American History — The Colonial Period


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The Colonial Period


Most settlers who came to America in the 17th century were The english language, but there were also Nederlander, Swedes and Germans in the middle region, a few French Huguenots in South Carolina and elsewhere, slaves from Africa, primarily in the South, and a scattering of Spaniards, Italians in addition to Portuguese throughout the colonies.

Right after 1680 England ceased to be the chief source of immigration. Thousands of refugees fled continental Europe to escape the path of war. Many left their homelands to avoid the poverty induced by government oppression and absentee-landlordism.

By 1690 often the American population had risen to a quarter of a million. From then on, it doubled every 25 years until, in 1775, that numbered more than 2 . your five million.

Although a family might move from Massachusetts for you to Virginia or from South Carolina to Pennsylvania, without main readjustment, distinctions between unique colonies were marked. They were even more so between the three regional groupings of colonies


New England within the northeast has generally thin, stony soil, relatively small level land, and lengthy winters, making it difficult to make a living from farming. Turning to various other pursuits, the New Englanders harnessed water power and set up grain mills and sawmills. Good stands of timber encouraged shipbuilding. Excellent harbors promoted trade, and the sea became a source of excellent wealth. In Massachusetts, the cod industry alone quickly furnished a basis regarding prosperity.

With the bulk of the first settlers living in villages as well as towns around the harbors, many New Englanders carried on some kind of trade or business. Common pasture land and woodlots served the needs of townspeople, who else worked small farms nearby. Compactness made possible the village school, the village chapel and the village or town hall, where citizens met to discuss matters of typical interest.

The Massachusetts Bay Colony continued to expand its commerce. From the center of the 17th century onward it grew prosperous, and also Boston became one of America’s greatest ports.

Oak wood for ships’ hulls, tall pines for spars along with masts, and pitch for any seams of ships came from the Northeastern forests. Building their own vessels and cruising them to ports all over the world, the actual ship masters of Massachusetts Bay laid the foundation for just a trade that was to grow steadily in importance. By the end in the colonial period, one-third of vessels under the British flag were built in New England. Fish, ship’s stores in addition to wooden ware swelled the particular exports.

New England shippers soon discovered, too, in which rum and slaves were being profitable commodities. One of the most enterprising — if unsavory — trading practices of the time was the so-called “triangular trade. ” Merchants and shippers might purchase slaves off the coast of Africa for New Britain rum, then sell typically the slaves in the West Indies everywhere they would buy molasses to create home for sale to the local rum producers.


Society in the middle colonies ended up being far more varied, cosmopolitan and tolerant than in New The united kingdom. In many ways, Pennsylvania and Delaware owed their initial accomplishment to William Penn.

Under his guidance, Pennsylvania functioned smoothly and grew rapidly. By 1685 its population was almost 9, 000. The heart of the colony seemed to be Philadelphia, a city quickly to be known for its broad, tree-shaded streets, substantial brick and stone houses, as well as busy docks. By the end on the colonial period, nearly a century later, 30, 000 people lived there, representing a lot of languages, creeds and trades. Their talent for successful business enterprise made the city one of many thriving centers of colonial America.

Though the Quakers dominated in Philadelphia, elsewhere within Pennsylvania others were well represented. Germans became often the colony’s most skillful farmers. Important, too, were cottage industries such as weaving, shoe making, cabinetmaking and other projects.

Pennsylvania was also the principal gateway into the New World for the Scots-Irish, who moved into the colony in the early 18th century. “Bold and indigent strangers, ” as one Pennsylvania official called them, they hated the English and also were suspicious of all federal government. The Scots-Irish tended to settle in the back country, where they cleared land along with lived by hunting in addition to subsistence farming.

As mixed as the people were in Pa, New York best illustrated the actual polyglot nature of The united states. By 1646 the population along the Hudson River included Dutch, French, Danes, Norwegians, Swedes, English, Scots, Irish, Germans, Poles, Bohemians, Portuguese and Italians — the forerunners of millions to come.

