The British Empire in the North American Colonies, 1600-1750



A map of the British colonies in North America / Norman B. Leventhal Map Center, Creative Commons


Edited By Matthew A. McIntosh / 02.16.2018
Historian
Brewminate Editor-in-Chief


1 – Introduction

1.1 – The Coming of the English

The 17th century marked the early beginnings of English rule in the Americas with the establishment of the Thirteen Colonies.

1.1.1 – Early British Attempts to Colonize

The first serious attempts to establish English colonies overseas were made in the last quarter of the 16th century, during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. Financed by the Muscovy Company, Martin Frobisher set sail in 1576, seeking the Northwest Passage. In August of 1576, he landed at Frobisher Bay on Baffin Island. In 1578, he reached the shores of Greenland and made an unsuccessful attempt at founding a settlement in Frobisher Bay. At the same time, between 1577 and 1580, Sir Francis Drake was circumnavigating the globe. In 1579, he landed somewhere on the western coast of North America, claiming the area for Elizabeth as “New Albion.”

1.1.2 – The Founding of Roanoke

In 1584, Queen Elizabeth I granted Sir Walter Raleigh a charter for the colonization of an area of North America which was to be called Virginia. Raleigh and Elizabeth intended that the venture should provide riches from the New World and a base from which to send privateers on raids against the treasure fleets of Spain. He called his new privately-funded colony, Roanoke, and founded it on an island off the coast of present-day North Carolina, where it would be relatively isolated from existing settlements in North America.

The colony was small, consisting of only 117 people, who suffered a poor relationship with the local American Indians, the Croatans, and struggled to survive in their new land. Their governor, John White, returned to England in late 1587 to secure more people and supplies; by the time he returned in 1590, the entire colony had vanished. The only trace the colonists left behind was the word “Croatoan” carved into a fence surrounding the village. Governor White never knew whether the colonists had decamped for nearby Croatoan Island (now Hatteras) or whether some disaster had befallen them all. Roanoke is still called “the Lost Colony” today.

1.1.3 – The Beginning of the Thirteen Colonies

England made its first successful efforts at the start of the 17th century. Most of the new English colonies established in North America and the West Indies, whether successful or otherwise, were proprietary colonies. Proprietors were appointed to found and govern settlements under mercantile charters granted to joint stock companies. Soon, there was a rapid increase of English colonial activity, driven by the pursuit of new land, trade, and religious freedom.

The Thirteen Colonies were the colonies on the Atlantic coast of North America, starting with Virginia in 1607, and ending with Georgia in 1733. The colonies were Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Georgia, Connecticut, Massachusetts Bay, Maryland, South Carolina, New Hampshire, Virginia, New York, North Carolina, and Rhode Island and Providence Plantations. Each colony developed its own system of self-government.

1.1.4 – Jamestown

London Company and Plymouth Company Grants: This map illustrates the 1606 grants by James I to the London and Plymouth companies. The overlapping area (shown in yellow) along the northeastern coast of the United States was granted to both companies on the stipulation that neither found a settlement within 100 miles (160 km) of each other. The location of the Jamestown Settlement (“J”) is shown just south of the overlapping area, 60 miles from the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay.

In 1606, James I sold a charter containing lands between present-day South Carolina and the U.S.-Canada border to two competing groups of investors. The Plymouth Company was given the northern portions, and the London Company was given the southern portions. The Northern Plymouth settlement in Maine faltered and was abandoned. However, the London Virginia Company created the first successful English overseas settlements at Jamestown in 1607. Its first years were extremely difficult, with very high death rates from disease and starvation, wars with local American Indians, and little gold. The colony survived and flourished by developing tobacco as a cash crop for the colony; it served as a beginning for the colonial state of Virginia.

1.1.5 – Massachusetts Bay Colony

The Puritans (a much larger group than the Pilgrims) established the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1629 with 400 settlers. They fled England, and in America, they attempted to create a “nation of saints” or a “City upon a Hill”—an intensely religious community designed to be an example for all of Europe. Other colonists who disagreed with the Puritans in Massachusetts settled to the north, mingling with adventurers and profit-oriented settlers to establish more religiously diverse colonies in New Hampshire and Maine.

Unlike the cash crop-oriented plantations of the Chesapeake region, the Puritan economy was based on the efforts of self-supporting farmsteads who traded only for goods they could not produce themselves. Along with agriculture, fishing, and logging, New England became an important mercantile and shipbuilding center, serving as the hub for trading between the southern colonies and Europe.

1.1.6 – The Middle Colonies and Colonial South

The Middle Colonies, consisting of the present-day states of New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Delaware, were characterized by a large degree of religious, political, economic, and ethnic diversity. In 1664, England took over the Dutch colony of New Netherland, including New Amsterdam, and renamed it the Province of New York. Pennsylvania was founded in 1681 as a proprietary colony of the Quaker, William Penn.

The colonial South included the plantation colonies of the Chesapeake region—Virginia and Maryland—and the lower South colonies of Carolina and Georgia. Carolina was not settled until 1670. The original settlers in South Carolina established a lucrative trade in provisions, deerskins, and American Indian captives with the Caribbean Islands. The settlers came mainly from the English colony of Barbados and brought African slaves with them.

1.1.7 – Population Growth

By 1640, 20,000 settlers had arrived in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Between the late 1610s and the American Revolution, the British shipped an estimated 50,000 convicts to its American colonies; the first convicts in the colonies arrived before the Mayflower. After 1700, most immigrants to Colonial America arrived as indentured servants—young unmarried men and women seeking a new life in a much richer environment. Philadelphia became the center of the colonies; by the end of the colonial period, 30,000 people lived there, having come from diverse nations and practicing numerous trades.

By 1776, about 85% of the white population in the British colonies was of English, Irish, Scottish, or Welsh descent, with 9% of German origin and 4% Dutch. These populations continued to grow at a rapid rate throughout the 18th century, primarily because of high birth rates and relatively low death rates. Immigration was a minor factor from 1774 to 1830. Over 90% of people were farmers. Several small cities that were also seaports linked the colonial economy to the larger British Empire.

1.2 – Indentured Servants

Colonial farmers, planters, and shopkeepers hired servants from Europe who agreed to work for a number of years in exchange for their passage to America.

1.2.1 – Background: Indentured Servitude in the Colonies

Indenture contract signed with an X by Henry Meyer in 1738: This image illustrates an indenture contract signed with an “X”.

In colonial North America, farmers, planters, and shopkeepers found it very difficult to hire workers, primarily because cash was short and it was easy for those workers to set up their own farms. Consequently, the more common solution became to pay the passage of a young worker from the British Isles (including Ireland, Wales, and Scotland) or Germany, who would work for several years to pay off the debt of the travel costs. Tens of thousands of workers, usually Europeans, immigrated as indentured servants (also known as redemptioners), particularly to the 13 colonies of British North America.

An indenture was a legal contract enforced by the courts. Europeans who were displaced from their land or unable to find work signed contracts of indenture and took passage to the Americas. Some indentured servants were deported from their country and sent to the New World as punishment for law breaking. Prior to the American Revolutionary War, an estimated 50,000 convicts from the United Kingdom were transported to the American colonies and served out their time as indentured servants before receiving an official pardon. Labor was in demand in North America, and so free persons were also recruited in exchange for passage to the Americas. Many recruiters abused the system, however, including lying to recruits.

Indentured servitude was a method of increasing the number of colonists, especially in the British colonies. Voluntary migration and convict labor only provided so many people, and because the journey across the Atlantic was dangerous, other means of encouraging settlement were necessary. Contract-laborers became so numerous that the United States Constitution counted them specifically in appointing representatives.

1.2.2 – Process

Advertisement: This Philadelphia newspaper advertises the sale of an indentured servant’s labor, followed below by advertisements for various slaves. This illustrates the difference between indentured servitude (in which a person’s labor is owned) vs. slavery (in which a person is owned).

Indentured servants or their parents would make arrangements with a ship captain in Europe, who would not charge any money. The captain would transport the indentured servants to the American colonies and sell their legal papers to someone who needed workers. When the ship arrived, the captain would often advertise in a newspaper that indentured servants were for sale. When a buyer was found, the sale would be recorded at the city court. One could buy and sell indentured servants’ contracts, and the right to their labor would change hands, but not the person as a piece of property.

In the 17th century, nearly two-thirds of English settlers came as indentured servants. Given the high death rate, many servants did not live to the end of their terms. The servants were not paid wages, but were provided food, room, clothing, and training (also called the “terms of indenture”). Unlike slaves, servants could look forward to a release from bondage. At the end of their term they received a payment known as “freedom dues” and a new suit of clothes; they were then free members of society.

1.2.3 – Abuses of the System

Abuse of indentured servants on board ships is well documented. If a person died more than half way across the Atlantic, the surviving family members had to pay the deceased’s fare as well as their own. The crew often pilfered their baggage, and while many travelers started their journey with sufficient funds to pay their way, they were often overcharged so that they arrived with a debt to settle in addition to their servitude contract. If the ship needed to sail before some of the passengers’ indentures had been sold, an agent in the American port kept them confined until a buyer presented himself.

Indentures could not marry without the permission of their contract’s owner, were subject to physical punishment (occasionally even resulting in death), and saw their obligation to labor enforced by the courts. To ensure uninterrupted work by the female servants, the law lengthened the term of their indenture if they became pregnant.

The British Parliament eventually enacted laws protecting British subjects from the worst abuses. The law required that the specific terms and conditions of servitude be approved by a magistrate in Great Britain and declared that any indentures not bearing a magistrate’s seal were unenforceable in the colonies. As a result, colonial masters increasingly sought servants from elsewhere.

1.2.4 – Effects on the Economy

Indentured servitude was a major element of colonial labor economics from the 1620s until the American Revolution. The system declined as the price of indentured agricultural labor increased (for example, the cost of indentured labor rose by nearly 60% throughout the 1680s in some colonial regions). Few indentures arrived after 1775, and so southern planters turned increasingly to African slaves for their labor force, who were comparatively less expensive. Thereafter, Africans began to replace indentured servants in both skilled and unskilled positions.

2 – Settling New England

2.1 – Plymouth

The Puritans founded Plymouth in order to practice their own brand of Protestantism without interference from England.

2.1.1 – Background: Puritan Settlements in New England

The colonies known as New England included New Hampshire, Massachusetts Bay, Rhode Island, and Connecticut. By 1700, there were 130,000 people in this geographical area, with 7,000 in Boston and 2,600 in Newport. These settler-invaders’ experiences greatly influenced the government and commerce of America for generations.

Settled largely by waves of Puritan families in the 1630s, New England had a religious orientation from the start. In England, reform -minded men and women had been calling for greater changes to the English national church since the 1580s. These reformers, who followed the teachings of John Calvin and other Protestant reformers, were called Puritans because of their insistence on “purifying” the Church of England of what they believed to be un-scriptural, especially Catholic elements that lingered in its institutions and practices.

