THE COLONIAL MIND
THE undistinguished years of the early and middle eighteenth
century, rude and drab in their insularity, were the creative spring-
time of democratic America-plebeian years that sowed what
after times were to reap. The forgotten men and women of those
silent decades wrote little, debated little, very likely thought
little; they were plain workmen with whom ideas counted for less
than the day's work. The stir of achievement filled the land,
daily penetrating farther into the backwoods and bringing new
farmlands under the plow. The stern demands of necessity
held men in their grip, narrowing the horizon of their minds, and
obscuring the vision of their larger accomplishment. Along the
Appalachian watershed a vast drama, magnificent in the breadth
and sweep of its movement, was being enacted by players un
conscious of their parts. Not until long after they had gone to
their graves were the broad lines of that drama revealed. Today
it is plain that those unremembered years were engaged in clearing
away encumbrances more significant than the great oaks and
maples of the virgin wilderness: they were uprooting ancient
habits of thought, destroying social customs that had grown old
and dignified in class-ridden Europe. A new psychology was
being created by the wide spaces that was to be enormously signify-
cant when it came to self-consciousness. If this middle eighteenth
century wrote little literature, it created and spread among a
vigorous people something of far greater importance to America,
the psychology of democratic individualism.
From this determining influence-too little recognized by later
generations the creative outlines of our history have taken shape.
American ideals and institutions emerged in,. large part from the silent
revolution which .during".the middle, eighteenth century differentiated
the American from the transplanted colonial; a change that resulted from
an amalgam of the older English stock with other races, and the subjection
of this new product on a great scale to the influence of ditto From
thesetwo major facts of a new race and a free environment came the social
and political philosophy of older America, to which we have traditionally
applied the term democratic, and which unconsciously wove itself into our
daily intercourse and ways of thinking.
PART ONE: THE MIND IN THE MAKING
IMMIGRATION in the eighteenth century was almost wholly economic in
motive. The reports of free land and free opportunity in America
penetrated to remote hamlets of Great Britain, and more slowly to the
continent, and drew hither a rude influx of the dispossessed and
disinherited of Europe. From the hopeless poverty of great masses of
oldworld laborers, increasing numbers sought escape through emigration,
accepting the hardships and uncertainties of the migration in the hope of
bettering themselves ultimately. A host of English nondescripts-broken
men, bond servants, "gaol birds," the lees and settlings of the old world
came overseas, voluntarily or under duress, in numbers running into the
hundred thousands, and shared with German peasants from the Palatine, or
Scotch-Irish from Ulster, the back-breaking labor of subduing the
wilderness. About these unfortunate men and women no romance has gathered;
tradition and history have not remembered their names or glorified their
deeds; yet their blood runs in the veins of most Americans today of the
older stock, and their contribution to our common heritage was great and
Of the different racial strains that mingled their blood with the
earlier English-Irish, Huguenot-French, German, ScotchIrish-the last was
by far the most important. Not since 1630, when the Lady Arbella and her
companion vessels brought the Puritans to Massachusetts Bay, had there
been an event so momentous to America as the arrival in 1718 of some four
thousand ScotchIrish from Ulster, the vanguard of an army which by the
time of the Revolution had risen to approximately two hundred thousand, or
more than twelve times the number of English who settled Massachusetts. They were deperately poor; the available lands near the
coast were already preempted; so armed with axes, their seed potatoes, and
the newly invented rifle, they plunged into the backwoods to become our
great pioneering race. Scattered thingly through a long frontier, they
constituted the outposts and buffer settlements of civilization. A
vigorous breed, hardy, assertive, individualistic, thrifty, trained in the
democracy of the Scottish kirk, they were the material out of which later
Jacksonian democracy was to be fashioned, the creators of that "western
type which in politics and industry became ultimately the American
Next to the Scothc-Irish, who for the most part were free peasants, the
most important addition to eighteenth-century America were the indented
servants. Mostly from England, Scotland, Ireland, and Germany, they
represented all trades and some of the professions. The white slavers of
the times were well organized and plied a brisk trade with satisfactory
profits; and in consequence, a steady stream of indented servants poured
into America to turn the wheels of colonial industry. In his history of
the German redemptioners, Diffenderfer has printed a number of newspaper
advertisements which throw a curious light upon the traffic: here are
From the American Weekly Mercury, February 18, 1729:
Lately arrived from London, a parcel of very likely English servants,
men and women, several of the men Tradesmen; to be sold reasonable and
Time allowed for payment. By Charles Reed of Philadelphia, or Capt. John
Ball, on board his ship, at Anthony Milkinson's Wharf.
