Essay: Aspiring Patrician Seeks New World In Which To Build Industrial Clan

CJ Trowbridge


History Essay


Aspiring Patrician Seeks New World In Which To Build Industrial Clan


If I was a poor, uneducated white 25 year old male from a farm family in England around 1730, I would choose to settle in the New England colonies over the Middle or Southern Colonies. Anecdotally, my actual family was in New England about a century at this point, and after years of researching their reasons and results in doing so in addition to everything I have learned in this class, I affirm their decision. With full knowledge of the future they met, I think they made the right choice and the same one I would make. As of the mid eighteenth century, the critical mercantile foundations had been laid in New England for what would become the world’s most pervasive and powerful economy. Beyond just being laid, those foundations were well publicized which had the effect of drawing the right kind of people. The New England colonies offered the right political background for building a highly principled and industrialized nouveau-patrician clan from scratch. The North offered better access to Education. For these reasons and more, Northern communities offered the right kind of neighbors for aspiring patricians to develop intellectually and financially. In short, New England was the right kind of place for an aspiring patrician to start from square one.

It’s easy to look back with the bias of presentism and assume that the future globally pervasive American economy was inevitable, but in fact the experts of the time asserted the same strong mercantile foundation I would have based my decision on. Just a few decades later, Adam Smith himself said in The Wealth of Nations,

“There are no colonies of which the progress has been more rapid than that of the English in North America. Plenty of good land, and liberty to manage their own affairs their own way, seem to be the two great causes of the prosperity of all new colonies. In the plenty of good land the English colonies of North America, though, no doubt, very abundantly provided, are, however, inferior to those of the Spaniards and Portuguese, and not superior to some of those possessed by the French before the late war. But the political institutions of the English colonies have been more favourable to the improvement and cultivation of this land, than those of any of the other three nations.“ (Smith 60)

Smith notes that despite facing tougher challenges, the British colonies in America surpassed their peers because of superior political institutions. This one factor is important enough to be the primary argument given for the superiority of this system by this lion of economics.

According to primary source documents such as contemporary journals, land deeds, and travel papers collected and published by historian Francis Bacon Trowbridge, this favorable political and economic climate is what drew my ancestors to Connecticut in order to expand their Bristol-based wool empire a full century before. Thomas Trowbridge was a good example. Deeds and records published by the colonial government during the seventeenth century show he purchased waterfront land from the Indians in order to build warehouses and ships to conduct trade. (Trowbridge 50) My point is that the example of nascent political and economic superiority and opportunity were already famous at the time, famous enough to draw people specifically for this reason. In fact, the mercantile success of the colonists inspired people all over the world to follow them to the colonies and find the same kind of success. We will return to this point.

Despite the overall success of the British colonies, early structural divergences in the were already differentiating the North from the South as a more desirable place to do business as an entrepreneur. According to The Oxford History of the American People, “[By the eighteenth century,] New England’s economy began to focus on crafts and trade, in contrast to the Southern colonies, whose agrarian economy focused more heavily on foreign and domestic trade.” (Morrison 112) We know today that this would be a fatal flaw for the south for many reasons. But it was already common knowledge among European gentry and peasantry alike that the North was the place to be an entrepreneur, and especially the place to be an industrialist.

I like to think that I would arrive in New York or Philadelphia, assess the business climate and find a niche to get started in. Whether crafts or professional services, there were a plethora of opportunities where one could get a piece of the burgeoning economy. My contemporary role models in these communities would include all the greatest lions of Americana, from Benjamin Franklin to George Washington. The very public spectacle of exceptionalism embodied by these leaders would spur the American neophyte to reach for greatness. This is in direct contrast to the spectacles of the south; institutionalized abjection and a rejection of anything resembling deontological philosophy. In fact, contemporary philosopher Immanuel Kant in his work “Toward Perpetual Peace” actively criticizes those institutions in the South, while providing a great deal of philosophical support and groundwork for the contrasting systems being built in the North. Above all, his work focused on the duty of the individual to behave only in that way which he can imagine advising everyone to behave. He emphasized the idea that anything which can not reasonably be justified for everyone should not be justified for anyone. (Kant) Case in point, the subjugation of racial or class groups which was pervasive throughout the South and even the middle colonies. Kant was a loud voice at the time dissenting against what he considered immoral institutions in the South. I like to think that I would have been attracted to this kind of logically sound ethical argument even without an education. Some truths are self-evident, and it is certainly the case that there were already leaders in the eighteenth century who were aware and outspoken of the moral evils being perpetrated in the South.

