Social class continuity from Europe to America. Absolutely essential to an understanding of the social classes of the colonies (and later, the United States) is the concept: "As they came, so did they tend to remain."Next Page
German middle class farmers, choosing their farmlands carefully according to sound principles of agriculture, remained in the middle class. " . . . the emigrants who founded the Bay Colony belonged to the middle strata of English society." 11 The development of society both in the district of Lancaster, Pennsylvania and among the Yankees wherever they migrated, even generations later, as contrasted with the poor whites who fled into the hills of the southeastern colonies, testifies to the continuity of social class lines. It was the inexperienced (in career management) indentured servant who allowed himself, for lack of means and foresight, to be pushed into the poorest lands and to remain pocketed there.
The Beards explain the nature of this type of social class continuity (with all the cultural trimmings that went with it) in the movement of populations to the colonies, laying emphasis upon the middle class derivations of many colonists. They write: 12
The prevailing class structure by which the provincial culture of America was so largely conditioned was derived in the main from the mother country. Although it is sometimes imagined, on the basis of schoolbook fictions, that the colonies were local democracies formed on the pure principles of a New World philosophy and founded on substantial economic equality, the facts of the case lend little color to that view. In reality, by the colonizing process, the middle orders of England -- landed gentry of the minor rank, merchants, and yeomen -- with their psychology and social values were produced in a new environment.
The whole of colonial America was, of course, partly English, and partly French. This last-mentioned section, notably Quebec, is of value to this theory of immigration (as they came, so did they tend to remain) in that it shows the close similarity between the colonial classes and the homeland. Quebec also demonstrates (as do the mountaineers of the Appalachian range) what happens among a people largely devoid of middle class elements, even in a land of rich natural resources. New France was populated by nobles and serfs. Her society was sharply divided. To this day the mass of French Canadians are in the same position, relatively, as their English cousins who indented themselves to Virginians and later into the Piedmont and mountains of the South; they are poor and proletarian. The original settlers, in the main, were orphans, peasants, and common soldiers. (A few well-educated girls were sent over to be the wives of officers.) Immediately the population began to grow through the natural increase of births over deaths. 13
What this birth-rate has been persistently, from his day to our own, may be imagined from these two telling facts; first, that the three million French-Canadians in North America today are nearly all descended from less than thrity thousand French immigrants, most of whom came out under Talon's supervision.
It was under Talon that the persons referred to above were brought from France, as soldiers and as prospective wives, selected in orphanages and from among peasant girls.
Very recently a leader of the French-Canadians in Quebec appealed to his people to learn English, because, although they could farm or cut timber without the use of that language, they could not, without it, compete with other Canadians for better positions. 14 Such prodding would have been utterly unnecessary in any population whose social class morale had been spirited by a liberal sprinkling of the middle class. Striving, through the educational channel, is characteristic of the middle class, as is evidenced by the interest shown in education among the middle class Yankees and all middle class elements in the earlier and latest immigration.
Other colonies besides those mentioned above showed characteristics similar to those of Europe. Wertenbaker, after describing in detail the different social classes of New Amsterdam, comes to the conclusion that 15
As the people of New Amsterdam were much the same as the people of the average Dutch trading town, so was the place in outward aspect a replica in miniature of Amsterdam or Middelburg, or Laiden, or Hoorn.
11. Beard and Beard, op. cit., p. 52.
12. Ibid., pp. 125 - 126.
13. Clark Wissler, et al., The Pageant of America, Adventures in the Wilderness (New Haven, 1925) p. 311.
14. New York Post, January 10, 1941.
15. Thomas Jefferson Wertenbaker, The Founding of American Civilization, The Middle Colonies (New York, 1938) p. 40.