Everyday Life

views updated

Everyday Life

Between the 1780s and 1810s, 96 percent of all Americans lived in rural settings and farmed the land. The most established farms were within the original thirteen states, east of the Appalachian Mountains. The land west of the Appalachians and east of the Mississippi River was the American frontier. There, pioneering families carved out an existence from the wilderness. They cleared and planted small acreages, built solid cabins, and raised their children. Their day-to-day existence was more difficult and isolated than that of people living east of the Appalachians.

Only a tiny fraction of Americans lived on Southern plantations, farms worked by one hundred or more slaves. The vast majority of Southerners, like their countrymen to the north, farmed small acreages. However, many of America's most famous Founding Fathers and early presidents such as George Washington (1732–1799; served 1789–97) and Thomas Jefferson (1743–1826; served 1801–9) owned and operated plantations.

All of rural America led vastly different lives than the 4 percent of Americans who lived in cities. Those cities, all located on the east coast, included Boston, New York, Baltimore, Philadelphia, and Charleston, South Carolina. These cities would grow dramatically, and they quickly became centers of American business and trade.

City life—Philadelphia-style

In the 1790s, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, was America's largest city. Between 1790 and 1800, Philadelphia served as the nation's capital. It was the center of wealth and power in the new nation. Prosperous Europeans as well as foreign government officials visited the city and were wined and dined in grand style.

In 1682, William Penn (1644–1718), Pennsylvania's founder, laid out Philadelphia's streets, forming square blocks for houses and buildings. The city was a mix of fine homes and modest houses, wealthy families and working people. It boasted fine taverns (central meeting places that included rooms in which to eat, drink, and spend the night) and nicely appointed boardinghouses, paved streets, many churches, private schools, and a busy waterfront. Philadelphia was also the printing and publishing center of the United States.

Words to Know

academy: A high school or college where special subjects are taught.

fraternal organization: A group of men who associate with each other for a common purpose, often sharing a common background such as the same profession.

merchant: A person who earns a living by buying and selling goods for profit.

necessaries: An early American term for outhouses.

plantation: A farm worked by one hundred or more slaves.

tavern: A central meeting place that included rooms in which to eat, drink, and spend the night.

Wealthy citizens

The wealthiest citizens of Philadelphia and other cities were merchants who made their living buying goods from other countries and shipping them to America. They resold the goods for large profits. Merchants also bought U.S. farm goods and manufactured items and shipped them to Europe for profitable resale.

Wealthy residents built fine brick homes three to four stories high. One or two residences sometimes took up an entire city block. The grounds included gardens—vegetable, herb, and flower—as well as greenhouses, stables, and outhouses called "necessaries." One of the finest homes belonged to Founding Father Benjamin Franklin (1706–1790).

Working-class citizens

The vast majority of Philadelphia residents held working-class jobs; they were shoemakers, carriage and wagon makers, barrel makers, tavern keepers, and shopkeepers. Other jobs included saddle and harness makers; coachmen; stable keepers; coppersmiths; silversmiths; dockworkers; industrial workers (making nails, guns, ammunition, glass, kitchen utensils); street pavers (using river stones); soap makers; candle makers; printers; schoolmasters; pastors; seamstresses; shopkeepers; brick masons; carpenters; hospital workers (dispensary workers); bakers; hide tanners; and furniture makers.

Women remained at home to take care of their children and to do the cooking, washing, and sewing. Women often took in extra work, "outwork," such as washing clothes, stitching cloth provided by shopkeepers, or making hats. Although it did not pay much, it allowed a family to save a little money. Some widows kept boardinghouses for travelers and guests in the city.

Most working-class residences were rented rather than owned. Working-class homes were made of wood and were two to three stories high. Each home had a basement and an attic, and each story had one or two rooms. Often the first floor was a shop or workspace. The backyards were small but busy places where everyday chores such as churning butter and washing clothes took place. Most yards had a few flowers and vegetables, and all had a necessary. The necessary was strategically placed by the house, close enough to be convenient in the winter cold but far enough away that its odors could be avoided when summer temperatures soared.

