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Rise Of The Early American Gentry

2361 words - 9 pages

In any given group of people there are always a few that stand out. These people are the ones that take charge during a crisis or bend the rest of the group to their will, or they might simply be more fortunate at the right time. After the crisis is over they are often named the leader of group or take control by force. After a while the group becomes accustomed to their new leader and may decide to create other leadership positions amongst themselves. These leadership roles often become hereditary and are passed down within a family line. When a few generations have passed with the same family in the same leadership position an elite status begins to be established and connected with the family and the leadership position. Eventually a division appears between the elite and the common people and, bada-boom, an aristocracy is born. The division fluctuates from time to time but almost never completely disappears. It was no different in the New World during the 1600's. An elite class of people developed, especially in the southern colonies, because of skill, luck, or simply the right action at the right time that came to dominate the government, the church, and society, in short the southern colonies of the New World. These elite are remembered as the gentry.The gentry developed rather rapidly in North America because they didn't have to develop the elitism from scratch, they could simply import it from Britain. During the early Modern Period, including the 16th century, Britain was ruled by an elite class composed of approximately 5% of the population (Taylor 2001). None of the truly elite or wealthy in British society came over as colonists or planters, but the colonies were an exceptional opportunity for younger sons that couldn't inherit the estate and upper class merchants wanting to improve their status and wealth. A large number of the people that would become the gentry came from the south-west part of England. When they came over they tried to transplant the culture from their part of England into their part of the New World (Morgan). When the New World opened up for colonization there were basically two ways for a free man to get into the new colonies; either as an indentured servant or to put up some initial capital and get some land right away. The Headright System made both look like viable options, but there were some flaws. The Headright System was a way for the Virginia Company to finally make some cash off of their investment in the New World. The system gave away parcels of land to get people interested and hopefully purchase more land. If someone was willing to pay for their own passage across the Atlantic Ocean and pay for the materials to set up their own farm, the Virginia Company would give them a certain number of acres for each person, such as wives, children, and servants. For the gentry that could afford it, starting off as a land owner paid large dividends fairly quickly. However going over as an indentured servant...

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