US History/English Colonies

Patterns of Colonization


The islands of Great Britain changed greatly in the Renaissance, resulting in the Church of England, the British Civil War, and total transformation of economic, political, and legal systems. Yet through this time, despite pressure from other nations and America's own Natives, a diverse set of English colonies were planted and thrived.

These new colonies were funded in three different ways. In one plan, corporate colonies were established by joint stock companies. A joint stock company was a project in which people would invest shares of stock into building a new colony. Depending on the success of the colony, each investor would receive profit based on the shares he had bought. This investment was less risky than starting a colony from scratch, and each investor influenced how the colony was run. These investors often elected their own public officials. (An example of a joint stock company on another continent was the British East India Company.) Virginia was settled in this way.

Proprietary colonies were owned by a person or family who made laws and appointed officials as he or they pleased. Development was often a direct result of this ownership. Charles II granted William Penn the territory now known as Pennsylvania. Penn's new colony gave refuge to Quakers, a group of millennial Protestants who opposed the Church of England. (Quakers did not have ministers and did not hold to civil or religious inequality, making them a dangerous element in hierarchical societies.) Penn was an outspoken Quaker and had written many pamphlets defending the Quaker faith. He also invited settlers from other countries and other Protestant minorities, and even some Catholics.

Finally, royal colonies were under the direct control of the King, who appointed a Royal Governor. The resulting settlement was not always identical to England. For example, England had broken with Catholicism during the reign of Henry the Eighth, and the Old Faith was seen not only as religious heresy but the prelude to domination by other countries. Yet Maryland's grant of toleration of Catholics was granted as a boon from the British Crown. In 1634, Lord Baltimore appointed George Calvert of England to settle a narrow strip of land north of Virginia and south of Pennsylvania as a Catholic colony via a royal charter. Fifteen years later, in 1649, he signed the Act of Toleration, which proclaimed religious freedom for its colonists. Despite the original charter, Protestants later became the majority faith. After Lord Baltimore's death several years later, Margaret Brent, the wife of an esteemed landowner in Maryland, executed his will as governor of the colony. She defied gender roles in the colonies by being the first woman of non-royal heritage to govern an English colony.

Massachusetts Bay Colony


The Massachusetts Bay Colony, another corporate colony, was founded as a place far from England where its religious dissenters could live. The Puritans, a group of radical Protestants who wanted what they called a return to the faith of the Bible, suffered torture and execution because they disagreed with the official Church of England. In 1620, forty-one Puritans (who called themselves Pilgrims) sailed for the new world. Their own contemporary accounts show that the Pilgrims originally intended to settle the Hudson River region near present day Long Island, New York. Once Cape Cod was sighted, they turned south to head for the Hudson River, but encountered treacherous seas and nearly shipwrecked. They then decided to return to Cape Cod rather than risk another attempt to head south. After weeks of scouting for a suitable settlement area, the Mayflower's passengers finally landed at Plymouth in present-day Massachusetts on December 26, 1620. They called it Massachusetts after the name of the Indian tribe then living there.

Passengers of the Mayflower signing the "Mayflower Compact"

William Bradford, who was selected as a governor after the death of John Carver, wrote a journal that helps us to better understand the hardships colonists endured, encounters with the Native Americans, and ultimately, the success of the colony. The Pilgrims agreed to govern themselves in the manner set forth in the Mayflower Compact, which signed on the Pilgrims' ship, The Mayflower. After two years they abandoned the communal form of partnership begun under the Compact and in 1623 assigned individual plots of land to each family to work.

Ten years later, the joint-stock Massachusetts Bay Company acquired a charter from King Charles of England. The colony of Plymouth was eventually absorbed by Massachusetts Bay, but it remained separate until 1691.

A large group of Pilgrims later migrated to the new colony of Massachusetts Bay. In keeping with its mother Church of England, the colony did not provide religious freedom. It only allowed (male) Puritans the right to vote, established Puritanism as the official religion of the colony in The Act of Toleration, and punished people who did not go to their Church.

New York


Other countries used the joint-stock company to fund exploration. In 1609, the Dutch East India company discovered a territory on the eastern coast of North America, from latitude 38 to 45 degrees north. This was an expedition in the yacht Halve Maen ("Half Moon") commanded by Henry Hudson. Adriaen Block and Hendrick Christiaensz explored the territory from 1611 until 1614. In March of 1614 the States General, the governing body of the Netherlands, proclaimed exclusive patent for trade in the New World. The States General issued patents for development of New Netherland as a private commercial venture. Ft. Nassau was swiftly built in the area of present day Albany to defend river traffic and to trade with Native Americans. New Netherland became a province of the Dutch Republic in 1624. The northern border was then reduced to 42 degrees north, as the English had encroached north of Cape Cod.