From the same for May 22, 1729, announcements of two ships:
There is just arrived from Scotland, a parcel of choice Scotch
Servants; for seven years; Imported by James Coults, etc.
Just arived from London in the ship Providence, Capt. Jonathan
Clarke, a parcel of very likely servants, most Tradesment, to be
sold on reasonable Terms.
The several nationalities were appraised and rated by careful merchants
and the fittest import seasons considered.2 The "best time for Servants is about the month of May," one merchant wrote to his
agent in Ireland; and another warned, "Irish servants
will be very dull, such numbers have already arrived from Different
parts & many more expected, that I believe it will be overdone, especially
as several Dutch vessels are expected here, which will always command the
In the middle colonies, particularly Pennsylvania, the greater number
of servants came from the Rhine country. Deceived by swindling agents,
thousands of German peasants, eager to get away from their war-harried and
plundered homes, sold themselves into servitude to pay their passage to
America. For the better part of a century these German redemptioners
thronged the ports of Philadelphia and Baltimore, as the following news
From Der Hoch Deutsche Pennsylvanische Berich, August 16,
Six ships with Irish servants have arrived at Philadelphia, and two
ships with German Newcomers. Some say 18 more on their way here; others
say 24 and still others 10,000 persons.
From the same, December 16, 1750:
Capt. Hasselwood has arrived from Holland with the latest ship that
brought Germans. It is the fourteenth that has come laden with Germans
this year. 4,317 have registered in the Court House. . . . Besides these,
1,000 servants and passengers arrived from Ireland and
Of the human side of this widespread traffic some little idea may be
got from the diary of a certain John Harrower, a man of modest education
who became an articled schoolmaster to a Virginia family in the year 1774.
Following are some entries:
Wednesday, 26th. [January, 1774.1 This day I being reduced to the last
shilling was obliged to engage to go to Virginia for four years, as a
schoolmaster for Bedd, Board, washing and five pounds during the whole
time. I have also wrote my wife this day a particular Acct of everything
that has happened to me since I left her until this date. . . .
Munday 31st . . . It is surprising to see the No. of good tradesmen of
all kinds, th't come on b'd every day . . . while the Clerk was filling up
the Indentures the doctor search'd every serv't to see that they were
sound . . . seventy-five were Intend [indented] to Capt Bowres for four
Years . . . . Munday 7th ... at 4 Pin put a servant ashore extreamly bade in a fever,
and then got under saile for Virginia with seventy Servants on board all
indented to serve four yeares there at their different Occupations. . .
Munday, May 2nd. . . . At 2 pin the Capt carried five servts ashore to
Hampton in order to sell their Indentures, But returned again at Midnight
with[out] selling any more but one Boat Builder. . . .
Freiday, 6th . . . at Hobshole there was five Glasgow ships and an
English Brigantine lying, at 2 pm we passed by Leedstown on our Starboard
hand where there was a ship from London lying with convicts. . . .
Wednesday, 11th. . . . At 10 A M Both Coopers and the Barber from our
Mace [mess] went ashore upon tryall. At night one Daniel Turner a servt
returned onb'd from Liberty so Drunk that he abused the Capt and Chief
Mate and Boatswan to a verry high degree, which made him to be horse
whipt, put in Irons and thumb screwed. on houre afterward he was
unthumbscrewed, taken out of the Irons, but then he was hand cuffed, and
gagged all night. . . .
Munday, 16th. This day severalls came on b'd to purchase servts
Indentures and among them there was two soul drivers. they are Men who
made it their business to go on b'd all ships who have in either Servants
or Convicts and buy sometimes the whole and sometimes a parcell of them as
they can agree, and then they drive them through the Country like a
parcell of Sheep until they can sell them to advantage, but all went away
without buying any . . . .