The actual Dutch continued to exercise an important social and economic influence on the New York region long after the fall of New Netherlands and their integration into the Uk colonial system. Their sharp-stepped, gable roofs became the permanent part of the city’s architecture, and their merchants gave Manhattan much of its original bustling, commercial atmosphere.


In contrast to New The uk and the middle colonies ended up the predominantly rural southern settlements: Virginia, Maryland, Upper and South Carolina, and Georgia.

By the late 17th century, Virginia’s and Maryland’s financial and social structure rested on the great planters and the yeoman farmers. The planters of the tidewater region, supported by slave labor, held most of the political power and the best land. They built fantastic houses, adopted an aristocratic way of life and kept in touch as best they could with the world of culture overseas.

At the same time, yeoman farmers, who worked well smaller tracts of land, sat in popular assemblies and found their way in political office. Their outspoken independence was a constant warning to the oligarchy of planters not to encroach too far upon the rights of totally free men.

Charleston, South Carolina, grew to be the leading port and trading center of the South. There the settlers quickly learned to combine agriculture and commerce, and the marketplace became a major source of prosperity. Dense forests also brought revenue: lumber, tar and resin through the long leaf pine provided some of the best shipbuilding materials on the planet. Not bound to a single harvest as was Virginia, N . and South Carolina also produced and exported rice as well as indigo, a blue dye obtained from native plants, which was used in coloring fabric. Through 1750 more than 100, 000 people lived in the two colonies of North and Sc.

In the southern-most colonies, because everywhere else, population development in the back country acquired special significance. German immigrants and Scots-Irish, unwilling to reside the original tidewater settlements wherever English influence was strong, pushed inland. Those who could not secure fertile land across the coast, or who had exhausted the lands they held, found the hills further west a bountiful refuge. Although their hardships were enormous, restless settlers kept coming, and by the 1730s they were pouring into the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. Soon the interior was dotted along with farms.

Living on the edge of the Indian country, frontier families built cabins, cleared tracts in the wilderness and also cultivated maize and whole wheat. The men wore leather produced from the skin of deer or maybe sheep, known as buckskin; the women wore garments of cloth these people spun at home. Their meals consisted of venison, wild turkey and fish. They had their own personal amusements — great barbecues, dances, housewarmings for newly married couples, shooting matches along with contests for making quilted blankets. Quilts remain an American custom today.


A significant factor deterring the emergence of a effective aristocratic or gentry class in the colonies was the undeniable fact that anyone in an established colony could choose to find a brand-new home on the frontier. Thus, time after time, dominant tidewater figures were obliged, by the threat of a mass exodus for the frontier, to liberalize governmental policies, land-grant requirements in addition to religious practices. This movement into the foothills was of tremendous import for the future associated with America.

Of equal significance for the future were the foundations of American education and tradition established during the colonial period. Harvard College was founded inside 1636 in Cambridge, Ma. Near the end of the millennium, the College of William and Mary was established in Virginia. A few years later, the Collegiate School of Connecticut, later on to become Yale College, was chartered. But even more noteworthy was the growth of a school technique maintained by governmental authority. The Puritan emphasis on reading through directly from the Scriptures underscored the importance of literacy.

In 1647 the Massachusetts Bay Colony enacted the “ye olde deluder Satan” Act, requiring every town having a lot more than 50 families to establish any grammar school (a Latin school to prepare students for college). Shortly thereafter, all the other Brand new England colonies, except Rhode Island, followed its example.

The first immigrants in Fresh England brought their own tiny libraries and continued to help import books from London. And as early as the 1680s, Boston booksellers were doing a thriving business in functions of classical literature, historical past, politics, philosophy, science, theology and belles-letters. In 1639 the first printing press inside the English colonies and the 2nd in North America was installed at Harvard College.

The first school in Pennsylvania had been begun in 1683. This taught reading, writing as well as keeping of accounts. Thereafter, in some fashion, every Quaker community provided for the elementary teaching of its youngsters. More advanced training — throughout classical languages, history and literature — was offered at the Friends Public School, which still operates in Philadelphia as the William Penn Charter School. The school was free to the poor, yet parents who could had been required to pay tuition.