According to the Law of Nations, a claim on a territory required not only discovery and charting but settlement. In May 1624 the Dutch completed their claim by landing thirty Dutch families on Noten Eylant, modern Governors Island.

In the next few decades incompetent directors-general ran New Netherland. The settlers were attacked by Native Americans, and British and Dutch conflicts seemed destined to destroy the colony. All that changed when Peter Stuyvesant was appointed Director-General in 1647. As he arrived he said, "I shall govern you as a father his children". He expanded the colony's borders. He oversaw conquest of the one settlement of northernmost Europe, New Sweden, in 1655. He resolved the border dispute with New England in 1650. He improved defenses against Native American raids, and the population of the colony went from 500 in 1640 to 9,000 by 1664. But in August of 1664, four English warships arrived in New York Harbor demanding the surrender of the colony. At first, Stuyvesant vowed to fight, but there was little ammunition and gunpowder. He received weak support from the overwhelmed colonists, and was forced to surrender. New Netherland was subsequently renamed New York, in honor of the British Duke of York.

In an attempt to gain supremacy over trade, the English waged war against the Dutch in 1664. The English took control over the Dutch harbor of New Amsterdam on the Atlantic coast of America. James, the brother of King Charles II, received the charter for New Amsterdam and the surrounding Dutch territory.

In 1673 the Dutch, lead by Michiel de Ruyter, briefly reoccupied New Netherland again, this time naming it New Orange. After peace was made, ending the Third Anglo-Dutch War, they agreed to return it to the English.

Patterns of Colonization in the Other Early Colonies


The territory of Carolina, named after the British King Charles I, was granted as a proprietary colony to eight different nobles. The proprietors divided Carolina into two separate colonies -- North Carolina and South Carolina.

Four colonies were formed by division from already extant larger territories. When New Holland was taken to become New York, King James granted a portion of the territory, present-day New Jersey, to Lord Berkeley and Sir George Cartaret, while retaining present-day New York for himself as a proprietary colony. Sir George had come from the Isle of Jersey, and the new colony was named accordingly. Another portion of the territory became the crown colony Connecticut. This colony was also named for its native tribe of Indians. A corner of Pennsylvania which was not peopled by Quakers separated in 1704 to become the colony of Delaware. This was given the name of Thomas West, Third Baron De La Warr, a nobleman under Queen Elizabeth and a noted adventurer.

Rhode Island was a unique experiment in religious and political freedom. Massachusetts banished Roger Williams after he began asserting that Jesus Christ meant for the Church to be separate from the governing authority. This dissenter from the Church of England, and then from the Puritans, became the first American Baptist. After many adventures in other colonies, he bought land from the Narragansett Indians for a new settlement. Providence was meant to be a colony free from religious entanglements and a refuge for people of conscience. He was later followed by Anne Hutchinson. She had outraged Boston divines because she was a woman who preached, and because she believed that one's works were not always tied to grace, unlike the Puritans. She also bought land from the Indians. On this was the settlement subsequently named Portsmouth, and afterward a dissident sister town, Newport. The colony was partially based upon Aquidneck Island, later called Rhode Island for unknown reasons, and the entire establishment eventually took its name from that place.

Georgia was another proprietary colony, named after King George I, with a charter granted to James Oglethorpe and others in 1732. It was intended as a "buffer" colony to protect the others from attacks from the Florida Spanish and the Louisiana French. Because of this, Georgia was the only colony to receive funds from the Crown from its founding. The laws in Great Britain put people in prison for debt. Many of these people were shipped from overcrowded jails to freedom in the wilds of Georgia colony. America was already seen as a land of prosperity, and Oglethorpe hoped that the ex-prisoners would soon become honest and rich. However, few of the prisoners of London jails knew how to survive in the new wilderness.

Portrait of the British Colonies


The Colonies are often considered as three groups: New England (New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut), the Southern Colonies (Maryland, Virginia, the Carolinas, and Georgia), and the Middle Colonies (New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware). Sometimes the Carolinas and Georgia are counted as separate from the Chesapeake Colonies.