Munday, 23rd [May] . . . at same time all the rest of the servants were
ordered ashore to a tent at Fredericksbg and several of their indentures
were then sold. about 4 pm I was brought to Colonel Daingerfield, when we
immediately agreed and my Indenture for four years was then delivered him
and he was to send for me the next day.5
In some such fashion, year after year, thousands of immigrants were
transported to America, there to mingle their blood with that of the
earlier comers. They came as social derelicts, were greeted by the
awaiting "soul-drivers," found masters, worked and got on, or lost heart
and slipped away into the tempting backcountry whither so many broken men
went in search of refuge. They were a plebeian lot, and they endured the
common fate of the underling. Very likely they transmitted to their
children a bitter hostility to the ways of an aristocratic society, the
residuum of old grievances, and this slowly accumulating animus was
eventually to count heavily with lower-class colonials in favor of a more
democratic order in the new world.
The frontier, which exercised so creative an influence in shaping
American character and institutions, was regarded in very different lights
by the gentleman and the commoner. To the former it was no other than
lubberlard, the abode of rude leveling, the temptation to gross social
laxity. It drew away servants who were needed, and kept the price of real
estate low; and such very different persons as Cotton Mather and John
Dickinson agreed in desiring to stop the constant drain into the
backcountry, and keep settlers in the older portions. Descriptions of the
frontier indited by aristocratic pens convey an idea very different from
later democratic conceptions, and paint the ancestors of later Jacksonians
in unlovely colors.
Among the earliest of these records is The Private journal kept by
Madam Knight on a Journey from Boston to New York in the Year 1704.
Madam Knight was a sprightly and intelligent woman, keeper of a dame's
school in Boston, who set down in the journal some of the odd things that
came under her sharp eyes on her venturesome trip on horseback. As she
drew away from the older settlements, signs of relaxing social convention
multiplied with the worsening of the road. Connecticut, which had always
been too democratic to suit the Boston taste, she found "a little too much
Independant in their principalls." It was not careful to uphold proper
social distinctions, but inclined to a free and easy leveling altogether
. . . They Generally lived very well and comfortable in their famelies.
But too Indulgent (especially ye farmers) to their slaves: suffering too
great familiarity from them, permitting ym to sit at Table and eat with
them (as they say to save time), and into the dish goes the black hoof as
freely as the white hand. They told me that there was a farmer lived nere
the Town where I lodged who had some difference with his slave, concerning
something the master had promised him and did not punctually perform; wch
caused some hard words between them; But at length they put the matter to
A.-bitration and Bound themselves to stand to the award of such as they
named-wch done, the Arbitrators Having heard the Allegations of both
parties, Order the master to pay 40S to black face, and acknowledge his
fault. And so the matter ended; the poor master very honestly standing to
the award.6 In the unsettled country strange figures with rude decivilized ways
made their appearance. Here is a description of one such product of the
I had scarce done thinking, when an Indian?like Animal come to the
door, on a creature very much like himselfe, in mien and feature, as well
as Ragged cloathing; and having 'litt, makes an Awkerd Scratch with his
Indian shoo, and a Nodd, sitts on ye block, fumbles out his black junk
[salt meat?], dipps it in ye ashes, and presents it piping hott to his
muscheeto's (?), and fell to sucking like a calf, without speaking, for
a quarter of an hower. At length the old man said how do's Sarah do? who I
understood was the wretches wife, and Daughter to ye old
She thus describes a squatter's but in the backwoods:
This little Hutt was one of the wretchedest I ever saw a habitation for
human creatures. It was suported with shores enclosed with Clapboards,
laid on Lengthways, and so much asunder, that the Light come throu'
everywhere; the doore tyed on with a cord in ye place of hinges; The floor
the bear earth; no windows but such as the thin covering afforded, nor any
furniture but a Bedd with a glass Bottle hanging at ye head on't; an
earthan cupp, a small pewter bason, A Bord with sticks to stand on,
instead of a table, and a block or two in ye corner instead of chairs. The
family were the old man, his wife and two, children; all and every part
being the picture of poverty. Notwithstanding both the Hutt and its
Inhabitance were very clean and tydee.8
As Madam Knight meditated upon the causes of such poverty, she came to
a characteristic Boston conclusion:
We may Observe here the great necessity and benefitt both of Education
