Shopping Gave Rise to America’s Growing Conflict With Britain 

 

Pair Paktong candlesticks

American colonists were eager to acquire “luxury” goods, exemplified by a pair of candlesticks in the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation collection. These were made by British craftsmen in the 18th century of paktong, an alloy of copper, nickel and zinc that resembles silver.

How did shopping and the desire to acquire new consumer goods give rise to the American Revolution?

During the 18th century more ordinary men and women in colonial America were acquiring luxury goods than ever before. From tea and tea sets to silk waistcoats, card tables, and sets of carved chairs, people pursued portable and fashionable goods to communicate their rising standard of living, style and respectability.

Fashion reigns here with despotic sway. New modes are imported full as soon as they are conveyed in Counties at a distance from London – Thomas Gwatkin, circa 1773

Travelers and military officers after the French and Indian War returned to England with stories of America’s prosperity and their conspicuous consumption of British manufactured goods. Thus, parliament looked to the colonies to help pay imperial debts and passed the Stamp Act, Townshend Duties and Tea Act, taxing a variety of imported commodities. Colonists relied on British imports but took offense at such taxation. They responded with boycotts.

While groups of local merchants usually planned and implemented non-importation, the movement grew larger, more successful, and increasingly democratic. Communal sacrifices brought together shopkeepers and planters, artisans and farmers, northerners and southerners, and old money and new in a common cause as consumers and as victims of British taxation. The non-importation movements proved that colonial customers could exert economic pressures on Parliament to force change.

Revolutionary boycotts were novel. The consumer had never played such a key role in any previous popular rebellion. The widely shared democratic experience of “shopping” enabled people from all ranks of society to express with one voice their anger at Parliament and their resolve to oppose its unjust laws. Joining together in this revolutionary cause gave rise to a growing awareness of national identity among the colonies.

VIRGINIA’S 1776 COLLEGE

Patrick Henry, depicted in the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation’s 19th-century copy of a portrait by Gilbert Stuart.

Patrick Henry, depicted in the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation’s 19th-century copy of a portrait by Gilbert Stuart, was governor of Virginia when Hampden-Sydney College was founded and a member of its first Board of Trustees.

Hampden-Sydney College, founded on January 1, 1776, in Prince Edward County, Virginia, was named for two great English patriots, John Hampden (1595-1643) and Algernon Sydney (1622-1683).  Patrick Henry and James Madison, two great Virginia patriots, were members of Hampden-Sydney’s first Board of Trustees.

The college’s founders, faculty and students were all of a patriotic bent, and in the school’s first year students and faculty alike were actively involved in the war effort.  In the spring of 1776 Governor Patrick Henry sent a requisition to Prince Edward County for a company of militia. That requisition was followed shortly by word that a Declaration of Independence from Great Britain had been issued by a group meeting in Philadelphia.

Upon hearing that a Declaration of Independence had been issued, Samuel Stanhope Smith, the first president of Hampden-Sydney, many faculty members and 65 students formed a company of their own and joined the cause. The Company’s uniforms were simple modifications of regular dress: gray trousers and hunting shirts that were dyed garnet – a color achieved by using the juice from pokeberries.

While there were some Hampden-Sydney men who fought at Yorktown in 1781, none were members of the company formed in 1776.  The Company apparently did march out, offering themselves as soldiers to General Washington and the Marquis de Lafayette, but Lafayette is said to have replied that they should return to their college, as America needed scholars as well as soldiers.

Garnet and gray are still the official colors of Hampden-Sydney College.

“Miss Chalkley,”  A Georgian Wooden Doll,
Acquired for American Revolution Museum at Yorktown

By David B. Voelkel, Curator
Miss Chalkley

A large wooden doll recently added to the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation collection was made by an unknown English toymaker around the time of the American Revolution.

It might surprise children today that such a curious-looking doll would have been a desired plaything in the late 18th century but such would have been the case.  American portraits of children by such famed painters as Charles Willson Peale, who captured the likenesses of George Washington and other great men of the founding generation, also preserved for posterity a number of portraits of English wooden dolls in the arms of prominent new Americans in the 1780s.