Many working-class men became master craftsmen, experts in making certain handcrafted items. They produced all kinds of goods from wood, leather, and metals—furniture, saddles, and utensils. They trained others in their crafts. Making carriages was a highly respected craftsman's profession, and Philadelphia boasted several fine coach makers.

Market days

One of the best places to be in the city was the open-air market on market days. Philadelphia's market was held three times a week. Farmers brought in their meats and produce to sell to the city folk. Fresh vegetables, eggs, dairy products, and meats including poultry and fish were all arranged neatly for sale. Everyone enjoyed coming to the market.

Refrigeration did not exist; instead homes had underground root cellars that remained cool throughout the year. Meats were prepared fresh daily, but fruits and vegetables from the market and garden were stored in the root cellars. Cellars ranged from small underground storage areas to large rooms in basements.

Food preservation was essential to ensure an adequate supply for the year. Vegetables and fruits from spring, summer, and fall harvests were sun-dried, pickled (soaked in sugar and vinegar), or made into jams, preserves, and relishes. Meats were salt-cured (soaked in salty water and hung to dry) or smoked. Dried peas and beans, barrels of pickles, dried and smoked meats, sacks of ground cornmeal, and flour were basic household food supplies.

Public works: streets and sewers

The streets of most U.S. cities and towns were dirt, but Philadelphia's city workers were busy laying cobblestones as street pavers. Cobblestones were round, smooth river stones. Wagons moving over these paved streets were very noisy. When the Founding Fathers met in Philadelphia in 1787 to discuss the need for a new constitution, they found the sound of horses and wagons on Chestnut Street quite disruptive.

Like all cities of the time, Philadelphia had a pollution problem. Open sewers ran through the city, attracting flies and mosquitoes. A great deal of trash was always on the streets. Fumes from necessaries, tanneries, breweries, and soap boilers added to the mix of bad odors.

The waterfront

Located on the Delaware River, Philadelphia's waterfront was a busy series of docks with large oceangoing sailing vessels arriving and departing daily. Wharves teemed with sailors speaking various languages, dockworkers loading and unloading cargo, and haulers piling their wagons with goods. Merchants inspected the cargo, such as coffee from Brazil, sugar from the West Indies, and clothing from England. Ships picked up lumber and grain to transport to Europe.

In 1787, while the Founding Fathers were in town and drafting the Constitution, inventor John Fitch (1743–1798) demonstrated the first paddle steamboat to whoever would come down to the dock and watch. Most of those watching saw the boat as a curiosity and did not take it seriously. However, twenty-five to thirty years later, the steamboat with large paddle wheels came into common use and greatly increased the efficiency of river transportation.

Fire Marks

Within cities, colorful metal plaques roughly 12 inches square were placed on buildings to indicate protection by a fire insurance company. Each fire insurance company issued its own plaques, or marks. Individuals who purchased fire insurance for their property received a mark to place on the outside wall of the building insured.

Fire brigades were not paid by local governments. Instead, they depended on payments from fire insurance companies. This made for a highly competitive situation. When a fire was spotted, brigades rushed to the scene. If the structure had a fire mark, the brigade arriving first fought the fire and was paid by the insurance company. If the structure had no fire mark, the fire was allowed to keep burning as the brigade returned to their base. Sometimes several brigades arrived at exactly the same time. As the fire blazed, the brigades would engage in fistfights to determine who would work the fire.

Once fire departments were paid by the local community, fire marks were no longer needed. Fire marks became collector's items in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.

Churches and schools

Philadelphia boasted over thirty churches, including Friends Meeting Houses (Quaker), Christ Church (Episcopal), Old Buttonwood Presbyterian Church, and St. Mary and St. Joseph's Catholic Church. Generally a cemetery was attached to the church. Poor people and "others," such as people of color, were buried in a city cemetery, where horses and cows grazed on the grass over the grave sites.