Within Philadelphia, numerous private schools with no religious affiliation taught languages, mathematics and all-natural science; there were also evening schools for adults. Women were not entirely overlooked, nevertheless their educational opportunities were limited to training in activities that could be conducted in the home. Private teachers instructed the daughters of prosperous Philadelphians in French, music, dancing, painting, singing, grammar and sometimes even bookkeeping.

In the eighteenth century, the intellectual and also cultural development of Pennsylvania reflected, in large measure, the particular vigorous personalities of 2 men: James Logan along with Benjamin Franklin. Logan has been secretary of the colony, and it also was in his fine library that young Franklin discovered the latest scientific works. Inside 1745 Logan erected some sort of building for his collection and bequeathed both building and books to the town.

Franklin contributed even more on the intellectual activity of Philadelphia. He formed a debating club that became typically the embryo of the American Philosophical Society. His endeavors likewise led to the founding of an public academy that afterwards developed into the University regarding Pennsylvania. He was a prime mover in the establishment of a subscription library, which he named “the mother of all North American subscription libraries. ”

Within the Southern colonies, wealthy planters and merchants imported personal tutors from Ireland as well as Scotland to teach their children. Others sent their children to school in England. Having these other opportunities, the upper classes in the Tidewater were not interested in supporting public education. In addition , the diffusion involving farms and plantations produced the formation of area schools difficult. There were several endowed free schools with Virginia; the Syms School was founded in 1647 and also the Eaton School emerged in 1659.

The desire for studying did not stop at the borders of established communities, however. On the frontier, the Scots-Irish, though living in primitive cabins, were firm devotees connected with scholarship, and they made wonderful efforts to attract learned ministers to their settlements.

Literary production in the colonies was largely confined to New England. Here attention concentrated on non secular subjects. Sermons were the most common products of the press. A famous Puritan minister, often the Reverend Cotton Mather, wrote some 400 works. Their masterpiece, Magnalia Christi Americana, presented the pageant of New England’s history. But the most popular single work of the day is the Reverend Michael Wigglesworth’s very long poem, “The Day of Doom, ” which explained the last judgment in terrifying terms.

In 1704 Cambridge, Massachusetts, launched the colonies’ first successful newspaper. Simply by 1745 there were 22 newspaper publishers being published throughout the groupe.

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In New York, an important step in establishing the principle of independence of the press took place using the case of Johann Philip Zenger, whose New York Weekly Journal begun in 1733, represented the opposition into the government. After two years associated with publication, the colonial governor could no longer tolerate Zenger’s satirical barbs, and had him thrown into prison on the charge of seditious libel. Zenger continued to edit his paper from jail during his nine-month tryout, which excited intense attention throughout the colonies. Andrew Hamilton, the prominent lawyer who also defended Zenger, argued the charges printed by Zenger were true and hence definitely not libelous. The jury returned a verdict of not guilty, and Zenger went free of charge.

The prosperity of the towns, which prompted fears how the devil was luring society into pursuit of worldly gain, produced a religious reaction from the 1730s that came to be known as the Great Awakening. Its inspiration came from two sources: George Whitefield, a Wesleyan revivalist who arrived from Great britain in 1739, and Jonathan Edwards, who originally offered in the Congregational Church within Northampton, Massachusetts.

Whitefield started a religious revival in Philly and then moved on to Brand-new England. He enthralled audiences of up to 20, 000 individuals at a time with histrionic displays, gestures and emotional oratory. Religious turmoil swept all through New England and the midsection colonies as ministers remaining established churches to preach the revival.

Among those influenced by Whitefield was Edwards, and the Great Awakening reached its culmination in 1741 with his sermon “Sinners inside Hands of an Angry Lord. ” Edwards did not engage in theatrics, but delivered his sermons in a quiet, thoughtful manner. He stressed the fact that established churches sought to deprive Christianity of the emotional content. His magnum opus, Of Freedom regarding Will (1754), attempted to reconcile Calvinism with the Enlightenment.

