American Family

The role of the family was central to European society throughout the early modern period. For many people, self-identity and government were determined by their family rather than by their nation or country. Although national and religious differences had their impacts on family life, certain aspects of family structure were consistent among different countries and religions. These aspects were then transplanted to the North American colonies. While early settlement had some disruptive effects on the traditional European family structure, it still was predominantly intact at the time of the American Revolution. Most seventeenth- and eighteenth-century families were part of larger households. These larger households included a nuclear family of father, mother, and children at the core. They also might include persons from what today would be considered the extended family, such as grandparents, and the children of deceased siblings of the parents, as well as step- and half-children from previous marriages where a spouse had died. In addition, the colonial household might include non-family members. In the countryside, this might include farm laborers and household servants, both child and adult. In the cities, additional household members might be servants and apprentices. The household then functioned as an economic unit, consuming as one, and producing what it needed for its own purposes and for sale on the market. Family Members The household was represented legally, financially, and politically by the head of the household. In most cases, the head was the husband, father, or master. In the case of his death, this position could be taken by his wife or by an oldest son. If the household could not financially survive, it was dissolved. The second member of the household was usually the wife. She ensured that all members of the household were fed and clothed. Ideally, the husband and wife formed a united pair, sharing responsibilities and leadership roles. They also worked to provide fair treatment and support for all members of their household. That this ideal did not always exist is demonstrated by court records on both sides of the Atlantic. Husbands and wives took each other to court for lack of material support, for beating, for infidelity, and various other causes. The next in order were underage children. Their parents were expected to provide them with food, shelter, and some form of religious upbringing. They were also expected to provide them with some means of survival as adults, whether through apprenticeships, education, or inheritance. Again, ideals and reality were not always the same. If their parents were in debt, children could be bound out as indentured servants to provide support for themselves or for their families. In some cases, children were abandoned outright. Other members of the household are harder to define. Grown children, both single and married, sometimes lived with their parents. Although not the head of the household, an adult man living with his parents could represent himself legally. Usually, he was waiting to acquire land of his own, whether inherited from his parents or purchased. Other potential family members in the household included nieces, nephews, cousins, and the parents’ younger siblings. A younger sister, left orphaned, might live with her brother and sister-in-law until she married. Ideally, she would gain skills to help her with a household of her own, although her work also could be exploited by a family needing extra household help. Finally, older parents often lived with their grown children, depending on them for financial support. And while a son might inherit the family home when his father died, his mother usually inherited a lifetime share in one or two rooms. Servants occupied an even more ambiguous role. On the one hand, they were not members of the family and were presumably unable to inherit land or goods. In addition, they often had family ties of their own. On the other hand, they were considered legal members of the household in which they worked. They were listed on the tax roles of the head of the household, and he was responsible for feeding and clothing them. For families with only a few servants, these boundaries became even more blurred. Living in close quarters, servants were easily absorbed into the family dynamics. Large households on both sides of the Atlantic were even more complicated, especially on the slave-owning Southern plantations. Four Ways to Make Your 4th Meaningful – Cache Valley Family Magazine OAFamily, Author at Our American Family – Page 2 of 2 Our … Things to buy with $1.2 T : And Still I Persist

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