and Conversation: for these people have as Large a portion of mother witt,
and sometimes Larger, than those who have bin brought up in Citties; but
for want of emprovements, Render themselves almost Ridiculos as
It is in the chatty narrative of Colonel William Byrd of Virginian,10
that we find the earliest detailed description of the fringe of squatter
settlements. Colonel Byrd was the first gentleman of Virginia, a man of
old?world education and some literary taste," polished manners, and a vast
number of acres of choice land which he had acquired and held largely
tax?free, by means well understood among Virginia gentlemen." Among the several capacities in which he served the
commonwealth in return for his many acres, was to act as a member of a
joint commission which in the year 1728 ran a boundary line between
Virginia and North Carolina. As he sat his horse in the capacity of
overseer, he observed many amusing things which he jotted down in his
The backcountry, it would seem, had already developed the free and easy
ways of a squatter world, shiftless, lubberly, independent, but animated
by hostility towards the aristocratic Old Dominion, from which many of the
settlers had come. North Carolina had long been a place of refuge for
debtors, criminals, and runaway servants, who used their legs to even the
score with a caste system; and Colonel Byrd regarded the lazy crew with
Surely there is no place in the World where the Inhabitants live with
Labour than in N Carolina. It approaches nearer to the Description of
Lubberland than any other, by the great felicity of the Climate, the
easiness of raising Provisions, and the Slothfulness of the People.
Indian corn is of so great increase, that a little Pains will Subsist a
Family with Bread, and then they may have meat without any Pains at
all, by the Help of the Low Grounds, and the great Variety of Mast that
grows on the Highland. The Men, for their parts, just like the Indians,
impose ail the Work upon the poor Women. They make their Wives rise
out of their Beds early in the Morning, at the same time that they lye
and Snore, till the Sun has run one third of his course, and disperst all
unwholesome Damps. Then, after Stretching and Yawning for half an Hour,
they light their Pipes, and, under the Protection of a cloud of Smoak,
venture out into the open Air; tho' if it happens to be never so little
cold, they quickly return Shivering into the Chimney corner. When the
weather is mild, they stand leaning with both their arms upon the
corn-field fence, and gravely consider whether they had best go and take
Small Heat at the Hough; but generally find reasons to put off till
another time. Thus they loiter away their Lives, like Solomon's Sluggard,
with their Arms across, and at the Winding up of the Year Scarcely have
Bread to Eat. To speak the Truth, tis a thorough Aversion to Labor that
makes People file off to N Carolina, where Plenty and a Warm Sun confirm
them in their Disposition to Laziness for their whole
One thing Colonel Byrd noted everywhere: the lazy lubbers wanted
chiefly to be let alone; they dreaded the possibility of falling within
the Virginia line; they were content in their Eden, and had no wish to exchange their freedom for the stricter rule of the
Wherever we passed we constantly found the Borderers laid it to Heart
if their Land was taken into Virginia; they chose rather belong to
Carolina, where they pay no Tribute, either to God or to Caesar . . . .
Another reason was, that the Government there is so Loose, and the Laws so
feebly executed, that, like those in the Neighbourhood of Sydon formerly,
every one does just what seems good in his own Eyes . . . . Besides, there
might have been some Danger, perhaps, in venturing to be so rigorous, for
fear of undergoing the Fate of an honest Justice in Corotuck Precinct.
This bold Magistrate, it seems, taking upon to order a fellow to the
Stocks, for being disorderly in his Drink, was, for his intemperate zeal,
carry'd thither himself, and narrowly escap'd being whipp't by the Rabble
into the Bargain.14
They are rarely guilty of Flattering or making any Court to their
governours, but treat them with all the Excesses of Freedom and
Familiarity. They are of Opinion their rulers woul'd be apt to grow
insolent, if they grew Rich, and for that reason they take care to keep
them poorer, and more dependent, if possible, than the Saints of New
England used to do their Governours.15
To the student of colonial politics such glimpses are suggestive. They
reveal how early was the popular distrust of magistrates and government;
and they serve to explain the most striking characteristic of
Revolutionary political practice-the movement to minimize the power of the
judiciary and the executive, and magnify the power of the legislature; to
keep authority within the control of the local democracies. "Every one
does just what seems good in his own Eyes"-in this attitude of social
laissez faire that throve on a diet of corn pone and salt pork was the
origin of the coonskin democracy of Old Hickory that was to bring eventual
disaster to the plans of gentlemen.