The Great Awakening gave rise in order to evangelical denominations and the spirit of revivalism, which continue to play significant roles inside American religious and cultural life. It weakened the status of the established clergy and provoked believers to be able to rely on their own conscience. Possibly most important, it led to the actual proliferation of sects in addition to denominations, which in turn encouraged common acceptance of the principle of spiritual toleration.


In all phases involving colonial development, a striking feature was the lack of controlling influence by the English authorities. All colonies except Ga emerged as companies connected with shareholders, or as feudal proprietorships stemming from charters granted by the Crown. The fact that the king had transferred his immediate sovereignty over the New World settlements to stock companies and proprietors could not, of course , mean that the colonists in America were necessarily free from outside control. Under the terms of the Virginia Company charter, for example , full governmental authority ended up being vested in the company itself. Nevertheless, the crown expected that the company would be resident in England. Inhabitants of Va, then, would have no more voice in their government than when the king himself had retained absolute rule.

For their part, the colonies had never ever thought of themselves as subservient. Rather, they considered their selves chiefly as commonwealths or states, much like England by itself, having only a loose organization with the authorities in London. In one way or another, exclusive rule from the outside withered away. The particular colonists — inheritors with the traditions of the Englishman’s extended struggle for political liberty — incorporated concepts of freedom into Virginia’s first charter. It provided that English language colonists were to exercise almost all liberties, franchises and immunities “as if they had been abiding and born within this each of our Realm of England. inch They were, then, to enjoy the benefits of the Magna Carta as well as the common law. In 1618 the Virginia Company issued instructions to its appointed governor providing that cost-free inhabitants of the plantations must elect representatives to join with all the governor and an appointive council in passing ordinances for the welfare of the nest.

These measures proved to be probably the most far-reaching in the entire colonial time period. From then on, it was typically accepted that the colonists had a right to participate in their own government. In most instances, the king, in making future grants, supplied in the charter that the no cost men of the colony should have a voice in legislation affecting them. Thus, events awarded to the Calverts throughout Maryland, William Penn with Pennsylvania, the proprietors in North and South Carolina plus the proprietors in New Jersey specified that legislation should be enacted with “the consent of the freemen. ”

In Completely new England, for many years, there was even more complete self-government than in the other colonies. Aboard the Mayflower, the Pilgrims adopted an instrument for government called the “Mayflower Compact, ” to “combine ourselves together into a civil body politic for our better ordering and preservation… through virtue hereof [to] enact, constitute, and frame such just as well as equal laws, ordinances, acts, constitutions, and offices… since shall be thought most satisfy and convenient for the basic good of the colony…. inches

Although there was no legal basis for the Pilgrims to establish a system of self-government, the actions was not contested and, beneath the compact, the Plymouth settlers were able for many years to conduct their own affairs without outside interference.

A similar situation created in the Massachusetts Bay Company, which had been given the right to govern itself. Thus, full expert rested in the hands associated with persons residing in the place. At first, the dozen or so original members of the company who had come to America attempted to rule autocratically. But the different colonists soon demanded a new voice in public affairs and also indicated that refusal would certainly lead to a mass migration.

Faced with this threat, the company members yielded, and effects of the government passed to elected representatives. Subsequently, other New England colonies — such as Connecticut and Rhode Island — also succeeded within becoming self-governing simply by asserting that they were beyond virtually any governmental authority, and then setting up their own political system modeled after that of the Pilgrims on Plymouth.

In only two conditions was the self-government provision omitted. These were New York, which was granted to Charles II’s brother, the Duke of York (later to become King James II); and Georgia, that was granted to a group of “trustees. ” In both instances the particular provisions for governance have been short-lived, for the colonists demanded legislative representation so insistently that the authorities soon yielded.

Eventually most colonies started to be royal colonies, but in typically the mid-17th century, the Uk were too distracted from the Civil War (1642-1649) along with Oliver Cromwell’s Puritan Commonwealth and Protectorate to go after an effective colonial policy. After the restoration of Charles II and the Stuart dynasty inside 1660, England had much more opportunity to attend to colonial management. Even then, however , it had been inefficient and lacked a coherent plan, and the famille were left largely to their own devices.