The conflict generated by Puritanism had divided English society, because the Puritans demanded reforms that undermined the traditional festive culture. During the 1620s and 1630s, the conflict escalated to the point where the state church prohibited Puritan ministers from preaching. In the church’s view, Puritans represented a national security threat because their demands for cultural, social, and religious reforms undermined the king’s authority.

Unwilling to conform to the Church of England, many Puritans sought refuge in the New World. Thousands of Puritans left their English homes not to establish a land of religious freedom, but to practice their own religion without persecution. Puritan New England offered them the opportunity to live as they believed the Bible demanded. In their “New” England, they set out to create a model of reformed Protestantism—a new English Israel. Yet those who emigrated to the Americas were not united; some called for a complete break with the Church of England, while others remained committed to reforming the national church.

2.1.2 – Plymouth: First Puritan Colony

The first group of Puritans to make their way across the Atlantic was a small contingent known as the Pilgrims. Unlike other Puritans, they insisted on a complete separation from the Church of England and had first migrated to the Dutch Republic seeking religious freedom. Although they found they could worship without hindrance in the Netherlands, they grew concerned that they were losing their English culture as they saw their children begin to learn the Dutch language and adopt Dutch ways. In addition, the English Pilgrims (and others in Europe) feared another attack on the Dutch Republic by Catholic Spain.

Therefore, in 1620, the Pilgrims moved on to found the Plymouth Colony in present-day Massachusetts. The governor of Plymouth, William Bradford, was a separatist, a proponent of complete separation from the English state church. Bradford and the other Pilgrim separatists represented a major challenge to the prevailing vision of a unified English national church and empire. On board the Mayflower, which was bound for Virginia but landed on the tip of Cape Cod, Bradford and 40 other adult men signed the Mayflower Compact, which presented a religious (rather than an economic) rationale for colonization. The compact expressed a community ideal of working together and was notable for its bold assertion of the right to self-govern. When a larger exodus of Puritans established the Massachusetts Bay Colony in the 1630s, the Pilgrims at Plymouth welcomed them and the two colonies cooperated with each other.

The Mayflower Compact: The original Mayflower Compact no longer exists; only copies, such as this ca. 1645 transcription by William Bradford, remain.

Different labor systems in Plymouth and other Puritan New England colonies distinguished them from the Chesapeake colonies to the south. Puritans expected young people to work diligently at their calling, and all members of their large families, including children, did the bulk of the work necessary to run homes, farms, and businesses. Very few migrants came to New England as laborers; in fact, New England towns protected their disciplined homegrown workforce by refusing to allow outsiders in, assuring their sons and daughters steady employment. New England’s labor system produced remarkable results, notably a powerful maritime-based economy with scores of oceangoing ships and the crews necessary to sail them. New England mariners sailing New England-made ships transported Virginian tobacco and West Indian sugar throughout the Atlantic World.

In their first winter in the new land, over half of the population of Plymouth died of scurvy and harsh conditions. However, the settlement survived, and the successful voyage of the Mayflower led to the great Puritan migration of the 1630s.

2.1.3 – Early Relations with American Indians

Local American Indian tribes such as the Wampanoag were apprehensive about the Pilgrims. There had been previous unprovoked attacks by English sailors, as well as theft, abduction, and enforced slavery. In early interactions, however, the Puritans and American Indians were able to establish treaties of peace that ensured each people would not bring harm to the other. Several American Indians were crucial in helping the Pilgrims survive in the new land—teaching them how to farm and fertilize the soil. For the first few years of colonial life, the fur trade (buying furs from American Indians and selling to Europeans) was the dominant source of income beyond subsistence farming. While these early years saw relative peace between the Pilgrims of Plymouth and the people who had inhabited the land for centuries, this peace would not last.

2.2 – The Massachusetts Bay Colony

The Massachusetts Bay Colony, founded in the 17th century, included parts of Maine, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Connecticut.

2.2.1 – Massachusetts Bay

Settlements in Eastern Massachusetts: This map illustrates the early settlements in eastern Massachusetts, including the Massachusetts Bay Colony.

The Massachusetts Bay Colony was an English settlement on the east coast of North America in the 17th century, situated around the present-day cities of Salem and Boston. The territory administered by the colony included parts of what later became the states of Massachusetts, Maine, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Connecticut.

Early in the 17th century, several European explorers charted the area. Plans for the first permanent British settlements on the east coast of North America began in late 1606, when King James I of England formed two joint stock companies. The owners of the Massachusetts Bay Company founded the colony. In 1624, the Plymouth Council for New England established a small fishing village at Cape Ann. About 20,000 people migrated to New England in the 1630s, and for the next 10 years, there was a steady exodus of Puritans from England to Massachusetts and the neighboring colonies, a phenomenon now called the Great Migration.

2.2.2 – Local Governance

The structure of the colonial government evolved over the lifetime of the charter. The government began with a corporate organization that included a governor and deputy governor, a general court of its shareholders, known as “freemen,” and a council of assistants. The council of assistants sat as the upper house of the legislature and served as the judicial court of last appeal. Although its governors were elected, the electorate was limited to freemen, who had been examined for their religious views and formally admitted to their church. As a consequence, the colonial leadership exhibited intolerance to other religious views, including Anglican, Quaker, and Baptist theologies.

Ongoing political difficulties with England after the English Restoration led to the revocation of the colonial charter in 1684 and the brief establishment by King James II of the Dominion of New England in 1686 to bring all of the New England colonies under firmer crown control. The dominion collapsed after the Glorious Revolution of 1688 deposed James, and the colony reverted to rule under the revoked charter until 1692, when the Massachusetts Bay territories combined with those of the Plymouth Colony and proprietary holdings on Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard.

2.2.3 – Early Economy and Slavery

The colony’s economy began to diversify in the 1640s, as the fur trading, lumber, and fishing industries found markets in Europe and the West Indies and the colony’s shipbuilding industry developed. Combined with the growth of a generation of people who were born in the colony, the rise of a merchant class began to slowly change the political and cultural landscape of the colony, though its governance continued to be dominated by relatively conservative Puritans.

Slavery existed but was not widespread within the colony. Some American Indians captured in the Pequot War were enslaved, with those posing the greatest threat being transported to the West Indies and exchanged for goods and slaves. The slave trade, however, became a significant element of the Massachusetts economy in the 18th century as its merchants became increasingly involved in it, transporting slaves from Africa and supplies from New England to the West Indies.

2.2.4 – The Role of Women

Some literate Puritan women in the colonies, such as Anne Hutchinson, challenged the male ministers’ authority. Hutchinson’s major offense was her claim of direct religious revelation, a type of spiritual experience that negated the role of ministers. Because of Hutchinson’s beliefs and her defiance of authority in the colony, Puritan authorities tried and convicted her of holding false beliefs. In 1638, she was excommunicated and banished from the colony.

Like many other Europeans, the Puritans believed in the supernatural. Every event appeared to be a sign of God’s mercy or judgment, and people believed that witches allied themselves with the Devil to carry out evil deeds and deliberate harm such as the sickness or death of children, the loss of cattle, and other catastrophes. Hundreds were accused of witchcraft in Puritan New England, including townspeople whose habits or appearance bothered their neighbors or who appeared threatening for any reason. Women, seen as more susceptible to the Devil because of their supposedly weaker constitutions, made up the vast majority of suspects and those who were executed. The most notorious cases occurred in Salem Village in 1692.

2.2.5 – New Hampshire, Maine, and Connecticut

Two small proprietary colonies were set up in addition to Massachusetts Bay—one in New Hampshire and one in Maine. New Hampshire was not truly a separate province from Massachusetts until after 1691.

Connecticut was formed as a migration from the Massachusetts colony. The original settlements were along the Connecticut River at Hartford, Windsor, and Wethersfield. New Haven was settled separately, but all joined together as Connecticut in 1662. A code of laws was drawn up, beginning with penal laws, which were actually borrowed from the Bible. Like Rhode Island, this colony’s history in this century is bound to that of Massachusetts in the Confederation.

2.2.6 – Displacement of Algonquians and the Pequot War

Prior to the arrival of Europeans on the eastern shores of New England, the area around Massachusetts Bay was the territory of several Algonquian tribes, including the Massachusett, Nauset, and Wampanoag. The total Algonquian population in 1620 has been estimated to be 7,000. This number was significantly larger as late as 1616; in later years, chroniclers interviewed Algonquians who described a major pestilence brought by Europeans that killed one- to two-thirds of the population.

Although the colonists initially had peaceful relationships with the local Algonquians, frictions arose over cultural differences, which were further exacerbated by Dutch colonial expansion. The Pequot War was the first war between American Indians and English settlers in northeastern America and foreshadowed European domination. Fought in 1637, it was the culmination of numerous conflicts between the colonists and the American Indians. There were disputes over property, livestock that was damaging American Indian crops, hunting, and dishonest traders. Besides these, the colonists believed that they had a God-given right to settle the New World in spite of the centuries-long presence of the American Indians. They saw American Indians as savages who needed to be converted to their way of God, and they continued to feel superior even to those who became Christian.

When the Puritans had initially begun to arrive in the 1620s and 1630s, some local Algonquian peoples had viewed them as potential allies in the conflicts already simmering between rival native groups. In 1621, the Wampanoag, led by Massasoit, concluded a peace treaty with the Pilgrims at Plymouth. In the 1630s, the Puritans in Massachusetts and Plymouth allied themselves with the Narragansett and Mohegan people against the Pequot, who had recently expanded their claims into southern New England.

In May of 1637, the Puritans attacked a large group of several hundred Pequot along the Mystic River in Connecticut. English troops burned the village and killed the estimated 400–700 Pequot inside, massacring all but a handful of the men, women, and children they found. This turned the war against the Pequot and broke the tribe’s resistance. The English, supported by Uncas’s Mohegan, pursued the remaining Pequot resistors until all were either killed or captured and enslaved. After the war, the colonists enslaved survivors and outlawed the name “Pequot.”

2.3 – Rhode Island

Rhode Island was formed as an English colony by Roger Williams and others fleeing prosecution from Puritans.

2.3.1 – Williams, Hutchinson, and Puritanism

Although many people assume Puritans escaped England to establish religious freedom, they proved to be just as intolerant as the English state church. When dissenters, including Puritan minister Roger Williams and Anne Hutchinson, challenged Governor Winthrop in Massachusetts Bay in the 1630s, they were banished. Roger Williams questioned the Puritans’ taking of American Indian land and argued for a complete separation from the Church of England, a position other Puritans in Massachusetts rejected, as well as the idea that the state could not punish individuals for their beliefs. Puritan authorities found him guilty of spreading dangerous ideas and expelled him from the colony.

Anne Hutchinson also ran afoul of Puritan authorities for her criticism of the evolving religious practices in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. In particular, she held that Puritan ministers in New England taught a shallow version of Protestantism emphasizing hierarchy and actions—a “covenant of works” rather than a “covenant of grace.” Literate Puritan women like Hutchinson presented a challenge to the male minister’s authority. Her major offense was her claim of direct religious revelation, a type of spiritual experience that negated the role of ministers. Because of Hutchinson’s beliefs and her defiance of authority in the colony, especially that of Governor Winthrop, Puritan authorities tried and convicted her of holding false beliefs. In 1638, she was excommunicated and banished from the colony.

