were from Schwarzenau, Krefeld, or Friesland.
  • The Moravians paid Native Americans for the land they settled.
  • In the 1740s, there were more Dutch families who owned slaves than English, typically no more than 6 slaves per household.
  • Women slaves generally bore about 6 children in their lifetimes and were often shown indulgence a few week before giving birth and allowed four weeks to recover after giving birth before going back to work in the fields, taking their newborn infant with them.
  • Marriage between slaves on different plantations was discouraged but more common among smaller farms where available partners were fewer. Husbands were generally given "weekend passes" to visit their wives, starting after a half day work on Saturday and returning Monday morning.
  • Slave owners often made gifts of their slaves to their children, especially as a wedding gift.
Check back soon... yet more to come!

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