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The term colonial history of the United States refers to the history of the land that would become the United States from the start of European settlement to the time of independence from Europe, and especially to the history of the thirteen colonies of Britain which declared themselves independent in 1776.[1] Starting in the late 16th century, the Spanish, the British, the French, Swedes and the Dutch began to colonize eastern North America.[2] Many early attempts—notably the Lost Colony of Roanoke—ended in failure, but successful colonies were soon established. The colonists who came to the New World were not alike; they came from a variety of different social and religious groups who settled in different locations on the seaboard. The Dutch of New Netherland, the Swedes and Finns of New Sweden, the Quakers of Pennsylvania, the Puritans of New England, the English settlers of Jamestown, and the "worthy poor" of Georgia, and others—each group came to the new continent for different reasons and created colonies with distinct social, religious, political and economic structures.[3]

Historians typically recognize four distinct regions in the lands that later became the Eastern United States. Listed from north to south, they are: New England, the Middle Colonies, the Chesapeake Bay Colonies (Upper South) and the Lower South. Some historians add a fifth region, the frontier, as frontier regions from New England to Georgia resembled each other in certain respects. Other colonies in the pre-United States territories include New France (Louisiana), New Spain (including Florida, California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Nevada, Utah and parts of Colorado and Wyoming), Columbia District (Washington state, Oregon and northern California) and Russian Alaska.

Motives for colonizationEdit

The main colonizing regions of Europe were those where ocean-worthy shipbuilding innovations and navigational technology and skills were developing, as well as an expanding population willing and able to establish themselves in foreign lands. The Spanish and Portuguese centuries-old experience of conquest and colonization during the Reconquista, coupled with new oceanic ship navigation skills (developed mainly in Italy[citation needed]), provided the tools, ability, and desire to colonize the New World. The English, French, and Dutch of northwest Europe were slower to start colonies in America. They had the ability to build ocean-worthy ships, but did not have as strong a history of colonization in foreign lands as did Spain, although the English conquest and colonization of parts of Ireland played a role in the later development of larger scale colonization efforts As the "New Monarchs" began to forge nations, they acquired the degree of centralized wealth and power necessary to begin systematic attempts at exploration. Not all exploratory undertakings, however, were done by central governments. Charter companies and joint stock companies also played a crucial role in exploration. Spain's experience during the Reconquista gave their American colonization efforts qualities of centralized governmental control, military conquest, and religious missionary efforts. In contrast, northwest Europe's experience with early capitalism (mercantilism), going back to organizations like the Hanseatic League, gave their colonization of America qualities of merchant-based investment and much less government control.

Early colonial failuresEdit

Spain established several colonies in the area that is now the United States. Several of these early attempts failed. In 1526, Lucas Vázquez de Ayllón founded the colony San Miguel de Guadalupe in present day Georgia or South Carolina. The colony only lasted a short while before disintegrating. It was also notable for perhaps being the first instance of African slave labor within the present boundaries of the United States. Pánfilo de Narváez attempted to start a colony in Florida in 1528. The Narváez expedition ended in disaster with only four members making it to Mexico in 1536. The Spanish Colony of Pensacola in West Florida (1559) was destroyed by a hurricane in 1561. Fort San Juan was established in 1567 in the interior of North Carolina but was destroyed by local Native Americans 18 months later. The Ajacan Mission, founded in 1570, failed the next year, very near the site of the later English colony of Jamestown.

The French established several colonies that failed, due to weather, disease or conflict with other European powers. A small group of French troops were left on Parris Island, South Carolina in 1562 to build Charlesfort, but left after a year when they were not resupplied from France. Fort Caroline established in present-day Jacksonville, Florida in 1564, lasted only a year before being destroyed by the Spanish from St. Augustine. In 1604, Saint Croix Island, Maine was the site of a short-lived French colony, much plagued by illness, perhaps scurvy. Fort Saint Louis was established in Texas in 1685, but was gone by 1688.

The most notable English failures were the "Lost Colony of Roanoke" (1587-90) in North Carolina and Popham Colony in Maine (1607-8). It was at the Roanoke Colony that the first English child, Virginia Dare, was born in the Americas; her fate is unknown.

Spanish coloniesEdit


Main article: History of Florida

Spain established a lot small settlements in Florida, most of which were soon abandoned. The most important settlement was at St. Augustine, Florida, founded in 1565. It was repeatedly attacked and burned, with most residents killed or fled. Missionaries converted 26,000 natives by 1655, but a revolt in 1656 and an epidemic in 1659 proved devastating. Pirate attacks were unrelenting against small outposts and even against St Augustine. The British and their colonies repeatedly made war against Spain and its colonies and outposts. South Carolina launched large scale invasions in 1702 and 1704, which effectively destroyed the Spanish mission system. St Augustine survived, but English-allied Indians such as the Yamasee conducted slave raids throughout Florida, killing or enslaving most of the region's natives. St Augustine itself was captured in 1740. Their main food source was fish they found in rivers and animals they hunted.

