Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Anglicazation of Colonial Housing

Taylor Speer-Sims
May 13, 2012

American English or English American

Either Way, It Was Chic


            Early Americans emulated the housing styles of the natives, as well as styles from the owner’s motherland.  Romanticized versions of English and classical versions became a popular style that the Americans emulated. The Anglicization of the homes of the American elite was due in part to the person’s national origin, but it was mainly due to other ideals. The home’s beauty was important to the homeowner due to its symbolism of wealth and social status.
            Social status in housing was not new to the Americas. Natives had their own type of status in their housing. The longhouses of the Eastern Woodland Indians had areas where the wealthier people lived. The higher status person would have a bark floor instead of grass mats. The chief’s house had a special location in the town center where the others could not live.[1] The Mississippian people had their higher status houses upon the higher man-made mound summits. Sometimes these were closer to the center of the city and closer to the temple of worship.[2] The Anasazi people had whose “pueblos stood four stories tall and contained 650 rooms” possibly had the better units at the top.[3]
            It was the one story tall native house that found its way into the main stream American housing market. Wigwams and long houses of the natives turned the imagination of the colonists into a type of hybrid. Taking on a type of Cherokee building of wattle and daub was very similar to the log cabin method.[4] The one and one and a half log cabin was one of the most important inventions in housing for the Americas. The colonists emulated these styles and then the natives did their own emulations in turn. The Indians liked the hybridization and built anglicized towns and even European style mansions.[5]
            The Germans who moved from their European homes to America found that their steep-roofed houses did not work as well in their American environment. In Germany, they kept their food in the attic. However, they found that it spoiled in their homes in Pennsylvania and found that they needed more light in New York. So, they made their attic space smaller and added more windows for light.[6] Thus changing the appearance of their homes to a more English look.
            The appearance of the houses of Scottish and Scotch-Irish were a little different. Many of the poor that came over found that they would be able to create a house very quickly by adapting the native style wigwam or a simple mud-house. Their rock houses from the mother country suited very well in the American environment. These were easy to construct if the chosen area had the necessary supply.[7] The houses from this group tended to be easily more English in appearance due to the proximity of England to Ireland and Scotland.
            England was not as close to Holland, but they did share some of the same heritage, especially during the time of William of Orange. The housing style of the Dutch had the general appearance of a barn. The fa├žade was usually stone and had no front porch. These houses were typically one to two stories with a half story attic. The front was placed facing the east to limit the number of windows. The ingenious half door was shut on the bottom and open at the top to encourage socialization of passers by. The American climate made itself known to the Dutch as well. The northerners added dormers for more windows and moved to a more Anglicized design of half-timber and half stone.[8] The southern Americanized Dutch added a front porch to resist the sun added more windows for ventilation and placed the house on a hill to assist with drainage.[9]
            Americans who had their ancestry from England found that their homes were easily adaptable to the new climate. There were still some changes due to location such as the addition of a front porch in the south, as was the Dutch.[10]  Other changes were subtler. These included less ornamentation and less formal. However, other than those two smaller items, it really had more to do with the income of the homeowner than the style of the house changing. This was the time of the wealthy Anglo-American and they were proud to show their heritage.[11]
            From as early as 1584 when Richard Hakluyt stated “That the rischesse that the Indian Threasure wrought in time… is to be had in consideracion of the moste excellent Majestie, leaste the contynuall coming of the threasure from thense to his sonne…”[12] So while Hakluyt meant that the Indian treasure was to have been gold and silver, the true treasure was the land itself. Hakluyt was only one man that took the Indian land and worked it to make a fortune. Many others found their fortune in the southern and middle colonies. These new elite made their home their barometer of wealth as they found a higher standard of living than their compatriots back in England.[13]
            The higher standard of living held that there was also a higher level of disposable income. This was mainly due to the great farmland that was so readily available in America.[14] The colonists emulated the British gentry in many different areas. The gentleman of the Americas were not necessarily bred from the English stock, they were actually the descendents of some of the lower stock that had gained a foothold in landholdings over the years. It was the wealth that brought forth the manners and means of American nobility.[15]
            If the colonist had the financial means, they emulated the British no matter the national origin of their European ancestor. They not only purchased their fine goods, they emulated the gentility in manner and design. Their houses grew to look more and more like English country estates. “Every object was on display and subject to applause or censure.”[16] These Nuevo-elite built larger and more refined houses abandoning their darker, unpainted and cruder houses of their previous generations. They were ever more sensitive to how they looked to their counterparts in England and so continued to esteem and worship the building styles of the great architects Andrea Palladio and Robert Adam.[17]
            Palladio and Adam were master architects that specialized in neo-classicist styles. These were Grecian and Roman in style, but of a more contemporary fashion. Palladio held a Baroque and formal feeling where as Adam was more Rococo. Palladio was really only interested in the layout of the rooms while Adam’s Romanian style brought the ideals of fabulous painted interiors to the forefront.[18] The Americans took every pain to make sure that the high fashioned British architects’ designs would find their way to the colonies as well.
