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|The Patroon System|
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The colonial history of the United States covers the history of European settlements from the start of colonization of America until their incorporation into the United States. In the late 16th century, England, France, Spain and the Netherlands launched major colonization programs in eastern North America. Small early attempts—such as the English Lost Colony of Roanoke—often disappeared; everywhere the death rate of the first arrivals was very high. Nevertheless successful colonies were established. European settlers came from a variety of social and religious groups. No aristocrats settled permanently, but a number of adventurers, soldiers, farmers, and tradesmen arrived. Diversity was an American characteristic as the Dutch of New Netherland, the Swedes and Finns of New Sweden, the English Quakers of Pennsylvania, the English Puritans of New England, the English settlers of Jamestown, and the "worthy poor" of Georgia, came to the new continent and built colonies with distinctive social, religious, political and economic styles. Non-British colonies were taken over and the inhabitants were all assimilated, unlike in Nova Scotia, where the British expelled the French Acadian inhabitants. There were no major civil wars among the 13 colonies, and the two chief armed rebellions (in Virginia in 1676 and in New York in 1689–91) were short-lived failures. Wars between the French and the British—the French and Indian Wars and Father Rale's War—were recurrent, and involved French support for Wabanaki Confederacy attacks on the frontiers. By 1760 France was defeated and the British seized its colonies.
The four distinct regions were: New England, the Middle Colonies, the Chesapeake Bay Colonies (Upper South) and the Lower South. Some historians add a fifth region, the Frontier, which was never separately organized. By the time European settlers arrived around 1600–1650, the majority of the Native Americans living in the eastern United States had been ravaged by new diseases, introduced to them decades before by explorers and sailors.
See timeline of Colonial America for list of historical events.
Colonizers came from European kingdoms with highly developed military, naval, governmental and entrepreneurial capabilities. The Spanish and Portuguese centuries-old experience of conquest and colonization during the Reconquista, coupled with new oceanic ship navigation skills, provided the tools, ability, and desire to colonize the New World. England, France and the Netherlands started colonies in both the West Indies and North America. They had the ability to build ocean-worthy ships, but did not have as strong a history of colonization in foreign lands as did Portugal and Spain. However, English entrepreneurs gave their colonies a base of merchant-based investment that needed much less government support.
Mercantilism was the basic policy imposed by Britain on its colonies from the 1660s. Mercantilism meant that the government and merchants based in England became partners with the goal of increasing political power and private wealth, to the exclusion of other empires and even merchants based in its own colonies. The government protected its London-based merchants—and kept others out—by trade barriers, regulations, and subsidies to domestic industries in order to maximize exports from and minimize imports to the realm. The government had to fight smuggling, especially by American merchants, some of whose activities (which included direct trade with the French, Spanish, Dutch, and Portuguese) were classified as such by the Navigation Acts. The goal of mercantilism was to run trade surpluses, so that gold and silver would pour into London. The government took its share through duties and taxes, with the remainder going to merchants in Britain. The government spent much of its revenue on a superb Royal Navy, which not only protected the British colonies but threatened the colonies of the other empires, and sometimes seized them. Thus the British Navy captured New Amsterdam (New York) in 1664. The colonies were captive markets for British industry, and the goal was to enrich the mother country.
The prospect of religious persecution by authorities of the crown and the Church of England prompted a significant number of colonization efforts. People fleeing persecution by King Charles I were responsible for settling most of New England, and the Province of Maryland was founded in part to be a haven for Roman Catholics.
Anonymous Portuguese explorers were the first Europeans to map the future eastern seaboard of the U.S. from New York to Florida, as documented in the Cantino planisphere of 1502. However, they kept their discoveries a secret and did not attempt to settle in North America, as the Inter caetera issued by Pope Alexander VI in 1493 had granted these lands to Spain.
Other countries did attempt to found colonies in what later became the United States over the following century, and most of these attempts ended in failure. The colonists faced high rates of death due to many reasons, including disease, starvation, inefficient resupply, conflict with Native Americans, and attacks by rival European powers.
Spain had numerous failed attempts, including San Miguel de Gualdape in Georgia (1526), Pánfilo de Narváez's expedition to Florida's Gulf coast (1528–36), Pensacola in West Florida (1559–61), Fort San Juan in North Carolina (1567–68), and the Ajacán Mission in Virginia (1570–71).