Each group had geographic and economic characteristics. New England's rocky soil only encouraged small farms, and its agricultural opportunities were limited. Thus it focused on fishing, forestry, shipping, and small industry to make money.[1]

Richer land in the Southern colonies was taken over by individual farmers who grasped acreage. This created large plantation farms that grew tobacco, and later cotton. Farms in the Carolinas also farmed sugar, rice, and indigo. In the 17th century, these were farmed by indentured servants, people who would work for a period of years in return for passage to America and land. Many of these servants died before their indentures ended. A group of indentured servants rose up in Bacon's Rebellion in 1676. After Bacon's Rebellion, plantations began using African slaves instead. Even after release from indenture, many of these white people remained in the economic lower classes, though not subject to the slave codes, which became more harsh as time passed, denying almost all liberty to slaves in the southern colonies. By the American Revolution, one in five colonists was an African slave. And the products produced by slavery in the South were consumed and traded by towns in the Middle Colonies and New England. Few people questioned the slave economy.

The Middle Colonies had medium-sized farms. These colonies also had people from many different cultures with many different beliefs. Individuals in these states used indentured servants, and later slaves, but there was not the concentration of masses of slave labor found in the Southern colonies.

Another distinction lies in religious practices. New England was mostly Congregationalist, with some admixture of Presbyterian congregations and the religious non-conformists who called themselves Baptists. These were all descendants of dissenters before and during the British Civil War. The South was mostly Anglican, cherishing religious and secular traditions and holidays. The Middle Colonies held small groups of people from Holland, German lands, and even Bohemia, and they brought a welter of Catholic and Protestant faiths.

Among the whites sent to the colonies by English authorities were many Scots-Irish people from Ulster. These had been Calvinist Protestants in the middle of a Irish Catholic majority, at odds both with them and with England. This minority settled in the frontier region of the Appalachian Mountains and eventually beyond in the Ohio and Mississippi country. In America their desire for land and freedom pushed the colonial boundary westward at little cost to the government, and provided an armed buffer between the eastern settlements and Native American tribes which had been driven away from the seaboard. Colonial frontiersmen endured a very harsh life, building their towns and farms by hand in a dense wilderness amid economic deprivation and native attack.

Each colony developed its own areas of edification and amusement, depending upon the local faith and the local capacities. The culture of the South recorded early interest in musical theater, with Charleston, South Carolina and Williamsburg, Virginia as hubs of musical activity. A performance of Richard III, the first professional production of Shakespeare in America, took place in New York City in 1750. And preachers, lecturers, and singers entertained the colonists.

Their commonalities were stronger than their differences. All three regions shared a population mostly derived from the British Isles. All had terrible roads, and all had connections to the Atlantic Ocean as a means of transportation. And all were tied to the Atlantic economy. Atlantic merchants used ships to trade slaves, tobacco, rum, sugar, gold, silver, spices, fish, lumber, and manufactured goods between America, the West Indies, Europe and Africa.[2] New York, Philadelphia, Boston, and Charleston were the largest cities and main ports at that time.[3]

Early Technology


The first wave of colonists used hand labor to cultivate their farms, and established such land-based crafts such as pottery and tanning. As later ships brought cattle and horses, draft animals became part of the economy. Indentured servants, and then slaves kidnapped from Africa, were imported. This was when larger plantations began to be founded. In the latter part of the eighteenth century small-scale machine-based manufacturing began to appear. Individuals started to dig for coal and iron ore. New England used the latter to begin making building tools and horseshoes. A new textile industry arose, dependent in part upon Southern cotton. Powered by wood or coal and fed by the need for strong metal, household forges pioneered new techniques of iron-making. The blacksmith and the tinsmith became part of large settlements. Colonies started making mechanized clocks, guns, and lead type for printing.

Mercantilism, Salutary Neglect and British Interference


The American colonies, entirely new societies separated by an ocean from Great Britain, believed they had the right to govern themselves. This belief was encouraged by Great Britain's Glorious Revolution and 1689 Bill of Rights, which gave Parliament the ultimate authority in government. A policy of relatively lax controls or Salutary Neglect ended in increased British regulation resulting from the policy of mercantilism, and seen through the Lords of Trade and the later Navigation Acts.



Parliament placed controls on colonial trade in obedience to the economic policy of mercantilism. This was the idea that a nation's economic power depended on the value of its exports. A country could use its colonies to create finished goods, rather than raw materials. These could be traded to other countries, thus increasing the strength of the colonizing nation. This policy had been put forth by a Frenchman named Jean-Baptiste Colbert. It seemed tailor-made for Great Britain. Spain had American gold as its economic base, and France had American furs. England had neither of these. But it had American cotton, molasses, and tobacco, as well as its state-of-the-art ships. Prior to the mid-1700's, the colonies had enjoyed a long period of "salutary neglect", where the British largely let the colonies govern themselves. This now ended.

The Lords of Trade


In an attempt to enforce mercantilism policies, King Charles II created the Lords of Trade as a new committee on the Privy Council. The Lords of Trade attempted to affect the government of the colonies in a manner beneficial to the English, rather than to the colonists.