Christened “Miss Chalkley” by her last private owners, this rare doll was found at Chalkley Farm in southern England, along with two others.  Dating to circa 1770, our 26-inch-tall doll is well-preserved, indicating that she was carefully kept by her 18th-century child owner and passed down from generation to generation until the late 20th century.  Most likely made by a London toymaker, her carefully carved nose, chin and ears, inset almond-shaped pupiless eyes – a costly addition when they could have been more readily and cheaply painted – and carved pursed lips.  All her features, including her painted eyebrows, point to the recognized standards of female beauty in the 18th century.

The doll has human hair hand-sewn into a silk skull cap, which is tacked to her skull and covered with a white cloth cap usually hidden under her striped-silk over-bonnet.  Her turned and hand-finished wooden body is jointed at the knees, hips and elbows, and her upper arms are of hair-stuffed linen cloth – all features attesting to her gentry status.

Miss Chalkley's gown

Miss Chalkley's gown from the back, showing leading strings trailing from the shoulders.

Rarest of all, the doll’s silk gown was sewn from 18th century materials, and her linen chemise, petticoats and bum roll are original.  Trailing from her shoulders are two long “tails” of matching silk — “leading strings” indicating that this doll is dressed to represent a young child rather than a grown woman as might at first be expected.  In the 18th century, adult and children’s clothing styles were very similar, and leading strings served the practical purpose of guiding a toddler in her first steps.  Hidden under her skirts are hand-stitched, sturdy, leather boots with applied soles that are not only original to her but a work of the cobbler’s art on their very own.  From her linen chemise to her cap, the clothing is constructed and functions like that of her human counterpart, leading us to wonder if the doll not only served as a teaching tool in the construction of garments by young fingers but on the often-complicated art of dressing and disrobing at the time of the American Revolution.

Though the American colonies broke with Great Britain, the trade links between consumers and suppliers were quickly re-established following the decisive American victory at Yorktown.  Luxury goods such as English wooden dolls continued to cross the Atlantic, as can be seen in many portraits of the 1780s.

Miss Chalkley's boots, hand-stitched leather with applied soles.

Miss Chalkley's boots, hand-stitched leather with applied soles.

Peggy Sanderson Hughes and her Daughter  by Charles Willson Peale, oil on canvas, ca.1788. Courtesy, Detroit Institute of Arts, Robert H. Tannahill Foundation Fund/ Bridgeman Art

Peggy Sanderson Hughes and her Daughter by Charles Willson Peale, oil on canvas, ca.1788. Courtesy, Detroit Institute of Arts, Robert H. Tannahill Foundation Fund/ Bridgeman Art

Welcome to All About the Revolution. Our topics range from historical insights to updates on plans for the next generation of the American Revolution Museum at Yorktown. We encourage your thoughts and reactions to each post.

A German Lutheran Serves the Virginia Cause

German bridal chest, 1764

A 1764 painted wooden chest on exhibit at the American Revolution Museum at Yorktown is representative of the culture of German immigrants to Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley.

“To find a person . . . in the Clergy of the Church of England, who is capable of Preaching both in the English and German Languages.”  The vestrymen of Beckford Parish in Woodstock, Virginia, established these guidelines in 1771.  These peaceful, German-speaking farmers who had moved south from Pennsylvania into Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley sought a minister who could speak their language and help them in dealing with Virginia’s state church, the Church of England.  When Henry Melchior Muhlenberg, the distinguished Lutheran pastor in Pennsylvania, heard Virginia’s call, he prepared his son, John Peter, to fill the slot.

Born in Pennsylvania, Peter began studies in Germany but eventually joined a British regiment going to America.  Back in Pennsylvania, he left the regiment, studied and was ordained in the Lutheran church.  When Virginia called, he sought ordination in the Anglican Church in order to assist the Virginia Germans in accommodating to the state church requirements.  Muhlenberg led Anglican services in both English and German and informed his German parishioners of revolutionary events stirring in the eastern part of the colony. 

