Modern history

Conclusion: A Divided Society

By 1750 religious and political awakenings had transformed colonists’ sense of their relation to spiritual and secular authorities. Both Gilbert Tennent and Sarah Grosvenor were caught up in these transitions. Like most colonists, they did not conceive of themselves as part of a united body politic but rather identified most deeply with their family, town, or church. Indeed, most colonists thought of themselves as English, or Scots-Irish, or German, rather than American. At best, they claimed identity as residents of Massachusetts, New Jersey, or South Carolina rather than British North America. By 1750 the diversity and divisions among colonists were greater than ever as class, racial, religious, and regional differences multiplied across the colonies. Still, by midcentury, religious leaders had gained renewed respect, colonial assemblies had wrested more autonomy from royal hands, freemen participated more avidly in political contests and debates, printers and lawyers insisted on the rights and liberties of colonists, and local communities defended those rights in a variety of ways. When military conflicts brought British officials into more direct contact with their colonial subjects in the following decade, they sought to check these trends, with dramatic consequences.

Chapter Review


Identify and explain the significance of each term below.

spectral evidence (p. 86)

patriarchal family (p. 87)

Walking Purchase (p. 96)

New Light clergy (p. 98)

Old Light clergy (p. 98)

Enlightenment (p. 98)

Pietists (p. 98)

Great Awakening (p. 99)

impressment (p. 104)


Answer the focus questions from each section of the chapter.

1. what factors led to a rise in tensions within colonial communities in the early 1700s?

2. How did social, economic, and political tensions contribute to an increase in accusations of witchcraft?

3. why and how did the legal and economic status of colonial women decline between 1650 and 1750?

4. How did patriarchal ideals of family and community shape life and work in colonial America? what happened when men failed to live up to those ideals?

5. How and why did economic inequality in the colonies increase in the first half of the eighteenth century?

6. How did population growth and increasing diversity contribute to conflict among and anxieties about the various groups inhabiting British North America?

7. what groups were most attracted to the religious revivals of the early eighteenth century? why?

8. what were the legacies of the Great Awakening for American religious and social life?

9. How did ordinary colonists, both men and women, black and white, express their political opinions and preferences in the first half of the eighteenth century?

10. How did politics bring colonists together across economic lines in the first half of the eighteenth century? How did politics highlight and reinforce class divisions?



• Harvard College established


• Some 160 individuals tried for witchcraft in Massachusetts and Connecticut


• Glorious Revolution


• Salem witch trials


• College of William and Mary established


• 250,000 immigrants and Africans arrive in the colonies


• Population of British North America grows from 250,000 to 2.5 million


• Benjamin Wadsworth publishes The Well-Ordered Family


• Large numbers of Scots-Irish arrive in Pennsylvania


• John Peter Zenger acquitted of libel in New York City


• First permanent almshouse built in New York City


• Delaware Indians acquiesce to Walking Purchase

• Protest against public market in Boston


• George Whitefield launches fifteen-month preaching tour of the colonies


• Gilbert Tennent expelled from the Presbyterian Church


• Sarah Grosvenor dies as a result of a botched abortion


• 40,000 Scottish Catholics shipped to the Carolinas after a failed rebellion


• Impressment leads to three days of rioting in Boston


• American colonists resist appointment of an Anglican bishop for the North American colonies


• George Tennent initiates effort to reunite the Presbyterian Church

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