The British and Spanish had been enemies for many decades. The conflicts in Spanish Florida were one part of a larger, global struggle. In the mid-1700s, invading Seminoles killed most of the remaining local Indians. Florida had about 3,000 Spaniards when Britain took control in 1763. Nearly all quickly left. Even though control was restored to Spain in 1783, Spain sent no more settlers or missionaries to Florida. The U.S. took possession in 1819.

New Mexico (1598-1821)Edit

Main article: History of New Mexico

Throughout the 16th century, Spain explored the southwest from Mexico with the most notable explorer being Francisco Coronado whose expedition rode throughout modern New Mexico, Arizona, southern Colorado, the panhandle of Oklahoma, and Kansas. However, no settlements were established by Coronado. The first colonization was under Don Juan de Oñate in 1598 where the first settlement in San Juan de Los Caballeros near Española, New Mexico and later Santa Fe, New Mexico around 1609. From their base in Santa Fe, the Spaniards explored the west including Utah, Wyoming, western Nebraska, Arizona, Nevada, and California. The settlements spread throughout the upper Rio Grande Basin with three Villas being founded; Santa Fe, Chimayo de Santa Cruz, and Albuquerque in addition to many far flung smaller settlements and missions. The second colonization came in 1692 under Diego de Vargas after the Pueblo Revolt. Even though there have been several claims within the boundaries of the Kingdom of New Mexico by several foreign powers (Texas, France, US), control had always been maintained by Spain (223 years) and later Mexico (25 years) until the arrival of the American Army of the West under Colonel Stephen Watts Kearny in 1846 during the Mexican-American War. Many direct descendants of the original colonists live on the land grants granted by Spain and later Mexico to this day.

California (1765-1821)Edit

Main article: History of California to 1899
File:Mission San Juan Capistrano 4-5-05 100 6588.JPG

Spanish explorers sailed along the coast of California from the early 16th century to the mid-18th century, but no settlements were established.

During the last quarter of the 18th century, the first European settlements were established in California. Reacting to interest by Russia and possibly Great Britain in the fur-bearing animals of the Pacific coast, Spain created a series of Catholic missions, accompanied by troops and ranches, along the southern and central coast of California. Father Junípero Serra, a Franciscan missionary, founded the mission chain, starting with San Diego de Alcalá in 1769. The California Missions comprised a series of outposts established to spread Christianity among the local Native Americans, with the added benefit of confirming historic Spanish claims to the area. The missions introduced European technology, livestock and crops, while keeping the native people in peonage. The highway and missions became for many a romantic symbol of an idyllic and peaceful past[citation needed]. The "Mission Revival Style" was an architectural movement that drew its inspiration from this idealized view of California's past.

The first quarter of the 19th century continued the slow colonization of the southern and central California coast by Spanish missionaries, ranchers, and troops. By 1820, Spanish influence was marked by the chain of missions reaching from San Diego to just north of today's San Francisco Bay area, and extended inland approximately 25 to 50 miles (40 to 80 km) from the missions. Outside of this zone, perhaps 200,000 to 250,000 Native Americans were continuing to lead traditional lives. The Adams-Onís Treaty, signed in 1819 set the northern boundary of the Spanish claims at the 42nd parallel, effectively creating today's northern boundary of California. The Spanish (and later the Mexicans) encouraged settlement of California with large land grants that were turned into cattle and sheep ranches. The Hispanic population reached about 10,000 in the 1840s.

New NetherlandEdit

Main article: New Netherland

Template:New Netherland


Nieuw-Nederland, or New Netherland, was the seventeenth century colonial province of the Republic of the Seven United Netherlands on northeastern coast of North America. Dutch claims to the region were based on explorations made between 1609 and 1614, the first made by Henry Hudson along the river which today bears his name. The claimed territory stretched from the Delmarva Peninsula in modern Virginia to Buzzards Bay in modern Massachusetts. However, settlement was never this widespread with a peak population of less than 10,000 in several widely separated communities, many of whom were not Dutch. The areas which were actually settled are now part of the Mid-Atlantic states of New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Connecticut, and Pennsylvania. The Dutch established a patroon system with feudal-like rights given to a few powerful landholders but also established religious tolerance and free trade. The colony's capital, New Amsterdam, founded in 1625 and located at the southern tip of the island of Manhattan on the Upper New York Bay, would grow to become the largest metropolis in the USA. The city was surrendered to the British in 1664, and complete control of the colony was relinquished with the Treaty of Westminster in 1674.