Land of Promise
Quite another picture of the frontier was likely to be painted by the eighteenth-century democrat. In the well-known Letters of Crevecoeur, and in the recently published More Letters from an American Farmer, 16 is an analysis of frontier life and its creative influence upon the emerging American Character, farm more sympathetic and thoughtful than the casual narratives of Madam Knight and Colnel Byrd. The author was a cultivated Norman-French gentleman, who about the year 1759 or 1760 entered the English colonies from Canada, was a surveyor for a time near Albany, a resident of Pennsylvania and of Ulster County in the province of New York, eventually acquired a farm of 120 acres in Orange County which he named Pine Hill, married Mehetable Tippet of Yonkers, and became a competent tiller of the soil as well as a lover of country life. In disposition he was active and energetic, curious concerning the ways of nature and society. In Canada he had joined the army as lieutenant under Montcalm and was sent on a map-making expedition to the wilderness beyone the Great Lakes, traveled from Detroit as far south as the Ohio Rivver. After quitting Canada following the fall of Quebec, he traveled from Nova Scotia through the English colonies to the extreme south, and perhaps visited Bermuda and Jamaica, noting keenly the country and the manners of the people. Perhaps no other man before the REvolution was so intimately acquainted with the French and English colonies as a whole, with their near background of frontier and the great wilderness beyond, as this French American; and it was from long and intimate contact with the realities of colonial life that he wrote those comments that have preserved his name to the present.
The Revolution broke in upon his peaceful life with disastrous consequences. He took no part in the preliminary disputes, and was under grave suspicion by his neighbors in Orange County and by the British. He as thrown into prison in New York by his Majesty's officers, where his health was undermined and he was reduced to extreme staits. Finally permitted to sail for Europe without his family, he was shipwrecked off the coast of Ireland, but reached London where he disposed of his manuscr9ipts, and eventually got over to France in August, 1781. After the peace he returned to America to find his wife dead, his children scattered, and his farmhouse burnt. For a time he was French consul at New York, where he interested himself in establishing a packet service between France and America, and in the improvement of agricultural methods, amongst other ways by the establishment of botanical gardens. He was a scientific farmer, introducing the system of cover crops into Americana and endeavoring to introduce potato culture into Frnace. He was a corresponding member of the Academie des Sciences and the Royal Agricultural Society of Paris, and a member of the Dociete d' Agriculture, Sciences, et Arts de Meaux, and of the Societe d'Abriculture de Caen. In 1790 he returned to France where he died in 1813.
Underneath the discursive chat of his letters is the firm fabric of economic fact. In the background of this thinking Crevecoeur was quite definitely Physiocratic; in his warm humanitariansim as well as in his agrarian bias. As the kindly Frenchman studied the ways of colonia society and contemplated the future, he asked himself the question, what was the American as he was perceptibly differentiating from his European ancestors? That a new race was emerging in this new country, he was convinced; and that it was not inconsequence chiefly of the new mixture of blood -- although that was not without its influence -- he likewise believed. A more potent influence was at work and that influence was environment. Crevecoeur was something of an economic determinist who sought to explain laws, customs, institutions -- the pattern of the social web -- by an inquiry into economic factors. Mann is was er isst. "Men are like plants; the goodness and flavor of the fruit proceeds from the peculiar soil and exposition in which they grow. We are nothing but what we derive from the air we breathe, the climate we inhabit, the government we obey, the system of religion we profess, and the mode of our employment." 17 Transplanted from the meager opportunities of the old world to the rich soil and ample spaces of America, the European undergoes a subtle transformation.
