The first of three chapters that examine witnesses’ descriptions of how they maintained themselves, this chapter begins by charting the variation in responses according to social status, gender, age, and marital status. The self-representation of those who claimed to live ‘by their labour’ is then compared with the more socially exclusive assertions of those who lived on their ‘own means’, in order to trace the emergent identity of the growing proportion of men and women who were wage dependent. Labouring people asserted creditworthiness and honesty on the basis of their industriousness, in terms that anticipated discourses of improvement that subsequently emerged in print during the commonwealth period. Notwithstanding the celebration of industriousness, labouring for a living was easily disputed as a source of self-sufficiency on account of its strong associations with poverty, service, and dependency, limiting the scope for labouring people’s claims to an autonomous sense of identity.
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