New FranceEdit

Main article: New France
Nouvelle-France map-en

Map of the furthest extant of New France (in blue), about 1750

New France was the area colonized by France from the exploration of the Saint Lawrence River, by Jacques Cartier in 1534, to the cession of New France to Spain and Britain in 1763. Giovanni da Verrazzano had given the names Francesca and Nova Gallia to that land between New Spain (e.g. Mexico) and English Newfoundland (e.g. Canada), thus promoting French interests. [4] At its peak in 1712, the territory of New France extended from Newfoundland to Lake Superior and from the Hudson Bay to the Mississippi River and the Gulf of Mexico. The territory was then divided into five colonies, each with its own administration: Canada, Acadia, Hudson Bay, Newfoundland and Louisiana. Tens of thousands of French settlers came, and concentrated in villages along the St. Lawrence River, New Orleans and Acadia. The area around New Orleans and west of the Mississippi passed to Spain, which ceded it to France in 1803, allowing France to sell it as the Louisiana Purchase to the United States.

Russian coloniesEdit

Main article: Russian Alaska

The islands between Russia and Alaska and the adjacent coastal areas on both sides of the Bering Sea were peopled by the Aleut, Yupik, Chukchi and related tribes. The Russian tsars decided to explore the eastern extant of their empire (and determine whether a land bridge existed between Asia and the Americas). This led to the Second Kamchatka expedition in the 1730s and early 1740s. Exploration of the region led to exploitation of its resources - especially its furs, as other Russian regions became overexploited.

The first Russian colony in Alaska was founded in 1784 by Grigory Shelikhov.[5] The Russian-American Company was formed in 1799 with the influence of Nikolay Rezanov for the purpose of hunting sea otters for their fur. Subsequently, Russian explorers and settlers continued to establish trading posts in Alaska, the Aleutian Islands, British Columbia, Washington, Oregon and as far south as Fort Ross in northern California. Fort Ross in what is now Sonoma County, California was the southernmost Russian colony in continental North America, and was a thriving settlement from 1812 to 1841.[6]

At the instigation of Secretary of State William H. Seward, the U.S. Senate approved the purchase of Alaska from the Russian Empire for 2 cents an acre, totaling $7,200,000 on April 9, 1867.

Russian missionaries such as Herman of Alaska established the Orthodox Church among the native tribes. The Orthodox Church and Alaska Natives continue to be closely associated.

In 1815, Dr. Schäffer, a Russian entrepreneur, went to Kauai and negotiated a treaty of protection with the island's governor Kaumualii, vassal of King Kamehameha I of Hawaii, but the Russian Tsar refused to ratify the treaty. See also Orthodox Church in Hawaii and Russian Fort Elizabeth[1].

British coloniesEdit

England made its first successful efforts at the start of the 17th century for several reasons. During this era, English proto-nationalism and national assertiveness blossomed under the threat of Spanish invasion, assisted by a degree of Protestant militarism and adoration of Queen Elizabeth. At this time, however, there was no official attempt by the English government to create a colonial empire. Rather, the motivation behind the founding of colonies was piecemeal and variable. Practical considerations, such as commercial enterprise, over-population and the desire for freedom of religion, played their parts. Over half of all European migrants to Colonial America arrived as indentured servants.[7]

Convict settlersEdit

Between the late 1610s and the American Revolution, the British shipped an estimated 50,000 convicts to its American colonies.[8] The first convicts to arrive pre-dated the arrival of the Mayflower.

Chesapeake Bay areaEdit

Main article: Jamestown, Virginia
File:Wpdms king james grants.png


The first successful English colony was Jamestown, established in 1607, on a small river near Chesapeake Bay. The venture was financed and coordinated by the London Virginia Company, a joint stock company looking for gold. Its first years were extremely difficult, with very high death rates from disease and starvation, wars with local Indians, and little gold. The colony survived, barely, by turning to tobacco as a cash crop. By the late 17th century, Virginia's export economy was largely based on tobacco, and new, richer settlers came in to take up large portions of land, build large plantations and import indentured servants and slaves. In 1676, Bacon's Rebellion occurred, but was suppressed by royal officials. After Bacon's Rebellion, African slaves rapidly replaced English and Irish indentured servants as Virginia's main labor force.

The colonial assembly that had governed the colony since its establishment was dissolved, but was reinstated in 1630. It shared power with a royally appointed governor. On a more local level, governmental power was invested in county courts, also not elected. As cash crop producers, Chesapeake plantations were heavily dependent on trade. With easy navigation by river, few towns and no cities developed; planters shipped directly to Britain. High death rates and a very young population profile characterized the colony during its first years.

