“Every Man [And Woman] A Robinson Crusoe”?
February 2: King George designates Admiral Richard Howe as commander of naval
Operations in North America
February 12: Forty-four ships leave Ireland to rendezvous with Loyalists in North
Carolina at Cape Fear
February 16: Washington convenes a council of war about attacking Boston – his
February 21: Congress spends the day debating the denominations of $ to be issued in
support of the war effort
February 27: The Battle at Moore’s Creek Bridge, North Carolina, Loyalists defeated
February 28: Washington writes to African-American poet and former slave Phillis
Wheatley to thank her for her poem written in his honor
February 29: The House of Commons in London approves treaties with German
principalities to provide troops for the British in America
"WHAT THEN is the American, this new man?" asked Hector St. John de Crevecoeur, a transplanted Frenchman, just before Lexington and Concord. Thirteen peas in a pod they were not. They were crabbed Yankees and curtsying belles, pioneers of the forest, merchants of the wharf. They lived behind logs, dined on silver. A nation? No. Subjects of His Majesty? Maybe. A people? Yes. A quilt. A patchwork quilt of people. Their God was a Quaker, a Moravian, a Presbyterian, an Anglican. They spoke German and Gaelic and French and English and Iroquois and Cherokee and Ashanti. They downed stewed bear, cod, shoo-fly pie, grits, salt pork and rice and wanted more. Better fed than their relatives in Europe. They could shoot straight, dance a quadrille, pound flax, carve a Chippendale highboy, make dye from sumac, pull a tooth, plank a boat, recite Cicero, skin a deer, set wooden type, round the Horn, master lightning, invent an apple corer and hunt whales. They could card wool, make soap, churn butter, weave linen, deliver a baby, play the spinet, mold bullets, thresh wheat, and run a newspaper. Versatile, ingenious and industrious, because they had to be.
There may previously not have been a rational answer to Crevecoeur’s question; Americans were then too busy in survival mode, and didn't yet know one another. With more time to look around, more time to exchange views and news, more time to realize that when one was cut, all bled, they could appreciate why Crevecoeur, who had immigrated and had his own answers, most of them complimentary, had raised the question.
Immigration in the 18th century created a more heterogeneous population. By the 1770s, the number of colonists with strictly English roots had fallen to approximately 65% of the white population and only about half of the total population. The newcomers included northern Irish, Scots, and Welsh from the British Isles and German-speaking immigrants from Switzerland and the Rhine valley. At the beginning of the Revolution, African-Americans comprised one in five persons. In 1700, blacks had been only one in ten persons, indicating a huge growth in the transatlantic slave trade of Africans to the colonies during the 18th c. Ninety percent of blacks were slaves and their arrival on North American shores dispersed them primarily to Southern states. Native American tribes were decimated through the transmission of European diseases, and in the white man’s search to conquer the land, many Native Americans were also killed or thrust into slavery. Those who survived and remained free from bondage were constantly being pushed westward, though the Creeks and Cherokees in the South, and the Iroquois in the North, continued to be fearsome neighbors to white settlers.
Immigrants brought with them their religious traditions from Europe, increasing the diversity of Christian denominations, begun by Martin Luther’s challenge on the Wittenburg church door in 1517. Because the canonical hierarchy did not move with the immigrants, many religious denominations were weakened when they were transplanted to the colonies. When there is no bishop watching over your shoulder, you might not keep every feast day or religious command as you would have had to in the old country. African immigrants gradually assimilated Christian practices, particularly those of the Baptists, while retaining some West African customs. Association with religious denominations indicated social class as well. “High-income persons in cities were frequently Anglican [Church of England]. In the rural south, the aristocracy was Anglican while poor whites were Baptist and increasingly Methodist,” according to historian James Lemon.
Were a traveler loose-jointed and waterproof enough to have made it from the pine and birch wilderness of Maine and New Hampshire, to the rice and magnolias of South Carolina, they would have crossed a countryside of continual evolution: in economy, in culture, in appearance, wrought both by man and nature. "The height of the Trees, the wide extent of the forest, the silence all around, impresses the mind with...