The rich stay in Europe, it is only the middling and the poor that emigrate. In this great American asylum, the poor of Europe have by some means met together, and in consequence of various causes; to what purpose should they ask one another, what countrymen they are? Alas, two thrids of them had no country. Can a wretch who wanders about, who works and starves... can that man call England or any other kingdom his country? A country that had no bread for him, whose fields procured him no harvest, who met nothging but the frowns of the rich, the severity of the laws, with jails and punishments; who owned not a single foot of the extensive surface of this planet? No! urged by a variety of motives, here they came. Every thing tended to regenerate them; new laws, a new mode of living, a new social system; here they became men; in Durope they were as so many useless plants, wanting vegetable mold, and refreshing showers; they withered and were mowed down by want, hunger, and war: but now by the power of transplantation, like all other plants, they have taken root and flourished! Formerly they were not numbered in any civil list in their country, except in those of the poor; here they rank as citizens. By what invisible power has this surprizing metamorphosis been performed? By that to the laws of their industry.... his country is now that which gives him land, bread, protection, and consequence: Ubi panis ibe patria, is the motto of all emigrants.... Here the rewards of his industry follow with equal steps in the progress of his labor; his labor is founded on the basis of nature, self-interes; can it want a stronger allurement?18
From economic induvidualism in presence of unexploited natural resources, he deduces the natural emergence of a new American psychology that differentiates the colonial from the European peasant. If "from involuntary idleness, servile dependence, penury, and useless labor," the emigrant "has passed totoils of a very different nature, rewarded by amble subsistence"; if he has left off being a peasant and become a free-holder and citizen; will not this man "entertain new ideas, and form new opinions?" He possess a stake in society; his horizons broaden, his ambitions quicken; this is his country.
An European, when he first arrives, seems limited in his intentions, as well as in his views; but he very suddently alters his scale... he no sooner breathes our air than he forms new schemes, and embarks on designs he never would have tho;ught of in his own country. There the plenitude of society confines many useful ideas, and often extinguishes the most laudable schemes which here ripen into maturity.19
He begins to feel the effects of a sort of resurrection; hitherto he had not lived, but simply vegetated; he now feels himself a man, because he is treated as such; the laws of his own country had overlooked him in his insignificancy; the laws of this cover him with their mantle. Judge what an alteration there mus arise in the mind and thoughts of this man; he begins to forget his former servitude and dependence, his heart involuntarily swells and glows; this first sswell inspires him, with those new thoughts which constitute and American.... From nothing to start into being, to become a free man, invested with lands, to which every municipal blessing is annexed! What a change indeed! It is in consequence of that change that he becomes an American.20
He is an American, who leaving behind him all his ancient prejudices and manners, receives new ones from the mode of life he has embraced, the new government he obeys, and the new rank he now holds. He becomes an American by being received in the broad lap of our great Alma Mater. Here individuals of all nations are melted into a new race of men, whose labors and posterity will one day cause great changes in the world. 21
Having convinced himself that economic relaxation was the creative force in determiningh American instutions and psychology, he was led to examine the working of that foce in diverse proportions in America. It is is neither in the older seacoast world, nor along the frontier that he discovers his representative America; but in the borad stretches of clearings, the vigorous backcountry or middle-settlements, where agriculture was followed soberly and effectively. "Some few towns excepted, wea re all tillers of the soil," he pointed out; and it is the farmer of the middle region of New York and Pennsylvania, with his broad acres in prosperous cultivation, his economic independence, and his manly vigor, that he most delights to dwell upon:
Europe has no such class of men; the early knowledge they acquire, the early bargains the make, give them a great degree of sagacity. As freemen, they will be litigious; pride and obstinacy are of the cause of lawsuits; the nature of our laws and governments may be another. As citizens it is is easy to imagine, that they will carefully read the newspapers, enter into every political disquisition, freely blame or
censure governors and others. As farmers, they will be careful and anxious
to get as much as they can, because what they get is theirs . . . . As
Christians, religion curbs them not in their opinions; the laws inspect
our actions; our thoughts are left to God. Industry, good living,
selfishness, litigiousness, country politics, the pride of freemen,
religious indifference, are their characteristics.22
The thinly settled backwoods with their restless squatter population,
Crevecoeur regards as the rough vanguard of the westward?moving
settlements. It is here, he points out, that the forces of leveling are
strongest, that the last remnants of oldworld distinctions and privileges
are stript away, that the idea of individual freedom carries furthest,
sometimes to social disaster. "He who would wish to see America in its
proper light," he says, "and have a true idea of its feeble beginnings and
barbarous rudiments, must visit our extended line of frontiers where the
last settlers dwell."