The Lords of Trade attempted to convert all American colonies to royal ones so that the Crown could gain more power. Under King James II, the successor to Charles II, New York, New Jersey, and the Puritan colonies were combined into the Dominion of New England in 1687.

However, the Dominion only lasted a brief time. King James II, a Catholic, was seen as a threat by British Protestants. James was overthrown (he was technically held abdicated by Parliament) in the bloodless Glorious Revolution of 1688. In 1689, James' daughter Mary II and her husband William III took the throne as joint rulers. However, the British Parliament actually held the power. The Dominion of New England was dissolved, the various separate colonies were reestablished, and the Lords of Trade were abandoned (replaced by a Board of Trade, a purely advisory body).


Beginning in 1660, the Parliament of England passed the Navigation Acts to increase its benefit from its colonies. The Acts required that any colonial imports or exports travel only on ships registered in England, meaning that only England could have the shipping power and the fees derived from them. They forbid the colonies to export tobacco and sugar to any nation other than England. (Tobacco was then used as medicine, and sugar was used to make alcohol, also a medicine.) And the colonies could not import anything manufactured outside England unless the goods were first taken to England, where taxes were paid, and then to the colonies.

In the 1730s, The Sugar Act established a tax of six pence per gallon of sugar or molasses imported into the colonies. By 1750, Parliament had begun to ban, restrict, or tax several more products. It tried to curtail all manufacture in the colonies. This provoked much anger among the colonists, despite the fact that their tax burdens were quite low, when compared to most subjects of European monarchies of the same period.

Colonists hated the Navigation Acts because they believed they would be more prosperous and rich if they could trade on their own behalf. They also believed that some vital resources would not be found in Britain.

Indians in the 1700s


Indians of the Great Plains:

Today, the area where the Indians of all the Great Plains lived is located from the Rocky mountains to the Mississippi River. During the 1700s, there were about 30 tribes that lived on the Great Plains. These tribes tended to rely on buffalo as their food source as well as other daily needs, such as clothing. Not only did Indians, specifically women, make their clothing out of buffalo, but also out of deer. Women would soak the deer or buffalo and scrape off the hair of the dead animal.[5]

Also, Indian tribes traded with one another. The number of horses an individual owned was a sign of wealth; Indians would trade their horses for food, tools, weapons(such as guns), and hides. Since the tribes spoke many different languages from one another, they had to use sign language to be able to trade with each other.[5]

Philadelphia Election Riot


A riot broke out on election day in Philadelphia in 1742 as a result of the Anglican population disagreeing with the Quaker majority. The riot stemmed over a power struggle between the Anglican and Quaker population. The Quakers had a history of political dominance over Philadelphia. The German population backed the Quaker vote because of the Quaker Pacifism which would protect from higher taxes and ultimately the draft. On election day, the Anglicans and sailors fought with the Quakers and Germans. The Quakers were able to seek shelter in the courthouse and complete the election. The Anglican party lost the election and 54 sailors were jailed following the riot.



As the three sections of the colonies through the 1700s were made up of people with different interests, they provided differing sorts of education for their children. Although there were commonalities -- a rich family in any of the three regions might send a son to Europe for his education -- people in different colonies tended to educate in differing ways.

New England's motives for education were both civil and religious. The good citizen had to know his or her Bible. The Massachusetts General School Law of 1647 stated that if more than 50 families lived in a community, a schoolteacher must be hired. This law gave a justification: "It being one chief project of that old deluder, Satan, to keep men from the knowledge of the Scriptures, as in former times by keeping them in an unknown tongue, so in these latter times by persuading from the use of tongues, that so that at least the true sense and meaning of the original might be clouded and corrupted with love and false glosses of saint-seeming deceivers; and to the end that learning may not be buried in the grave of our forefathers, in church and commonwealth, the Lord assisting our endeavors." This was the Pilgrim ethos, set up in opposition to what they saw as the ignorance imposed by tyrants. Both boys and girls were often taught to read the Bible by their parents, perhaps with the aid of a horn book, an alphabet and syllabary page covered by a protective layer of horn.