Young children were taught to read and write at home. As the children grew older, Philadelphia families who could afford tuition fees sent both boys and girls to private schools. Families who had less money sent only their boys to school, keeping girls at home for any further education. Several private schools in Philadelphia were run by the Quakers. Quakers were the largest religious group in Philadelphia.


Taverns were the central meeting places in U.S. cities. Philadelphia's finest taverns included a pub, coffee room, dining room, large ballroom, small private dining rooms, and rooms for guests to stay overnight. Public notices announcing news of the community and country were posted at taverns. Men met there to share business information and make deals. They would buy and sell cargo on ships in port and read newspapers from around the United States and Europe. Famous taverns in Philadelphia included City Tavern, Indian Queen Tavern, and Cross Keys Tavern.

Warmed by roaring fireplaces in wintertime, men enjoyed various alcoholic beverages that made conversations quite spirited. Madeira wine, from an island south of Portugal, was a favorite drink at taverns and in wealthy private homes. Shrub, another popular drink, was made from alcohol and sweetened fruit juice vinegars such as blueberry, cranberry, or apple. Wassail, an old European drink, was spiced red wine, often served in a "wassail bowl." (The term wassail, derived from Old English, meant "good health.") People drinking wassail sometimes sang a boisterous wassail song as they enjoyed their beverages.

Dining in the taverns was often a lavish affair, very different from everyday dining at home. Fine dining consisted of "first plates" and "second plates." First plates were appetizers, soups, and salads. Second plates were the main courses of meats, accompanied by relishes, sauces, potatoes, and other vegetables. Meats included fish, ham, pork, lamb, chicken, or wild game such as turkey, pheasant, or rabbit. All meals included fresh baked bread and were followed by desserts including cakes, puddings, or little pies called tarts. Meals ended with fruits, nuts, and Madeira. For large parties and celebrations, up to twenty different dishes could be served with dinner, and the meal could last three to four hours. Tavern dining was strictly a men's affair. Women attended the dances in the ballrooms, but if they dined, it would be in a private guest room.

Fraternal organizations: Masons and Carpenters' Company

Fraternal organizations played an important role in the society of the city. These were groups of men who joined together for a common purpose. Often, the members had a common background, such as the same profession. The two most respected fraternal organizations in Philadelphia were the Masons and the Carpenters' Company.

Early Mason organizations existed in Europe between the 900s and 1600s. Members were stoneworkers—masons—who built the giant European cathedrals; stonework was an honored profession. In the early 1700s, masons organized into a formal association in England composed of skilled artisans and leading scholars. They promoted growth of the sciences. British colonists brought the Mason organization to America where members were primarily leaders of the communities. Though Masons were not part of any church or religious organization, each Mason had to state a belief in God. Masons pronounced God the "Great Architect of the Universe" and promoted moral values among its members. The Mason movement was highly popular among American colonists. Of the fifty-five men participating in the 1787 Constitutional Convention, at least thirty of them were Masons. Local Mason groups met regularly, and in their discussions they made plans for "building" the prosperity of their new country in the tradition that ancient stoneworkers had built great monuments. Masons wore a variety of colorful costumes for rituals they carried out in their "grand lodges." Philadelphia, a center for American scholars such as Benjamin Franklin, had two lodges. Perhaps the most famous Mason in America was Virginian George Washington.

Carpenters' Company formed in Philadelphia about 1724. Its members were "master builders," or the best carpenters in the city. Philadelphia's organization was patterned after London's Worshipful Company of Carpenters. The goal of the organization was to provide its members with the latest education in the science of architecture. (On the job, carpenters commonly oversaw all construction phases of a building—bricklaying, painting, plasterwork, and carpentry.) The organization also lent support to the family of any member who was injured in an accident.

Carpenters' Company members were wealthy and influential people in the Philadelphia community—mayors, city councilmen, and legislators. They built Carpenters' Hall for their meeting hall. A fine structure finished in 1774, Carpenters' Hall was the meeting place for the First Continental Congress (see Chapter 1) in the fall of that year. It housed a fine library that was used extensively by the delegates who came to town in 1787 to revise the nation's constitution. Member Edmund Woolley (1695–1771) built the Pennsylvania State House, and other members of the organization designed numerous buildings throughout the states.

