Class inequality has been an issue in past and present times. During times of distress, issues such as these became a part of a person in the lower class. In this case, we take into account a shoemaker, George Robert Twelves Hewes, whose story was presented in Alfred F. Young’s novel The Shoemaker and the Tea Party.
Class inequality takes on the meaning that those of the higher class, mainly wealthier families, take more advantages and belittle those that are below them as if they were royalty within the town. An easier way to understand what inequality means is to take a look at the present. Today, we have kids going to colleges not by their merit but by their parent’s money while those less fortunate have to fight just to get the bare minimum of what they strive for. What is occurring today is an updated, reconfigured version of what happened in the late 1700s. Class inequality never diminished in the revolutionary era, it may have faltered to recognized those who were heroes of the series of conflicts, such as the Boston Tea Party; one of these heroes being Hewes. Like today, those of the wealthier status got the better of the lot.
George Hewes graciously gave Thatcher an insight into how and why he became a shoemaker. He explained that to apprentice in more of the lucrative careers, you had to pay a fee. A fee which many of the poorer classes could not afford, whereas the wealthy were able to. George explains that his family was not able to pay the indenture fee, nor did they have any connections that would able him to get into an apprenticeship for a “higher” trade. (Young, pg. 19). George not being the only one prohibited from growing; many other poor families were in the same circumstances. Having an instituted fee to get into jobs that are in the most popular demand allows for the wealthier class to profit and have the lower-class wither. If one could not afford to pay the said fee, they had to resort to getting a less popular and less profitable job. It allows for the richer to grow and the poor to sink.
With the higher class keeping up their status, they look down on those who are not as fortunate as they are. They don’t have pity, but they demean them. Hewes accounts call out many cases in which the higher class takes their status as if they were royalty. Belittling and abusing the lower-class as if they were servants within their mansion. George Hewes recalls an incident in which his family was taken advantage of by wealthier persons, the victims being Hewes’ father and uncle. Hewes’ father and uncle invested in tanner and split the shares with a wealthy merchant, Cunningham, who ended up taking the whole company leaving the Hewes’ in a disastrous economic problem. To greatly sum up the ordeal, “(t)o Cunningham, they were incompetent and defaulters.” (Young, pg.18) Hewes spoke of how his year of 1774 was summed up by harassing words being pelted at him because he had no right to speak to a gentleman. This was one of the first moments we find that Hewes kept up with his childhood memories of not listening to what an “authority” figures state to him. As Young spoke of Hewes childhood, it was apparent that Hewes did what he wanted. He was often spanked and put into time out for his outspoken behavior, which carried on through his years to a grown man. He had been called a “rascal” and “vagabond”, but he did not let that define him and his position. (Young, pg. 29) The wealthier classes weren’t the only ones belittling artisans, and those similar, during the revolutionary era, but the soldiers were.
During an event where Hewes was an active participant, he was told that he was not allowed to carry a weapon as the soldiers carried clubs. (Young, pg. 39) This is one of the moments where Hewes enters a more of a political standing within the ‘proper’ Boston where he addresses to the solider that he had more of a right to carry a weapon as the solider does. Being a soldier does not guarantee an immediate right to dictate who can do what, though none of the soldiers received that memo, especially Captain Preston. Hewes recounted three incidences where a soldier did something wrong and nothing happened to him. Each involving a person of higher rank, hurting and trivializing the workers of Boston. Being in a higher class within the revolutionary era gave them special treatments, particularly with the law. George Hewes gave multiple first-person accounts of soldiers and wealthy merchants doing something terrible yet getting off clear. Hewes experienced and saw the massacre; himself and many merchants there unarmed and looking at the scene. He then spots five people get shot, four of which he knew, and one of which was shot in the bank and fell into his arms. These men, non-threatening and peaceful, die unexpectedly by soldiers, yet none of these soldiers are found guilty. Specifically, they, mainly Captain Preston, had former president John Adams behind them to back them up; connections. (Young, pp. 38-40) In a different circumstance, the labors took justice in their own hands to punish Mr. Malcolm after publicly humiliating and punishing a little boy pushing a cart. The public knew that the law would not be on their side, so they tarred and feathered him. (Young, pp. 48-49) Class inequality showed heavily regarding how they are treated, mainly getting out of trouble.
Through connections, status, and money those of a higher class can get anything taken away or even themselves saved from the court. It leaves those of the lower status beaten and poorer due to failing to stand up for themselves in court and to the upper-class-- just like Hewes’ father and uncle not being able to win in court and even get poorer due to going to court and losing their shares. Given special treatments through their many advantages makes these conveniences come in handy when making a legacy for yourself. Coming from a low class, your name is easily forgotten. For George Hewes, his recognition as a hero for his effort during the Boston Tea Party, the massacre, and efforts following did not come till years later when he was in his eighties. Many of those who have wealth and authority get remembered for their present, past, and future actions. George Hewes told Thatcher that he worked alongside Samuel Adams and John Hancock. George Hewes was never associated with Hancock and Adams with the mention of their names. Hewes recalls that he and Hancock both opened the same crate of tea and destroyed it. (Young, pg. 56) Although the facts are argued as incorrect, Hewes was still pushed to the side of someone irrelevant to the event.
A key fact called out in this novel that Young pointed out is that a poor family’s inheritance that would be given is that of their last name. (Young, pg. 69) In Hewes’ case, his name later in the 1800s proved to come in handy. Another case of forgetfulness of lower-class citizens passing away was Hewes’ death, Hewes died, coincidentally, on Pope’s day where the horses bolted while getting into a carriage. There was no record of him having a public memorial service nor an obituary notice, thus a hidden death. (Young, pg. 82) The Tea Party was a distressing time for all, but it did bring people together; putting aside class differences. With much of the revolutionary era being full of disagreements between classes, there were some periods of unity between all.
During the Boston Tea Party, all classes got together to fight against a common goal, “no taxation without representation.” Young perfectly reflected the equality with saying, “but the rich and powerful—the men in ‘ruffles’—had become, in his revealing word, his ‘associates.’” (Young, pg. 57) The unity does not stop within the Boston Tea Party but with the fight for independence. There were differences between different political classes, such as the loyalists. However, the majority was mixed with the rich and the poor, all wanting to have a nation for themselves to prosper with their merit. With the small bites of unity, class inequality dominated the revolutionary era. The idea of whether or not class inequality diminished or flourished during the revolutionary era is not a debate.
Class inequality was deeply apparent then and is the same today. The revolutionary era was a pivotal moment in United States history in getting a movement for independence and growth. Even with the growth, distinctions on who is wealthy and who is struggling was part of their daily lives. Class inequality brings each class together, making a divide between the wealthy and the poor. With a common goal, they can work together as a unit.
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