New EnglandEdit

Main article: Connecticut Colony


Main article: Pilgrims

The Pilgrims were a small Protestant sect based in England and the Netherlands. One group sailed on the Mayflower and settled in Massachusetts. After drawing up the Mayflower Compact by which they gave themselves broad powers of self-governance, they established the small Plymouth Colony in 1620; Plymouth later merged with the Massachusetts Bay colony. William Bradford was their main leader. The Connecticut Colony was an English colony that became the U.S. state of Connecticut, although prior to 1664 it was claimed by the Dutch as part of New Netherland, with a 1623 settlement at Hartford, called Fort Goede Hoop, which pre-dates any English settlement in the state. Originally known as the River Colony, the colony was organized on March 3, 1636 as a haven for Puritan noblemen. Providence Plantation was founded in 1636 by Roger Williams, a theologian, Baptist preacher, and linguist on land gifted by the Narragansett sachem Canonicus. Roger Williams, fleeing from religious persecution in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, agreed with his fellow settlers on an egalitarian constitution providing for majority rule "in civil things" and "liberty of conscience".


Main article: Puritans

The Puritans, a much larger group than the Pilgrims, established the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1629 with 400 settlers. They sought to reform the Church of England by creating a new, pure church in the New World. Within two years, an additional 2,000 settlers arrived. The Puritans created a deeply religious, socially tight-knit and politically innovative culture that is still present in the modern United States[citation needed]. They hoped this new land would serve as a "redeemer nation." Seeking the true religion, they fled England and in America attempted to create a "nation of saints" or the "City upon a Hill," an intensely religious, thoroughly righteous community designed to be an example for all of Europe. Roger Williams, who preached religious toleration, separation of Church and State, and a complete break with the Church of England, was banished and founded Rhode Island Colony, which became a haven for other religious refugees from the Puritan community. Anne Hutchinson, a preacher of Antinomianism, likewise was exiled to Rhode Island.

Economically, Puritan New England fulfilled the expectations of its founders. Unlike the cash-crop oriented plantations of the Chesapeake region, the Puritan economy was based on the efforts of individual farmers, who harvested enough crops to feed themselves and their families and to trade for goods they could not produce themselves. There was a generally higher economic standing and standard of living in New England than in the Chesapeake. On the other hand, town leaders in New England could literally rent out the town's impoverished families for a year to anyone who could afford to board them, as a form of alms and as a form of cheap labor[citation needed]. Along with farming growth, New England became an important mercantile and shipbuilding center, often serving as the hub for trading between the South and Europe.

Middle ColoniesEdit

Main article: Middle Colonies

The Middle Colonies, consisting of the present-day states of New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Delaware, were characterized by a large degree of diversity—religious, political, economic, and ethnic. The Dutch colony of New Netherland was taken over by the British and renamed New York but large numbers of Dutch remained in the colony. Many German and Irish immigrants settled in these areas, as well as in Connecticut. A large portion of the settlers who came to Pennsylvania were German.

Lower SouthEdit

The colonial South included the plantation colonies of the Chesapeake region (Virginia, Maryland, and, by some classifications, Delaware) and the lower South (Carolina, which eventually split into North and South Carolina, and Georgia).


Main article: Province of Carolina

The first attempted English settlement south of Virginia was the Province of Carolina. It was a private venture, financed by a group of English Lords Proprietors, who obtained a Royal Charter to the Carolinas in 1663, hoping that a new colony in the south would become profitable like Jamestown. Carolina was not settled until 1670, and even then the first attempt failed because there was no incentive for emigration to the south. However, eventually the Lords combined their remaining capital and financed a settlement mission to the area led by John West. The expedition located fertile and defensible ground at what was to become Charleston (originally Charles Town for Charles II of England), thus beginning the English colonization of the mainland. The original settlers in South Carolina established a lucrative trade in provisions, deerskins and Indian captives with the Caribbean islands. They came mainly from the English colony of Barbados and brought African slaves with them. Barbados, as a wealthy sugarcane plantation island, was one of the early English colonies to use large numbers of Africans in plantation style agriculture. The cultivation of rice was introduced during the 1690s via Africans from the rice-growing regions of West Africa. North Carolina remained a frontier through the early colonial period.

At first, South Carolina was politically divided. Its ethnic makeup included the original settlers, a group of rich, slave-owning English settlers from the island of Barbados; and Huguenots, a French-speaking community of Protestants. Nearly continuous frontier warfare during the era of King William's War and Queen Anne's War drove economic and political wedges between merchants and planters. The disaster of the Yamasee War, in 1715, set off a decade of political turmoil. By 1729, the proprietary government had collapsed, and the Proprietors sold both colonies back to the British crown.


