In 1700, ten sparsely settled colonies clung precariously to the Atlantic coast of the vast American continent, each far more firmly attached to the Old World by ties of politics, economy, and culture than they were to each other. By 1800, sixteen states, united by a common government, were poised exploit the seemingly endless resources of a new and independent nation. Throughout this century of enormous changes and challenges, one factor had remained constant: no single description captured the majority of the new country's inhabitants; no one lifestyle was embraced by a "typical American." Rich or poor, urban or rural, male or female, young or old, native-born or immigrant, northerner or southerner, slave or free, white or of color--the mixture of these characteristics and a host of others within each individual determined the shape and opportunities of everyday life. Americans of the eighteenth century were in the end, as they had been in the beginning, as "various as their land."
Stephanie Grauman Wolf is a senior research fellow at the Philadelphia Center for Early American Studies, University of Pennsylvania. She is the author of Urban Village: Population, Community, and Family Structure in Germantown, PA, 1683-1800s (1980, Princeton University Press).