Established farms—East of the Appalachians

Land between the East Coast urban areas and the Appalachian Mountains was extensively settled by the 1790s and early 1800s. Almost all the people living in this area were small landowning farmers. They raised the food they needed for their own consumption and sold or traded the rest for items they could not grow or make (such as coffee, sugar, and shoes). In large communities, including cities, people tended to specialize, making a particular item such as soap, candles, boots, wooden utensils, or straw brooms; then they would trade their specialty product for other goods.

A typical family had six or seven members living at home. The farmhouse was made of wood planks and had two stories and an average of four rooms. In addition to the house, there was a barn, a cellar for underground food storage, and an outhouse. Farms had varying amounts of acreage, but almost all had a vegetable garden close to the house and corn or wheat planted on the land beyond the house. Corn was planted the first few years. As the soil became less fertile after numerous plantings, most farmers turned to wheat. Wheat did not require very rich soil. Cows, pigs, chicken, and sheep were raised for milk, meat, and wool.

A typical central town within a farming region had neat two-story houses along a central road, a church or two, a school, a meeting hall, and stores. Sawmills and gristmills for grinding corn and wheat were located in each community. By the 1810s, some communities had industries such as nail manufacturing, glassmaking, and textile mills that weaved cloth from cotton. Increasingly, roads and canals made trade between the communities easier. Almost every town had a newspaper, and some had lending libraries. With all these conveniences, rural Americans living east of the Appalachians had an easier lifestyle than settlers on the west side of the mountains.

American frontier–West of the Appalachians

Hundreds of thousands of pioneers pushed the frontier farther and farther west in the 1790s and early 1800s. From Maine to Georgia, Americans left their established homes and moved west over the Appalachian Mountains toward the Mississippi River. The first pioneers in the area were hunters who had no intention of staying when populations grew and wild game diminished. They usually built rough, three-sided cabins or lean-tos. Hunters were followed by "squatters." Squatters were pioneers who picked out a plot of unoccupied land and settled for a while. This second wave of pioneers hunted extensively but also built enclosed cabins and usually cleared up to 3 or 4 acres for planting corn. Once the population in the area increased, the squatters sold their property to settlers and moved west again toward the edge of the frontier. The third wave of pioneers consisted of entire families, settlers who had come to stay. Ideally they arrived in spring, in time to plant crops and build a solid cabin before winter.

Settlers brought only a few necessities with them. A rifle and an ax were top items on their moving list. Other essential items included a hoe, a metal V-shaped plow, a hammer, and a saw. Others tools were made at the settlement site. Livestock generally included a horse, a cow for milk, perhaps a few sheep herded by a dog, and a pig or two. Women brought an iron kettle, a few pots and pans, and a spinning wheel for spinning the sheep's wool into yarn for clothing. Blankets, a family Bible, and perhaps a few china plates were the only other items settlers brought to their new home.

Pioneer homes

A pioneer home was a log cabin 20 to 30 feet long and 15 to 20 feet wide. The pioneer chopped down trees with his ax, and neighbors gathered to help him raise the logs to build the cabin. Women and children filled the spaces between the logs with clay dirt, moss, or mud. Occasions when neighbors came together to help construct a cabin were called house-raisings. House-raisings generally turned into parties called frolics.

Since nails were not available, the boys of the family whittled wooden pegs to use for securing the cabin roof, which was made of overlapping boards. One side of the cabin included a large fireplace for cooking and warmth. The cabin had one door and sometimes one window covered by paper greased with animal fat. Greasing made the paper transparent (easy to see through) and resistant to rain.

At first, the cabin floor was dirt; then the pioneers replaced it with puncheons, large logs split lengthwise in half. They were laid on the dirt flat side up to form a floor. Likewise, tables and benches were made from split logs of varying sizes. When time permitted, most families added a loft; this was where the children slept. Besides providing room to cook and sleep, the cabin served as a workshop for making tools and whittling kitchen utensils such as bowls and forks.