The most notable English failures were the "Lost Colony of Roanoke" (1587–90) in North Carolina and Popham Colony in Maine (1607–08). It was at the Roanoke Colony that Virginia Dare became the first English child born in the Americas; her fate is unknown.
At one time, Spain claimed and controlled North America west of the Mississippi and south of the Canadian border. Additionally, east of the Mississippi River, Spain claimed what is now the state of Florida and parts of Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana and Mississippi.
Spain established several small outposts in Florida in the early 16th century. The most important of these, St. Augustine, was founded in 1565 as a garrison town to help protect gold-laden galleons sailing north on the Gulf Stream from New Spain (Spanish Mexico) back to Spain. The outpost was repeatedly attacked and burned by pirates, privateers, and English forces, but it survived, and is the oldest permanent European settlement in what is now the continental United States. The British and nearby British colonies attacked Spanish Florida on numerous occasions. The colony of South Carolina launched large scale raiding expeditions in the early 18th century that effectively destroyed the Spanish mission system. James Oglethorpe led a large invasion force of colonials and British regulars from colonial Georgia and laid siege to St. Augustine in 1740, but the fort held, and both St. Augustine and Pensacola remained under Spanish control. However, English-allied Indians such as the Yamasee continuously conducted slave raids throughout northern Florida, killing or enslaving most of the region's natives.
In 1763, Spain traded Florida to Great Britain in exchange for control of Havana, Cuba, which had been captured by the British during the Seven Years' War. Florida was home to about 3,000 Spaniards at the time, and nearly all quickly left. Britain occupied Florida, but did not send many settlers to the area, and control was restored to Spain in 1783 by the Peace of Paris, which ended the American Revolutionary War. Spain sent no more settlers or missionaries to Florida during this second colonial period. The inhabitants of West Florida revolted against the Spanish in 1810 and formed the Republic of West Florida, which was quickly annexed by the United States. The United States took possession of the remainder, East Florida, in 1821 according to the terms of the Adams-Onís Treaty.
Throughout the 16th century, Spain explored the southwest from Mexico with the most notable explorer being Francisco Coronado whose expedition rode throughout modern New Mexico and Arizona. The Spanish, moving north from Mexico, settled villages in the upper valley of the Rio Grande, including much of the western half of the present-day state of New Mexico. The capital was Santa Fe. Local Indians expelled the Spanish for 12 years following the Pueblo Revolt of 1680; they returned in 1692 in the "bloodless" reoccupation of Santa Fe. Control was by Spain (223 years) and Mexico (25 years) until 1846, when the American Army of the West took over in the Mexican-American War. About of a third of the population in the 21st century descends from the Spanish settlers.
Spanish explorers sailed along the coast of present day California from the early 16th century to the mid-18th century, but no settlements were established over those centuries.
Spain, from 1769 until the independence of Mexico in 1820, sent missionaries and soldiers to Alta California who created a series of missions operated by Franciscan priests. They also operated presidios (forts), pueblos (settlements)s, and ranchos (land grant ranches), along the southern and central coast of California. Father Junípero Serra, founded the first missions in Spanish upper Las Californias, starting with Mission San Diego de Alcalá in 1769. Through the Spanish and Mexican eras they eventually comprised a series of 21 missions to spread Christianity among the local Native Americans, linked by El Camino Real ("The Royal Road"). They were established to convert the indigenous peoples of California, while protecting historic Spanish claims to the area. The missions introduced European technology, livestock, and crops. The Indian Reductions converted the native peoples into groups of Mission Indians; they worked as laborers in the missions and the ranchos. In the 1830s the missions were disbanded and the lands sold to Californios. The indigenous Native American population was around 150,000; the Californios (Mexican era Californians) around 10,000; with the rest immigrant Americans and other nationalities involved in trade and business in California.
New France was the vast area explored and claimed by France. It was composed of several colonies. They were Acadia, Canada, Newfoundland, Louisiana, Île-Royale (present-day Cape Breton Island), and Île Saint Jean (present-day Prince Edward Island). Although all of these territories would come under British control in the 18th century, only portions of Canada, Acadia and Louisiana became parts of the United States.
