20 August 2012

Yeomen vs Merchants

Shay’s Rebellion and the Constitution by Mary Hull, 2000, Excerpts

Eighteenth-century farmers in central and western Massachusetts were primarily yeomen who grew only what they needed to make themselves comfortable. In contrast, commercial farmers grew large quantities of marketable crops like hemp or flax [which were used to make rope and sailcloth] and then sold them for a profit. Yeomen outnumbered commercial farmers, making up 70 percent of the agrarian population in rural New England. Rural craftsmen were also considered yeomen.

On the coast of New England and in inland market towns, merchants had a different way of life. The wealthiest and largest merchant firms were located in commercial centers along the eastern seaboard such as Boston, Massachusetts, and Providence and Newport, Rhode Island. As members of commercial society, merchants had more personal wealth than most other citizens. They tended to live an affluent lifestyle.

The merchant class enjoyed a more refined and modern lifestyle and looked down upon yeoman farmers as simple people. Yeoman farmers were similarly prejudiced against merchants. Yeoman thought merchants lacked virtue and honesty and did not know the value of hard work.

As the American economy faltered after the Revolutionary War, merchants and yeomen began to distrust each other even more. The traditional agrarian way of life clashed with the developing commercial culture. Financial crisis soon brought them into conflict.

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