2.3.2 – Providence Plantation

Fleeing from religious persecution, Williams went on to found Providence Plantation in 1636 on land gifted by the Narragansett and Pequot tribes. Williams agreed with his fellow settlers on an egalitarian constitution providing for majority rule in civil issues and liberty of conscience. Williams named the other islands in the Narragansett Bay after virtues: Patience Island, Prudence Island, and Hope Island. Williams wrote favorably about the American Indian peoples, contrasting their virtues with Puritan New England’s intolerance.

Engraved print depicting Roger Williams, founder of Rhode Island, meeting with the Narragansett Indians. Date first published: 1856.

In 1637, Hutchinson also purchased land on Aquidneck Island from the American Indians, settling in Pocasset, now known as Portsmouth, Rhode Island. Later, in 1642, she sought safety among the Dutch in New Netherland. The following year, Algonquian warriors killed Hutchinson and her family. In Massachusetts, Governor Winthrop noted her death as the righteous judgment of God against a heretic.

2.3.3 – The Founding of Rhode Island

Other neighboring settlements of Puritan refugees followed, all of which formed a loose alliance. They sought recognition together as an English colony in 1643 in response to threats to their independence. In 1644, Roger Williams secured a land patent establishing the Incorporation of Providence Plantations in the Narragansett Bay. The patent covered much of the territory that would eventually make up the state of Rhode Island. Rhode Island became a colony that sheltered dissenting Puritans from their brethren in Massachusetts.

Map of Rhode Island: A map of the colony of Rhode Island, with the adjacent parts of Connecticut and Massachusetts Bay.

The bedrock of the economy was agriculture, especially dairy farming and fishing. Lumber and shipbuilding also became major industries. The separate plantation colonies in the Narragansett Bay region were very progressive for their time, passing laws abolishing witchcraft trials, imprisonment for debt, most capital punishment, and on May 18, 1652, chattel slavery of both blacks and whites. The colonists refused to have a governor, instead setting up an elected “president” and council. Most religious groups were welcomed.

Following the 1660 restoration of royal rule in England, Rhode Island sought a Royal Charter from the new king, Charles II. Charles was then a Catholic sympathizer in staunchly Protestant England and approved the colony’s promise of religious freedom. He granted the request with the Royal Charter of 1663, giving the Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations an elected governor and legislature. In the following years, many persecuted groups settled in the colony.

The colony was folded into the Dominion of New England in 1686, as King James II attempted to enforce royal authority over the autonomous colonies in British North America. The dominion was extremely unpopular, and after the 1688 Glorious Revolution deposed James and brought William and Mary to the English throne, the dominion collapsed, and Rhode Island resumed its previous government.

Rhode Island was the first of the 13 colonies to renounce its allegiance to the British Crown on May 4, 1776. It was also the last of the 13 colonies to ratify the United States Constitution on May 29, 1790, once a Bill of Rights had been included.

2.3.4 – Relations with American Indians

Although Rhode Island remained at peace with the American Indians, the relationship between the other New England colonies and the American Indians was more strained and often led to bloodshed. During King Philip ‘s War (1675–1676), both sides regularly violated Rhode Island’s neutrality. The war’s largest battle occurred in Rhode Island, when a force of Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Plymouth militia invaded and destroyed the fortified Narragansett Indian village in the Great Swamp in southern Rhode Island in 1675. The Narragansett also invaded and burned down several cities in Rhode Island, including Providence, although they allowed the population to leave first.

2.4 – Early New England Society

Early New England Puritan society was characterized by yeoman farming communities and a growing merchant class.

2.4.1 – New England Farming Society

A New England Kitchen: This image illustrates a New England kitchen in the colonial days, with a woman weaving and a pot hanging over the fireplace.

In New England, the Puritans created self-governing communities of religious congregations of farmers, or yeomen, and their families. A majority of residents of the region were small farmers. High-level politicians gave out plots of land to male settlers, or proprietors, who then divided the land among themselves. Large portions were usually given to men of higher social standing, but every white man who wasn’t indentured or criminally bonded had enough land to support a family. The town meeting levied taxes, built roads, and elected officials who managed town affairs, and every male citizen had a voice in the town meeting. The towns did not have courts; courts were instead a function of a larger unit, the county, and court officials were appointed by the colony government.

Some farmers obtained land grants to create farms in undeveloped areas. Other farmers became agricultural innovators. They planted nutritious English grass such as red clover and timothy-grass, which provided more feed for livestock. Some grew 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 helped preserve New England’s yeoman society.

2.4.2 – Commerce in the New England Colonies

By the end of the 17th century, New England colonists had tapped into a sprawling Atlantic trade network that connected them to the English homeland as well as the West African slave coast, the Caribbean’s plantation islands, and the Iberian Peninsula. Colonists relied upon British and European imports for glass, linens, hardware, machinery, and other items required for a colonist’s household. In contrast to the southern colonies which could produce tobacco, rice, and indigo in exchange for imports, New England’s colonies initially could not offer much to England beyond fish, furs, and lumber.

2.4.3 – Furs, Fish, and Timber

The hunting of wildlife provided furs for trading and food for the colonists’ tables. The New England colonies were located near the ocean’s abundance of whales, fish, and other marketable sea life. Excellent harbors and some inland waterways offered protection for ships and valuable freshwater fishing. While the rocky soil in the New England colonies was not as fertile as that of the middle or southern colonies, the land provided rich resources, including timber, which was valued for building homes and ships. Timber could also be exported back to England, where there was a shortage. 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. By the mid-18th century in New England, shipbuilding became a staple industry as 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.

2.4.4 – The Rise of the Merchant Class

At the same time, the rural way of life began to face a crisis as the region’s population nearly doubled each generation. As colonists in Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island continued to subdivide their land between farmers, the farms became too small to support single families. A growing class of artisans, shopkeepers, and merchants provided services to the growing farming population. Blacksmiths, wheelwrights, and furniture makers set up shops in rural villages where they built and repaired goods needed by farm families. Traders set up stores selling English manufactures such as cloth, iron utensils, and window glass, as well as West Indian products like sugar and molasses. 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, and enterprising men set up stables and taverns along wagon roads to service these trade routes.

2.4.5 – The Triangular Trade

After these products had been delivered to port towns such as Boston, Salem, New Haven, Newport, and Providence, 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 sugar and the molasses distilled into rum. The gold coins and credit slips were sent to England where they were exchanged for manufactures, which were then shipped back to the colonies and sold, along with the sugar and rum, to farmers. This system of exchange became known as the “Triangular Trade.” 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. Many merchants became very wealthy and came to dominate the society of seaport cities.

2.4.6 – the Growth of Infrastructure

New England’s economy grew steadily over the entire colonial era despite the lack of a staple crop that could be exported. All of the provinces and many towns tried to foster economic growth by subsidizing projects that improved the infrastructure, such as roads, bridges, inns, and ferries. They gave bounties and subsidies or monopolies to sawmills, grist mills, iron mills, pulling mills (which treated cloth), saltworks, and glassworks. Most importantly, colonial legislatures set up a legal system that proved conducive to business enterprise by resolving disputes, enforcing contracts, and protecting property rights. Hard work and entrepreneurship characterized the region as the Puritans and Yankees endorsed the “Protestant Ethic,” which enjoined men to work hard as part of their divine calling.

The benefits of growth were widely distributed in New England, reaching from merchants to farmers to hired laborers. The rapidly growing population led to shortages of good farm land on which young families could establish themselves; one result was delaying of marriages and another was moving to new lands farther west. In the towns and cities, there was strong entrepreneurship and a steady increase in the specialization of labor. Wages for men went up steadily before 1775, and new occupations were opening for women including weaving, teaching, and tailoring. The region bordered New France, and in the numerous wars going on at the time, the British poured money into purchasing supplies, building roads, and paying colonial soldiers. The coastal ports began to specialize in fishing, international trade, and shipbuilding and, after 1780, whaling. Combined with a growing urban market for farm products, these factors allowed the economy to flourish despite the lack of technological innovation.

2.5 – Puritans

2.5.1 – Puritan Values

Unlike most of the Chesapeake or southern colonies which were established to make a profit, New England colonies tended to be established, at least in part, for religious reasons. One group of English people believed that the Anglican Church did not go far enough in breaking with all Roman traditions and had little hope that the Church of England would change. These people, called separatists, wanted to create their own church separate from the Church of England. In 1620, a group of Puritan separatists known as the Pilgrims set sail for British America to escape religious persecution in England to establish religious colonies in the Americas; these people established the first colonies in what would later become New England.

Those who wanted to purify the Church of England were known as Puritans. Puritans were followers of a Protestant minister named John Calvin. He emphasized predestination, a lack of free will, and the belief that humans were depraved and needed a strong religious government to control their animal instincts. Puritans also believed in predestination and election by God of who is saved. Puritans supported intolerance and believed that error must be opposed and driven out.

The Puritans created a deeply religious, socially tight-knit, and politically innovative culture that is still present in the modern United States. In America, they attempted to create an intensely religious, thoroughly righteous community designed to be an example for all of Europe. Puritans in colonial America were among the most radical Puritans and their social experiment took the form of a theocracy. The first Puritans of New England disapproved of Christmas celebrations, as did some other Protestant churches of the time. Celebrations of all kinds were outlawed in Boston in 1659. Likewise, the colonies banned many secular entertainments, such as games of chance, maypoles, and drama, on moral grounds.

Puritans were to create a politically, socially, economically, and religiously perfect community. They followed John Calvin’s idea that the covenant was between one person and God; everyone in the Puritan community was supposed to live a Christian life, and in exchange, God would bless everyone with health and wealth. If one person in the community broke one of God’s laws, then God could condemn everyone in the community. The Puritans were not opposed to drinking alcohol in moderation; however, laws banned the practice of individuals toasting each other, with the explanation that it was carnal and led to wasting God’s gift of beer and wine. Spouses were disciplined if they did not perform their marital sexual duties, and Puritans punished drunkenness and sexual relations outside of marriage.

In Massachusetts Bay, the church members controlled the civil government, and church membership was limited to those who were predestined to go to Heaven. The church members were typically the wealthy members of the Puritan society, which meant the economic elites controlled the civil government. As church membership dropped in the late 17th century, the Puritan leaders created the Halfway Covenant—any adult person who had at least one parent as a church member could join the Puritan church without having to “prove” that they were predestined to enter Heaven.

2.5.2 – The Persecution of Witchcraft

In 17th-century colonial North America, the supernatural was part of everyday life, and there was a strong belief that Satan was present and active on Earth. This concept had emerged in Europe around the 15th century and spread to North America when it was colonized. Some theorize that accusations of witchcraft were a way of addressing pagan practices that were used for agriculture and domestic success, which Christianity had long associated with demons and evil spirits. People believed that witches allied themselves with the Devil to carry out evil deeds and deliberate harm such as the sickness or death of children, the loss of cattle, and other catastrophes. Townspeople whose habits or appearance bothered their neighbors or who appeared threatening for any reason were especially at risk of being seen as witches. Women, who were considered more susceptible to the Devil because of their supposedly weaker constitutions, made up the vast majority of suspects and those who were executed.