By 1660, French fur trappers based in Montreal pushed west along the Great Lakes and founded Green Bay, Saint Ignace, Sault Sainte Marie, Vincennes, and Detroit in 1701. By 1773, the population of Detroit was 1,400. At the end of the War for Independence in 1783, the region south of the Great Lakes formally became part of the United States.
The Illinois country by 1752 had a population of 2,500; it was concentrated around Kaskaskia, Cahokia, and Sainte Genevieve. According to one scholar, "The Illinois Habitant was a gay soul; he seemed shockingly carefree to later, self-righteous Puritans from the American colonies."
French Louisiana, first settled at Mobile in 1702, started its growth when 7,000 French immigrants arrived in New Orleans in 1718. There was little economic development because the city lacked a large hinterland. The areas around New Orleans and west of the Mississippi were given to Spain in 1769. Louisiana was taken back by France and sold to the United States in 1803 in the Louisiana Purchase.
|New Netherland series|
|The Patroon System|
|Charter of Freedoms and Exemptions|
|Directors of New Netherland:|
|People of New Netherland|
Nieuw-Nederland, or New Netherland, chartered in 1614, was a colonial province of the Republic of the Seven United Netherlands in what became New York State and parts of neighboring states. The peak population was less than 10,000. The Dutch established a patroon system with feudal-like rights given to a few powerful landholders; they also established religious tolerance and free trade. The colony's capital, New Amsterdam, founded in 1625 and located at the southern tip of the island of Manhattan, would grow to become a major world city. The city was captured by the English in 1664; they took complete control of the colony in 1674 and renamed it New York. However the Dutch landholdings remained, and the Hudson River Valley maintained a traditional Dutch character until the 1820s. Traces of Dutch influence, such as homes, family surnames, and the names of roads and whole towns remain in present-day northern New Jersey and southeastern New York State.
New Sweden (Swedish: Nya Sverige) was a Swedish colony along the Delaware River Valley from 1638 to 1655. The few hundred settlers huddled around Fort Christina. It was captured by the Dutch in 1655 and merged into New Netherland, and most traces of Swedish culture faded away.
Russia explored the area that became Alaska starting with the Second Kamchatka expedition in the 1730s and early 1740s. Their first settlement was founded in 1784 by Grigory Shelikhov. The Russian-American Company was formed in 1799 with the influence of Nikolay Rezanov for the purpose of buying sea otters for their fur from native hunters. In 1867 the U.S. purchased Alaska and nearly all Russians abandoned the area except a few missionaries of the Russian Orthodox Church working among the natives.
England made its first successful efforts at the start of the 17th century for several reasons. During this era, English proto-nationalism and national assertiveness blossomed under the threat of Spanish invasion, assisted by a degree of Protestant militarism and the energy of Queen Elizabeth. At this time, however, there was no official attempt by the English government to create a colonial empire. Rather, the motivation behind the founding of colonies was piecemeal and variable. Practical considerations, such as commercial enterprise, overpopulation and the desire for freedom of religion, played their parts. The main waves of settlement came in the 17th century. 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. Between the late 1610s and the American Revolution, the British shipped an estimated 50,000 convicts to its American colonies. The first convicts to arrive pre-dated the arrival of the Mayflower.
The first successful English colony was Jamestown, established May 14, 1607 near Chesapeake Bay. The business venture was financed and coordinated by the London Virginia Company, a joint stock company looking for gold. Its first years were extremely difficult, with very high death rates from disease and starvation, wars with local Indians, and little gold. The colony survived and flourished by turning to tobacco as a cash crop. By the late 17th century, Virginia's export economy was largely based on tobacco, and new, richer settlers came in to take up large portions of land, build large plantations and import indentured servants and slaves. In 1676, Bacon's Rebellion occurred, but was suppressed by royal officials. After Bacon's Rebellion, African slaves rapidly replaced indentured servants as Virginia's main labor force.
The colonial assembly shared power with a royally appointed governor. On a more local level, governmental power was invested in county courts, which were self-perpetuating (the incumbents filled any vacancies and there never were popular elections). As cash crop producers, Chesapeake plantations were heavily dependent on trade with England. With easy navigation by river, there were few towns and no cities; planters shipped directly to Britain. High death rates and a very young population profile characterized the colony during its first years.