Now we arrive near the great woods, near the last inhabited districts;
there men seem to be placed . . . beyond the reach of government, which in
some measure leaves them to themselves . . . as they were driven there by
?misfortune, necessity of beginnings, desire of acquiring large tracts of
land, idleness, frequent want of economy, ancient debts; the reunion of such people does not afford a very pleasing spectacle . . . .
The few magistrates they have, are in general little better than the rest;
they are often in a perfect state of war; that of man against man,
sometimes decided by blows, sometimes by means of law . . . men are wholly
left dependent upon their native tempers, and on the spur of uncertain
industry, which often fails when nor sanctified by the efficacy of a few
moral rules There, remote from the power of example, and check of shame,
many families exhibit the most hideous parts of our society. They are a
kind of forlorn hope, preceding by ten or twelve years the more
respectable army of veterans which come after them. In that space,
prosperity will polish some, vice and law will drive off the rest, who
uniting with others like themselves will recede still farther; making
room for more industrious people, who will finish their improvements,
convert the loghouse into a convenient habitation, and rejoicing that the
first heavy labors are finished, will change in a few years that hitherto
barbarous country into a fine, fertile, well regulated district. Such is
our progress, such is the march of the Europeans toward the inter tut
parts of this continent. In all society there are off-casts; this impure
part serves as our precursors or pioneers."23
Crevecoeur's chattiness and bucolic love of nature may easily obscure
for the casual reader, the solid economic core of the Letter.) _ The story
of Andrew, the Hebridean, with its note of idyllic simplicity, reads like
a tale out of the French romantics; yet in its broad outline it is the
story of many an immigrant who penetrated to the hospitable backcountry,
took land, and prospered The strong coloring of the description is only
partly French; in part it is a reflection of the spontaneous optimism that
was working like leaven in colonial society. It is the old?fashioned
phrasing rather than the matter that makes the Letters seem obsolete to
modern readers. Change the wording, soften the bucolic enthusiasm, and the
sober American of earlier generations, as he observed the arrival of the
strong?armed peasant from the north of Europe, would have discovered
nothing strange in such a sentiment as this:
After a foreigner from any part of Europe is arrived, and become a
citizen; let him devoutly listen to the voice of our great parent, which
says to him, "Welcome to my shores, distressed European; bless the hour in
which thou didst see my verdant fields, my fair navigable rivers, and my
green mountains!?If thou wilt work, I have bread for thee; if thou
wilt be honest, sober, and industrious, I have greater rewards to
bestow on thee rase and independence. I will give thee fields to feed and
clothe thee; a comfortable fire?side to sit by. . . I shall endow thee
besides with the immunities of a freeman . . . . Go thou, and work and
till; thou shah prosper provided thou be just, grateful, and
industrious.24 Andrew the Hebridean is a portrait painted by a Physiocratic
humanitarian, but the idealism that would build peace and content on
honest foundations, and would deny them to none, not even the poorest if
they proved worthy, found frequent justification in the prosaic experience
of colonial America. If many an immigrant found "soul-drivers" awaiting
them, many others like Andrew found a more hospitable reception.
Across the peaceful scenes depicted in the Letters soon fell the dark
shadow of civil war, and Crevecoeur's content was rudely broken in upon.