Main article: Province of Georgia

Savannah, Georgia Colony, Early 1700's

James Oglethorpe, an 18th century British Member of Parliament, established Georgia Colony as a common solution to two problems. At that time, tension between Spain and Great Britain was high, and the British feared that Spanish Florida was threatening the British Carolinas. Oglethorpe decided to establish a colony in the contested border region of Georgia and populate it with debtors who would otherwise have been imprisoned according to standard British practice. This plan would both rid Great Britain of its undesirable elements and provide her with a base from which to attack Florida. The first colonists arrived in 1733.

Georgia was established on strict moralistic principles. Slavery was forbidden, as was alcohol and other forms of supposed immorality. However, the reality of the colony was far from ideal. The colonists were unhappy about the puritanical lifestyle and complained that their colony could not compete economically with the Carolina rice plantations. Georgia initially failed to prosper, but eventually the restrictions were lifted, slavery was allowed, and it became as prosperous as the Carolinas. The colony of Georgia never had a specific religion. It consisted of people of varied faiths.

East and West FloridaEdit

Main article: East Florida

In 1763, Great Britain received East and West Florida from the Spanish. The Floridas remained loyal to Great Britain during the American Revolution. They were returned to Spain in 1783 (in exchange for Havana), at which time most Englishmen left. The Spanish then neglected the Floridas: few Spaniards lived there when the US bought the area in 1819.

Unification of the British coloniesEdit

A common defenseEdit

One event that reminded colonists of their shared identity as British subjects was the War of the Austrian Succession (1740-1748) in Europe. This conflict spilled over into the colonies, where it was known as "King George's War"; most of the fighting took place in Europe, British colonial troops attacked French Canada.

At the Albany Congress of 1754, Benjamin Franklin proposed that the colonies be united by a Grand Council overseeing a common policy for defense, expansion, and Indian affairs. While the plan was thwarted by colonial legislatures and King George II, it was an early indication that the British colonies of North America were headed towards unification.

French and Indian WarEdit

Main article: French and Indian War

The French and Indian War (1754-1763) was the American extension of the general European conflict known as the Seven Years' War. While previous colonial wars in North America had started in Europe and then spread to the colonies, the French and Indian War is notable for having started in North America and then spreading to Europe. Increasing competition between Britain and France, especially in the Great Lakes and Ohio valley, was one of the primary origins of the war.

The French and Indian War took on a new significance for the North American colonists in Great Britain when William Pitt the elder decided that it was necessary to win the war against France at all costs. For the first time, North America was one of the main theaters of what could be termed a "world war." During the war, the British Colonies' (including the thirteen colonies' that would later become the basis of the United States) position as part of the British Empire was made truly apparent, as British military and civilian officials took on an increased presence in the lives of Americans. The war also increased a sense of American unity in other ways. It caused men, who might normally have never left their own colony, to travel across the continent, fighting alongside men from decidedly different, yet still "American", backgrounds. Throughout the course of the war, British officers trained American ones (most notably George Washington) for battle--which would later benefit the American Revolution. Also, state legislatures and officials had to cooperate intensively, for arguably the first time, in pursuit of the continent-wide military effort.


In the Treaty of Paris (1763), France surrendered its vast North American empire to Britain. Before the war, Britain held the thirteen American colonies, most of present-day Nova Scotia, and most of the Hudson Bay watershed. Following the war, Britain gained all French territory east of the Mississippi River, including Quebec, the Great Lakes, and the Ohio valley. Britain also gained the Spanish colonies of East and West Florida. In removing a major foreign threat to the thirteen colonies, the war also largely removed the colonists' need of colonial protection.

The British and colonists triumphed jointly over a common foe. The colonists' loyalty to the mother country was stronger than ever before. However, disunity was beginning to form. British Prime Minister William Pitt the Elder had decided to wage the war in the colonies with the use of troops from the colonies and tax funds from Britain itself. This was a successful wartime strategy, but after the war was over, each side believed that it had borne a greater burden than the other. The British populace, the most heavily taxed of any in Europe, pointed out angrily that the colonists paid little to the royal coffers. The colonists replied that their sons had fought and died in a war that served European interests more than their own. This dispute was a link in the chain of events that soon brought about the American Revolution.

Ties to the British EmpireEdit

Although the colonies were very different from one another, they were still a part of the British Empire in more than just name.

Socially, the colonial elite of Boston, New York, Charleston, and Philadelphia saw their identity as British. Although many had never been to England, they imitated British styles of dress, dance, and etiquette. This social upper echelon built its mansions in the Georgian style, copied the furniture designs of Thomas Chippendale, and participated in the intellectual currents of Europe, such as Enlightenment. To many of their inhabitants, the seaport cities of colonial America were truly British cities.