            The fashion of England was to have a connection with the great societies of the past. This made England feel like they were also a great empire. Indeed, the American colonists followed in their footsteps. If the English were descendents of the great Roman and Greek empires, then the Americans were part of them as well. An American studied classical style in England and came back to design many houses and government buildings. Even though Thomas Jefferson found his rhythm after the United States became a country, he got his start while still a Burgess. [19]
            The housing of the Burgess was of the utmost quality and sophistication. These were stately homes usually built upon a hill so that the general populace would literally have to look up to them. They had areas to entertain outdoors, again for the populace to see how great they were. There was usually a great formal parlor and dining room to impress the guests at parties. And, the burgess, himself had his own office to complete his work. Almost every one of these great men had been a multi-generational Burgess member.[20] These houses were definitely organized like their Parliamentary counterparts in England.[21]
            While the first portion of the colonization of the original thirteen colonies were definitely more English than any other nationality, by the 1750’s there were many more nationalities involved.[22] Emigrants from England began to wane, as the local economy grew better. Manufacturing there grew and took in many of the people that had previously not been working. Also, wars on the continent swallowed up many more men into the fighting ranks. There was less need for Englishmen to move out of their homeland than there had been.[23] There were about 270,000 English emigrants less than the previous century. This was interrupted when there was a gluttony of men when the cease-fire occurred.[24] Because of this negative influx, Britain decided to offer citizenship to men to moved and followed the rules of citizenship.[25]
The second largest group of free-will emigrants to the American colonies in the 18th century was the Germans. While most Germans emigrated east, there were still over 100,000 the emigrated to the American colonies. Most of these people arrived in Philadelphia, but moved to Pennsylvania. British ships that specialized in the emigration venture business had brought these people there, and only British ships were allowed to do this because of the Navigation Acts.[26]
The largest groups of emigrant freeman were the Scots at 145,000. There were actually three types of Scots that moved. The Lowland Scots were very British in manner and were relatively wealthy. They were only around 150 total, but were skilled tradesmen, farmers, and held other professions such as doctors. Highlanders came over because of their bad circumstances at home. They were ambitious and tough. Almost half of the total Scots were from Ulster, Ireland. They were called the Scotch-Irish or Sots-Irish in America. A lot of these people were destitute and sold themselves into indentured servitude to get over to America to start a new life.[27]
There were also those that were brought over against their will. In 1717 convicted felons were authorized by Parliament to be shipped to America instead of being executed. Around 15,000 felons found themselves a new home across the ocean. These men were used as a type of slave because they were cheaper than those men from Africa.[28] By far the largest groups of emigrant people in the 18th century were from Africa. Six million people did not move across the ocean by their free will! West African princes sold them to the Europeans.  250,000 slaves went to the mainland colonies, and 1.2 million slaves to the West Indies. Easily one-third of these people died an early death.[29]
So, the slaves and the indentured servants helped to create wealth for the freeman, no matter what the European ancestry. What made the elite of the other nationalities move toward the Anglican style houses? The first reason would be the obvious. This was still a British nation. To blend in without being censored. America was the area of racial discrimination. America was “addicted to slave labor” and their wealth per person was so much higher than that of the European.[30] And, the taxes were less as well.[31]
The next reason that the changes occurred was for simply fashion sake. Because fashion were indicators of cultural conditions.[32] Fashion also has to do with personal choice and technology.[33] The most important part of fashion would be the “roles appropriate to scenes… and even more so for the male.”[34] And since, the English were gaining power throughout the world, the British-American would have had to have the appropriate house to indicate the role that the man held in this society.[35] So, the obvious choice would have been an Anglo style mansion to show off the wealth that he (or another family member) had amassed.
The third, but less obvious reason of the change to the Anglicised version of the Americans, was of course, the environment. While this was certainly a point, it was less British as apposed to the new American styles. However, because the environment required certain points of housing, it did necessitate changes. These were definitely influenced by the British neighbors, if the builder was from another area of Europe. And, if the American was from England, then the changes were less severe due to the general quality of the English country house that was being copied. The two or three story Georgian was a simple plan with basic roofing that could have been adjusted very easily to suit any environment and lifestyle.[36]
And, the best form of change was made by the lifestyle of the builder. As the Europeans gained wealth, they increased their style of living. As their wealth increased, the demand for European goods also increased. People became more literate and read more newspapers, which was specifically charged to “draw colonial readers into an English perspective on the world.”[37] The land-rich Americans had a larger disposable income to their compatriots back home.[38]  This was the most visible way that they showed off their newly found wealth? It also demonstrated their refinement by building “larger and more ornamented houses…filled with fine furniture.”[39]
The larger early-American houses were definitely built by the elite. These men were from many areas of the world, including men of several generations of American heritage. The fashion, climate, wealth and status of the owner had been indicated by the stature of his home. The trend of the colonies had been dictated by the power and prestige of their mother country, England. The beauty of the house was necessitated by the symbolism of its visual proximity to that of the English elite.


