“To promote some publick Good, by the Joint Endeavours of a Number of People” : hereditary societies in Philadelphia and Charleston, 1740-1810
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This thesis focuses on the English, German, and Scottish societies in Philadelphia and Charleston from the 1740s until the 1810s. It argues the significance of early American charitable organizations in maintaining and perpetuating social structure and social morals through uncertain, volatile circumstances. To do so, it employs a comparative focus to consider the roles of ethnicity and region and explores continuities by tying together research on the colonial, revolutionary, and early republic periods. During the late colonial period, American hereditary societies, while being a product of and a response to their local environment, inherited their institutional structure and their views on poverty from European charitable and associational traditions. These societies fulfilled dual roles of sociability and charity and thereby supported and furthered social and moral norms by regulating who was deserving of membership or assistance. In the face of wartime disruption, the societies worked to provide relief while grappling with the intersection of their hereditary and political identities. Following the war, the societies fostered reconciliation by encouraging the reintegration of their membership and by providing continuity of their activities from before the war. In the early republic, the societies retained their hereditary identities while expressing their new patriotism through encouraging local state-building. In doing so, they supported government initiatives as well as founded their own institutions for education and healthcare. Just as they had done prior to the war, the societies’ activities worked to create normality, supported those they deemed deserving, and perpetuated their social expectations and values.
Thesis, PhD Doctor of Philosophy
Embargo Date: 2027-02-01
Embargo Reason: Thesis restricted in accordance with University regulations. Restricted until 1st February 2027
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