As a French humanitarian he loathed war and all its works, arid every
instinct and argument counseled him to stand apart from the strife that
seemed to him so meaningless. He liked peace and orderly ways and he could
not work himself into a passion over the supposed wrongs of a people who
seemed to him blessed above all others on this troubled earth. As a
philosophical farmer he held the politician in contempt and refused to
take seriously abstract theories of statecraft. The citizen who stuck to
his plow was happier, he believed, than the citizen who talked noisily of
his wrongs, and was eager to overset things. The rough leveling of the
frontier he had found distasteful, and as he watched the development of
the Revolutionary disputes, he seems to have discovered in the Whig
program an irruption of the tumultuous frontier leveling that threatened
to sweep away the common peace and well?being. The source of the unrest he
traced to New England, the feculent wellspring of all the hypocrisies; it
was inspired, he was convinced, by a selfish demagoguery and led by
unprincipled mobsters. In so far as he held partisan sympathies, they
inclined to the Loyalist side. His education in England and his breeding
as a gentleman, drew him towards the Loyalist gentry with whom he
associated in Orange County, and repelled him from the noisy ardor of the
plebeian patriots. Yet in spirit he stood resolutely aloof, although his
sympathies were cruelly hurt by the sufferings that fell under his
observation. In certain letters only recently published (Sketches of
Eighteenth Century Jmerica), he narrates the misfortunes that befell
innocent men and women from the bitterness of civil strife,25
and draws a
picture of the lawlessness and greed of patriot committeemen, and the
intolerance of the mob spirit, that is not pleasant to contemplate.26 Bitterness rarely exudes from his pen, but when he
the ways of Whig politicians he now and then indulges in a passage that
reveals his loathing of the mercenary spirit that he discovers in the new
patriotism. In the conclusion of " The American Belisarius " he gives vent
to his anger against those who outrage common morality; if it were not for
the fact that this is a moral universe, he says ironically:
I'd worship the demon of the times, trample on every law, break every
duty, neglect every bond, overlook every obligation to which no punishment
was annexed. I'd set myself calumniating my rich neighbors. I'd call all
passive, inoffensive men by the name of inimical. I'd plunder or detain
the entrusted deposits. I'd trade on public moneys, though contrary to my
oath. Oath! Chaff for good Whigs, and only fit to bind a few conscientious
Royalists! I'd build my new fortune on the depreciation of the money. I'd
inform against every man who would make any difference betwixt it and
silver, whilst I, secure from any discovery or suspicion by my good name,
would privately exchange ten for one. I'd pocket the fines of poor
militiamen extracted from their heart's blood. I'd become obdurate,
merciless, and unjust. I'd grow rich, "fas vel nefas." I'd send others
a?fighniig, whilst I stayed ac home cu trade and to rule. I'd become a
clamorous American, a modern Whig, and offer every night incense to the
A lover of peace and good will, a humanitarian concerned only with
justice and the common well?being, seeking new ways to enlarge the returns
of agriculture, devoid of petty ambition and local prejudice, a friend of
man, Hector St. John de Crevecoeur was an embodiment of the generous
spirit of French revolutionary thought, a man whom Jefferson would have
liked for a neighbor. His sketchy and discursive writings may not be
notable literature, but we could ill spare them from the library of
1See Commons, Races and Immigrants in America, p.
2Sometimes the profits were unexpectedly great, as is
the case of a certain George Martin, who contracted with a shipmaster to
transport himself, his wife, and five children to America for fifty?four
pounds. He paid down $16, but died on the passage. On the arrival of the
vessel in port, the captain foreclosed on the contract, sold the widow for
twenty?two pounds, the three eldest sons at thirty pounds each, and the
two youngest, who were under five years of age, ten pounds, realizing one
hundred and twenty-two pounds on a debt under fifty? pounds.
(Diffenderfer, The German Immigrants into Pennsylvania, p. 268).
3Ibid., p 229
4Ibid., Part II, "The Redemptioners," p. 209.
5For the entire diary, see American Historical
Review, Vol. VI., pp.
6The Private Journal, etc., p. 40.
7Ibid., PP. 29-30.
8Ibid., P. 28.
9Ibid., p. 45.
10"The History of the Dividing Line," in The Writings
of Westover in Virginia, Esquire, New York, 1901.
11At his death his library contained some four thousand
private library in the English?speaking colonies," according to his
12His father died possessed of 26,231 acres. He himself
owned at his
death "no less than 179,440 acres of the best land in Virginia."
13Op, cit., pp. 75-76.
14Ibid., p. 87.
15Ibid., p. 81.
16Published under the title of Sketches of Eighteenth
by the Yale University Press, 1925.
17Letters . . ., in edition of 1904, p. 56.
18Ibid., p. 52-55.
19Ibid., p. 76.
20Ibid., pp. 77, 79.
21Ibid., pp. 54-55.
22Ibid., pp. 57-58.
23Ibid., pp. 58-60.
24Ibid., pp. 90-91.
25See, e. g., "The Man of Sorrows," "The Wyoming Massacre,"
History of Mrs. B.," "The Frontier Woman."
26See, e. g., "The American Belisarius" and
27Sketches of Eighteenth Century America, p. 249.