Many of the political structures of the colonies drew upon various English political traditions, most notably the Commonwealthmen and the Whig traditions. Many Americans at the time saw the colonies' systems of governance as modeled after the British constitution of the time, with the king corresponding to the governor, the House of Commons to the colonial assembly, and the House of Lords to the Governor's council. The codes of law of the colonies were often drawn directly from English law; indeed, English common law survives not only in Canada, but even in the modern United States. Eventually, it was a dispute over the meaning of some of these political ideals, especially political representation, and a growing unity among the new generations that led to the American Revolution.

Another point on which the colonies found themselves more similar than different was the booming import of British goods. The British economy had begun to grow rapidly at the end of the 17th century, and by the mid-18th century, small factories in Britain were producing much more than the nation could consume. Finding a market for their goods in the British colonies of North America, Britain increased her exports to that region by 360% between 1740 and 1770. Because British merchants offered generous credit to their customers, Americans began buying staggering amounts of English goods. From Nova Scotia to Florida, all British subjects bought similar products, creating and anglicizing a sort of common identity.

From unity to revolutionEdit

Royal ProclamationEdit

The general sentiment of inequity that arose soon after the Treaty of Paris was solidified by the Royal Proclamation of 1763, which temporarily prohibited settlement west of the Appalachian Mountains. Colonists resented the measure, and it was never enforced.

Acts of ParliamentEdit

Parliament had generally been preoccupied with affairs in Europe and let the colonies govern themselves. It was no longer willing to do so. A series of measures resulting from this policy change, while affecting the New England colonies most directly would continue to arouse opposition in the 'thirteen colonies' over the next thirteen years:

Colonial lifeEdit

New EnglandEdit

In New England, the Puritans created self-governing communities of religious congregations of farmers, or yeomen, and their families. High-level politicians gave out plots of land to male settlers, or proprietors, who then divided the land amongst themselves. Large portions were usually given to men of higher social standing, but every white man had enough land to support a family. Also important was the fact that every white man had a voice in the town meeting. The town meeting levied taxes, built roads, and elected officials to manage town affairs.

The Congregational Church, the church the Puritans founded, was not automatically joined by all New England residents because of Puritan beliefs that God singled out only a few specific people for salvation. Instead, membership was limited to those who could convincingly "test" before members of the church that they had been saved. They were known as "the elect" or "Saints" and made up less than 40% of the population of New England.

Farm lifeEdit

A majority of New England residents were small farmers. Within these small farm families, and English families as well, a man had complete power over the property and his wife. When married, an English woman lost her maiden name and personal identity, meaning she could not own property, file lawsuits, or participate in political life, even when widowed. The role of wives was to raise and nurture healthy children and support their husbands. Most women carried out these duties. In the mid-18th century, women usually married in their early 20s and had 6 to 8 children, most of whom survived to adulthood. Farm women provided most of the materials needed by the rest of the family by spinning yarn from wool and knitting sweaters and stockings, making candles and soap, and churning milk into butter.


Most New England parents tried to help their sons establish farms of their own. When sons married, fathers gave them gifts of land, livestock, or farming equipment; daughters received household goods, farm animals, and/or cash. Arranged marriages were very unusual; normally, children chose their own spouses from within a circle of suitable acquaintances who shared their religion and social standing. Parents retained veto power over their children's marriages.

New England farming families generally lived in wooden houses because of the abundance of trees. A typical New England farmhouse was one-and-a-half stories tall and had a strong frame (usually made of large square timbers) that was covered by wooden clapboard siding. A large chimney stood in the middle of the house that provided cooking facilities and warmth during the winter. One side of the ground floor contained a hall, a general-purpose room where the family worked and ate meals. Adjacent to the hall was the parlor, a room used to entertain guests that contained the family's best furnishings and the parent's bed. Children slept in a loft above, while the kitchen was either part of the hall or was located in a shed along the back of the house. Because colonial families were large, these small dwellings had much activity and there was little privacy.

By the middle of the 18th century, this way of life was facing a crisis as the region's population had nearly doubled each generation—from 100,000 in 1700 to 200,000 in 1725, to 350,000 by 1750—because farm households had many children, and most people lived until they were 60 years old. As colonists in Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island continued to subdivide their land between farmers, the farms became too small to support single families. This overpopulation threatened the New England ideal of a society of independent yeoman farmers.

