Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
From Gentlemen to Townsmen

From Gentlemen to Townsmen: The Gentry of Batimore County Maryland, 1660--1776

Copyright Date: 1993
Pages: 224
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    From Gentlemen to Townsmen
    Book Description:

    Economic and social life in the upper Chesapeake during the colonial period diverged from that in southern Maryland and Tidewater Virginia despite similar economic bases. Charles Steffen's book offers a fresh interpretation of the economic elite of Baltimore County and challenges the widely accepted view that the life of this privileged class was characterized by permanence, stability, and continuity.

    The subjects of this study are not the tiny knot of Tidewater aristocrats who have dominated scholarly inquiry, but the numerically predominant but largely unknown "county gentry" who constituted the bedrock of the upper class throughout Maryland and Virginia. Because most Tidewater aristocrats shunned the northern frontier of Chesapeake society, Baltimore proves an ideal location for exploring the uncertain world of the county gentry.

    Most of the men who climbed the ladder of economic and political success in Baltimore, hoping to establish dynasties, watched with dismay as their children slipped back down that ladder in the later colonial years. The absence of entrenched oligarchies gave to the upper levels of county society a striking degree of fluidity and impermanence. In chapters dealing with the plantation workforce, the landed estate, the merchant community, and the established church, Steffen demonstrates that this openness pervaded all dimensions of the life of the gentry.

    Steffen's analysis of the complicated social and political realignments produced by the Revolution provides a fitting conclusion to his study, for in the independence struggle the openness of the gentry was most clearly revealed. In its vivid portrayal of the men and women who comprised the bulk of the gentry,From Gentlemen to Townsmensheds new light on the complex economic and social life of the Chesapeake.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-6449-6
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations, Maps, Figures, Tables
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-7)

    During the past twenty years, a growing number of historians has been exploring and mapping the social terrain of the two colonies that the Chesapeake Bay, Virginia and Maryland. It has been a collaborative enterprise, with each new insight simultaneously upon and calling forth another. To name everyone who has revolutionize our understanding of the early Chesapeake would a long list and a weary reader.¹

    But four contributors deserve to be named, because their sweeping interpretations have established the thematic framework and research agenda for those of us who write narrowly focused monographs the small places and silent people of...

  6. 1 Baltimore County
    (pp. 8-26)

    Baltimore County was a victim of its own geography. During the century between 100,000 and 150,000 European immigrants reached Virginia and Maryland in search of rich soil, flat lands, navigable rivers. They found all these things in the wide Coastal that stretches from the James to the Patuxent River. As one north beyond the tidewater heartland, the plain becomes a narrow triangle of land wedged between the Piedmont Plateau and the Bay. At the Patapsco River, which marked the southern boundary of Baltimore throughout the colonial era, the plain virtually disappears. So while Baltimore had abundant natural resources, rich outcroppings...

  7. 2 The Open Elite
    (pp. 27-45)

    From 1700 to 1760 Baltimore County came of age. As centripetal forces steadily leveled the disparities between the northern periphery and tidewater core of Chesapeake society, a recognizably uniform of life spread from the James River to the Susquehanna River. last Baltimore found a place in the social order of what might be called the Greater Tidewater. At the highest level of county society, this of convergence took the form of gentrification. Thomas Todd, George Wells, and Thomas Thurston were hard-handed frontiersmen whose scramble to the top of the economic pyramid epitomized rough-hewn world in which they lived. But a...

  8. 3 The Work Force
    (pp. 46-70)

    From the Coastal Plain to the Piedmont Plateau, from the James River to the Susquehanna, the Chesapeake gentry built its class hegemony on slavery. The transition from servitude to slavery did not occur at the same time or in the same way. But whenever and it occurred, the emergence of slavery in the colonial Chesapeake gave masters unprecedented personal control over their work force. blunted class conflict by committing all segments of white society a regime of racial supremacy that some scholars have termedherrenvolk democracy.It reduced the economic breathing space of nonslaveholders by concentrating capital and credit in...

  9. 4 The Landed Estate
    (pp. 71-91)

    The Chesapeake gentry was a class of landholders as well as Although the corrosive forces of commercialization clearly gathering strength as market relations began to entwine realms of eighteenth-century life, land itself continued to carry heavy load of traditional obligations and to occupy an anomalous in the world of pure-and-simple commodities. Land represented the ultimate source of power, prestige, and privilege. It served as most reliable means of bequeathing social status from parents to It also furnished the vital nexus between the members of a past, present, and future. It might be said that land was owned in any absolute...

  10. 5 The Merchant Community
    (pp. 92-115)

    In an agricultural society dominated by planters and slaves, where urban functions and commercial networks were highly decentralized, merchants seem strangely out of place. Yet it would be a mistake overlook a group whose influence by the mid-eighteenth century seeped into every corner of Chesapeake life. Merchants were the links between countless plantations—large and small—and Atlantic economy. The steady flow of credit, capital, and connections supplied by merchants fueled the region’s economic growth and the gentry’s economic hegemony. With the massive expansion of British credit to the Chesapeake colonies in the decades following Queen Anne’s War, merchants came...

  11. 6 The Established Church
    (pp. 116-136)

    Most Chesapeake gentlemen were born, married, and buried in the Church of England. With its establishment in Maryland in the of the Glorious Revolution, the Anglican church became an feature of local life, not only setting moral standards the community but enforcing them with the resources of the state its command. Whoever controlled the church, which was the place (aside from the court) where large numbers of people from ranks of society regularly gathered, exercised authority that went beyond the spiritual concerns and everyday activities of the congregation. Hence an examination of the tone and texture of social in the...

  12. 7 Baltimore Town
    (pp. 137-163)

    In the two decades before the Revolution, Baltimore County embarked on a radically new course of social and economic development. Since the establishment of Virginia and Maryland, both provincial and imperial authorities had agonized over the long train of deleterious consequences that, they assumed, would inevitably follow from the absence of towns. For men steeped in a classical tradition according to which commerce and culture could flourish only in an urban setting, it was difficult to envision civilization without cities. Over the years numerous schemes were proposed to remedy this perceived defect in the Chesapeake social order, but none of...

  13. Epilogue
    (pp. 164-167)

    In 1783, with the formal signing of peace between the United States and Great Britain, Captain Charles Ridgely boldly began construction of a new mansion on the grounds of “Northampton,” the tract his had purchased almost four decades before. Building the house was an act of supreme self-confidence. But it should also be seen as a gesture of angry defiance by a man who was committed to a different kind of society from the one that seemed to be gaining ascendancy in aftermath of the revolutionary war. It had been more than a century since the first Ridgely arrived in...

  14. Appendix 1. Identifying the Elite
    (pp. 168-171)
  15. Appendix 2. Identifying the Merchants
    (pp. 172-175)
  16. Notes
    (pp. 176-201)
  17. Index
    (pp. 202-209)