Essay Example: Family as a Basis of Social Hierarchy in the Developing United States

Published: 2022-08-26
Essay Example: Family as a Basis of Social Hierarchy in the Developing United States
Type of paper:  Essay
Categories:  United States Family Society
Pages: 5
Wordcount: 1300 words
11 min read

During the 17th to 18th century, a family formed the basic unit of the society, and the expectations of the community were anticipated to be reflected within the family. Matters related to politics, wealth and inheritance, social issues, employment, and procreation were considered a fundamental responsibility of each family. These responsibilities also varied depending on race, sex, and status. Families played an extensive role in establishing the social hierarchy in the developing United States; however, the dynamics and functions assigned to each family member to create a stable social structure differed from across Indians, English and African Slaves.

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"During the seventeenth century, the Lenni Lenape were a highly gendered society with defined markers of male and female identity (Caffrey)." Being an equally gendered society the Indian society assigned men and women roles in the same magnitude. Meaning the women were also given a platform in the political and economic issues. By treating the men and women equally social stratification in Indian society was not gender based. However, the success of each family in carrying out the respective roles assigned to individual family members played an extensive role in determining the hierarchy in the society. Thus, the belief, talent, and hard work-rather than prejudicial values- gave people the chance to control their standing in the community. It can be correctly stated that since the biased patterns do not determine the social standing people inherited their social positions from their attributes, parental economic and social status, and cultural norms. Thus, a family shared their network of friends and relations creating a collective social identity and lifestyle. These equal family roles were the central units of Indian families; however, they were not equally received by the English captives of the frontier warfare. The English men in captivity thought they could use the family roles in Indian society to establish economic and political control over the Indians. Thus, it can be stated that the equity among Indian households depicted Indian families (men) to be of lower status in the eyes of the English.

Moreover, "colonial families were the sites of economic production as well as schools for intellectual development, vocational instruction, and religious teaching (Little, p.95)." The latter being the central focus of the society the family order was thus the basis of all order in society and men (like Adam) for the Puritans of New England were the heads of their families at all levels. They, therefore, controlled the actions of women, children, and slaves. Being center of the society the images of a family was something held in high regard and the manipulation of such a model could potentially result in the political and social gain. As a vocational training, it means families were expected to be in charge of training the youth. The training of the youth entailed both evangelistic and social lifestyle such as who to marry and when. Being religious and providers for the family, the English men, were the primary decision-makers. Therefore, it can be stated that these decisions made by the men were final and had to be obeyed by all family members without question. The treatment of women in English families depicts that English men were given autonomy over the actions of their women and a man who could not control the actions of his woman was held in low regard as he was less of a man. The hierarchy led to rebellion by the English women who rebelled through outbursts airing their dangerous religious and political views in public. An act that embarrassed their husbands, who in turn punished them physically by beating or emotionally by having affairs and bastard children. As much as the intellectual development, vocational instruction, and religious teaching were biased, the families that were deemed to be effective in the mentioned areas were considered to be of higher status.

A family forms an intimate room where core values have a positive environment to thrive. Having a leader from a specific kinship means an increased likelihood of adherence to harmonized guidelines, values and goals. Among the Afro-American's during late 1700's "the leader often lived with many Kinfolk; he or she was closely related to 36-38% of all other slaves in the quarter (Kulikoff, p.64)." Therefore, the loyalties to masters during the 1780's and blood ties (entailing children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, grandchildren's spouses and children-in-law) harmonized the relationships between the masters and slaves. However, the latter depicts that Afro-American households with closest relations to the Kinfolk had a higher status in the society as the master held the leader of the Kinfolk at slightly higher regard than the other Afro-Americans. Having close ties within the Kinfolk meant parents and older siblings had to teach the young ones their trade and how to avoid the wrath of the masters. However, communities opposed the hierarchy established by families as all slaves' nurtured children, lived and cooked together. By selecting the elders in the society to be leaders of the Kinfolk, the English colonists ensured the specific families related to the leaders were at the forefront in helping secure their goals and maintaining their status.

The western culture profoundly influenced the behavior within the society by obligating the slaves and their families to act as instructed by their masters. "Even behaviors that led to sex outside marriage required punishment (D'emilio and Estelle, p. 27)." By restricting outside marriage interaction, the English saw a family be united by Gods word and by breaking the rules a family was not in Gods favor thus had lower status. "Bastard" children were thus an abomination, and they also lowered the rank of a family. These same beliefs applied to the Afro-American slaves as they were under their masters. Therefore, outside marriage interactions by the Afro-Americans attracted an even more severe punishment. By changing their way of doing things, the Afro-American's families became fully "westernized," and their ways of doing things were considered archaic within the civic domain. Therefore, the English men utilized the influence of family as a fundamental unit to alter the actions of Afro-Americans in a way that they would be discouraged to fight against the subjugation faced under the hands of their masters

Families played an extensive role in establishing the social hierarchy in the developing United States; however, the dynamics and tasks assigned to each family member to create a stable social structure differed from across Indians, English and African Slaves. Indian society strived to create an equal culture with women roles considered a vital component in social matters. Valuing women and giving them higher standing was considered a weakness by the English colonists who emphasized on family structures dominated and controlled by men. The notions and expectations of the family were imposed on the Afro-Americans by their English masters; however, the slaves used their kinship and societal relations to protect their families from the actions of the masters. During the 17th to the 8th-century individuals had no choice and one had to conform to the social norm to be part of the society. Despite hierarchy being defined by the position in society such as employment, education, income, political or religious status, people in the society of today are free to belong and are appreciated even in the absence of highly regarded status.

Works Cited

Primary Source

D'emilio, John, and Estelle B. Freedman. Intimate matters: A history of sexuality in America. University of Chicago Press, 1997.

Secondary Sources

Caffrey, Margaret M. "Complementary Power: Men and Women of the Lenni Lenape." American Indian Quarterly 24.1 (2000): 44-63.

Kulikoff, Allan. "The beginnings of the Afro-American family in Maryland." Law, Society, and Politics in Early Maryland (Baltimore, 1977) 189 (1977).

Little, Ann M. Abraham in Arms: War and Gender in Colonial New England, University of Pennsylvania Press, 2006.ProQuest Ebook Central, Created from lagcc-ebooks on 2018-09-10 10:54:23.

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Essay Example: Family as a Basis of Social Hierarchy in the Developing United States. (2022, Aug 26). Retrieved from

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