Critically, higher education was beginning to become a major focus in the North around this time. Harvard had been founded almost a century before, coincidentally the same year my real-life family came to America (No relation). Yale was already decades into operation in New Haven, where my real-life family had settled. Several other colleges were also founded around New England by the time I would have arrived. In fact, I was able to find at least ten colleges which had been founded in the colonies by this time, BUT only one of these colleges was not in the North. (Columbia) The fact that education was available almost exclusively in the North imparts a twofold advantage over the South. The people who live in the North will naturally be more educated, and the people who live in the South but want to be educated would have to come to the North. This dramatic difference in the presence of educational institutions sets up a natural gradient from North to South, along which many socioeconomic factors will correlate. I found an enormous amount of published research indicating that everything from health (Zimmerman) to income (Porter) to generational poverty (Semuels) are tied directly to this gradient in populations around the world and throughout history. It’s perhaps no wonder that things turned out the way they did in America. From the beginning, the South made unwise long-term compromises in exchange for short-term gains. I might be surprised at anyone arguing for moving to the South after researching for this paper.

Availability of education aside, another advantage of the North versus the South at the time was the pervasive presence of the highly principled moral citizen. In fact, my family produced some primary source documents to this effect at the time. My ancestor initially landed in Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1636 and only later chose to move to New Haven colony where the family settled, stating that this decision was made based on “the climate of religious tolerance.” (Trowbridge 44) He would later return to England to fight for Oliver Cromwell because of this same focus on highly principled citizenship as a part of religion. (Trowbridge 45) This was a major intellectual feature in the background of the Northern colonies which attracted more highly principled people to emigrate to the North. It is not a coincidence that the seat of national government was later established in the North. This is where the lawyers and professors and magnates were, and their proximity to one another led naturally to associations which became organizations which became institutions. This isn’t to say that structure was completely lacking in the South, there was after all The House of Burgesses in Virginia. But there was a big difference. The House of Burgesses was simply a group of wealthy landowners who occasionally met to discuss protecting their own interests. (Gruberg) The Virginia government already had a long history of anti-democratic subjugation and disenfranchisement of the non-wealthy, to say nothing of their slaves. In fact, populist uprisings against the incompetent political establishment had already led to the massacre of half the Virginia capitol’s population not long before. (Knight)

With this community of highly principled people making the right political and economic decisions for the Northern colonies, it’s easy to see how one could be attracted by the prospect of quality neighbors and peers. This is a critical part of self-improvement. Throughout history a culture of intellectual leadership has been a draw for the world’s most talented and ambitious people. Like the Silicon Valley of today, the Northern colonies drew the best talent and promised them not just the best economic and entrepreneurial climate, but also the highest quality peers to share in their journey for self-improvement and personal success. The system of court politics within the community of the intellectual elite is a critical requirement for any member of the group to be elevated to any kind of grandeur. No empire was ever built by one man. Like it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a community of exceptional people to produce and elevate a lion. Think of Hamilton and Washington. Could either of them have reached the eternal glory they found without one another? Perhaps, but certainly not to the degree they did.

Hamilton is a perfect case study for this essay. He was born poor, a bastard son of uneducated polygamists in the Caribbean. His parents were both out of the picture very young. He found himself in a very similar position to that which the essay prompt outlines. (Chernow) If he had not found excellent peers who believed in him, he could never have made the journey to attend college in New York and become one of America’s most important founding fathers. Could this have happened if he had chosen for some reason to move to the South instead of the North? Could he have contributed like he did? It seems very unlikely. I think he made the right choice.

Professional exceptionalism and the draw to power are a central theme in my life; not only for myself, but for those with whom I choose to associate. Placed in the context of the eighteenth century, I would gravitate towards the contemporary centers of nascent economic and cultural power. America seems like it would be the only choice, and especially the Northern colonies. As the example of Alexander Hamilton, and of my own ancestors shows; it was already well known that this was the ideal route to power and success in the New World — and a very possible one — upon which so many like myself chose to embark.




Works Cited

Columbia University. Early American Colleges, 1636 – 1860: A Timeline. Alma Mater: The History of American Colleges & Universities. Spring 2014.

Chernow, Ron. Alexander Hamilton. Penguin Books. 2005.

Gruberg, Martin. The Encyclopedia Americana. Grolier Inc. Danbury Connecticut. Volume 4. Page 787.

Kant, Immanuel. Perpetual Peace: A Philosophical Sketch. Bibliothek Zürich. 1795.

Knight, Oliver. The Encyclopedia Americana. Grolier Inc. Danbury Connecticut. Volume 15. Page 28-29.

Morison, Samuel Eliot . The Oxford History of the American People. Mentor. New York City. 1972.

Porter, Eduardo. A Simple Equation: More Education = More Income. New York Times. 9/10/14.

Semuels, Alana. A Different Approach to Breaking the Cycle of Poverty. The Atlantic. 12/24/2014.

Smith, Adam. An Inquiry Into The Nature and Causes of The Wealth of Nations. Lincoln and Gleason Printers. 1804.

Trowbridge, Francis Bacon. The Trowbridge Genealogy: History of the Trowbridge Family in America, Volume 1. Morehouse and Taylor Company. New Haven Connecticuit. 1908.

Zimmerman, Emily et al. Understanding the Relationship Between Education and Health. Agency For Healthcare Research and Quality.