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Urban Amenities and Rural Sufficiency: Living Standards and Consumer Behavior in the Colonial Chesapeake, 1643–1777

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  03 March 2009

Lorena S. Walsh
Affiliation:
Research Fellow at the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, Williamsburg, Virginia 23185

Abstract

By the mid-eighteenth century, tidewater Chesapeake households at all levels of wealth were both able and willing to buy a wide range of non-essential consumer goods either previously unavailable or long considered unimportant. The use of amenities and often luxuries as props for increasingly elaborated and differentiated life styles was not a result of country folk imitating city consumption patterns, however. Urban life styles did produce new spending habits, but the vast majority of the population who lived in rural areas managed to improve their consumption levels without altering traditional patterns of resource allocation.

Type
Papers Presented at the Forty-Second Annual Meeting of the Economic History Association
Copyright
Copyright © The Economic History Association 1983

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References

1 Eddis, William, Letters from America, ed. Land, Aubrey C. (Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1969), p. 57.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

2 The inventories have been converted into constant currency using a consumer price index developed by the St. Mary's City Commission. Biases resulting from changes in reporting rates or in the age structure of the decedent population did not appear large enough to warrant adjustments for the purposes of this study.Google Scholar

3 Michel, Jack reports like patterns among Philadelphia and rural Pennyslvania consumers. “In a Manner and Fashion Suitable to Their Degree: A Preliminary Investigation of the Material Culture of Early Rural Pennsylvania,” Working Papers from the Regional Economic History Research Center 5, no. 1 (1981).Google Scholar

4 Cutting points were established as follows: £50 was close to the median value of all estates until about 1730. At about £225 the quantity and variety of consumer products increased perceptibly across the whole period.Google Scholar

5 Papenfuse, Edward C., In Pursuit of Profit: The Annapolis Merchants in the Era of the American Revolution, 1763–1805 (Baltimore, 1965), chap. 1.Google Scholar

6 Eddis, Letters, pp. 19, 5758.Google Scholar

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