The first accusations of witchcraft came in 1645, in Springfield, Massachusetts. From 1645 to 1663, about 80 people throughout the Massachusetts Bay Colony were accused of practicing witchcraft, and 13 women and two men were executed. The most famous witch trials in American history, however, took place from February 1692 to May 1693, in and around coastal settlements near Salem, Massachusetts. The first accusations came from young girls who believed they were being tormented physically and mentally by the supernatural machinations of several older women in the community. Those women were brought before the magistrate and interrogated; those who refused to confess to witchcraft were sentenced to death. Accusations and arrests quickly spiraled out of control.

Before the hysteria ended, over 150 people were arrested and imprisoned, with even more accused who were not formally pursued by the authorities. The two courts convicted 29 people of the capital felony of witchcraft; 19 of the accused, 14 women and five men, were hanged. One man who refused to enter a plea was crushed to death under heavy stones in an attempt to force him to do so. At least five more of the accused died in prison.

Many theories have been advanced to explain the trials, including greed, revenge, social conflict, and possibly hallucinogenic-tainted food. The episode is one of the most famous cases of mass hysteria and has been used in political rhetoric and popular literature as a vivid cautionary tale about the dangers of isolationism, religious extremism, false accusations, and lapses in due process.

2.5.3 – The Mennonites

The Mennonites were a religious group that immigrated to America from Germany because of persecution for refusing to perform military service on the basis of religious grounds. Later groups of Mennonites came to the Americas from Switzerland, Prussia, the Ukraine, and Russia. A large group came in 1683 to settle in Pennsylvania. The Mennonites had their own hymns and Psalters and tended to be very conservative.

2.5.4 – Methodism

John and Charles Wesley created Methodism in the 18th century. John Wesley was a cleric for the Church of England, and he and his brother led groups of Christians throughout England, Ireland, and Scotland. These groups were part of what is called the Wesleyan Movement and came to form what is known as Methodism, named such because of the methodical approach to religious study. Methodists primarily focused on bible study and living a life free of amusement and luxury. Methodism started out as a society and follower of the Church of England but was not a church itself.

Methodism spread to America in the late 1760s when preachers appointed by John Wesley traveled to the new world in 1769 to start American Methodist societies. They worked primarily in Philadelphia and New York, and Methodism spread along the East Coast leading up to the American Revolution.

2.5.6 – The Moravians

The Moravians arrived with John and Charles Wesley in America in 1735. The group left Moravia and Bohemia due to harsh persecution for their religious beliefs and practices. The Moravians wished to serve as Christian missionaries for the different ethnic groups in America. They first settled in Georgia, then moved to Pennsylvania and North Carolina. The Moravians were deeply involved with music; they practiced hymn singing daily, and some even wrote instrumental music.

2.5.7 – Judaism

The first Jewish people came to America in 1654; these were Sephardic Jews who came from Recife, Brazil, and landed in New Amsterdam (now New York City). Jewish people in the Americas experienced anti-Semitism from early on; in some colonies, they could not vote, hold public office, or own property. However, during the colonial period, they settled along the East Coast and in several southern colonies.

2.5.8 – Catholicism

The Bruton Parish Church in Williamsburg: The Bruton Parish Church in Williamsburg. Government and college officials in the capital at Williamsburg were required to attend services at this Anglican church.

The early British American colonies were largely Protestant, and there was widespread anti-Catholic sentiment. Catholicism first came to the colonies in the form of the “Maryland Experiment,” when King Charles I issued a generous charter to Lord Cecil Calvert, a prominent Catholic convert from Anglicanism, for the colony of Maryland. In the new colony, religious tolerance (for Christians only) was preserved by Calvert until 1654, when Puritans from Virginia overthrew Calvert’s rule. Calvert regained control of the colony four years later, however. In 1689, the Glorious Revolution of William and Mary ignited a new anti-Catholic revolt in Maryland. In 1692, the famous Religious Toleration Act officially ended, and the assembly of Maryland established the Church of England as the official state religion supported by tax levies. Neither the Dutch nor English were pleased when, in 1672, the Duke of York converted to Catholicism. The Duke’s appointment of an Irish-born Catholic as governor of the colony of New York was followed by the passage of a charter of liberties and privileges for Catholics.

3 – Settling the Middle Colonies

3.1 – Introduction

Middle Colonies: The Middle Colonies was comprised of Delaware, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania.

The Middle Colonies consisted of the middle region of the Thirteen Colonies of the British Empire in North America. In 1776, during the American Revolution, the Middle Colonies became independent of Britain as the states of New Jersey, Pennsylvania, New York, and Delaware.

3.2 – Establishing the Colonies

3.2.1 – New York

Henry Hudson explored the Middle Colonies on a journey into the Hudson River and Delaware Bay in 1609. The Dutch soon claimed the land, and although the Swedes and the Dutch fought over the land in the 1630s, the Dutch ultimately claimed the land as New Netherland. In the 1660s, the English largely conquered this land, renaming the area New York after the Duke of York, James II. The colony’s land was periodically granted to various proprietors and split into the Province of New York and the Province of Pennsylvania.

3.2.2 – New Jersey

James II later granted the land between the Hudson River and the Delaware River to two friends who had been loyal to him through the English Civil War. This land grant became the Province of New Jersey. In 1665, the Concession and Agreement was written to entice settlers to New Jersey. This document provided for religious freedom, no taxes without assembly approval, and a governor appointed by the proprietors. When one of the proprietors sold his share to the Quakers, this sale divided New Jersey into East Jersey and West Jersey; however, the border between the two remained disputed. From 1701 to 1765, colonists skirmished in the New York-New Jersey Line War over disputed colonial boundaries. In 1702, Queen Anne united West and East Jersey into one Royal Colony—the Province of New Jersey.

3.2.3 – Pennsylvania

King Charles II granted the land for the Pennsylvania Colony to William Penn in 1681 as payment for a debt the crown owed his family. Penn wrote the Frame of Government of Pennsylvania, which called for religious tolerance towards many, including local American Indians and the Religious Society of Friends. As a proprietary colony, Penn governed Pennsylvania, yet its citizens were still subject to the English crown and laws. In 1704, Dutch land given to Penn by the Duke of York was separated and once again became part of the Delaware Colony. From 1692 to 1694, the revolution in England deprived Penn of the governance of his colony. The Pennsylvania Assembly took this opportunity to request expanded power for elected officials. Upon visiting the colony in 1669 and 1701, Penn eventually agreed to allow their Charter of Privileges to be added to the constitution.

3.2.4 – Delaware

Delaware changed hands between the Dutch and Swedes between 1631 and 1655. The Dutch maintained control of Delaware until 1664, when it was renamed New Castle after the Duke of York. A deputy of the Duke governed Delaware from 1664 to 1682. When William Penn received his land grant of Pennsylvania in 1681, he received the Delaware area from the Duke of York and dubbed it “The Three Lower Counties on the Delaware River.” In 1701, after he had troubles governing the ethnically diverse Delaware territory, Penn agreed to allow it a separate colonial assembly.

3.2.5 – Economy of the Middle Colonies

The Middle Colonies tended to mix aspects of the New England and Southern Colonies. Landholdings were generally farms of 40 to 160 acres, owned by the family that worked them. In New York’s Hudson Valley, however, the Dutch poltroons operated very large landed estates and rented land to tenant farmers. Indentured servitude was especially common in the Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York in the 18th century, though fewer worked in agriculture.

Unlike New England, the Middle Colonies had richer, less rocky soil, allowing the area to become a major exporter of wheat and other grains. Its large exports led to its constituent colonies becoming known as the Bread Basket Colonies. Pennsylvania became a leading exporter of wheat, corn, rye, hemp, and flax, making it the leading food producer in North America from 1725 to 1840. Broad navigable rivers like the Susquehanna, the Delaware, and the Hudson attracted diverse business, and New York and Philadelphia became important ports.

Abundant forests attracted the lumbering and shipbuilding industries to the Middle Colonies. In Pennsylvania, sawmills and gristmills were abundant, and the textile industry grew quickly. The colony also became a major producer of pig iron and its products, including the Pennsylvania long rifle and the Conestoga wagon. Other important industries included printing, publishing, and the related industry of papermaking. While the Middle Colonies had far more industry than the Southern Colonies, they still did not rival the industry of New England.

3.2.6 – Demographics of the Middle Colonies

The Middle Colonies were the most ethnically diverse British colonies in North America, with settlers coming from all parts of Europe—many as indentured servants. They were also the most religiously diverse part of the British Empire, with a high degree of tolerance. The Penn family was Quaker, and the Pennsylvania colony became a favorite destination for that group as well as German Lutherans, German Reformed, and numerous small sects such as Mennonites, Amish, and Moravians, as well as Scotch Irish Presbyterians. The Dutch Reformed were strong in upstate New York and New Jersey, and Congregationalists were important in Long Island.

3.3 – From New Netherland to New York

The Dutch colony of New Netherland was taken by the British in the 17th century and later became the colonies of New York and New Jersey.

3.3.1 – New Netherland

New Netherland was the territory on the eastern coast of North America established by Henry Hudson in 1609. It encompassed parts of the later states of New Jersey, Delaware, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island. In 1609, Henry Hudson, an English explorer, was hired by the Flemish Protestants running the Dutch East India Company in Amsterdam to find a northeast passage to Asia. Turned back by the ice of the Arctic, Hudson sailed up the major river that would later bear his name.

Joan Vinckeboons (Johannes Vingboon), “Manatvs gelegen op de Noot Riuier”, 1639: In this map (c. 1639), Manhattan is situated on the North River.

Chartered in 1614, New Amsterdam was a colonial province of the Republic of the Seven United Netherlands. For the capital they chose the island of Manhattan, located at the mouth of the river explored by Hudson, which at that time was called the North River. New Netherland became a province of the Dutch Republic in 1624. For two centuries, New Netherland Dutch culture characterized the region, and their concepts of civil liberties and pluralism introduced in the province became mainstays of American political and social life.

3.3.2 – The Iroquois and Algonquians

Seeking to enter the fur trade, the Dutch cultivated close relations with the Five Nations of the Iroquois. The Algonquian Lenape people along the Lower Hudson were seasonally migrational. Collectively called River Indians by the Dutch, they were also known as the Wecquaesgeek, Hackensack, Raritan, Canarsee, and the Tappan. The Munsee inhabited the Hudson Valley highlands and northern New Jersey, while Minquas (called the Susquehannocks by the English) lived west of the Zuyd River along and beyond the Susquehanna River, which the Dutch regarded as their boundary with Virginia.

