Date Awarded


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)




James P Whittenburg


This study explores the social and economic changes in the mid-Atlantic region generally, and Baltimore City and its hinterlands specifically, between the late colonial period and the dawn of the Jacksonian era. Baltimore foundered as a colonial entrepot until wheat emerged as an important export commodity in the 1740s. Between the mid-1740s and the 1770s, the town grew steadily within the British mercantilist world. its trade was deeply dependent on Atlantic commerce, its social structure reflected the mercantile orientation of the town and the staunchly deferential colonial household economy. The Revolution threatened to overturn this world with the promise of free trade and the possibility that the new republic could remake the Atlantic world, but this promise flickered out with the return of European mercantilist restrictions and hard times in the 1780s. Thereafter, merchants abandoned their revolutionary ambitions and re-established old commercial ties within the British Empire. Artisans sought to strengthen the ties that bound together workers to workshops in the colonial period, and preserve the deferential social order. Thus instead of making a clean break from the colonial to the early national after the war, Baltimore and the mid-Atlantic entered a postcolonial period in which merchants and artisans forged a neomercantilist mentalite to perpetuate much of the traditional social and economic order of colonial America.;The postcolonial period continued until the Bank of England suspended specie payments in 1797. This triggered a financial panic in the Atlantic world, and caused the return of hard times to Baltimore and the mid-Atlantic. Economic misfortune encouraged a reorientation of the town's social and economic life away from the Atlantic world and towards the backcountry and the frontier beyond. America thus moved from the postcolonial to the early national. After 1800, merchants and artisans sought to establish market ties to the backcountry by investing in manufactories, turnpike companies, banks, and western newspapers. These trends were accelerated by the Embargo of 1807, and by 1812, a nascent manufacturing class had emerged. This transformation came at a price. Without technological improvements to augment productivity, manufacturers achieved economies of scale by squeezing more labor from their workers, thus destroying the deferential bonds that held together the household economy and the colonial social order. The urban transition from workshop to manufactory was therefore chaotic, and eventually led to the Baltimore riots of 1812, the largest and most violent the country had ever witnessed.



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