The remoteness afforded by a vast ocean also made control of often the colonies difficult. Added to this was the character of life alone in early America. From nations limited in space in addition to dotted with populous cities, the settlers had visit a land of seemingly unending reach. On such a continent, natural conditions promoted a tough individualism, as folks became used to making their very own decisions. Government penetrated the back country only slowly, and conditions of anarchy frequently prevailed on the frontier.

However, the assumption of self-government in the colonies did not proceed entirely unchallenged. In the 1670s, the Lords of Trade and Plantations, a royal committee established to enforce the mercantile system about the colonies, moved to annul the Massachusetts Bay charter, because the colony was resisting the government’s economic policy. James II in 1685 approved a proposal to create a Dominion of New England and place colonies south through New Jersey under its jurisdiction, thereby tightening the Crown’s control over the whole region. The royal governor, Sir Edmund Andros, levied taxes through executive order, implemented a number of other harsh measures and jailed those who resisted.

When news of the Glorious Revolution (1688-1689) that deposed James 2 reached Boston, the population rebelled and imprisoned Andros. Below a new charter, Massachusetts as well as Plymouth were united for the first time in 1691 as the regal colony of Massachusetts These types of. The other colonies that experienced come under the Dominion of recent England quickly reinstalled their own previous governments.

The Glorious Revolution had other positive effects for the colonies. The Bill of Rights and Toleration Act regarding 1689 affirmed freedom involving worship for Christians and also enforced limits on the Crown. Equally important, John Locke’s Second Treatise on Government (1690) set forth a theory of government based not on bright right but on contract, and contended that the men and women, endowed with natural legal rights of life, liberty along with property, had the right to rebel when governments violated these natural rights.

Colonial politics in the early 18th one hundred year resembled English politics in the 17th. The Glorious Revolution affirmed the supremacy of Parliament, but colonial governors wanted to exercise powers within the colonies that the king got lost in England. The colonisateur assemblies, aware of events in great britan, attempted to assert their “rights” and “liberties. ” By the early 18th century, the colonial legislatures held a couple of significant powers similar to individuals held by the English Legislative house: the right to vote on taxes and expenditures, and the right to initiate legislation rather than only act on proposals of the governor.

The legislatures used these types of rights to check the power of noble governors and to pass other measures to expand their particular power and influence. Typically the recurring clashes between governor and assembly worked increasingly to awaken the colonial to the divergence between United states and English interests. In many cases, the royal authorities would not understand the importance of what the ceylon assemblies were doing and simply neglected them. However , these kinds of acts established precedents in addition to principles and eventually became portion of the “constitution” of the colonies.

In this way, the colonial legislatures recognized the right of self- govt. In time, the center of colonial supervision shifted from London to the provincial capitals.


France and Britain engaged in the succession of wars throughout Europe and the Caribbean at several intervals in the 18th century. Though Britain secured certain advantages from them — primarily in the sugar-rich islands of the Caribbean — the actual struggles were generally indecisive, and France remained in a very powerful position in North America at the beginning of the Seven Years War in 1754.

By simply that time France had founded a strong relationship with a number of Indian tribes in Canada and along the Great Lakes, used possession of the Mississippi Waterway and, by establishing any line of forts and investing posts, marked out an excellent crescent-shaped empire stretching through Quebec to New Orleans. Thus, the British were being confined to the narrow belt east of the Appalachian Mountains. The French threatened not merely the British Empire but the American colonists themselves, intended for in holding the Mississippi Valley, France could limit their westward expansion.

A great armed clash took place with 1754 at Fort Duquesne, the site where Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, is now located, between some sort of band of French regulars and Virginia militiamen within the command of 22-year-old George Washington, a Virginia planter and surveyor.

In London, the particular Board of Trade attemptedto deal with the conflict simply by calling a meeting of representatives from New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland and the New England colonies. From June 19 for you to July 10, the Albany Congress, as it came to be known, met with the Iroquois in Albany, New York, in order to improve relations with them and secure their loyalty to the English.