The Dutch, through their trade of manufactured goods with the Iroquois and Algonquians, presumed they had exclusive rights to farming, hunting, and fishing in the region. The American Indians, while willing to share the land with the Europeans, did not expect or intend to leave or give up access, however. Increasing encroachment by European settlers led to the early stages of violent conflict. Over the next few decades, wars with the American Indians erupted, as well as conflicts with the English.

3.3.3 – Transfer to the English

Charles II of England set his sights on the Dutch colony of New Netherland. The English takeover of New Netherland originated in the imperial rivalry between the Dutch and the English. During the Anglo-Dutch wars of the 1650s and 1660s, the two powers attempted to gain commercial advantages in the Atlantic World. During the Second Anglo-Dutch War (1664–1667), English forces gained control of the Dutch fur trading colony of New Netherland, and in 1664, Charles II gave this colony (including present-day New Jersey) to his brother James, Duke of York (later James II). The colony and city were renamed New York in his honor. The Dutch in New York chafed under English rule. In 1673, during the Third Anglo-Dutch War (1672–1674), the Dutch recaptured the colony; however, at the end of the conflict, the English had regained control.

The Duke of York never visited his colony, named New York in his honor, and exercised little direct control over it. He decided to administer his government through governors, councils, and other officers appointed by him. It wasn’t until 1683, almost 20 years after the English took control of the colony, that colonists were able to convene a local representative legislature. The assembly’s 1683 Charter of Liberties and Privileges set out the traditional rights of Englishmen, like the right to trial by jury and the right to representative government.

The English continued the Dutch patroonship system, granting large estates to a favored few families. The largest of these estates, at 160,000 acres, was given to Robert Livingston in 1686. The Livingstons and the other manorial families who controlled the Hudson River Valley formed a formidable political and economic force. Eighteenth-century New York City, meanwhile, contained a variety of people and religions—as well as Dutch and English people, and it held French Protestants (Huguenots), Jews, Puritans, Quakers, Anglicans, and a large population of slaves.

As they did in other zones of colonization, indigenous peoples played a key role in shaping the history of colonial New York. After decades of war in the 1600s, the powerful Five Nations of the Iroquois, composed of the Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, and Seneca, successfully pursued a policy of neutrality with both the English and, to the north, the French in Canada during the first half of the 1700s. This policy meant that the Iroquois continued to live in their own villages under their own government while enjoying the benefits of trade with both the French and the English.

The Dutch West India Company had introduced slavery in 1625. Although enslaved, the Africans had a few basic rights and families were usually kept intact. Admitted to the Dutch Reformed Church and married by its ministers, their children could be baptized. Slaves could testify in court, sign legal documents, and bring civil actions against whites. Some were permitted to work after hours earning wages equal to those paid to white workers. When the colony fell, the company freed all its slaves, establishing early on a nucleus of free blacks.

3.3.4 – New Jersey

European colonization of New Jersey started soon after the 1609 exploration of its coast and bays by Henry Hudson. The original inhabitants of the area included the Hackensack, Tappan, and Acquackanonk tribes in the northeast, and the Raritan and Navesink tribes in the center of the state.

Soon after the English had gained control of New Netherland, James granted the land between the Hudson and Delaware rivers to two friends who had been loyal to him through the English Civil War and named it New Jersey after the English Channel Island of Jersey. The two proprietors of New Jersey attempted to augment their colony’s population by granting sections of lands to settlers and by passing a document granting religious freedom to all inhabitants of New Jersey. In return for land, settlers paid annual fees known as quitrents. Land grants made in connection to the importation of slaves were another enticement for settlers.

After one of the proprietors sold part of the area to the Quakers, New Jersey was divided into East Jersey and West Jersey—two distinct provinces of the proprietary colony. The political division existed from 1674 to 1702. The border between the two sections reached the Atlantic Ocean to the north of Atlantic City. Much of the territory was quickly divided after 1675, leading to the distribution of land into large tracts that later led to real estate speculation and subdivision. In 1702, the two provinces were reunited under a royal, rather than a proprietary, governor. The governors of New York then ruled New Jersey, which infuriated the settlers of New Jersey, who accused the governor of showing favoritism to New York. In 1738, King George II appointed a separate governor for New Jersey.

Since the area’s settlement, New Jersey has been characterized by ethnic and religious diversity. New England Congregationalists settled alongside Scottish Presbyterians and Dutch Reformed migrants. While the majority of residents lived in towns with individual landholdings of 100 acres, a few rich proprietors owned vast estates. English Quakers and Anglicans owned large landholdings. Unlike Plymouth, Jamestown, and other colonies, New Jersey was populated by a secondary wave of immigrants who came from other colonies instead of those who migrated directly from Europe.

New Jersey remained agrarian and rural throughout the colonial era, and commercial farming developed only sporadically. Some townships emerged as important ports for shipping to New York and Philadelphia. The colony’s fertile lands and tolerant religious policy drew more settlers, and New Jersey boasted a population of 120,000 by 1775.

3.4 – Pennsylvania and Delaware

3.4.1 – The Establishment of Pennsylvania and Delaware

In 1681, William Penn founded the Province of Pennsylvania, also known as Pennsylvania Colony, in British America by royal charter. Penn received the charter for Pennsylvania from Charles II and brought over Quaker dissidents from England, Wales, the Netherlands, and France. The colonial government, established in 1682 by Penn’s Frame of Government, consisted of an appointed governor, the proprietor, a Provincial Council, and a larger General Assembly.

The Birth of Pennsylvania, 1680: William Penn, holding paper, standing and facing King Charles II, in the King’s breakfast chamber at Whitehall.

Between 1669 and 1672, Delaware was an incorporated county under the Province of Maryland. The Mason-Dixon line is said to have legally resolved vague outlines between Maryland and Pennsylvania and awarded Delaware to Pennsylvania. Delaware Colony became a region of the Province of Pennsylvania, although never legally a separate colony. From 1682 until 1776, it was part of the Penn proprietorship and was known as the Lower Counties. In 1701, it gained a separate assembly from the three upper counties but continued to have the same governor as the rest of Pennsylvania. Delaware, however, would eventually prove too independent, leading to the ultimate separation from Pennsylvania and unique pioneer status as America’s first state, tied to neither province’s destiny.

William Penn had asked for and later received the lands of Delaware from the Duke of York. Penn had a hard time governing Delaware because the economy and geology were largely the same as that of the Chesapeake, rather than that of his Pennsylvania territory. He attempted to merge the governments of Pennsylvania and Delaware. Representatives from both areas clashed and, in 1701, Penn agreed to two separate assemblies. Delawareans would meet in New Castle and Pennsylvanians would gather in Philadelphia. Delaware continued to be a melting pot of sorts and was home to Swedes, Finns, Dutch, and French, in addition to the English, who constituted the dominant culture.

3.5 – American Indian Relations

3.5.1 – The Charter of Privileges

The Treaty of Penn with the Indians: Benjamin West’s painting (in 1771) of William Penn’s 1682 treaty with the Lenni Lenape.

The Charter of Privileges mandated fair dealings with American Indians. This led to significantly better relations with the local tribes such as the Lenape and Susquehanna than most other colonies had. The Quakers had previously treated American Indians with respect, bought land from them voluntarily, and even had representation of American Indians on juries. The Quakers also refused to provide any assistance to New England’s Indian wars.

3.5.2 – Lost Trust and Land Disputes

In 1737, the Colony spent a great deal of its political goodwill with the native Lenape in pursuit of more land. The colonial administrators claimed that they had a deed dating to the 1680s, in which the Lenape-Delaware had promised to sell a portion of land beginning between the junction of the Delaware River and Lehigh River, near present Wrightstown, Pennsylvania. The document was most likely a forgery; nonetheless, the Provincial Secretary set in motion a plan to grab as much land as possible. In the end, the Penns gained 1,200,000 acres of land in what is now northeastern Pennsylvania, an area roughly equivalent to the size of the state of Rhode Island. The Lenape tribe fought for the next 19 years to have the treaty annulled but was forced into the Shamokin and Wyoming Valleys, which were already overcrowded with other displaced tribes.

3.5.3 – Religious Freedom

George Fox had founded the Society of Friends (commonly known as Quakers) in England in the late 1640s, having grown dissatisfied with Puritanism and the idea of predestination. Rather, Fox and his followers stressed that everyone had an “inner light” inside him or her—a spark of divinity. They gained the name Quakers because they were said to quake when the inner light moved them. Quakers rejected the idea of worldly rank, believing instead in a new and radical form of social equality. Their speech reflected this belief in that they addressed all others as equals, using “thee” and “thou” rather than terms like “your lordship” or “my lady” that were customary for privileged individuals of the hereditary elite.

The “Holy Experiment” was an attempt by the Religious Society of Friends to establish a community in Pennsylvania. William Penn and his fellow Quakers imprinted their religious values on the early Pennsylvanian government; the Charter of Privileges extended religious freedom to all monotheists, and the government was initially open to all Christians. Until the French and Indian War, Pennsylvania had no militia, few taxes, and no public debt. It also encouraged the rapid growth of Philadelphia into America’s most important city, and of the Pennsylvania Dutch Country hinterlands, where German religions and political refugees prospered on the fertile soil and spirit of cultural creativeness. Among the first settlers were the Mennonites, who founded Germantown in 1683, and the Amish, who established the Northkill Amish Settlement in 1740. Despite Quaker opposition to slavery, by 1730 colonists had brought about 4,000 slaves into Pennsylvania. The Pennsylvania Gradual Abolition Act of 1780 was the first attempt to abolish slavery in the colonies.

3.6 – The Demographics of the Middle Colonies

The Middle Colonies were more ethnically diverse than elsewhere in British North America and were somewhat more socially tolerant.

3.6.1 – Introduction to the Middle Colonies

The Middle Colonies tended to mix aspects of the New England and Southern Colonies. Families generally held and worked plots of between 40 and 160 acres. In New York’s Hudson Valley, however, the Dutch established the patroon system, which resembled a feudal aristocracy governing vast land grants. The title of patroon was given to some of the Dutch colony’s invested members, who operated very large landed estates and rented land to tenant farmers. Indentured servitude was especially common in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York in the 18th century, though few such servants worked in agriculture.

3.6.2 – Varied Origins of Middle Colonials

American Indian tribes had long occupied the area that was conquered as the British Middle Colonies. These tribes included the Mohawk, Mahican, Algonquian Lenape, Wecquaesgeek, Hackensack, Raritan, Canarsee, and Tappan. Munsee inhabited the Highlands, Hudson Valley, and northern New Jersey, while Minquas, also known as the Susquehannocks, lived west of the Zuyd River along and beyond the Susquehanna River.

Once colonization had begun, the Middle Colonies were more ethnically diverse than the other British colonial regions in North America and tended to be more socially tolerant. For example, in New York, any foreigner professing Christianity was awarded citizenship, which made for a diverse (albeit largely Christian) populace. As a consequence, early settlements of Germans from many different sects concentrated in the Middle Colonies. German immigration greatly increased around 1717, and many immigrants began coming from the Rhineland in western Germany. They were erroneously labeled the Pennsylvania Dutch and comprised one-third of the population by the time of the American Revolution. The industry and farming skills they brought with them helped solidify the Middle Colonies’ prosperity. They were noted for tight-knit religious communities, which were often Lutheran.

