The United Colonies

For over a century, colonists in not only Virginia but also the twelve remaining colonies thought of themselves as Englishmen. Their ancestors had brought over many of the customs and traditions of the Old World, and had succeeded in establishing them in the colonies, but gradually, time and distance from Britain led to the breakage of these bonds. The colonies slowly began to develop their own customs and traditions and with time, their once-strong bond to their mother country began to disintegrate as the colonies began to develop a sense of individualism. Colonists began to increasingly feel a sense of disconnect from the ideals of Britain and the reality of home. The thirteen colonies may have declared their independence in July of 1776, but they considered themselves independent long before. The American colonies were able to band together and unite against British tyranny through the rise of consumer culture, the almost unanimous fear of a slave uprising in the Southern colonies, and the recognition that the evolving way of life that no longer matched that of their English ancestors.

The ability for the American colonies to unite was one that was often questioned; the colonies had grown and evolved individually, and many did not share the same religious doctrine, constitutions, or social customs. For over a century, the colonies had been separated not only by land boundaries, but also by their differing views and understanding of life. The ability for the colonies to ever achieve political independence was one that was unfathomable in their early history. However, in the mid-eighteenth century, the political landscape of the colonies began to shift. No longer were the colonies plagued with the “stubborn localism of an earlier period” (T.H. Breen, 119), and instead, the found themselves united by the rise in consumerism. The mid-eighteenth century saw consumerism become something that was accessible to all,

The Tea Act helped unite colonists against the British. (

regardless of social class, in contrast to the previous decades in which the ability to buy resided primarily of those with high social statures. Purchasing power was now available to a majority of the colonial population and gave many a newfound sense of freedom, as evidenced in Baubles of Britain: “the very act of making choices between competing goods of different colour, texture and quality heightened the individual’s sense of personal independence.” (Breen, 79) When Britain began imposing taxes on manufactured goods, the American colonists saw this as an attack on their freedom to buy, and the British were met with anger and resistance in the colonies. Consumerism had quickly become a facet of American culture, and Britain’s lack of understanding of this fact only added to tensions between the crown and the colonists.  The colonies also no longer saw themselves as an extension of Britain whose main purpose was to provide income to the crown, and the reminder of the colonies place in British society and of their purely economic purpose was a harsh reminder that only increased tensions between Britain and the colonies.

Consumerism had surged in the eighteenth century as the population and wealth of the colonies increased. American colonists, now more than ever, began to rely heavily on British imports. Consumerism took hold from the New England colonies to the colonies of the South, thereby increasing the amount of profit Britain was making. The colonies undoubtedly recognized this and began to use it to their advantage – whenever Britain imposed a tax that the colonies disagreed with, they would boycott it, thus to hurt the British economy. The colonists recognition of the strength they were able to hold over Britain through boycott helped them unite through this shared sense of power. As they sought to find a voice in British colonies, their voice at home grew stronger, and suddenly the quotes and phrases from the New England colonies could be repeated and recognized in the Middle and Southern colonies, and vice versa. A shared distaste for the current state of British politics united the colonists and created a bond between them that had ceased to exist in the previous decades. Consumerism suddenly became symbolism that each colonist could understand, and the act of boycott served as a way to “mobilize colonists of different regions and backgrounds in common cause.” (Breen, 90) A political ideology of the colonies emerged, one that was different from the politics of Britain, but that could be understood and agreed upon by the majority of the population living inside the colonies.

Consumerism, however, was not the only uniting factor among the colonies. Tariffs were not enough to convince all colonists to act out against the crown, particularly those colonists who lived in the South. Their motivation came instead from the threat of slave uprisings, and their disgust and anger at the fear of Britain declaring emancipation for blacks. Fear of slave insurrection is one that existed much before the eighteenth century, and these nightmares were amplified as conflict with Britain increased. In Virginia, a rumor swept across the land that the “British government might encourage slave insurrections as a way of suppressing the patriot movement.” (Free Virginians, 273) Colonists believed they were at risk for a coordinated slave rebellion, and when Governor Dunmore removed gunpowder from the city, they interpreted

The Governor’s Palace in Williamsburg, the home in which colonists prepared to raid due to Lord Dunmore’s alliance with slaves. (

it as a method of disabling white Virginians from protecting themselves against Blacks. Virginians saw Lord Dunmore’s actions not as his own, but as those of Britain, and united in their anger towards Dunmore and towards the royal British government. The Virginians intense fear of a slave insurrection is significant because “it was the first time since Bacon’s Rebellion in 1676 that a large number of Virginians had taken up arms to attack a royal governor.” (Free Virginians, 277). White Virginians and their crippling fear of Blacks gaining liberty provided them with a basis which off of they could express their anger and dissatisfaction towards Lord Dunmore, and also helped unite them against what they considered to be a poor leader. In many ways, Dunmore’s removal of gunpowder and the reaction it sparked among the colonists can be paralleled with the looming crisis with Britain, mainly due to the uniting of the people against what was considered to be a tyrannical leader.

The colonists whom were predicted to never be able to coexist as one political body were able to do so due to the rise of consumer culture, and the fear of losing their slaves. Consumerism was able to bring together the colonies and create a sense of unity due to the shared use of products and in turn, the shared sense of anger when these products were threatened with unfair taxes imposed by Britain. The fear of Southern colonists that slaves would rise against their masters led to anger towards Lord Dunmore and towards British rule. The colonies, whom were so different culturally at the beginning of the eighteenth century, were able to find common ground through their increasingly shared culture and the unanimous fear that their rights were being impeded on.

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