Carol Dean, Historical Research

1765-1778 (years of depiction for Carol’s character, Mary Pegram)
  • 1776 was known for Europe and N America as years of “abundance”
  • This related in clothing to an elaboration and intricacy
  • later, in embracing “enlightenment”, clothes became simpler
  • English and French fashion were very different; English simpler and more practical because lifestyles took them outdoors, and they had leisure time; French tended to focus on indoor pursuits and court life for fashion
  • Stiff stays reminded French courtesians to have good posture.
  • Lower classes had the same clothes as the upper, but fewer of them, and they were made of cheaper goods that were more durable.
  • All classes had handkerchiefs, and red, hooded, short cloaks were popular at all levels
  • 1775 saw a “breaking point” where all levels had revulsion against extravagance.
  • 1776 Americans had the highest per capita income in the world, and paid lower income taxes.  They wanted to keep it that way; a key reason to separate from England.
  • Improved communication and regular periodicals and political docs from England’s Parliament gave colonist leaders the observation “something was coming”.. that meant they need to “do something”.. let to the Declaration of Independence and immediate war after
  • The American Revolution was 7 (8) years from 1775-1800+:
  • 1777 fighting seriously going; ending year at Valley Forge
  • 1778 Feb French recognize US sovereignty.  French support is a turning point.
  • 1780 June things look bad
  • 1781 internal policy and hardship causes trouble inside Patriot ranks.  French come to help lots of key battles, and those like Yorktown turn the war to the Patriot side
  • 1782 Dutch recognize the new country.  Fighting more remote areas vs Indians (other countries inciting Indian participation)
  • Nov 10, 1782 British evacuate
  • April 11, 1782 official end with treaties and George Washington goes home.
  • It happened with a “new liberalism with humane thought” vs “old order”.  Patriot leaders knew the war was only a start, because it was a “spirit of independence” that would take forever to achieve.
  • There  was a national consciousness as they put a new government framework together
  • At the end of the war, people were exhausted and dismayed; thought it was wonderful and terrifying  The war had burned ,destructed business and commerce, debased currency, and wasted men and materials.
  • But the new country was strong because it was a civilization of small, self-sufficient units (farms, etc.)  Not so much changed during or after the war for rural America.
  • More was affected in the cities; especially affected Philadelphia, New York, Boston, and Charleston.  These had been the centers of “gay” life, with luxury and extravagances.  After the war, the wealthy and those of higher social status kind of hid away for fear of the new, bad lable of “aristocrat”.  The new country was to be designed for ALL persons withouth hierarchy.
  • During the war, extremes of rich or poor were marked, especially in the British occupied cities where they had balls, dinners, dances, and kept fashion first on the minds of women.
  • There became during and after the war a restraint in dress due to the lack of imported materials.  They were cut off during the war, and contact with other countries was almost non-existent.  Women in particular made due with locally made fabrics, linen, flax, wool, and spinning wheels and looms were in most homes.  Cotton was not available except by import until about 1810. By 1820, America was the #1 producer of cotton in the world.
  • Slavery was in full force at this time.
  • After the war ended, suddenly Americans could trade with ANYONE in ANY way they wanted.  It led to a huge boom in fashion, and a very quick recovery after war, because England had been restricting everything.
  • There was an anti-English sentiment in general, so fashion and politics turned to the ally, France.  This led to th classical revival in 1800 (in fashion and sentiment).  Fashion reached a peak of “absurd” following French court fashions, and then jumped to the Regency style late 1790.
  • It was said of the era 1775 to 1800: “Europeans, Africans, native peoples interacting in a drama of settlement and conflict.”
  • Even with the rejection of England, there was still deep ancestry. At the end of the war, 60% of the colonists were English, and the other 40% was made of Scots, Irish, Dutch, Swedes, and Africans.
  • In northern colonies, the wealthiest 10% of the population owned 45% of the property.
  • 40% of 1776 Americans lived on small or medium sized self-sufficient farms or plantations.
  • Life expectancy of men was 54, and women 56
  • Loyalists ran away to Canada, which had 10% of the caucasian population disappear.  By 1780, 1 in 7 men were black
  • The ultimate sign of wealth was to own “equipage”; a coach and 4 horses with servants wearing livery.
  • It took 500 pounds ($40,000) for a family to feel “well off”.  Skilled workers earned $5000/year (90 pounds), lawyers $3000, teachers and launderesses about $1000.  Doctors, dentists, and chiropractors made almost nothing, and probably bartered.
