Date Awarded


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


American Studies


Robert A Gross


This study examines capitalism and cultural change in early New England. The research focuses on leading merchants in Boston and Salem, Massachusetts from the last third of the seventeenth century to 1760. During this period, merchants, royal officials, and professionals formed a prominent influential elite that refashioned the town landscape and social structure of colonial ports. Merchants adopted a new Anglo-American worldview that gradually supplanted Puritan spiritual and providential understanding of the world and, instead, emphasized visible, material characteristics as the source of value in science, commerce, and consumption. The resultant "world of goods," created a social marketplace where identity, shaped by owning and displaying high-style goods and genteel manners, could be purchased by anyone with money. Incorporating both exotic imports and foreign merchants, the new culture fostered capitalism and helped to dispel earlier conflicts over sectarian beliefs and ethnic origins that had plagued Boston and Salem. Thus, this study argues that it was consumption and a worldview that placed value in the material not Puritan asceticism, as sociologist Max Weber and his supporters insist, that initiated the spirit of modern capitalism.



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