The Puritans, a much larger group than the Pilgrims, established the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1629 with 400 settlers. They sought to reform the Church of England by creating a new, pure church in the New World. By 1640, 20,000 had arrived; many died soon after arrival, but the others found a healthy climate and an ample food supply. The Massachusetts settlement spawned other Puritan colonies in New England, including the New Haven, Saybrook, and Connecticut colonies. During the 17th century the New Haven and Saybrook colonies were absorbed by Connecticut.
The Puritans created a deeply religious, socially tight-knit, and politically innovative culture that still influences the modern United States. They hoped this new land would serve as a "redeemer nation". They fled England and in America attempted to create a "nation of saints" or a "City upon a Hill": an intensely religious, thoroughly righteous community designed to be an example for all of Europe. Roger Williams, who preached religious toleration, separation of Church and State, and a complete break with the Church of England, was banished and founded Rhode Island Colony, which became a haven for other refugees from the Puritan community, such as Anne Hutchinson.
Economically, Puritan New England fulfilled the expectations of its founders. Unlike the cash crop-oriented plantations of the Chesapeake region, the Puritan economy was based on the efforts of self-supporting farmsteads who traded only for goods they could not produce themselves. There was a generally higher economic standing and standard of living in New England than in the Chesapeake. 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.
The Pilgrims were a small Protestant sect based in England and the Netherlands. One group sailed on the Mayflower and settled in Plymouth, Massachusetts in 1620. After drawing up the Mayflower Compact by which they gave themselves broad powers of self-governance, they established the small Plymouth Colony. William Bradford was their main leader. Providence Plantation was founded in 1636 by Rev. Roger Williams on land provided by the Narragansett sachem, Canonicus. Williams, fleeing from religious persecution in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, agreed with his fellow settlers on an egalitarian constitution providing for majority rule "in civil things" and "liberty of conscience".
Other colonists who disagreed with 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. These small settlements were absorbed by Massachusetts when it made significant land claims in the 1640s and 1650s, but New Hampshire was eventually given a separate charter in 1679. (Maine remained a part of Massachusetts until achieving statehood in 1820.)
Under King James II of England, the New England colonies (as well as New York and the Jerseys) were briefly united as the Dominion of New England (1686–89). The administration eventually led by Governor Sir Edmund Andros seized colonial charters, revoked land titles, and ruled without local assemblies, causing anger among the population. The 1689 Boston revolt, inspired by England's Glorious Revolution against James II, caused Andros, Boston Anglicans, and senior dominion officials to be arrested by the Massachusetts militia. Andros was jailed for several months, then returned to England. The Dominion of New England was dissolved and governments resumed under their earlier charters. However, the Massachusetts charter had been revoked in 1684, and a new one was issued in 1691 that combined Massachusetts and Plymouth into the Province of Massachusetts Bay. Although King William III sought at least to unite the New England colonies militarily (for example, by appointing the Earl of Bellomont to three simultaneous governorships, and military command over Connecticut and Rhode Island), these attempts at unified control failed.
The Middle Colonies, consisting of the present-day states of New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Delaware, were characterized by a large degree of diversity—religious, political, economic, and ethnic. The Dutch colony of New Netherland was taken over by the British and renamed New York but large numbers of Dutch remained in the colony. New Jersey began as a division of New York, and was for a time divided into the proprietary colonies of East and West Jersey. Many German and Irish immigrants settled in these areas, as well as in Connecticut. A large portion of the settlers who came to Pennsylvania were German. 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.
Pennsylvania was founded in 1681 as a proprietary colony of the Quaker William Penn. It came to include the territory of Delaware, which had once been part of New Netherland; Delaware had a government independent of that established in Philadelphia, but was never a separate colony.
The colonial South included the plantation colonies of the Chesapeake region (Virginia, Maryland, and, by some classifications, Delaware) and the lower South (Carolina, which eventually split into North and South Carolina; and Georgia).
