During the period of the 15th and 16th
century, America was highly divided, along the basis of location, religion,
ethnicity, and economic station. The most prominent of the divisions was that
of geographical location, for the most part, people in a certain region would
have similar lifestyles and beliefs; people would also be more likely to settle
near others of their race. Even
when separated physically, different groups were still held together by common
traits. Religion and race were
able to transcend geographic boundaries, forming many disconnected
communities. Although social class
might not have formed communities, it certainly worked to separate people into
even more groups, those who had their freedom, slaves and indentured servants
formed three separate groups as well.
These defining features caused people to form in to many distinct
groups, as Walt Whiteman said it was "not merely a nation, but a teeming
nation of nations."
Geography was the greatest
factor in creating "nations" within the greater whole. The location
of a settlement would often define the lifestyle of those living there. In the backcountry, cheap land allowed
families to tend to a farm, with the only goal being subsistence, and because
most of the east had already been settled, recent immigrants, mostly German and
Scots-Irish, were able to find land that had not yet been accounted for. Large farmland isolated people, and a
lack of transportation cut those living in the backcountry off from the rest of
the nation. "From many
farmsteads, it was a days ride to the nearest courthouse; taverns and churches
were often just as distant" Because the settlers were unable to market
their goods, few of them were able to hire workers or buy slaves, and thus
they were forced to continue to tend farms only as large as their families were
The isolation also produced a lack of
religion, communities were not able to finance the building of churches, and
preachers would not be able to make a living in such a climate, also distance
between communities made it ineffective for preachers travel. The backcountry
had the most equality of any region at the time. Nearly everyone was free, as few families could afford
slaves, so unlike other communities; there was no aristocracy where the rich
owned the largest farms. Even so,
a lack of government caused the frontier to be plagued by crime. Dissatisfaction with this relative
anarchy led to several violent protests, eventually, the court system was
extended into the backcountry, bringing relative stability. The primary defining feature of the
backcountry was that it was cut of from the rest of the nation, this
exemplifies that the location of a region can largely define it as a distinct
nation, as part of a larger nation.
In the southern
colonies, social class primarily defined the culture. Unlike in the north, where many of the
inhabitants immigrated to find a better life for themselves, most of the
landowners in the south immigrated because they had been granted a large amount
of land, by virtue of having the right friends. This was the plan of Sir Anthony Ashley Cooper, the Earl
of Shaftsbury. "Coopers
utopia was one in which few landed aristocrats would rule with the consent of
many smaller property holders".
This lead to the creation of many large farms, unlike in the north,
where few people could afford to hire or buy workers, thus keeping the farmers
to a small size, those in the south were able to afford many workers, allowing
them to create expansive farms which were able to turn large profits, with such
crops as tobacco, and later, cotton.
which was shaped by social class, was that of the slaves. This group was not physically united,
but was united by the common bond of slavery, even though it was disconnected,
the slaves were still influenced by the factors of geography and religion, just
as any other physical community was at the time. Many slaves converted to Christianity, they were drawn to
the fact that it gave them hope for a life after death where they were repaid
for their hard labor. Those who
converted created a rift between Christian slaves and those who kept to the old
ways, who felt betrayed.
The location to
which a slave was either sold or born into impacted the life they lead, just as
a freeman was impacted by where they chose to settle. Different crops, and attitudes about slavery influenced the
scrutiny under which the slaves were watched. Plantations in the south who had a large population of
slaves, and used the task system allowed the slaves to live in relative
freedom. Theses slaves were not
watched as closely, and once they had completed their job for the day, they
were done working. Free
blacks formed yet another minor nation, as regardless of their location and
religion, they still remained distinct from both free whites and enslaved
blacks. Both the southern
aristocracy, as well as free and captive blacks formed Sub-nations unrestricted
Religion was another
creator of large sub-nations not formed by geography, or restricted to those of
a certain social class. Some
communities, such as the Quakers, in Philadelphia, were located around one
central location; even so, most religions had their followers relatively spread
through out the land. A puritan
belief states that even though there are different sects of Christianity, they
can form one group. This did not
seem the case, with each denomination forming its own communities across the
nation. The differences in beliefs
between Christians created animosity, which was only heightened as several
groups tried to convert both Native Americans and Africans, which by doing so,
they hoped to "civilize" these people, which they considered savage.
It was generally
believed that there was a greater amount of separation between the church and
the state in the New World than there was to be found in England; even so, it
was not hard to find a connection.
In many early New England towns, a small degree of inequality was thought
necessary in order to maintain stability in society. Those selected for this special treatment were most often
ministers, or other clergymen.
In nearly all of New England, residents were required by law to attend
church on the Sabbath, as well as pay taxes in support of Congregationalism. Churches clearly formed an important
part of New England life.
"Most settlers formed churches as quickly as they founded towns,
and each congregation ran its own affairs". The church played an important role in New England life, and
although unable to punish citizens, it could still keep order by using the
threat of expulsion. Even though
nearly everyone attended church, membership was not compulsory, and those who
wished to join had to prove to the church that they were worthy.
Differences in forms
of Christianity were the cause of many conflicts, which at times, worked to
help bring progress to society.
The first settlement in Connecticut was founded by Thomas Hooker, who
left his job as the minister in Cambridge, Massachusetts after a
disagreement. William Penn
founded Pennsylvania, his goal being to create a refuge for Quakers. In the 1730s, a period referred to as
the Great Awakening, caused to strengthen the divides between different
religious groups. Many ministers
preaching about the wrath of God, and the importance of being
"reborn" marked this movement.
"The drama of such performances appealed to people of all classes,
ethnic groups, and races".
Even though the Awakening served to cause more fighting between groups,
it also shows how religion is a unifier that was able to create many
sub-nations, which people of all walks of life became a part of.
It is clear that
within the colonies, there were many groups, which formed nations as part of a
larger nation. These groups were
the product of many factors, which caused to both divide and unite people. Such things as class, race, religion
and locality separated people into many different groups, but acted to unite
those within the same group. When Walt
Whiteman said that the United States was "not merely a nation, but a
teeming nation of nations", it was these groups that he has referring
to, he was correct when he said it, and it still holds true today.