In addition to being able to read the Bible, a Christian ought to be able to govern in his society. (His society: for government was the province of godly, property-holding men, rather than women.) To obtain this youths had to gain a classical education -- that is, one based thoroughly on Latin. The 1647 law was the beginning of the American grammar school, which initially taught Latin, but later included practical subjects such as navigation, engineering, bookkeeping, and foreign languages.[6] Most of the schools opened in the colonial era were private. [7] However, they had been preceded by the first public-supported school, the Boston Latin School, in 1635. It had a rigorous education, and as a result, few students. Harvard was the first university in America, founded in 1636 and originally intended to teach Protestant clergy. Because of the small number of people graduating from the classical curriculum, attendance was low. Some people jumped directly from the classical curriculum to the University, sometimes entering Harvard as young as 14 or 15 years old. Cotton Mather graduated Harvard at 15, an exception only because of his extreme precocity. In private schools, boys and girls learned penmanship, basic Math, and reading and writing English. These fed the various trades, where older children were apprenticed. Girls who did not become servants were often trained for domestic life, learning needlework, cooking, and the several days-long task of cleaning clothes.

Like New England, the Middle Colonies had private schools which educated children in reading and writing. However, the basics were rarer. The further west one lived, the less likely one was to be able to go to school, or to read and write at all. Ethnic and religious sub-groups would have their own private schools, which taught their own children their own folk-ways. In none of the colonies was higher education certain. Secondary schools were very rare outside of such major towns as Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and Charleston.[8]

The Chesapeake experience was different again. Children could only could only read and write if their parents could.[9] And the South had few schools, of any kind, until the Revolutionary era. Children in wealthy families would study with private tutors. Though wealthy girls might learn 'the womanly arts,' they would not have the same curriculum as their brothers. Martha Washington's granddaughter Eliza Custis was laughed at by her stepfather when "[I] thought it hard they would not teach me Greek and Latin because I was a girl -- they laughed and said women ought not to know those things, and mending, writing, Arithmetic, and Music was all I could be permitted to acquire."[10] Middle class children might learn to read from their parents, and many poor children, as well as all black children, went unschooled. The literacy rates were lower in the South than the North until about the 19th century.[11]

Founded in 1636, Harvard is the oldest institution of higher learning in the United States.

In 1693 the College of William & Mary was founded, Virginia's first University. As the 18th century wore on, it specialized not in theology for clergymen but in law.[12] In 1701, the Collegiate College was founded. In 1718 it received funds from a Welsh governor of the British East India Company, Elihu Yale, and was renamed Yale College. These were later joined by several other universities, including Princeton in 1747. In the 18th century, astronomy, physics, modern history and politics took a bigger place in the college curriculum. Some colleges experimented with admitting Native American students in the 18th century, though not African-Americans.[13]

In 1640, The whole Booke of Psalms Faithfully Translated into English Metre, commonly known as the Bay Psalm Book, was printed in Cambridge, Massachusetts. It was the first book written in the new world. The Bay Psalm Book was the first metrical English translation of the Biblical psalms.[14] This famous and influential songbook was succeeded by a whole New England publishing industry. Sometime after 1687 the first New England Primer was published as an aid to childhood reading and spelling.

An alternative to the classical curriculum emerged in Benjamin Franklin's American Academy, founded in Philadelphia in 1751. This body represented something closer to the modern American high school, offering vocational education. This sort of school later outnumbered the classical secondary school. However, Franklin's Academy was private as well, making such learning open only to those who could afford it.

During this period colonists attempted to convert Native Americans to Christianity.[15]

Review Questions


1. Choose one of the following colonies: New York, Virginia, Massachusetts, Georgia. In which of the three areas is it located? Why and how was it initially colonized? How did its immigrants and the religions they adhered to affect it?

2. Why did the British interfere with the colonies?


  1. Morison, Samuel Eliot (1972). The Oxford History of the American People. New York City: Mentor. pp. 199–200. ISBN 0451-62600-1. {{cite book}}: Cite has empty unknown parameter: |coauthors= (help)
  2. Kurlansky, Mark. Cod: A Biography of the Fish That Changed the World. New York: Walker. ISBN 0-8027-1326-2.
  3. U.S. Census Bureau. "Earliest Population Figures for American Cities". Retrieved 2010-08-29.
  4. "Resistance and Punishment". George Washington's Mount Vernon. Retrieved 19 September 2020.
  5. a b Englar, Mary. The Great Plains Indians: Daily Life in the 1700s. Mankato, MN: Capstone, 2006. Print.
  6. A People and a Nation, Eighth Edition
  8. A People and a Nation Eighth Edition
  9. A People and a Nation Eighth Edition
  10. Edmund S. Morgan. Virginians At Home: Family Life in the Eighteenth Century. Charlottesville, VA: Dominion Books, 1962(1952). P. 17
  11. A People and a Nation, Eighth Edition
  12. Morgan, p. 27.
  13. A People and a Nation, Eighth Edition
  14. Farris, Jean Americans Musical Landscape, Volume 5

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