Some farmers obtained land grants to create farms in undeveloped land in Massachusetts and Connecticut or bought plots of land from speculators in New Hampshire and what later became Vermont. Other farmers became agricultural innovators. They planted nutritious English grass such as red clover and timothy-grass, which provided more feed for livestock, and potatoes, which provided a high production rate that was an advantage for small farms. Families increased their productivity by exchanging goods and labor with each other. They loaned livestock and grazing land to one another and worked together to spin yarn, sew quilts, and shuck corn. Migration, agricultural innovation, and economic cooperation were creative measures that preserved New England's yeoman society until the 19th century.

Town lifeEdit

File:Saltbox side elevation.png

By the mid eighteenth century in New England, shipbuilding was a staple. The British crown often turned to the cheap, yet strongly built American ships. There was a shipyard at the mouth of almost every river in New England.

By 1750, a variety of artisans, shopkeepers, and merchants provided services to the growing farming population. Blacksmiths, wheelwrights, and furniture makers set up shops in rural villages. There they built and repaired goods needed by farm families. Stores selling English manufactures such as cloth, iron utensils, and window glass as well as West Indian products like sugar and molasses were set up by traders. The storekeepers of these shops sold their imported goods in exchange for crops and other local products including roof shingles, potash, and barrel staves. These local goods were shipped to towns and cities all along the Atlantic Coast. Enterprising men set up stables and taverns along wagon roads to service this transportation system.

After these products had been delivered to port towns such as Boston and Salem in Massachusetts, New Haven in Connecticut, and Newport and Providence in Rhode Island, merchants then exported them to the West Indies where they were traded for molasses, sugar, gold coins, and bills of exchange (credit slips). They carried the West Indian products to New England factories where the raw sugar was turned into granulated and sugar and the molasses distilled into rum. The gold and credit slips were sent to England where they were exchanged for manufactures, which were shipped back to the colonies and sold along with the sugar and rum to farmers.

Other New England merchants took advantage of the rich fishing areas along the Atlantic Coast and financed a large fishing fleet, transporting its catch of mackerel and cod to the West Indies and Europe. Some merchants exploited the vast amounts of timber along the coasts and rivers of northern New England. They funded sawmills that supplied cheap wood for houses and shipbuilding. Hundreds of New England shipwrights built oceangoing ships, which they sold to British and American merchants.

Many merchants became very wealthy by providing their goods to the agricultural population and ended up dominating the society of sea port cities. Unlike yeoman farmhouses, these merchants resembled the lifestyle of that of the upper class of England living in elegant two-and-a-half story houses designed the new Georgian style. These Georgian houses had a symmetrical façade with equal numbers of windows on both sides of the central door. The interior consisted of a passageway down the middle of the house with specialized rooms such as a library, dining room, formal parlour, and master bedroom off the sides. Unlike the multi-purpose halls and parlours of the yeoman houses, each of these rooms served a separate purpose. In a Georgian house, men mainly used certain rooms, such as the library, while women mostly used the kitchen. These houses contained bedrooms on the second floor that provided privacy to parents and children.

Culture and educationEdit

File:Massachusetts Hall, Harvard University.JPG
Main article: Education in Colonial America

Elementary education was widespread in New England. Early Puritan settlers believed it was necessary to study the Bible, so children were taught to read at an early age. It was also required that each town pay for a primary school. About 10 percent enjoyed secondary schooling and funded grammar schools in larger towns. Most boys learned skills from their fathers on the farm or as apprentices to artisans. Few girls attended formal schools, but most were able to get some education at home or at so-called "Dame schools" where women taught basic reading and writing skills in their own houses. By 1750, nearly 90% of New England's women and almost all of its men could read and write. Many churches in New England established colleges to train ministers while Puritans founded many places of higher learning such as Harvard College in 1636 and Yale College in 1701. Later, Baptists founded Rhode Island College (near Brown University) in 1764 and a Congregationlist minister established Dartmouth College in 1769. Great Britain also founded schools, such as the College of William and Mary in 1693. Few people (no women and a small number of men) attended college, making higher education available only for wealthy merchant families.

New England produced many great literary works. In fact, more works were created in New England than all of the other colonies combined. Most of these works were histories, sermons, and personal journals, and were written by ministers or inspired by religious beliefs. Cotton Mather, a Boston minister published Magnalia Christi Americana (The Great Works of Christ in America, 1702), while revivalist Jonathan Edwards wrote his philosophical work, A Careful and Strict Enquiry Into...Notions of...Freedom of Will... (1754). Most music had a religious theme as well and was mainly the singing of Psalms. Because of New England's deep religious beliefs, artistic works that were not very religious or too "worldly" were banned. These endeavors included drama and other types of plays.


Some migrants who came to Colonial America were in search of the freedom to practice forms of Christianity which were prohibited and persecuted in Europe. Since there was no state religion, and since Protestantism had no central authority, religious practice in the colonies became diverse.

