Labor in America: A History by Melvyn Dubofsky and Joseph A. McCartin :: Chapter 1 (Part 2): Workers, Politics, and Revolution

Response / Thought Quotes

  • “Although the first protests against British taxation came largely from the merchant class, which provided the original leadership in organizing the Sons of Liberty, the mechanics, artisans, and small tradesmen voiced the more radical demands in support of colonial liberties and kept up their agitation when the merchants were willing to compromise.”
  • “The mobs of great cities,” Jefferson wrote in fearful contemplation of what he felt was happening in Europe, “add just so much to the support of pure government, as sores do to the strength of the human body.” 
  • “On such a pittance,” the late nineteenth-century historian John Bach McMaster has written, “it was only by the strictest economy that a mechanic kept his children from starvation and himself from jail. In the low and dingy rooms which he called his home were wanting many Articles of adornment and of use now to be found in the dwellings of the poorest of his class. Sand sprinkled on the floor did duty as a carpet. There was no glass on his table, there was no china in his cupboard, there were no prints on his walls…[H]is wife cooked up a rude meal and served it in pewter dishes. He rarely tasted fresh meat as often as once in a week.” 

Thought Questions

  • What basic political rights did working American lack in the Early Republic and Colonial / Territorial period?
  • In what ways did working class Americans impact the development and course of the American Revolution?
  • How did the development of an urban labor force facilitate working class political activity?
  • Compare and Contrast the views of Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton on the development of an American working class to facilitate capitalism and urban growth?
  • How did African slaves participate in the American Revolution?
  • What motivations did African slaves have to support the American Revolution?

Further Reading

Labor in America: A History by Melvyn Dubofsky and Joseph A. McCartin :: Chapter 1 (Part 1): Conditions of Labor in Colonial America

Response / Thought Quotes

  • “This reality encouraged farmers, artisans, and ordinary workers to assert their own independence and equality,” 
  • “When you send again,” he wrote home emphatically, “I entreat you rather send but thirty carpenters, husbandmen, gardeners, fishermen, masons, and diggers of trees’ roots, well provided, than a thousand such as we have.” 
  • “appointed one hundred Children out of the swarms that swarme in the place, to be sent to Virginia to be bound as apprentices for certain yeares.” 
  • “imprison, punish and dispose of any of those children upon any disorder by them committed, as cause shall require; and so to Shipp them out for Virginia, with as much expedition as may stand for convenience.”
  • “What is a little Housebreaking, Shoplifting, or Highway-robbing; what is a son now and then corrupted and hanged, a Daughter debauched, or Pox’d, a wife stabbed, a Husband’s throat cut, or a child’s brains beat out with an Axe, compared with this Improvement and Well peopling of the Colonies?” 
  • “there is on board these ships terrible misery, stench, fumes, horror, vomiting, many kinds of seasickness, fever, dysentery, headache, heat, constipation, boils, scurvy, cancer, mouth rot, and the like, all of which come from old and sharply-salted food and meat, also from the very bad and foul water, so that many die miserable.…Add to this want of provisions, hunger, thirst, frost, heat, dampness, anxiety, want, afflictions, and lamentations, together with other trouble, as e.g., the lice abound so frightfully, especially on sick people, that they can be scraped off the body. The misery reaches a climax when a gale rages for two or three nights so that everyone believes that the ship will go to the bottom with all human beings on board. In such a visitation the people cry and pray most piteously.”
  • “We declare our utter detestation and dislike,” this edict read, “that men and women of mean condition should take upon themselves the garb of gentlemen.” The ban included “wearing gold or silver lace or buttons, or points at their knees, or to walk in boots, or women of the same rank to wear silk or tiffany scarfs, which though allowable to persons of greater estates, or more liberal education, yet we cannot but judge it intolerable in persons in such like conditions.”
  • “but likewise productive of very evil Consequences to the great Detriment of the public Service and grievous Oppression of Individuals.” 
  • “The mobs of great cities,” Jefferson wrote in fearful contemplation of what he felt was happening in Europe, “add just so much to the support of pure government, as sores do to the strength of the human body.”
  • “On such a pittance,” the late nineteenth-century historian John Bach McMaster has written, “it was only by the strictest economy that a mechanic kept his children from starvation and himself from jail. In the low and dingy rooms which he called his home were wanting many Articles of adornment and of use now to be found in the dwellings of the poorest of his class. Sand sprinkled on the floor did duty as a carpet. There was no glass on his table, there was no china in his cupboard, there were no prints on his walls…[H]is wife cooked up a rude meal and served it in pewter dishes. He rarely tasted fresh meat as often as once in a week.” 

Thought Questions

  • Describe the diversity of occupations for free laborers in Colonial America
  • How did the development of “urban” centers in Colonial America impact the diversity of labor?
  • Compare and Contrast the impact of local consumption crops on labor with the development of cash crops on labor
  • In what ways were indentured servants introduced and used in Colonial America?
  • How and Why did chattel slavery begin to replace indentured servants?
  • Compare and Contrast the lives of indentured servants and the lives of chattel slaves
  • How did the colonial upper class desire to emulate English feudal patterns impact labor?
  • Compare and Contrast free and bound labor in the Chesapeake and New England. How did labor impact colonial beginnings in these two regions?
  • What role did child labor play in early Colonial America?
  • What role did convict labor play in early Colonial America?
  • What role did English poor relief play in early Colonial America? 
  • Describe the difference between voluntary and involuntary transportation in Colonial America
  • Explain and Expand: “The first African slaves arrived in Virginia not long after the founding of the colony.”
  • Why and How did lawmakers begin to distinguish between the statuses of indentured servants and slaves?
  • Describe the Virginia slave codes of 1705 
  • Compare and Contrast the “Middle Passage” for free laborers and slaves 
  • In what ways were slaves’ ability to negotiate aspects of their oppression differed across regions?
  • What was(is) the underlying basis of slavery?
  • What forms of resistance among slaves manifested themselves and what circumstance impacted forms of resistance?
  • How were form of resistance among slaves reacted to by masters, free white labor and free black labor?
  • Describe the purpose and impact of maximum wages and price control in Colonial America on labor
  • Explain and Expand: “Bouts of intense toil alternated with long periods of idleness.”
  • Describe the beginning of manufacture on a larger scale in Colonial America
  • In what ways did labor management impact the America Revolution?
  • Why did African slaves joined the British cause in the American Revolution?

Primary Sources

Further Reading