From the Lower Sort to the Lower Orders: Labor and Self-Identity in Boston, 1737-1837 Open Access

Sawula, Christopher Paul (2014)

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This dissertation examines the emergence of a distinct white male working identity in Boston between the market riot of 1737 and the Broad Street Riot of 1837. In the early colonial era, Boston's laboring population, consisting of white skilled and unskilled laborers, free blacks and slaves, Native Americans, women, and European-born seamen grew together as a loosely cohesive community through shared social, economic, and cultural experiences. After the American Revolution, however, this laboring community fractured as a result of two interrelated processes. The first saw the emergence of class divisions between Boston's laboring population and the city's middle and upper class inhabitants. In the second, the laboring population transformed from a community in which white male Protestants could express feelings of solidarity and cooperation across gender, ethnic, and racial lines to one in which white male workers consciously separated themselves from other laboring groups. This dissertation traces two aspects of this specific fault line: the deepening racial division between white males and African Americans in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, and the ethnic and religious divisions that emerged in the early 1800s between Protestant male workers and Irish Catholic immigrants.

This dissertation seeks to move beyond the tendency of historians to examine laboring communities in isolation rather than as interrelated constituents of larger working populations. Through an examination of Boston's white male workers and their changing relationship with the city's larger laboring population, this project demonstrates how urban laborers emphasized social divisions over economic solidarity and split workers into distinct groups. The emergence of discrete working class communities from a diverse but still cohesive early colonial laboring population suggests a complex process in which the ideologies of race, religion, gender, nativism, and class were deeply intertwined. Boston's white male workers inhabited multiple subject positions that when taken together, informed how they situated themselves within a rapidly changing urban society. While this body of laborers continued to change after the Civil War, the emergence of a distinct group of white male laborers between 1737 and 1837 marks a crucial phase in the ongoing history of working class identity.

Table of Contents

Introduction 1

Chapter 1: "Lewd, Loose, and Disorderly People": The Laboring Community

of Colonial Boston 16

Chapter 2: "Not on a Pope Night": Crowd Actions and

Authority in the Imperial Crisis 90

Chapter 3: "The Lower ranks of the People & Even Journeymen Tradesmen":

The Egalitarian Struggle Within the American Revolution 147

Chapter 4: "To Claim their Birthright as Freemen": Class and Economy

in the Early Republic 226

Chapter 5: "Most Troublesome to the Weaker Party": Race and Religion

in the Early Republic 293

Conclusion 349

Bibliography 356

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