Carving out a livelihood

Settlers worked from dawn to dusk to clear their land and plant a crop of corn. Seeds readily grew in the rich never-before-farmed land. With only a hoe and a plow, a farmer could produce 30 to 50 bushels of corn per acre. The corn was ground into cornmeal between two heavy stones. Cornmeal was used in baking a variety of breads. Settlers also made whiskey from corn. Peaches were generally the first fruit trees planted, because they bore fruit within two to three years. Peach brandy was a favorite frontier drink.

Pioneers hunted wild game such as turkey, duck, deer, bear, opossum, and rabbit. Wild turkeys were so fat they were easy targets as they sat in trees or walked along the ground. As livestock numbers increased, pork from pigs became a regular pioneer meat. Since there was no refrigeration, pioneers preserved meat by smoking, sun-drying, or salt-curing. Salt was a valuable necessity, but it was in short supply on the frontier and cost a great deal if it could be bought at all. Groups of settlers journeyed together to natural salt licks, where they gathered enough salt for a year. Milk supplied by the family's cow was the chief drink. It was also churned into butter.

Women and girls planted vegetable gardens. They grew turnips, pumpkins, beans, cabbages, and potatoes. Dill and sage were the most common herbs grown. Women and children also gathered wild fruits and nuts such as berries, plums, grapes, crab apples, walnuts, and hickory nuts. Wild greens were gathered for eating and for brewing tea.

Growing settlements soon had a blacksmith, a woodcrafter, and a frontier store or a peddler who brought basic goods from the east. Peddlers sold items such as cloth, nails, copper or iron pots, tools, lead for bullets, and gunpowder. The peddlers or storekeepers were generally paid in cornmeal, furs, or corn whiskey. Pioneers established a mill for grinding corn and a sawmill for processing logs into planks.


The mother in the frontier family was responsible for providing clothing. Store-bought clothes were rare. The first clothing of frontiersmen was made of deerskins, sewn together and decorated with fringe. Women disliked working with the animal skins; they preferred to raise a crop of flax, from which linen could be spun. Sheep were sheared each year for wool. Both flax and wool were spun into yarn on a spinning wheel. Linsey-woolsey, a combination of flax and wool, was the favorite material for making clothing. Pure linen was cooler and therefore best for summer. Pioneers often did not wear shoes in warm weather. The shoes they wore at other times were made from animal hides.

Social gatherings

Settlers had little leisure time, but when a social occasion presented itself, they enjoyed the time immensely. House-raisings, weddings, harvest competitions, and quilting bees provided a much needed break from work. Weddings brought guests from miles away, and celebrations often lasted two or three days. Women prepared mountains of food for feasting; corn whiskey and peach brandy flowed freely; and dancing to a fiddler's music could go on all night. Regardless of the occasion, any men who were present usually engaged in sporting matches of wrestling, shooting, and racing.

Harvest fun included corn-husking contests. Groups of people sat around roughly equal piles of recently harvested corn. When given the signal to start, each group worked quickly to try to husk their entire pile first. Drinking, dancing, and sporting events accompanied the husking parties.

Quilting bees were more than women's sewing get-togethers. They generally included men and children. The men drank whiskey and talked of local happenings. Children ran and played among the adults. Dancing was also a favorite activity at quilting bees.

Isolation decreases

By 1815, frontier life was transforming. Roads and canals were reaching farther into the frontier (see Chapter 15). Communications with the East improved as east-west travel became easier. Thousands of settlers arrived in a steady stream. Larger towns such as Cincinnati, Ohio, grew into trading centers with markets four days a week. Pioneers cleared more and more land and began growing enough crops and livestock to sell at the markets. They used their profits to buy goods such as sugar, coffee, pretty cloth, and tools that could not be made at home. Prosperity increased, and those living as far west as the Mississippi River no longer had to live lonely, isolated lives.