Muhlenberg became increasingly involved in Valley politics, seeing it as his duty.  By 1775 he was selected to chair the local Committee of Safety.  He wrote, “I am a Clergyman it is true, but I am a Member of Society as well as the poorest Layman, & my Liberty is as dear to me as to any Man.”  He served in the House of Burgesses and, in January 1776 when the Virginia Convention created the Eighth (or German) Regiment it named Muhlenberg as colonel.    Muhlenberg rose to the rank of major general and served at Charleston, Brandywine, Germantown, Valley Forge and Yorktown.  After the war he entered public service in the new nation, including several terms in Congress from Pennsylvania.
Boston King, profiled in the American Revolution Museum at Yorktown’s Witnesses to Revolution Gallery, was apprenticed to a carpenter in South Carolina and escaped enslavement in 1780, joining the British side, where he worked for a time as a boat pilot.

Boston King, profiled in the American Revolution Museum at Yorktown’s Witnesses to Revolution Gallery, was apprenticed to a carpenter in South Carolina and escaped enslavement in 1780, joining the British side, where he worked for a time as a boat pilot.

Welcome to All About the Revolution. Our topics range from historical insights to updates on plans for the next generation of the American Revolution Museum at Yorktown. We encourage your thoughts and reactions to each post.

What Kinds of Jobs Did Enslaved African Americans Do?

In the 18th century, most enslaved African Americans worked as agricultural laborers, but not all did.  Below is a list of 78 different occupations mentioned in The Virginia Gazette, a late-colonial-era newspaper.  How many of these jobs were sometimes performed by slaves in Virginia?

 (Answer:  All of them.)

Bakers; Barbers; Basket Makers; Blacksmiths; Brewers; Bricklayers; Brick Makers; Butchers; Cabinet Makers; Canoe Men; Carpenters; Carters; Cartwrights; Caulkers; Coachmen; Colliers; Cooks; Coopers; Curriers; Dairy Maids; Dancers; Ditchers; Drivers; Doctors; Dressmakers; Farmers; Ferrymen; Fiddle Makers; Fiddlers; Finers; Firemen; Fish Dealers; Fishermen; Foremen; Forge Men; Founders; Furnace Men; Furnace Keepers; Gardeners; Glaziers; Gunsmiths; Hairdressers; Hammermen; Harness Makers; Hostlers; House Joiners; Knitters; Millers; Mill Wrights; Miners; Musicians; Nurses; Overseers; Pilots; Plasterers; Preachers; Rope Makers; Saddlers; Sailmakers; Sailors; Sawyers; Seamstresses; Ship Carpenters; Ship Builders; Shoe Makers; Smiths; Skippers; Spinners; Stone Masons; Tailors; Tanners; Turners; Wagon Makers; Wagoners; Waiters; Watermen; Weavers; and Wheelwrights.

Welcome to All About the Revolution. Our topics range from historical insights to updates on plans for the next generation of the American Revolution Museum at Yorktown. We encourage your thoughts and reactions to each post.

“That Strange Mixture of Blood”
A map printed in France in 1778 depicts the British American colonies of the Upper and Lower South.  Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation collection.

A map printed in France in 1778 depicts the British American colonies of the Upper and Lower South. Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation collection.

These words by Jean de Crevecoeur described the peoples of the thirteen colonies at the time of the American Revolution.  The population of more than two million represented several dozen regional and religious cultures derived from northwestern Europe and Africa.  One quarter of these people were non-English Europeans, and another one quarter were Africans and African Americans.

While the New England Colonies were generally homogenous, mostly English Anglicans, Puritans, Baptists or Quakers, the Middle Colonies supported a wider variety of cultural groups because of a greater degree of religious and social tolerance.  These colonies contributed one quarter of the total population and contained Philadelphia, America’s largest city.

 America’s largest population lived in the Upper South – Maryland, Delaware, Virginia and North Carolina.  One-fifth of the population lived in Virginia alone, and almost half of all enslaved Africans and African-Americans lived on Virginia’s tobacco plantations.  By contrast, the Lower South contained less than 10 percent of the total population.

 Curiously, while New England played a major role in the revolutionary movement, it contained fewer people than in the mid-Atlantic.  It was this mid-Atlantic region – the contiguous colonies of Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia and North Carolina – that supported more than half of America’s total population and more than 70 percent of its Africans and African-Americans.