The Scots-Irish also began immigrating to the Middle Colonies in waves after 1717. They primarily pushed farther into the western frontier of the colonies, where they repeatedly confronted American Indians. Other groups included the Welsh, Dutch, Swedes, Swiss, Scots Highlanders, and Huguenots. By 1780, about 17% of the population in New York were descendants of Dutch settlers; the rest were mostly English with a wide mixture of other Europeans and about 6% Africans. New Jersey and Delaware had a majority British population as well, with 7–11% German-descended colonists, about a 6% African population, and a small contingent of Swedish descendants.

3.6.3 – Slavery in the Middle Colonies

Population in 1700: Estimated population in the Colonies as of the year 1700. The Middle Colonies held a population of about 65,000, compared to New England’s 120,000 and the Southern Colonies’ 77,000.

The Dutch West India Company introduced slavery to New Netherland in 1625. When the colony fell to the British, the Company freed all of its slaves, establishing early on a nucleus of free Africans in the Northeast. In an early attempt to encourage European settlement, the New Jersey legislature enacted a prohibitive tariff against imported slaves and in favor of European indentured servitude. Despite Quaker opposition to slavery, by 1730, colonists had brought about 4,000 slaves into Pennsylvania. The Pennsylvania Gradual Abolition Act of 1780 was the first attempt to abolish slavery in the colonies and what would become the United States.

4 – Settling the Southern Colonies

The Southern Colonies in North America were established by the British during the 16th and 17th centuries. At the time, they consisted of South Carolina, North Carolina, Maryland, Virginia, and Georgia; their historical names were the Colony and Dominion of Virginia, the Province of Carolina, and the Province of Georgia.

Prior to colonization, the American Indian tribes of the Algonquin, Siouan, and Iroquoian linguistic groups inhabited the Chesapeake Bay area. Several of the Algonquian tribes were associated with the politically powerful Powhatan Confederacy. The colonies were originally chartered to compete in the race for colonies in the 15th, 16th, and 17th centuries. They then developed into prosperous colonies that made large profits based on cash crops such as tobacco, indigo dye, and rice. Over time, the region quickly became well known for its high slave population and highly unequal social class distribution.

4.1 – Major Developments for Southern Colonies

4.1.1 – Maryland

Maryland: A map of the Province of Maryland.

George Calvert received a charter from King Charles I to found the colony of Maryland in 1634. The province began as a proprietary colony of the English Lord Baltimore, who wished to create a haven for Roman Catholics in the New World at the time of the European wars of religion. Although it was intended as a refuge for Catholics, a significant part of the population was Protestant, and Protestants later gained control of the colony during the English civil wars.

4.1.2 – The Carolinas

The next major development in the history of the Southern Colonies was the Province of Carolina, originally chartered in 1629. The first permanent English settlement was established in 1653 when emigrants from the Virginia Colony, New England, and Bermuda settled on the shores of Albemarle Sound in the northeastern corner of present-day North Carolina. Due to their remoteness from each other, the northern and southern sections of the colony operated more or less independently until 1691, when a governor of the entire province was appointed.

4.1.3 – Virginia

Virginia: A map of the Colony of Virginia.

The Colony of Virginia existed briefly during the 16th century and then continuously from 1607 until the American Revolution. The name “Virginia” was first applied by Sir Walter Raleigh and Queen Elizabeth I in 1584, when Raleigh established a colony on the island of Roanoke off the coast of Virginia. It is the oldest designation for English claims in North America. Charles I eventually granted proprietary charters to the Plymouth Company and the London Company. The cities of Baltimore in Maryland and Richmond in Virginia served as major seaports for the colonies in their trade with Europe, Africa, and the Caribbean.

4.1.4 – Georgia

Georgia: A map of the Province of Georgia, 1732–1777.

The Province of Georgia (also called the Georgia Colony) was the last of the 13 original colonies established by Great Britain. In the original grant, a narrow strip of the province extended to the Mississippi River. The 1732 charter created Georgia as a buffer state to protect the prosperous South Carolina from Spanish Florida, and required that debtors be shipped to free space in English jails.

4.2 – Virginia

4.2.1 – Overview

The Virginia Colony became the wealthiest and most populated British colony in North America, largely due to its tobacco crop industry.

The Colony of Virginia was an English colony in North America that existed briefly during the 16th century and then continuously from 1607 until the American Revolution. American Indian tribes who had long occupied the lands in the Virginia area included the Algonquian Chesepian, Chickahominy, Doeg, Mattaponi, Nansemond, Pamunkey, Pohick, Powhatan, Rappahannock, Siouan Monacan, Saponi, Iroquoian-speaking Cherokee, Meherrin, Nottoway, and Tuscarora.

4.2.2 – From London to First Landing: Establishing Virginia

Following the death of Queen Elizabeth I in 1603, King James I ascended to the throne. James granted a proprietary charter to two competing branches of the Virginia Company: the Plymouth Company and the London Company. In 1606, each company organized expeditions to establish settlements within the area of their rights. The London Company sent its expedition in December of 1606 and came ashore at the Chesapeake Bay, an event which has come to be called the “First Landing.”

4.2.3 – Settlement Challenges in Jamestown

The settlement, given the name of Jamestown, was an island, and thus favorable for defense against foreign ships. However, the low, marshy terrain was harsh and inhospitable for settlement. It lacked drinking water, access to game for hunting, and adequate space for farming. The colonists arrived ill-prepared for self-sufficiency. In addition to securing gold and other precious minerals to send back to investors in England, the survival of Jamestown depended on regular supplies from England and trade with American Indians. Disease and conflicts caused many deaths to the American Indians and the English invaders. The London Company sent supply ships to the colony three times, but these were sometimes delayed and left the colonists with little in the way of food and supplies. Combined with a drought, this lack of supplies resulted in the “Starving Time” in late 1609 to May 1610, during which over 80% of the colonists perished. As a result, Jamestown was abandoned briefly until new supply ships arrived.

The Algonquian Chief Powhatan controlled more than 30 smaller tribes and more than 150 settlements. In 1607, the native Tidewater population was over 13,000. By the mid-17th century, the Powhatan and allied tribes were in serious decline in population, due in large part to epidemics of newly introduced infectious diseases such as smallpox and measles, to which they had no natural immunity. Surviving members of many tribes assimilated into the general population of the colony.

4.2.4 – Success of Tobacco

Tobacco plants: By the early 1620s, tobacco cultivation began to impact every aspect of daily life in Virginia.

John Smith, who arrived in Virginia in 1608, introduced an ultimatum to the settlers: those who did not work would not receive food or pay. His struggle to improve the colony’s conditions succeeded—the colonists learned how to raise crops and trade with the nearby Indians with whom Smith had made temporary peace.

The economy of the Colony presented an additional problem. Gold was never found, and efforts to introduce profitable industries in the colony had all failed until John Rolfe introduced two foreign types of tobacco. By 1612, Rolfe’s new strains of tobacco had been successfully cultivated and exported, making tobacco a cash crop that established Virginia’s economic viability. A small number of slaves, along with many European indentured servants, helped to expand the growing tobacco industry. Major importation of African slaves did not take place until much later in the century, however.

4.2.5 – Tensions with American Indians

In 1614, John Rolfe, prosperous and wealthy, married Pocahontas, daughter of Chief Powhatan, bringing several years of peace between the English and American Indians. After Pocahontas and her father died and the English continued to appropriate more land for tobacco farming, relations with the Powhatans worsened. Powhatan’s brother, a fierce warrior named Opchanacanough, became head of the Powhatan Confederacy.

After several years of strained coexistence, Chief Opchanacanough and his Powhatan Confederacy attempted to eliminate the English colony once and for all. On the morning of March 22, 1622, they attacked outlying plantations and communities up and down the James River. Thereafter, the British invaders waged a relentless war against the Powhatans, burning and pillaging their villages and cutting down or carrying off their crops. In 1646, Opchanacanough was captured and killed while in custody, and the Powhatan Confederacy began to decline. Opechancanough’s successor then signed the first peace treaties between the Powhatan Indians and the English. The treaties required the Powhatan to pay yearly tribute payments to the English and confined them to reservations.

4.2.6 – Leadership

In 1619, the first representative assembly in America convened in a Jamestown church. This became known as the House of Burgesses. Simultaneously, however, Virginia was declared a “crown colony,” meaning the charter was transferred from the Virginia Company to the Crown of England, making Jamestown a colony now run by the English monarchy. While the House of Burgesses was still allowed to run the government, the king nevertheless appointed a royal governor to settle disputes and enforce certain British policies.

The House of Burgesses instituted individual land ownership and divided the colony into four large boroughs. Initially, the colony only allowed men of English origin to vote, but they eventually extended suffrage to white men of other nationalities. In 1624, King James revoked the Virginia Company’s charter, and Virginia became a royal colony. Despite the setbacks, the colony continued to grow.

4.2.7 – The Anglican Church

Virginia became the largest, most populous, and most important colony. The Church of England was legally established; the bishop of London made it a favorite missionary target and sent in 22 clergymen by 1624. In practice, establishment meant that local taxes were funneled through the local parish to handle the needs of local government, such as roads and poor relief, in addition to the salary of the minister. When the elected assembly, the House of Burgesses, was established in 1619, it enacted religious laws that made Virginia a bastion of Anglicanism. It passed a law in 1632 requiring uniformity among the Anglican congregations of the colony.

According to the ministers, the colonists were typically inattentive, disinterested, and bored during church services. Some ministers solved their problems by encouraging parishioners to become devout at home, using the Book of Common Prayer for private prayer and devotion (rather than the Bible). This allowed devout Anglicans to lead an active and sincere religious life apart from the unsatisfactory formal church services.

However, the stress on private devotion weakened the need for a bishop or a large institutional church of the sort Blair wanted. The stress on personal piety opened the way for the First Great Awakening, which pulled people away from the established church. Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians, and other evangelicals directly challenged these lax moral standards and refused to tolerate them in their ranks. The evangelicals identified the traditional standards of masculinity as sinful, which revolved around gambling, drinking, brawling, and arbitrary control over women, children, and slaves.

Baptists, German Lutherans, and Presbyterians funded their own ministers and favored disestablishment of the Anglican Church. The dissenters grew much faster than the established church, making religious division a factor in Virginia politics into the American Revolution. The Patriots, led by Thomas Jefferson, disestablished the Anglican Church in 1786.

4.2.8 – Bacon’s Rebellion

Sir William Berkeley, the governor of Virginia from 1642–1652 and 1660–1677, tried to push for diversification in the economic activities of the colony. Governor Berkeley was a royal insider from an early age, and his governorship reflected the royal interests of Charles I and Charles II. Berkeley remained popular after his first administration and returned to the governorship in 1660. His second administration, however, was characterized by many problems—disease, hurricanes, war with American Indians, and economic difficulties all plagued Virginia at this time.