  • Top earners were large scale planters like George Washington.  He was matched by merchants like John Hancock and Robert Morris.  Next highest earners were lawyers like John Adams, and then tavern keepers who made $1000/year.  Tailors, carpenters, skilled workers, and shop keepers did well too.
  • There was a very strong middle class.  Mostly because farmers sent corn, rice, wheat to the West Indies and Europe.
  • There was PROFIT, which meant people could send children to private schools, and buy carriages, gowns, and have some luxuries.
  • There were no medical schools in the Americas at all, so most were quacks.  Herbalists, midwives, and chiropractors were the most effective.
  • Only opium quinine and calomel were available.  There were no vaccines nor antibotics.  A 1721 small pox epidemic killed a large amount of Americans and natives.
  • Bleeding to dispel “humors” was the #1 medical treatment in 1775 and war time.
  • Infant mortality was so high, parents did not name their children until their 2nd birthdays, but referred to them as “my angel” etc. until they were sure they would survive.
  • Vets often acted as doctors too
  • In cities, cows were fed beer, making “swill milk” which was the cause of many childhood illnesses.
  • By 1775, American produced 1/7th of all iron in the world, by 1785, 13 colonie’s economics were 2/5 the size of the entire country of England.
  • British in 1775 felt threatened by this “dynamism”, which led to  the king establishing rules, taxes, and restrictions that led to the declaration of Independence.
  • Only the young or those in hardship wanted to “head west”.  These were typically the younger sons of established farmers.  There were different morals only 100 miles west of the colonies.  It was dangerous in many ways outside the east coast at this time.
  • At this time, “backwoods fashions” were completely practical, and based on native american clothing.  Men wore “breechclouts”, and women wore pants.  Only a few 100 miles from the eastern cities, the world changed drastically culturally.
  • West of the cities, and during the war, colonists made their own fabrics from flax, linen, wool, and dyed them with natural dyes from pokeberries, birch bark, etc.  Rich purple and blue were the hardest colors to get, so brown, orange, reds, pinks, greens were most common.  Some blues and bluegreens could be obtained locally, but were usually imported if deep and rich in color.
  • People grew and ate their own food – lots of corn, squash, beans, apples, jams, syrups.  They hunted wild game such as rabbit, squirrel, bear, deer.  Their children learned skills of hunting and fishing skinning and trapping from a very early age.
  • Often a father would leave a 12 year old son for weeks to run the farm.  They were used to hard work, and trained well enough to do this at an early age.
  • Because of poor water, distilled cider, beer, and corn whiskey were predominant drinks – for children too!
  • In NewEngland, all kids went to school for most of the year.
  • In the south, they went for part of the year, depending on their agriculture.
  • Girls only went to school a very short time.  It was believed girls should only be trained to be good wives and mothers.
  • It was illegal for blacks to learn, although many were taught by their owners secretly
  • 1 room schoolhouses were uncomfortable and housed K-8 with many going into high school
  • They wrote on bark with chunks of lead, or quill pens with homemade ink
  • The main text was the “New England Primer”, Aesops’ fables, Robinson Crusoe, and a lot of BIBLE
  • Teachers used whips, dunce caps, and put signs around a bad child’s neck that said “Idle Boy”
  • Some boys went to college such as Harvard or William and Mary as early as age 12
  • boys would be sent away to apprentice with a trade such as blacksmith, cobbler, etc. at about age 12
  • Children had to work HARD, but they played tag, blindman’s bluff, London Bridge, and simple games with balls, dolls, and whatever was at hand
  • All they did was tied into some skill
  • The woman of 1776 had NO independence.  She could own nothing, and was required to be faithful without fault.
  • Divorce was legal, but it was rare.
  • Most married by choice, although there were some arranged marriages among the wealthy or nobility
  • Independence for women was taking root though.  Women were running mills, factories, and plants.. usually their husband’s or father’s, but they were doing it entirely in the absence of those men(with no credit).  There was a woman undertaker who was a spy for George Washington.
  • Women had at an average 5 to 10 live children; 12 pregnancies AVERAGE.  Their bodies simply wore out.
  • “Bundling” was popular on the east coast and middle colonies – when a courting couple would sleep together all winter with a board between them. This resulted in about 50% pregnant weddings by spring.
  • Apple cider was the most common drink
  • War separated parent from child
  • Dolls were used to see the latest fashions.  Fashion plates came in later
  • Women wore paints and lip salves imported from China
  • Even with all the hard work and hardships, people living in the new United states during and after the Revolutionary war, in Colonial America, had a higher level of living than even most civilized countries in the world at that time.

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