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Toolbox Library, primary resources thematically organized with notes and discussion questionsOnline Seminars, professional development seminars for history and literature teachersBecoming American: The British Atlantic Colonies, 1690-1763
Becoming American: The British Atlantic Colonies, 1690-1763
Theme: GrowthTheme: PeoplesTheme: EconomiesTheme: IdeasTheme: American
Theme: Peoples

1.
Captain-Lieutenant John Larrabee, ca. 1750
John Larrabee
"from a common Soldier rose to be Captain-Lieutenant"
Europeans I: British
Memoirs
- Benjamin Franklin creates his young adult life as a printer, 1720s-1730s
- William Moraley creates his young adult life as an indentured servant, 1729-1734
Portraits
- Benjamin Franklin, by Robert Feke, 1736-1748 (printable from window)
- Captain-Lieutenant John Larrabee, by Joseph Badger, ca. 1750


One of the portraits at right depicts John Larrabee of Boston, a native-born colonial citizen, most likely of British descent, whose life from ca. 1686 to 1762 encompasses the scope of this Toolbox. His life also typifies the opportunity afforded a young white man in New England at the time; his obituary states that "from a common Soldier [he] rose to be Captain-Lieutenant" of Castle William, the major fortification for Boston harbor.1 He married and raised a family, built a stately home in the city, and commissioned his portrait for display in the fort, depicting a man of authority and self-assurance. As would be said in a later time, he had achieved the "American dream."

When John Larrabee was born in the late 1680s, English immigrants comprised 85 to 90 percent of European settlers in British America.2 Two decades later the colonies would be far more diverse, with more non-British European immigrants, more enslaved Africans, and more economic and political interchange with Native Americans.

In this theme, PEOPLES, we will explore two aspects of this transition: (1) the personal experience of living in a diverse and fluid society, and (2) the societal consequences of all the personal decisions made by native-born residents and newcomers. "As the colonial population became less English," writes historian Alan Taylor, "it assumed a new ethnic and racial complexity, which increased the gap between freedom and slavery, privilege and prejudice, wealth and poverty, white and black."3 In PEOPLES, we will explore this ethnic and racial complexity, and in this first section on colonists of British ancestry, we will follow two young men as they pursue the opportunities of work and career in Pennsylvania.
  • Benjamin Franklin. At age 17 with little money, Franklin left Boston, where he had apprenticed with his brother as a printer, to inaugurate his independent adult life in Philadelphia. He worked for various printers and soon aimed to start his own printing business. By the time his portrait was painted by Robert Feke when he was in the late 30s, Franklin was an accomplished, travelled, and wealthy man. In these excerpts from his autobiography, written in his later years for his son, we read how he interprets his decisions and experiences as young man.
    • - Benjamin Franklin, Autobiography, Pt. One, written 1771, publ. 1791, excerpts.

  • William Moraley. At age 20 William Moraley left England after a brief apprenticeship in the law and journeyed to America to create his independent adult life. Frustrated by his experiences as an indentured servant in the middle colonies, Moraley completed his last indenture, travelled through the middle colonies, and returned to England in 1734. In 1743 he published a memoir of his experiences as "The Infortunate," from which we read excerpts here. (Like Larrabee, Moraley's life span, ca. 1699-1762, parallels the span of this Toolbox.)
    • - William Moraley, The Infortunate: Or, The Voyage and Adventures of William Moraley . . . Written by Himself, 1743, excerpts.

View the portraits as you read the personal texts. How are the portraits of Franklin and Larrabee similar? different? What portrait might have been drawn of William Moraley? (19 pages.)


Discussion questions
  1. Compare Franklin and Moraley as young men in Philadelphia. How and why did they go there?
  2. What did they hope to achieve? How did they pursue their goals?
  3. As young men, what opportunities and constraints did they face in creating their adult lives? How did they respond?
  4. Compare the outcomes of their decisions to work in Philadelphia. (Take care not to consider Moraley's venture a failure because he returned to England.)
  5. How do their decisions reflect their identity (ethnic, racial, religious, economic) within the fluid and diverse society of British America?
  6. If multiplied many times, how would their decisions impact colonial society?
  7. Why might Moraley be considered more "traditional" and Franklin more "modern" in their views about life?4
  8. Compare the portraits of Franklin and Larrabee. How do they convey their achievement and assurance as colonists of British heritage?
  9. What portrait might have been drawn of William Moraley? What might he have wanted to convey in a portrait?
  10. Compare these memoirs of men of British ancestry with those of non-British inhabitants in North America elsewhere in this Toolbox. What similarities and differences do you find?
  11. Consider the statement of historian Alan Taylor: "As the colonial population became less English, it assumed a new ethnic and racial complexity, which increased the gap between freedom and slavery, privilege and prejudice, wealth and poverty, white and black." How do these readings illustrate Taylor's point?

Framing Questions
  •  What varieties of personal experience did the circumstances of life in eighteenth-century British America make available to the people of the colonies—native-born or immigrant; free, bonded, or enslaved?
  •  How did they respond to the racial, ethnic, religious, and economic diversity in British America? How did they define tolerance, peers, rights, and opportunity?
  •  How did their responses to diversity shape colonial society as a whole?
  •  By 1763, what would "American" mean to the diverse peoples of North America?


Printing
Franklin: 13
Moraley:  6
View portraits online.    
TOTAL 19 pages
Supplemental Sites

The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, full text, from the University of Virginia Electronic Text Center

Benjamin Franklin, Printer, in Benjamin Franklin: In Search of a Better World, from The Benjamin Franklin Tercentenary (Franklin & Marshall College)

"Walking Moraley's Streets: Philadelphia," by Billy G. Smith, in Common-Place: The Interactive Journal of Early American Life, from the American Antiquarian Society and the Florida State University Department of History

Lesson plan based on "Walking Moraley's Streets," in Benjamin Franklin: In Search of a Better World, from The Benjamin Franklin Tercentenary (Franklin & Marshall College) (pdf)




1 Worcester Art Museum, Worcester, Massachusetts, discussion of Badger portrait of John Larrabee, ca. 1750, in online exhibition at www.worcesterart.org/Collection/Early_American/Artists/badger/
John_Larrabee/discussion.html.


2 Jon Butler, Becoming America: The Revolution Before 1776 (Harvard University Press, 2000), p. 19.


3 Alan S. Taylor, American Colonies: The Settling of North America (Viking/Penguin, 2001), p. 303.


4 Question in Susan E. Klepp & Billy G. Smith eds., The Infortunate: Or, The Voyage and Adventures of William Moraley . . . Written by Himself [1743] (Pennsylvania State University Press, 1992; 2d. ed., 2005), p. xxxvi.



Images:
- Joseph Badger, Captain-Lieutenant John Larrabee, oil on bed ticking, ca 1750. Worcester Art Museum, #1920.53. Permission pending.
- Robert Feke, portrait of Benjamin Franklin, oil on canvas, 1738-1746. Harvard University Portrait Collection. Permission pending.


*PDF file - You will need software on your computer that allows you to read and print Portable Document Format (PDF) files, such as Adobe Acrobat Reader. If you do not have this software, you may download it FREE from Adobe's Web site.





PEOPLES
1. Europeans I   2. Europeans II   3. Native Americans
4. African Americans   5. Women   6. Diversity








TOOLBOX: Becoming American: The British Atlantic Colonies, 1690-1763
Growth | Peoples | Economies | Ideas | American


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