Berkeley successfully established autocratic authority over the colony. To protect this power, Berkeley refused new legislative elections for 14 years. After a lack of reform, Nathaniel Bacon began a rebellion in 1676 and captured Jamestown, taking control of the colony for several months. After the incident, which became known as Bacon’s Rebellion, Berkeley returned himself to power with the help of the English militia. Bacon then burned Jamestown before abandoning it, and continued his rebellion until dying from disease. Subsequently, Berkeley managed to eliminate the remaining rebels. In response to Berkeley’s harsh repression of the rebels, the English government removed him from office. The rebuilt statehouse in Jamestown burned again in 1698, after which the colonial capital was permanently moved to nearby Middle Plantation, and the town was renamed Williamsburg.

4.2.9 – Legacy of Virginia

The Virginia Colony became the wealthiest and most populated British colony in North America. Elite planters dominated the colony and would later play a major role in the fight for independence and the development of democratic-republican ideals of the United States.

4.3 – Maryland

Maryland was established in 1632 as a haven for English Roman Catholics in the New World.

4.3.1 – Establishing Maryland

The Province of Maryland was a British colony in North America that existed from 1632 until 1776, when it joined the other 12 of the North American colonies in rebellion against Great Britain and became the state of Maryland. The province began as a proprietary colony of the English Lord Baltimore and as a haven for English Roman Catholics in the New World. Charles I of England granted the charter for Maryland to create a colony north of the Potomac to rival New Netherland’s claims to the Delaware River valley.

The Province of Maryland: A map of the Province of Maryland.

Colonial Maryland was larger than the present-day state of Maryland. The original charter granted the Calverts an imprecisely defined territory north of Virginia and south of the 40th parallel, comprising perhaps as much as 12 million acres. Maryland lost some of its original territory to Pennsylvania in the 1760s when, after Charles II granted that colony a tract that overlapped with the Maryland grant, the Mason-Dixon Line was drawn to resolve the boundary dispute between the two colonies. Maryland also ceded some territory to create the new District of Columbia after the American Revolution.

The first settlers purchased land from the Yaocomico Indians and founded St. Mary’s City. In 1642, Maryland declared war on the Susquehannock Indian nation and remained in an inactive state of war until a peace treaty was concluded in 1652.

4.3.2 – Leadership

Maryland’s foundational charter created a state ruled by Lord Baltimore, who directly owned all of the land granted in the charter. He possessed absolute authority over his domain; in fact, settlers were required to swear allegiance to him rather than to the King of England. The charter created an aristocracy of lords of the manor who bought land from Baltimore and held greater legal and social privileges than the common settlers.

4.3.3 – Religion in Maryland

In Maryland, Baltimore sought to create a haven for English Roman Catholics and to demonstrate that Catholics and Protestants could live together harmoniously. Like other aristocratic proprietors, he also hoped to turn a profit in the new colony. The Calvert family recruited Catholic aristocrats and Protestant settlers for Maryland, luring them with generous land grants and a policy of religious toleration. Despite the focus on creating a safe haven for Catholics, the majority of settlers were Protestant. In 1649, Maryland passed the Maryland Toleration Act, also known as the Act Concerning Religion, a law mandating religious tolerance for Christians. Passed by the assembly of the Maryland colony, it was the first law requiring religious tolerance in the British North American colonies.

Although Maryland was an early pioneer of religious toleration in the English colonies, religious strife among Anglicans, Puritans, Catholics, and Quakers was common in the early years. From 1644 to 1646, the “Plundering Time” was a period of civil unrest caused by the tensions of the English Civil War (1641–1651). In 1654, after the Third English Civil War (1649–1651), Puritan rebels briefly seized control of the province.

The Protestant Revolution of 1689 was an event in Maryland when Puritans, by then a substantial majority in the colony, revolted against the proprietary government, in part because of the apparent preferment of Catholics to official positions of power. The Puritans set up a new government that outlawed Catholicism and deprived Catholics of all official positions. Full religious toleration would not be restored in Maryland until the American Revolution.

4.3.4 – Life in Maryland

In the 17th century, most British settler-invaders in Maryland lived in rough conditions on small family farms. While they raised a variety of fruits, vegetables, grains, and livestock, the cash crop was tobacco, which soon came to dominate the provincial economy. Tobacco was sometimes used as money, and the colonial legislature was obliged to pass a law requiring tobacco planters to raise a certain amount of corn as well, in order to ensure that the colonists would not go hungry. Baltimore became the second-most important port in the 18th century South, after Charleston, South Carolina.

The need for cheap labor to help with the growth of tobacco led to a rapid expansion of indentured servitude and, later, forcible immigration and enslavement of Africans. In 1664, the Maryland assembly passed a “black code” which declared each Negro to be a slave for life by virtue of his color; by 1755, about 40% of Maryland’s population was black.

Up to the time of the American Revolution, Maryland, along with Pennsylvania, was one of two remaining English proprietary colonies. In the late colonial period, the southern and eastern portions of the province continued their tobacco economy, but as the revolution approached, northern and central Maryland increasingly became centers of wheat production. The Province of Maryland was an active participant in the events leading up to the American revolution and echoed events in New England by establishing committees of correspondence and hosting its own tea party, similar to the one that took place in Boston.

4.4 – The Carolinas

The Carolinas, chartered in 1629, became important southern agricultural colonies.

4.4.1 – Establishing the Carolinas

Map of Carolina: A map of the Province of Carolina.

The Province of Carolina was originally chartered in 1629. In 1663, Charles II of England rewarded eight men for their faithful support of his efforts to regain the throne of England by granting them the land called Carolina; these men were called Lords Proprietors and controlled the Carolinas from 1663 to 1729.

The 1663 charter granted the Lords Proprietor title to all of the land from the southern border of the Virginia Colony to the coast of present-day Georgia. In 1665, the charter was revised slightly, with the northern boundary extended to include the lands of settler-invaders along the Albemarle Sound who had left the Virginia Colony. Likewise, the southern boundary was moved just south of present-day Daytona Beach, Florida, which had the effect of including the existing Spanish settlement at St. Augustine. The charter also granted all the land between these northerly and southerly bounds from the Atlantic Ocean westward to the shores of the Pacific Ocean.

4.4.2 – Colonization

Although the Lost Colony on Roanoke Island was the first English attempt at settlement in the Carolina territory, the first permanent English settlement was not established until 1653, when emigrants from the Virginia Colony (with others from New England and Bermuda) settled on the shores of Albemarle Sound in the northeastern corner of present-day North Carolina. The Albemarle Settlements, which preceded the royal charter by 10 years, came to be known in Virginia as “Rogues’ Harbor.” In 1665, Sir John Yeamans established a second permanent settlement on the Cape Fear River, near present-day Wilmington, North Carolina, which he named Clarendon.

Another region, near present-day Charleston, South Carolina, was settled under the Lords Proprietors in 1670. The Charles Town settlement developed more rapidly than the Albemarle and Cape Fear settlements due to the advantages of a natural harbor, and it quickly developed trade with the West Indies. South Carolina was primarily settled by French Huguenot aristocrats, while North Carolina was settled by poor whites moving in from Virginia.

4.4.3 – American Indians

American Indian tribes in the area included the Westos, who lived on the Savannah or Westo River near present day Augusta, as well as Creeks, Shawnees (Savannahs), Cherokees, and Yamasees. Some tribes, such as the Westos, were well armed, using more European weapons than their neighbors at the time. American Indians around Charleston obtained weapons from the Spaniards and from Virginia traders. Carolina, established relatively late, nevertheless soon established an American Indian slave trade that overshadowed other mainland colonies.

As in other areas of English settlement, native peoples in the Carolinas suffered tremendously from the introduction of European diseases. Despite the effects of disease, American Indians in the area endured and, following the pattern elsewhere in the colonies, grew dependent on European goods. Local Yamasee and Creek tribes built up a trade deficit with the English, trading deerskins and captive slaves for European guns. English settlers exacerbated tensions with local American Indian tribes, especially the Yamasee, by expanding their rice and tobacco fields into American Indian lands. Worse still, English traders took American Indian women captive as payment for debts.

The outrages committed by traders, combined with the seemingly unstoppable expansion of English settlement onto native land, led to the outbreak of the Yamasee War (1715–1718), an effort by a coalition of local tribes to drive away the European invaders. This native effort to force the newcomers back across the Atlantic nearly succeeded in annihilating the Carolina colonies. Only when the Cherokee allied themselves with the English did the coalition’s goal of eliminating the English from the region falter.

4.4.4 – Agriculture and Economy

As the settlement around Charles Town grew, it began to produce livestock for export to the West Indies. In the northern part of Carolina, settlers turned sap from pine trees into turpentine used to waterproof wooden ships. The southern part of Carolina had been producing rice and indigo (a plant that yields a dark blue dye used by English royalty) since the 1700s, and South Carolina continued to depend on these main crops. The northern part of Carolina continued to produce items for ships, especially turpentine and tar, and its population increased as Virginians moved there to expand their tobacco holdings. Tobacco was the primary export of both Virginia and later North Carolina, which also traded in deerskins and slaves from Africa.

Slavery developed quickly in the Carolinas, largely because so many of the early migrants came from Barbados, where slavery was well established. By the end of the 1600s, a very wealthy class of rice planters who relied on slaves had attained dominance in the southern part of the Carolinas, especially around Charles Town. By 1715, the southern part of Carolina had a black majority because of the number of slaves in the colony. The legal basis for slavery was established in the early 1700s as the Carolinas began to pass slave laws based on the Barbados slave codes of the late 1600s. These laws reduced Africans to the status of property to be bought and sold as other commodities.

4.4.5 – Government

The Lords Proprietors, operating under their royal charter, were able to exercise their authority with nearly the autonomy of the king himself. One of the Lords Proprietors, Anthony Ashley Cooper, 1st Earl of Shaftesbury (with the assistance of his secretary, the philosopher John Locke), drafted the Fundamental Constitutions of Carolina, a plan for government. The actual government consisted of a governor, a powerful council (of which half of the members were appointed by the Lords Proprietors themselves), and a relatively weak, popularly elected assembly.

4.4.6 – Division of North and South Carolina

The Charleston settlement was the principal seat of government for the entire province. However, due to their remoteness from each other, the northern and southern sections of the colony operated more or less independently until 1691, when dissent over the governance of the province led to the appointment of a deputy governor to administer the northern half of Carolina. From that time until 1708, the northern and southern settlements remained under one government. The north continued to have its own assembly and council; the governor resided in Charleston and appointed a deputy governor for the north. During this period, the two halves of the province began increasingly to be known as North Carolina and South Carolina.

From 1708 to 1710, due to disquiet over attempts to establish the Anglican Church in the province, the people were unable to agree on a slate of elected officials. Consequently, there was no recognized and legal government for more than two years. This period culminated in Cary’s Rebellion when the Lords Proprietors finally commissioned a new governor. This circumstance, coupled with hostilities with American Indian tribes and the inability of the Lords Proprietors to act decisively, led to separate governments for North and South Carolina.

