What America Was Really Like in 1776

By Thomas Fleming

Published by New Word City, Inc., 2011

Copyright Thomas Fleming

Highlighted Notes from Book:

Benjamin Franklin expressed the prevailing wisdom during the French and Indian War, 15 years before the Revolution: "The scum of every nation is to be found on their frontiers."

In the northern colonies, the wealthiest 10 percent of the population owned about 45 percent of the property.

Some 40 percent of 1776 Americans were small or medium-sized independent farmers, who largely supported themselves from their own land.

On a per-capita basis, the Americans of 1776 were the richest people in the civilized world. They were also the lowest taxed.

It took about 500 pounds a year - about $40,000 - for a family to feel well off. Skilled workers, such as carp[enters, earned around 90 pounds - about $5,000 - annually. Schoolteachers made little more than a landless laborer.

At the top of the economic pyramid were lawyers, who made as much as $3,000 pounds a year.

The ultimate sign of wealth, similar to the ownership of a private yacht of airplane today, was an "equipage" - a coach drawn by four matched horses, with servants in livery riding outside.

By 1775, Americans were producing one-seventh of all the iron in the world. By 17875,, the 13 colonies had an exonomy that was two-fifths the size of England's.

The British felt enormously threatened by the dynamism of American growth, both in wealth and people.

The first federal census in 1790 reveals that , of the total white population of 2 million, only 60.9 percent wre English and 14.3 percent were Scotch or Scotch Irish.

On the frontier or "back country," as most people called it, things were very different. There, dress was heavily influenced by American Indian fashions. In the 1770s, many young men adopted the indian breech clout for summer wear.

Backcountry young women were soon imitating the men in their own way. It's probably not surprising that almost every woman on the frontier was married by the age of 18. The pace was a bit slower in the settled part of 1776 America.

Practice of bundling, which was popular in New England and the middle colonies. To give a courting couple some privacy during the winter months, the young man was invited to share the young woman's bed - with a stout board down the center of it. Studies of birth records have inclined historians to conclude that more than half the brides were pregnant when they went up the aisle. Most churchmen found little or no fault with this trend.

A woman in 1776 had little or no opportunity to be independent.

Apple cider was the common drink of most men, rich and poor. A barrell was always on tap in the cellars.

In New Jersey, the Revolution turned into a civil war that pitted parents against sons and vice versa.

Medicine was mostly guesswork, backed up by a few powerful drugs, such as calomel, opium, and quinine.

Life expectancy was 54 years for men and 56 for women.

Loyalists - more than 60,000 - 100,000 people fled to Canada, the West Indies, and England. That was almost 10 percent of the 1776 Caucasian population.

By 1780, one in seven men in the Continental Army's ranks was black.