Rise of the Early American Gentry

Essay by MagoospeedCollege, UndergraduateA+, October 2008

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In any given group of people there are always a few that stand out. These people are the ones that take charge during a crisis or bend the rest of the group to their will, or they might simply be more fortunate at the right time. After the crisis is over they are often named the leader of group or take control by force. After a while the group becomes accustomed to their new leader and may decide to create other leadership positions amongst themselves. These leadership roles often become hereditary and are passed down within a family line. When a few generations have passed with the same family in the same leadership position an elite status begins to be established and connected with the family and the leadership position. Eventually a division appears between the elite and the common people and, bada-boom, an aristocracy is born. The division fluctuates from time to time but almost never completely disappears.

It was no different in the New World during the 1600's. An elite class of people developed, especially in the southern colonies, because of skill, luck, or simply the right action at the right time that came to dominate the government, the church, and society, in short the southern colonies of the New World. These elite are remembered as the gentry.

The gentry developed rather rapidly in North America because they didn't have to develop the elitism from scratch, they could simply import it from Britain. During the early Modern Period, including the 16th century, Britain was ruled by an elite class composed of approximately 5% of the population (Taylor 2001). None of the truly elite or wealthy in British society came over as colonists or planters, but the colonies were an exceptional opportunity for younger sons that couldn't inherit...