Welcome to All About the Revolution. Our topics range from historical insights to updates on plans for the next generation of the American Revolution Museum at Yorktown. We encourage your thoughts and reactions to each post.

Common Sense
Knocked Them off the Fence

This British halfpenny token in the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation collection bears the image of a man on the gallows with the slogan “End of Pain,” a reference to the banished political theorist and British radical Thomas Paine.

The fire crackled in the tavern fireplace near where the tradesman sat drinking his mug of rum and reading aloud to others in his company from the little weathered pamphlet.

Volumes have been written on the subject of the struggle between England and America. Men of all ranks have embarked in the controversy, from different motives, and with various designs; but all have been ineffectual, and the period of debate is closed. Arms, as the last resource, decide the contest; the appeal was the choice of the king, and the continent hath accepted the challenge.

Such scenes were likely repeated across the colonies during the winter of 1776.  The previous April, war between the American colonies and Great Britain had begun.  The British were now under siege in Boston by George Washington’s army. But what did Americans hope to achieve by this war? 

A little pamphlet, unassumingly entitled Common Sense would answer that question.  Written by Thomas Paine, Common Sense outlined the case for independence.  The most radical and important pamphlet written in the American Revolution, Paine spoke directly to the common man.  At a time when many revolutionary leaders wrote for their small circle of enlightened colleagues using obscure classical and historical references, Thomas Paine reached out to ordinary working folk with plain language and an unprecedented common style.  This brought all ranks of society into the political debate for the first time.  Even those who were illiterate could hear Common Sense read aloud in public gathering places.  Published anonymously in Philadelphia in January 1776, it was soon available in all 13 colonies and sold over 150,000 copies.  Its impact was electrifying, jolting reluctant colonists off the fence to fight for independence.

Which of these arguments might have persuaded YOU to choose independence and why?

Small islands not capable of protecting themselves, are the proper objects for kingdoms to take under their care; but there is something very absurd, in supposing a continent to be perpetually governed by an island.

 We have boasted the protection of Great Britain, without considering, that her motive was interest not attachment; that she did not protect us from our enemies on our account, but from her enemies on her own account…

And a government which cannot preserve the peace, is no government at all, and in that case we pay our money for nothing…

 The debt we may contract doth not deserve our regard if the work be but accomplished.  No nation ought to be without a debt.  A national debt is a national bond …

The present time, likewise, is that peculiar time, which never happens to a nation but once, viz., the time of forming itself into a government. Most nations have let slip the opportunity, and by that means have been compelled to receive laws from their conquerors, instead of making laws for themselves.

A late 18th-century portrait of Cornwallis by Daniel Gardner, in the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation collection, is exhibited at the American Revolution Museum at Yorktown.

A late-18th-century portrait of Cornwallis by Daniel Gardner, in the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation collection, is exhibited at the American Revolution Museum at Yorktown.

Battle of Generals

What would it feel like to be the one responsible for losing the American colonies?  Would you fight tooth and nail to prove that it wasn’t you to blame; that it was someone else instead?  That’s exactly what happened between Generals Henry Clinton and Charles Cornwallis of the British Army after the Siege of Yorktown, the last major battle of the American Revolution.

In 1780, General Clinton began to execute his strategy against the southern colonies with a siege against Charleston, South Carolina.  With the expedition under his personal command, Clinton defeated the Patriots and took the city.  With victory at Charleston, however, Clinton also suffered a deteriorating relationship with General Cornwallis, his second in command.  The two men were at odds with one another when Clinton returned to New York, leaving Cornwallis to command in the South.  From his position in the North, Clinton directed actions in the South, actively at first and less so as time went on.

Meanwhile, Cornwallis was left with a limited number of troops and direction from his superior to find recruits among the Loyalist citizens living in the South.  When garnering the support of southern Loyalists failed to supply adequate troops, Cornwallis encouraged  enslaved African-Americans to leave their masters and help the British cause.  Cornwallis’ troops went on to several victories, such as Camden and Guilford Courthouse, but lost many men and resources in the process – while American troops remained substantially intact.  Cornwallis soon made his way to Virginia to regroup and await reinforcements promised by Clinton.

