This does not fulfill the American Dream. The more one learns about the colonial age, the less can one detect any signs of increasing equality or open opportunity or "most intensive" social mobility. The schoolbook fiction that at first a few aristocrats arrived with their inept personal coteries, that their influence was not long felt, and that the eighteenth century experienced an increase in the political institutions of democracy and economic opportunity for the little man (according to the Benjamin Franklin pattern) should perhaps be replaced. Truer is the thought that in some of the colonies there was a shortage of upper class families for several decades; but as the 1700 corner was turned, those on the inside and provided with the advantages were setting a fast pace, a stride which left the masses of men further and further behind with each passing decade up to the Revolution, at least.* * *
Control of politics, class and social class consciousness, and capital accumulation created "upper classmen" out of elements, some of which were no doubt of lower middle class and even, though rarely, of proletarian backgrounds. But these same factors contributed more to bringing to full bloom the ostentation of those classes which had come over "passage paid, with furniture and servants." They became a clique of beautifully mansioned, proud, and fashionable folk. These realities of colonial life are depicted in the following: 22
In New York an extraordinary proportion of the landed wealth was in the hands of Sir William Johnson or representatives of these great aristocratic families who throughout the colonial period, and even after, dominated every phase of the colony's institutional activity . . . . In Virginia and the Carolinas millions of acres of fertile lands of the back country fell into the hands of speculators like Robert Beverly, Richard Henderson, the Washingtons, the Carters, and Lord Fairfax . . . .
. . . Legal contests and long-drawn-out quarrels between the older and richer families engaged in land speculation on the one hand, and the poorer inhabitants and the newcomers anxious to acquire homes and landed property on the other, featured the history of practically every colony throughout the colonial period.
The manner in which favoritism and social standing played their part in the distribution of wealth is shown in the following: 23
For the acquisition of a rapid fortune in land merely by standing well with the powers that be, New York offered a rich field. Among Governor Fletcher's grants, for example, was one to his favorite . . . Captain John Evans, of an area . . . between three hundred and fifty thousand and six hundred thousand acres, a quitrent of only twenty shillings for the whole, for which Evans alleged he was later offered 10,000 pounds in England.
High social class is more than family rank, money, and social prestige -- it is a way of life, especially a way of recreation. In New York, for instance, where distinctions were more definitely pronounced than in New England or the other Middle Colonies, the finest families spent their winters in the city at the mouth of the Hudson, "where amusements of various kinds from the theater to bull-baiting were furnished for their diversion . . . . " 24
The foregoing treatment of colonial social classes has been general, somewhat scattered, non-technical and inconclusive. In order to include more exact details and without covering so much territory at once, the following study of the Colony, and to a limited extent the later State of Virginia, has been made. Its purpose is to determine, in a special survey, what happened to one social class structure in the New World, a social class system which has had to go through more than its share of the vicissitudes of social, political, and economic change and upheaval. Virginia was chosen because the records have been well kept from the earliest times to the present, in various forms, and because the social class structure was shaken up by the laws made after the Revolution and by the defeat of the Confederacy by the northern states. For both of these reasons Virginia has become the object of special attention.The Virginia Colony and State
What were the workings of colonization, indenture, land policies, political and economic forces, exclusiveness, slavery, and war upon the three hundred years of social class development in the Old Dominion? Which Virginians forged ahead? Which lagged behind? What were the antecedents of the outcast "hill-billies?" It is the purpose of this section to answer these and similar questions.
22. Carman, op. cit., pp. 70 - 71.
23. Adams, op. cit., p. 66.
24. Beard and Beard, op. cit., p. 144.