Colonial Williamsburg Research Division Web Site

Buying Respectability

The “Buying Respectability” story line describes the “consumer revolution,” the far-reaching transformation in people’s standards and styles of living that revolutionized trade, commerce, technology, and, ultimately, the way people lived at every level of society. Seeking respectability, many people craved fashionable wardrobes, formal houses, the latest tablewares, and a variety of social refinements. For further understanding, please read the key points for this story line.

Teaching Visitors about the Consumer Revolution
Once upon a time, starting in the reign of George III, a string of important inventions in a few industries began a profound alteration of the British economy. Steam engines, flying shuttles, water frames, and power looms, operated by men, women, and children summoned to work by a factory bell, produced prodigious quantities of inexpensive personal and household goods.
’Tis the Season!
Some years ago it devolved on me to become this department’s “expert” on Christmas in colonial Virginia. It’s an assignment I take seriously and one that involves a surprising amount of my time. I’ve read as many books on the topic as possible; strained my eyesight poring over faint manuscript diaries and letters, searched out prints and paintings, and read histories of the holiday in other parts of the world.
Feeding the Eighteenth-Century Town Folk, or, Whence the Beef?
Last year, in his address, Peter Coclanis deplored the “lack of interpretive understanding or at least explicit appreciation of the close interrelationship between town and country, factory [or, for earlier centuries, urban processors and distributors] and farm.” The time has come “to study diet, broadly conceived, and its social consequences,” he urged. “Both the producers of food and the process of food production,” he lamented, “have often been… relegated to the dustbin, or more appropriately in this case, the scrap heap or compost pile of history.” Was this last image pure serendipity? It is hard to imagine a better introduction to what I want to talk about today.