While Lafayette, a commander of American troops, shadowed Cornwallis’ troops and gathered reinforcements in early spring 1781, Clinton sent orders to Cornwallis to secure an ice-free position along the coast of Virginia where the British fleet would have access.  Cornwallis, unhappy with the width of the waterways in Portsmouth, decided to fortify in Yorktown and thus placed his troops in a position of entrapment.  He was soon cut off by American and French armies and forced to surrender.

Cornwallis and Clinton returned to England in 1782 where they entered a battlefield of a different kind.  Eager to re-establish his reputation, Clinton published his Narrative of the Campaign of 1781 in North America, essentially blaming the failed Yorktown campaign on Cornwallis.  Not to be outdone, Cornwallis shot out a public response that criticized Clinton.  The two were soon engaged in an all-out battle of the blame.

Who won this final war of the generals?  Was it Clinton, who resumed his seat in Parliament until 1784, was re-elected in 1790, promoted to full general in 1793 and appointed governor of Gibraltar in 1794 (though he died before taking the post)?  Or was it Cornwallis, who, following his role during the American Revolution, maintained King George III’s support and admiration, found favor in the new prime minister, William Pitt, was elected a Knight of the Garter, got appointed Governor-General and Commander in Chief in India, was granted the title “Marquis,” and was entrusted with the post of Governor-General of Ireland?

Remembering the Women of the Revolution

Welcome to All About the Revolution. Our topics range from historical insights to updates on plans for the next generation of the American Revolution Museum at Yorktown. We encourage your thoughts and reactions to each post.

Sarah Benjamin

Sarah Benjamin, who accompanied her soldier husband to Yorktown in 1781, is profiled in the American Revolution Museum at Yorktown’s “Witnesses to War” exhibit.

The 1840s saw a renewed interest in stories about people who had actually participated in the American Revolution. Only a few of these individuals still lived (one of them, Sarah Osborn Benjamin, is profiled in the American Revolution Museum at Yorktown galleries), and there was a widespread realization that soon the opportunity to record firsthand accounts of the war would be gone. The availability of a new technology, photography, supported this trend. The possibility of preserving a visual record of these last survivors of the revolutionary generation helped promote a widespread interest in recording the personal experiences of those who had lived through the war.

New York-born writer Elizabeth Ellet was concerned, in particular, that the stories of women who took an active part in the Revolution would never be recorded. Therefore she began an ambitious project to document the lives of the individuals she called “Revolutionary Women.” The result of her research was a multivolume work entitled “Revolutionary Women in the War for American Independence.”

One of the most charming of the stories Ellet records is that of Isabella Barber Ferguson of South Carolina. During the Revolution, when Loyalists tried to persuade Isabella’s husband to support the King’s cause, she reacted with anger, proclaiming, “I am a rebel, glorying in the name. My brothers are rebels, and the dog Trip is a rebel too… Rebel and be free that is my creed.” – Isabella Barber Ferguson, 1780.

Welcome to All About the Revolution. Our topics range from historical insights to updates on plans for the next generation of the American Revolution Museum at Yorktown.

Tea Parties: All The Rage

In Massachusetts in December 1773, a group of men boarded three vessels in the Boston Harbor and, over the course of three hours, dumped 342 chests of tea into the water to protest the tax on imported tea. The perpetrators later argued that it was not the act of a lawless mob, but was instead a principled protest and the only remaining option the people had to defend their constitutional rights.

Not only did this action capture the attention of King George III and Parliament, but it was noticed by citizens in the other colonies and sparked the beginning of their unification in the struggle against British rule.

According The Virginia Gazette, on November 7, 1774, the inhabitants of York went on board the ship Virginia and waited for a letter from the House of Burgesses, who had taken the tea matter under consideration. No letter came, so two half-chests were dumped into the York River. There was no damage done to the ship or the other cargo.  The County Committee met days later and resolved that they highly approved of the conduct of the inhabitants of York.

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