Southern plantation life

Only about one-fourth of all Southern families owned slaves. Of the slave-owning families, only a tiny minority lived on large plantations with one hundred or more slaves. Most had fewer than ten slaves, and some owned only one or two. They lived in small frame houses and worked in the fields along with their slaves.

Large landowners known as planters lived with their families in a central, or "big," house, a mansion with sweeping lawns and extensive gardens. Large plantations encompassed thousands of acres. Adjacent outbuildings included the kitchen, which was separated slightly from the main house for fire safety, and a house for the overseer, the hired manager of the plantation. Stables for horses and structures to house carriages were nearby. There were also smoke and curing houses for meat, a spinning house (where wool was spun into yarn for clothing), a laundry house, and workshops for making furniture, barrels, and horseshoes. Barns housed dairy cows and work animals.

Slaves' quarters were close by. Quarters consisted of cabins and large one-room structures with a fireplace, table, and many bunks. Slaves usually tended their own garden to supplement rations of cornmeal, dried fish, and meat. Male slaves who worked in or near the big house were skilled workers such as blacksmiths, gardeners, carpenters, shoemakers, painters, brick makers, and plasterers. Women at the big house were spinners, seamstresses, cooks, cleaning maids, and laundresses. The remaining slaves worked the tobacco, rice, and cotton fields. Slaves worked from dawn to dusk, Monday through Saturday. Music, dancing, and informal religious services took up Sundays.

Slaves had no rights or liberties. The planter owned them, just as he owned livestock. The planter had final authority over his land and slaves. Depending on the owner, slaves' families stayed together or became separated, sold to different plantations.

The plantation mistress, the planter's wife, oversaw the operation of the big house. She also made sure that slaves had food, clothing, shelter, medical care, and religious instruction. Daughters of planters often married very young. It was not unusual for a plantation mistress to be in her teens.

Free Blacks in Cities

In the early 1800s, free blacks (those no longer enslaved) migrated north to Philadelphia, Boston, New York, and Baltimore. Of the 1.8 million blacks living in America, about 12 percent, or 216,000, were free. Some free blacks had escaped from slavery or had worked and paid their way out; others were freed by their owners. Many free blacks worked on the docks of the port cities, loading and unloading ships. Some worked as street vendors, selling oysters, apples, and all sorts of other items.

Black communities grew within the cities. They formed organizations such as the Boston African Society and, in Philadelphia, the Free Africa Society. These groups helped black families with medical care and funeral expenses. The Black Freemasons provided social activities and did charitable work among black families. Black groups also formed their own schools to teach black children and adults to read and write. Two former slaves, Richard Allen (1760–1816) and Absalom Jones (1746–1818), led the large black community in Philadelphia. In 1816, Allen founded the African Methodist Episcopal Church. From its pulpit, he was a voice for blacks' rights and freedom.

The woman's place

In early America, the woman's place was in the home, whether the home was in an eastern city or a rural area, on the frontier or on a Southern plantation. Women filled their lives with raising children, performing household duties, and caring for the sick. Legally, a wife was subordinate to her husband. State constitutions did not allow women to vote (except in New Jersey until its constitution was changed in 1807). When a woman married, any property in her name passed to the husband. Women had almost no way to make an independent living, especially in rural areas.

Women were believed to be physically and emotionally weak but artistic, refined, and moral. Men were considered strong but crude beings. Women were the keepers of the family's good name. It was the duty of the women to keep men honest and hardworking so they could support their family, their church, and their community.

Women taught children rules of proper behavior. They also taught children to be patriotic and loyal members of the new republic, the United States of America. Young girls were taught to read and write at home. Those who attended grammar schools rarely went on to an academy (high school). Many people of the time believed that too much learning injured the woman's brain and undermined her health. In the home, girls learned how to prepare food, sew, and do needlecraft.

At the end of the eighteenth century and beginning of the nineteenth century, married American women generally had one pregnancy every two years while they were of childbearing age. An average household included at least five children. Births were supported by many relatives and neighbors. Midwives, women experienced in helping with the birthing process, sometimes attended if they were available. Generally, a woman who had helped at a number of births could take on the duties of a community midwife.