“Alabama Archaeology: Prehistoric Alabama.”  Alabama Archaeology. 2005. (accessed May 13, 2012).

Baker, John Milnes. American House Styles: A Concise Guide. New York: W.W. Norton
& Company, 1994.

Brimhall, Melanie, Carole Nash and Karenne Wood, eds. “Beyond Jamestown: Indians Past
and Present.” 2006. (accessed May 13, 2012).

Burns, William E. “Georgian Homes in Colonial North America: 17th and 18th Centuries.”
2011. In Daily Life through History. (accessed May 10, 2011). 

Gelernter, Mark. A History of American Architecture: Buildings in Their Cultural and
Technological Context. Hanover, NY: Hanover University Press, 2001

James Oliver Horton. Landmarks of African American History. New York: Oxford
University Press, 2004.

Richard Hakluyt. “Discourse of Western Planting. 1584.
1600/hakluyt/plant.htm. (accessed May 13, 2012).

Miller, Randall H.  “Southern Plantation Houses in Antebellum America.” In Daily Life
through History. (2011). (accessed May 9, 2012).

“Palladio and Britain.” Royal Institute of British Architects. 2011.
PalladianInteriors/PalladiosInteriors/PalladiosInteriors.aspx. (accessed May 13, 2012).

Salisbury, Joyce E. and Peter Seelig.. “Housing in Colonial North America” In Daily Life
through History. (accessed May 9, 2012).

Speer-Sims, Taylor. “18th Century Colonial Housing Adaptation.” May 2011. APUS.
Research paper for class.

Solomon, Michael. The Psychology of Fashion. Toronto: Lexington Books, 1985

Taylor, Alan. American Colonies: The Settling of North America. New York: Penguin
Books, 2002.

Originally written for class at American Military University.

[1] Melanie Brimhall, Carole Nash and Karenne Wood, eds. “Beyond Jamestown: Indians Past and Present.” 2006. (accessed May 13, 2012).
[2] “Alabama Archaeology: Prehistoric Alabama.”  Alabama Archaeology. 2005. (accessed May 13, 2012).
[3] Alan Taylor. American Colonies: The Settling of North America. (New York: Penguin Books, 2002.), 13.
[4] Brimhall.
[5] Taylor Speer-Sims. “18th Century Colonial Housing Adaptation.” May 2011. APUS. Research paper for class, 4.
[6] James Oliver Horton. Landmarks of African American History. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004.), 96.

[7] Joyce E. Salisbury and Peter Seelig, “Housing in Colonial North America” In Daily Life through History. (accessed May 9, 2012).

[8] Mark Gelernter. A History of American Architecture: Buildings in Their Cultural and Technological Context. (Hanover, NY: Hanover University Press, 2001.), 53.
[9]  Randall H. Miller,  “Southern Plantation Houses in Antebellum America.” In Daily Life through History. (2011). (accessed May 9, 2012).

[10] Ibid.
[11] William E. Burns, “Georgian Homes in Colonial North America: 17th and 18th Centuries.” 2011. In Daily Life through History. (accessed May 10, 2011). 

[12] Richard Hakluyt. “Discourse of Western Planting. 1584. (accessed May 13, 2012).
[13] Taylor, 307; Gelernter, 57.
[14] Taylor, 307.
[15] Ibid, 312.
[16] Ibid.
[17] Ibid, 312-313; Gelernter, 42, 108.
[18] “Palladio and Britain.” Royal Institute of British Architects. 2011. (accessed May 13, 2012).
[19] Gelernter, 120.
[20] Speer-Sims, 17.
[21] Gelernter, 57.
[22] Taylor, 318.
[23] Taylor, 302.
[24] Ibid, 314.
[25] Ibid, 302-303.
[26] Ibid, 318-319.
[27] Ibid, 316-317.
[28] Ibid, 315.
[29] Ibid, 323-324.
[30] Taylor, 303.
[31] Ibid, 438.
[32] Michael Solomon, The Psychology of Fashion. (Toronto: Lexington Books, 1985.), 3.
[33] Ibid, 4.
[34] Ibid, 6.
[35] Taylor, 246.
[36] John Milnes Baker, American House Styles: A Concise Guide. (New York: W.W. Norton
& Company, 1994.) 33.
[37] Taylor, 304.
[38] Ibid, 307.
[39] Ibid, 312.

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