What Were the Three Main Social Classes of Colonial Society and How Did the People in the Classes Fare?

The three main social classes in Colonial society were the gentry, the middle class and the lower class. The social classes during the Colonial times were determined by wealth, land ownership and job titles. One’s ranking in society also determined his political, legal and societal privileges.

The gentry were the New World’s version of European aristocrats and even royalties. They owned large plantations that were cared for by a large number of slaves. They also owned mansions and carriages. This class also included learned merchants, doctors, lawyers and ministers. The gentry often served as local magistrates, councilmen and church vestrymen. Careful to maintain their social status, the gentry only intermingled with and married their own class. Only the gentry had the right to vote in Colonial society.

The middle class during the Colonial era was made up of people who were not as wealthy as the gentry. Among the middle class were also professionals like doctors, lawyers, shop owners, farmers and skilled workers such as craftsmen, mill workers, blacksmiths, silversmiths, cobblers, tailors and woodworkers. Some of the middle class could potentially become part of the gentry if they were able to amass more property.

At the lowest social class in Colonial society were the poor. The lower class was made up of laborers, sailors, servants and slaves. Most of the people in this social rank had little chance of owning any significant property and they were uneducated and lacked the right to vote.