Socioeconomic classes

When people begin to move to Colonial America, there were a lot of people and so social classes began to develop almost right when people arrived.  A social class is how people are ranked.

What is a Social Class?

A social class is a way that people are ranked.  If someone is more powerful then they are ranked higher and sometimes this is by how much money they make or what kind of jobs they have.

If someone is less powerful, they are ranked lower and this can even be by how much land they own.

Three Main Social Classes

In Colonial America, there were three different social rankings and they were the gentry, the middle class, and the poor class.


The highest-ranking of the three social classes was the gentry.  The gentry was seen as the most powerful individual.  There were many things that the gentry could do that other people could not do.

The gentry could vote on things that the government put out to vote on such as laws and other things.  They had enough money that if they wanted to own their own horses, carriages or even a huge home, they could do that.

They had homes that had libraries full of books and homes that were full of furniture.  Some of the furniture was shipped in from England and the clothing was shipped in from London.  Later, as the colonies became stronger, the rich would buy their clothes and furniture from those that had traded in their own area.

The gentry wore clothing that was made from the best materials and they were always in style.  They had the best of everything, and these things made them feel very powerful and important.


The middle-class people were the second social group.  They were not nearly as rich as the gentry were but they were skilled in a craft or a trade.  They were able to make things and being a skilled trade gave them money from all over the area.

A trade could allow them to open their own business and some of them were even teachers in the school or the universities.  A craftsman was important and most of these were middle-class people.

A craftsman and a tradesman were people that were very skilled in a certain skill that was needed in the colonies such as a blacksmith, someone that made wagon wheels, someone that repaired homes or carriages, someone that made furniture and more.


Those that were the poor class were usually farmers or indentured servants or slaves.  Even though most of the colonies depended on agriculture in order to make the economy better, those that were from the poor-class had small farms and they were not able to have nearly as much land to farm on as the rich and middle class.

Even the crops that were grown were normally only enough for the poor-class to feed their own families.  The farmers did not have enough land to even sell things or to trade things.

The colonists that were poor would work on the farms and would work at merchant shops or even on ships or at the seaports.

Indentured servants were considered part of the poor-class and many of them worked for no money at all but would get a piece of land after they would work around 7 years in order to pay off a debt or to gain their freedom.

Slaves were another part of the poor-class.  The slaves would work for no pay and no promise of land and many of them were treated very badly by their masters.

More Facts About Socioeconomic Classes:

  • The richer colonists depended on the poor-class to work on their farms.
  • The South depended on slave labor to be able to work their large plantations.
  • The word agriculture means to have land that allows the farmer to harvest crops and to take care of the livestock.
  • Those that did labor jobs such as working on the farm were considered the lowest of the low during the Colonial times.
  • A farmer was considered part of the poor-class if he could not have enough land to grow large amounts of crops.
  • Some of the middle class included coppers, seamstresses, cobblers, bakers, artists, butchers, shopkeepers, and those that had special trades.
  • The middle-class made much of their money by exchanging goods with others.
  • Most of the rich came from the Southern Colonies.
  • Those that were wealthy would build mansions that had rooms that were used for one purpose.
  • Southern rich people owned plantations and owned most of the African slaves.

What Did You Learn?

What is a socioeconomic class?
A socioeconomic class is how people are ranked.

What are some ways that people are ranked?
People are ranked by how much money they have, how much land they own and what kind of jobs they have.

What were the three ranks of social classes during the Colonial times?
The three classes were the gentry, the middle-class and the poor-class.

What was the middle-class mostly made up of?
The middle-class was mostly made up of people that had a trade or a special craft that they could do.

What was the poor-class mostly made up of?
The poor-class was mostly made up of servants, slaves and small farm owners.

What was the gentry class mostly made up of?
The gentry class was mostly made up of people that owned plantations and this was mostly in the Southern colonies.