One attempt to consolidate religious practice is sometimes called the Great Awakening, a controversial term which refers to a northeastern Protestant revival movement that took place in the 1730s and 1740s. The movement began with Jonathan Edwards, a Massachusetts preacher who sought to return to the Pilgrims' strict Calvinist roots and to reawaken the "Fear of God." English preacher George Whitefield and other itinerant preachers continued the movement, traveling across the colonies and preaching in a dramatic and emotional style. Followers of Edwards and other preachers of similar religiosity called themselves the "New Lights", as contrasted with the "Old Lights", who disapproved of their movement. To promote their viewpoints, the two sides established academies and colleges, including Princeton and Williams College. The Great Awakening has been called the first truly American event.[9]

A similar pietistic movement took place among some of the German and Dutch Lutherans, leading to internal dvisions. By the 1770s, the Baptists were growing rapidly both in the north (where they founded Brown University, and in the South (where they challenged the previously unquestioned moral authority of the Anglican establishment).

Mid-Atlantic RegionEdit

Unlike New England, the Mid-Atlantic Region gained much of its population from new immigration, and by 1750, the combined populations of New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania had reached nearly 300,000 people. By 1750, about 60,000 Irish and 50,000 Germans came to live in British North America, many of them settling in the Mid-Atlantic Region. William Penn, the man who founded the colony of Pennsylvania in 1682, attracted an influx of immigrants with his policies of religious liberty and freehold ownership. "Freehold" meant that farmers owned their land free and clear of leases. The first major influx of immigrants came mainly from Ireland and consisted of Irish Presbyterians and Irish Catholics. A smaller immigration came with Germans trying to escape the religious conflicts and declining economic opportunities in Germany and Switzerland.

Ways of lifeEdit

Much of the architecture of the Middle Colonies reflects the diversity of its peoples. In Albany and New York City, a majority of the buildings were Dutch style with brick exteriors and high gables at each end while many Dutch churches were shaped liked an octagon. Using cut stone to build their houses, German and Welsh settlers in Pennsylvania followed the way of their homeland and completely ignored the plethora of timber in the area. An example of this would be Germantown, Pennsylvania where 80 percent of the buildings in the town were made entirely of stone. On the other hand, settlers from Ireland took advantage of America's ample supply of timber and constructed sturdy log cabins.

Ethnic cultures also affected the styles of furniture. Rural Quakers preferred simple designs in furnishings such as tables, chairs, chests and shunned elaborate decorations. However, some urban Quakers had much more elaborate furniture. The city of Philadelphia became a major center of furniture-making because of its massive wealth from Quaker and British merchants. Philadelphian cabinet makers built elegant desks and highboys. German artisans created intricate carved designs on their chests and other furniture with painted scenes of flowers and birds. German potters also crafted a large array of jugs, pots, and plates, of both elegant and traditional design.

There were ethnic differences in the treatment of women. Among Puritan settlers in New England, wives almost never worked in the fields with their husbands. In German communities in Pennsylvania, however, many women worked in fields and stables. German and Dutch immigrants granted women more control over property, which was not permitted in the local English law. Unlike English colonial wives, German and Dutch wives owned their own clothes and other items and were also given the ability to write wills disposing of the property brought into the marriage.

By the time of the Revolutionary War, approximately 85 per cent of white Americans were of English, Irish, Welsh, and Scottish descent. Approximately 8.8 per cent of whites were of German ancestry, and 3.5 per cent were of Dutch origin.


Ethnicity made a difference in agricultural practice. As an example, German farmers generally preferred oxen rather than horses to pull their plows and Scots-Irish made a farming economy based on hogs and corn. In Ireland, people farmed intensively, working small pieces of land trying to get the largest possible production-rate from their crops. In the American colonies, settlers from northern Ireland focused on mixed-farming. Using this technique, they grew corn for human consumption and as feed for hogs and other livestock. Many improvement-minded farmers of all different backgrounds began using new agricultural practices to raise their output. During the 1750s, these agricultural innovators replaced the hand sickles and scythes used to harvest hay, wheat, and barley with the cradle scythe, a tool with wooden fingers that arranged the stalks of grain for easy collection. This tool was able to triple the amount of work down by farmers in one day. Farmers also began fertilizing their fields with dung and lime and rotating their crops to keep the soil fertile.

Before 1720, most colonists in the mid-Atlantic region worked with small-scale farming and paid for imported manufactures by supplying the West Indies with corn and flour. In New York, a fur-pelt export trade to Europe flourished adding additional wealth to the region. After 1720, mid-Atlantic farming stimulated with the international demand for wheat. A massive population explosion in Europe brought wheat prices up. By 1770, a bushel of wheat cost twice as much as it did in 1720. Farmers also expanded their production of flaxseed and corn since

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