The delegates also declared a union of the Us colonies “absolutely necessary for their very own preservation, ” and adopted the Albany Plan connected with Union. Drafted by Benjamin Franklin, the plan provided that a new president appointed by the cal . king act with a grand authorities of delegates chosen with the assemblies, with each colony to be represented in proportion to help its financial contributions towards the general treasury. This organ would have charge of defense, Indian relations, and industry and settlement of the west, as well as having the power to levy taxes. But non-e from the colonies accepted Franklin’s strategy, for none wished to surrender either the power of taxation or even control over the development of typically the western lands to a central authority.

England’s superior strategic position and her competent leadership ultimately brought victory in the Seven Years’ War, only a modest portion of that has been fought in the Western Hemisphere.

In the Peace of Paris, signed in 1763, Portugal relinquished all of Canada, the Great Lakes and the upper Mississippi Valley to the British. Often the dream of a French empire in North America was over. Having triumphed over France, Britain was now compelled to face a problem that it had hitherto neglected — the governance of its empire. It had been essential that London organize its now vast possessions to facilitate defense, balance out the divergent interests of different areas and peoples, as well as distribute more evenly the cost of imperial administration.

In The united states alone, British territories possessed more than doubled. To the narrow strip along the Atlantic coastline had been added the vast expanse of Canada along with the territory between the Mississippi Sea and the Allegheny Mountains, the empire in itself. A populace that had been predominantly Protestant and also English now included French-speaking Catholics from Quebec, and large numbers of partly Christianized Indians. Defense and administration in the new territories, as well as on the old, would require massive sums of money and increased personnel. The old colonial process was obviously inadequate to these tasks.


In 1692 a group of adolescent girls within Salem Village, Massachusetts, evolved into subject to strange fits soon after hearing tales told by a West Indian slave. When they were questioned, they offender several women of being werewolves who were tormenting them. The townspeople were appalled but not surprised: belief in witchcraft was widespread throughout 17th-century America and Europe.

Just what happened next — although an isolated event inside American history — provides a vivid window into the interpersonal and psychological world of Puritan New England. Town officials convened a court to hear the charges of witchcraft, along with swiftly convicted and carried out a tavernkeeper, Bridget Bishop. Within a month, five some other women had been convicted in addition to hanged.

Nevertheless, the hysteria grew, in large measure because the court permitted witnesses to testify that they acquired seen the accused while spirits or in visions. By its very character, such “spectral evidence” seemed to be especially dangerous, because it could be neither verified nor subject to objective examination. By the slide of 1692, more than twenty victims, including several adult men, had been executed, and more when compared with 100 others were throughout jail — among them some of the town’s most prominent citizens. But now the hysteria threatened to spread beyond Salem, and ministers throughout the colony called for an end to the trials. The actual governor of the colony decided and dismissed the judge. Those still in prison were later acquitted or perhaps given reprieves.

The Salem witch trials have longer fascinated Americans. On a psychological level, most historians concur that Salem Village with 1692 was seized with a kind of public hysteria, fueled by a genuine belief inside the existence of witchcraft. That they point out that, while some with the girls may have been acting, quite a few responsible adults became caught up in the frenzy as well.

However even more revealing is a closer analysis of the identities of the accused and the accusers. Salem Village, like much of colonial New England at that time, was undergoing an economic and political transition from a largely agrarian, Puritan-dominated community to a a lot more commercial, secular society. Many of the accusers were representatives of a traditional way of life tied to farming and the church, whereas a number of the accused witches were people of the rising commercial course of small shopkeepers as well as tradesmen. Salem’s obscure struggle for social and politics power between older conventional groups and a newer commercial class was one repeated in communities throughout Usa history. But it took a bizarre and deadly detour when its citizens ended up swept up by the conviction that the devil was loose inside their homes.

The Salem witch trials also serve as the dramatic parable of the deadly consequences of making sensational, although false, charges. Indeed, any frequent term in community debate for making false accusations against a large number of people is definitely “witch hunt. ”

That never hurts to be well-informed with the latest on The Colonial time Period. Compare what might learned here to future articles so that you can stay alert to changes in the area of The Colonial Time period.

Floyd Dorrance is a professional researcher of a variety of articles.

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