Massachusetts Bay Colony passed the first legislation requiring education for American children. In 1642, it passed a law requiring parents to teach children to read, and in 1647 it required towns with at least fifty families to have an elementary school. These early elementary schools were open to all children but mostly attended by boys whose families intended to send them to college. In the 1700s, colonies began to establish secondary or high schools called academies. Academies were private and supported by tuition fees. Some were for boys only, some for both boys and girls, and some for girls only. Academies were often associated with a church. Their numbers increased within cities and towns in the late 1700s and early 1800s.

In addition to reading, writing, and penmanship, schools stressed patriotism and religion. To develop students' sense of being American, schools taught that ideal Americans loved their nation and were brave, hardworking, honest, religious, thrifty, and self-reliant.

Establishing a system of education in the western regions proved difficult. Children were needed for work on the farm and were taken out of school for months at a time. Settlements were widely scattered, so classes sometimes had to be held in a settler's cabin until several families got together to raise a school cabin.

Before 1815, academies existed in only the largest western towns, such as Lexington, Kentucky; Cincinnati, Ohio; and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. By 1815, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Ohio had elementary schools in most settlements and academies in larger towns. In the western territories of Indiana, Illinois, Mississippi, and Missouri, even the most basic schooling was not available. If a child learned to read and write, it happened at home.

It was difficult to maintain schools in the South, because houses and villages tended to be scattered across the landscape. Children of wealthy planters were usually taught by private tutors and often sent to England for higher education. Sometimes a planter would start a school for his own children and other white children who lived nearby.

Higher learning

At the end of the American Revolution (1775–83), the United States had approximately eighteen schools of higher learning. Only a tiny percentage of Americans attended a college. Harvard College in Massachusetts was founded in 1636. The College of William and Mary was founded in Virginia in 1693 and offered the first school of law beginning in 1779. Yale was the third oldest college, founded in Connecticut in 1701. First called the College of New Jersey, Princeton was founded in 1746. The Charity School was founded in Philadelphia in 1740, became an academy in 1749, was renamed College and Academy of Philadelphia in 1757, and in 1791 was the first school of higher learning to call itself a university, the University of Pennsylvania.

The first state-supported college was established in Georgia in 1785, but no classes were held until 1801. In 1795, the University of North Carolina became the first state-supported university to begin classes. South Carolina College began operation in 1801. Established by former president Thomas Jefferson, the University of Virginia opened its doors in 1819.

There were few universities in the western states. Transylvania University formed in Lexington, Kentucky, in 1780. Ohio University began taking students in 1808–9 and graduated its first two students in 1815.

For More Information


Horsman, Reginald. The Frontier in the Formative Years, 1783–1815. New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1970.

Johnson, Clifton. Old-Time Schools and School-Books. New York: Macmillan, 1904. Reprint, Detroit: Omnigraphics, 1999.

O'Neill, Paul. The Frontiersmen. Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1977.

Staib, Walter. City Tavern Cookbook: 200 Years of Classic Recipes from America's First Gourmet Restaurant. Philadelphia: Running Press, 1999.

Ulrich, Laurel Thatcher. A Midwife's Tale: The Life of Martha Ballard Based on Her Diary, 1785–1812. New York: Vintage Books, 1990.

Web Sites

"The First American West: The Ohio River Valley, 1750–1820." American Memory: Library of Congress.http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/award99/icuhtml/fawsp/fawsp.html (accessed on August 9, 2005).

The Historical Society of Pennsylvania.http://www.hsp.org (accessed on August 9, 2005).

Independence Hall Association. http://www.ushistory.org (accessed on July 29, 2005).

Mount Vernon Ladies Association. George Washington's Mount Vernon Estate & Gardens.http://www.mountvernon.org (accessed on August 9, 2005).

About this article

Everyday Life

Updated About encyclopedia.com content Print Article