The division between the northern and southern governments became complete in 1712, but both colonies remained in the hands of the same group of proprietors. Another rebellion against the proprietors broke out in 1719, which led to the appointment of a royal governor for South Carolina in 1720. After nearly a decade in which the British government sought to locate and buy out the proprietors, both North and South Carolina became royal colonies in 1729 when seven of the Lords Proprietors sold their interests in Carolina to the Crown.

4.5 – Georgia

The Province of Georgia was chartered as a proprietary colony in 1733 and was the last of the 13 original British colonies.

4.5.1 – The New Colony of Georgia

Georgia: A map of the Province of Georgia, 1732–1777.

The Province of Georgia, also called Georgia Colony, was one of the southern colonies in British America and the last of the 13 original colonies established by Great Britain. George II, for whom the colony was named, granted the colony’s corporate charter to General James Oglethorpe in 1732. An earlier grant to three Montgomery brothers was forfeited when they failed to establish a permanent colony, largely as a result of disease in the marshy area they chose to develop. In 1755, Georgia officially ceased to be a trustee colony and became a crown colony.

Savannah, Georgia colony, early 1700s: An early drawing of Savannah, Georgia, from sometime in the early 1700s.

The original charter specified the colony as the area between the Savannah and Altamaha rivers, up to their headwaters on the Ocmulgee River, and then extending westward “sea to sea.” The area within the charter had previously been part of the original grant of the Province of Carolina, which was closely linked to Georgia. South Carolina had never been able to gain control of the area; however, American Indians had been forcefully pushed back from the Georgia coast after the Yamasee War, excepting a few villages of defeated Yamasee (who became known as the Yamacraw to distinguish them from the Yamasee in Florida and among the Creek). In practice, settlement in the colony was limited to the vicinity near the Savannah River. The western area of the colony remained under the control of the Creek Indian Confederation until after the American Revolutionary War.

4.5.2 – Oglethorpe’s Role in the Georgia Colony

A new and accurate map of the Provinces of North and South Carolina: A map of the southeastern United States (Carolina, Georgia, Florida).

In 1733, General James Oglethorpe, who was a British member of Parliament, established the Georgia Colony as a solution for 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. The Georgia Colony would act as a “buffer state” (border) or “garrison province” that would defend the southern part of the British colonies from Spanish Florida. Oglethorpe imagined a province populated by “sturdy farmers” that could guard the border and because of this, the colony’s charter prohibited slavery. Additionally, 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.

Oglethorpe’s vision for Georgia followed the ideals of the Age of Reason, seeing it as a place for England’s “worthy poor” to start anew. To encourage industry, he gave each male immigrant 50 acres of land, tools, and a year’s worth of supplies. In Savannah, the Oglethorpe Plan provided for a utopia: “an agrarian model of sustenance while sustaining egalitarian values holding all men as equal.”

Oglethorpe’s vision called for alcohol and slavery to be banned. However, colonists who relocated from other colonies, especially South Carolina, disregarded these prohibitions. Despite its proprietors’ early vision of a colony guided by Enlightenment ideals and free of slavery, by the 1750s, Georgia was producing quantities of rice grown and harvested by slaves.

5 – Early American Slavery

Slave labor was an integral part of the economy of the North American colonies.

5.1 – Slavery in North America

5.1.1 – Overview

Slavery formed a cornerstone of the British Empire in the 18th century. Every colony had slaves, from the southern rice plantations in Charles Town, South Carolina, to the northern wharves of Boston. Slavery was more than a labor system; it also influenced every aspect of colonial thought and culture. The uneven relationship it engendered gave white colonists an exaggerated sense of their own status. English liberty gained greater meaning and coherence for whites when they contrasted their status to that of the unfree class of black slaves in British America. African slavery provided whites in the colonies with a shared racial bond and identity.

At the dawn of the American Revolution, 20% of the population in the 13 colonies was of African descent. The legalized practice of enslaving Africans and African Americans occurred in every colony and was first legalized in Massachusetts in 1641; however, the economic realities of the southern colonies perpetuated the institution. During the Revolutionary era, more than half of all African Americans lived in the Chesapeake region (Virginia and Maryland), where they made up more than 50% of the population. The majority of these African Americans were slaves. The first official United States Census, taken in 1790, showed that only 8% of the black populace was free. Whether free or enslaved, African Americans in the Chesapeake established familial relationships, networks for disseminating information, survival techniques, and various forms of resistance to their condition.

5.1.2 – Beginnings of African Slavery

Various forms of slavery and forced labor have existed in nearly every society in recorded history. While neither England nor the British colonists in colonial North America invented slavery, they and other European nations expanded slavery from the shores of Africa to Europe and the Western Hemisphere, and in so doing, transported millions of people out of their native homes. The realities of life in the Americas—violence, exploitation, and particularly the need for workers—were soon driving a thriving practice of slavery and forced labor.

In the New World, the institution of slavery assumed a new aspect when the mercantilist system demanded a permanent, identifiable, and plentiful labor supply. African slaves were both easily identified (by their skin color) and plentiful, because of the thriving slave trade. This led to a race-based slavery system in the New World unlike any bondage system that had come before.

5.1.3 – The Transatlantic Slave Trade

The transatlantic slave trade operated from the late 16th to early 19th centuries, carrying slaves, cash crops, and manufactured goods between West Africa, Caribbean or American colonies, and the European colonial powers. The use of African slaves was fundamental to growing colonial cash crops which were exported to Europe. European goods, in turn, were used to purchase African slaves, who were then brought on the sea lane west from Africa to the Americas.

The route from Africa to the Americas was known as the Middle Passage as it was the middle portion of the triangular slave trade. Finished goods were transported from Europe to Africa; slaves were transported from Africa to the Americas; and the slave-produced resources were shipped back to Europe to be made into finished goods. Depending on the weather, time of year, current strength, and destinations, it could take anywhere from a few weeks to a few months to make it from Africa to an American port, and many slaves died along the way.

5.2 – Slavery in the Colonies

5.2.1 – Chesapeake and Lower South

Ledger of sale in South Carolina: Ledger of sale of 118 slaves, Charleston, South Carolina, c. 1754.

Slavery manifested differently in different parts of the British colonies of North America and was an integral part of the economic culture of the Chesapeake (in tobacco) and the lower South (in rice, indigo, tobacco, and eventually cotton). In the Chesapeake region, the average slave owner owned one slave. Slaves were used to work the labor-intensive tobacco harvest. Because tobacco was harvested once a year, slaves toiled in the fields for only a few months out of the year. Therefore, slaves in the Chesapeake were often leased to other families and worked in fields or homes of their temporary masters. Members of the middle class, such as teachers, lawyers, business owners, and doctors most commonly owned slaves. There was very little commercial farming in the Chesapeake due primarily to the limited growing season.

In the lower South, from the Carolinas to Georgia, slaves tended to work year-round as the weather allowed multiple harvests. Initially, the majority of southern slaves were on the British island of Barbados, working in the sugar cane fields. Slowly, however, slave owners realized that the weather and soil from the Carolinas to Georgia allowed year-round farming, so slave owners moved their slaves to the American South. Farms tended to be larger in the lower South than in the Chesapeake, and farmers worked a variety of crops (such as rice, indigo, and tobacco) staggered over the year. The average British colonist living in the South owned three slaves.

5.2.2 – Slavery and the Economics of Empire

Slaves cultivating tobacco: Slaves processing tobacco in 17th-century Virginia.

Slave colonies produced 95% of all British exports during the period between the establishment of Virginia and the American Revolution. According to the mercantilist practices of the day, raw resources would be turned into finished goods in England and then exported to the Americas to be purchased, thus creating new markets for English goods. Slavery was not as much a part of the economic culture of the North, which tended to focus on the building of industry. Most English settlers in the North grew their own food and made their own finished products; what they could not grow or make, they did without. Though slave labor was used disproportionately in the southern colonies, northern economic interests became increasingly intertwined with southern production.

Until 1808, when the importation of African slaves was outlawed, it was simply cheaper to work slaves to death and buy new ones than it was to take care of current slaves. Therefore, there was a constant need for African slaves, especially as southerners pushed further west and began cultivating new land.

6 – Conclusion: Patters of British Settlement in the Colonies

Through the 17th century, Great Britain established 13 colonies in North America and greatly expanded its colonial reach.

6.1 – British Expansion

The Royall family, 1741: Isaac Royall and his family, seen here in a 1741 portrait by Robert Feke, moved to Medford, Massachusetts, from the West Indian island of Antigua, bringing their slaves with them. This portrait of the family exemplifies the colonial American gentry of the 18th century. Successful and well-to-do, they display fashions, hairstyles, and furnishings that all speak to their identity as proud and loyal British subjects.

The 18th century witnessed the birth of Great Britain (after the union of England and Scotland in 1707) and the expansion of the British Empire. By the mid-1700s, Great Britain had developed into a commercial and military powerhouse. Its economic sway ranged from India, where the British East India Company had gained control over both trade and territory, to the West African coast, where British slave traders predominated, and to the British West Indies, whose lucrative sugar plantations, especially in Barbados and Jamaica, provided windfall profits for British planters.

Meanwhile, the population rose dramatically in Britain’s North American colonies. In the early 1700s, the population in the colonies had reached 250,000. By 1750, however, over a million British migrants and African slaves had established a near-continuous zone of settlement on the Atlantic coast from Maine to Georgia. During this period, the ties between Great Britain and the American colonies only grew stronger. Anglo-American colonists considered themselves part of the British Empire in all ways—politically, militarily, religiously (as Protestants), intellectually, and racially.

6.2 – New England, Middle, and Southern Colonies

After the English Civil War, England began to fashion a stronger and larger empire in North America. New England colonies included Massachusetts, Maine, Connecticut, and Rhode Island; the Middle Colonies later became the states of New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Delaware; and the Southern Colonies later became the states of Maryland, Virginia, Georgia, and North and South Carolina. In addition to wresting control of New York and New Jersey from the Dutch, Charles II established the Carolinas and Pennsylvania as proprietary colonies.

Each of these colonies added immensely to the empire, supplying goods not produced in England, such as rice and indigo. The early colonies also contributed to the rise in population in English America as many thousands of Europeans made their way to the colonies. The colonies differed substantially in their economics; while northern colonies relied heavily on the emergence of industry and the production of goods to sell or trade, southern colonies arose out of agriculture and the production of staple crops. Southern colonies especially relied on slavery, but all colonies benefited from the institution.

6.3 – Slavery in the Colonies

Slavery formed a cornerstone of the British Empire in the 18th century. Every colony had slaves, from the southern rice plantations in Charles Town, South Carolina, to the northern wharves of Boston. Slavery was more than a labor system; it also influenced every aspect of colonial thought and culture. The uneven relationship it engendered gave white colonists an exaggerated sense of their own status. English liberty gained greater meaning and coherence for whites when they contrasted their status to that of the unfree class of black slaves in British America. African slavery provided whites in the colonies with a shared racial bond and identity.


Originally published by Lumen Learning – Boundless U.S. History under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported license.

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