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Patricia Cleary, Elizabeth Murray: A Woman’s Pursuit of Independence in Eighteenth-Century America(Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2000), 224.


Purchased goods met many needs for colonial consumers, some relating to convenience and comfort, others pertaining to less tangible purposes. Historians such as T. H. Breen and Richard Bushman have studied these purposes in depth. In this excerpt from the biography of Elizabeth Murray, historian Patricia Cleary discusses some of the ways goods could function.

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“In a highly mobile society in which men and women left their communities of origin to seek their fortunes among strangers, older ways of beginning and cementing friendships—based on long familiarity, shared churchgoing, neighborhood and familial networks—could no longer suffice. Economic and social survival in new places among new people required that identity, reputation, and status had to be conveyed quickly, clearly, and easily. In such contexts, goods gained importance as explanatory symbols in an increasingly international language that needed little translation. Self-presentation through dress and manners enabled the newcomer to assert his or her status as a member of a particular social and cultural group; possessing up-to-date information about fashion and genteel behavior enabled women and men to evaluate such markers displayed by their peers.”


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