The first attempted English settlement south of Virginia was the Province of Carolina. It was a private venture, financed by a group of English Lords Proprietors, who obtained a Royal Charter to the Carolinas in 1663, hoping that a new colony in the south would become profitable like Jamestown. Carolina was not settled until 1670, and even then the first attempt failed because there was no incentive for emigration to that area. Eventually, however, the Lords combined their remaining capital and financed a settlement mission to the area, a mission led by Sir John Colleton. The expedition located fertile and defensible ground at what was to become Charleston (originally Charles Town for Charles II of England), thus beginning the English colonization of the mainland. The original settlers in South Carolina established a lucrative trade in provisions, deerskins and Indian captives with the Caribbean islands. The settlers came mainly from the English colony of Barbados and brought African slaves with them. Barbados, as a wealthy sugarcane plantation island, was one of the early English colonies to use large numbers of Africans in plantation style agriculture. The cultivation of rice was introduced during the 1690s via Africans from the rice-growing regions of Africa. North Carolina remained a frontier throughout the early colonial period.
At first, South Carolina was politically divided. Its ethnic makeup included the original settlers, a group of rich, slave-owning English settlers from the island of Barbados; and Huguenots, a French-speaking community of Protestants. Nearly continuous frontier warfare during the era of King William's War and Queen Anne's War drove economic and political wedges between merchants and planters. The disaster of the 1715 Yamasee War, which threatened the colony's viability, set off a decade of political turmoil. By 1729, the proprietary government had collapsed, and the Proprietors sold both colonies back to the British crown.
James Oglethorpe, an 18th-century British Member of Parliament, established the Georgia Colony in 1733 as a common solution to two problems. At that time, tension between Spain and Great Britain was high, and the British feared that Spanish Florida was threatening the British Carolinas. Oglethorpe decided to establish a colony in the contested border region of Georgia and populate it with debtors who would otherwise have been imprisoned according to standard British practice. This plan would both rid Great Britain of its undesirable elements and provide her with a base from which to attack Florida. The first colonists arrived in 1733.
Georgia was established on strict moralistic principles. Slavery was forbidden, as were alcohol and other forms of supposed immorality. However, the reality of the colony was far from ideal. The colonists were unhappy about the puritanical lifestyle and complained that their colony could not compete economically with the Carolina rice plantations. Georgia initially failed to prosper, but eventually the restrictions were lifted, slavery was allowed, and it became as prosperous as the Carolinas. The colony of Georgia never had a specific religion. It consisted of people of various faiths.
In 1763, Spain ceded Florida to Great Britain, which established the colonies of East and West Florida. The Floridas remained loyal to Great Britain during the American Revolution. They were returned to Spain in 1783 (in exchange for the Bahamas), at which time most of the British left. The Spanish then neglected the Floridas: few Spaniards lived there when the US bought the area in 1819.
Each colony had a paid colonial agent in London to represent its interests.
The three forms of colonial government in 1776 were provincial (royal colony), proprietary, and charter. These governments were all subordinate to the king in London, with no explicit relationship with the British Parliament. Beginning late in the 17th century, the administration of all British colonies was overseen by the Board of Trade in London.
New Hampshire, New York, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and eventually Massachusetts, were provincial, also called royal colonies.
The provincial government was governed by commissions created at pleasure by the monarch. A governor (and in some provinces his council) were appointed by the crown. The governor was invested with general executive powers, and authorized to call a locally elected assembly. The governor's council would sit as an upper house when the assembly was in session in addition to its role in advising the governor. Assemblies were made up of representatives elected by the freeholders and planters (landowners) of the province. The governor had the power of absolute veto, and could prorogue (i.e., delay) and dissolve the assembly.
The assembly's role was to make all local laws and ordinances, ensuring that they were not inconsistent with the laws of England. In practice this did not always occur, since many of the provincial assemblies sought to expand their powers and limit those of the governor and crown. Laws could be examined by the British Privy Council or Board of Trade, which also held veto power of legislation.
Pennsylvania (which included Delaware), New Jersey, and Maryland were proprietary colonies. They were governed much as royal colonies except that lord proprietors, rather than the king, appointed the governor. They were set up after the Restoration of 1660 and typically enjoyed greater civil and religious liberty.
Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Providence Plantation, and Connecticut were charter colonies. The Massachusetts charter was revoked in 1684, and was replaced by a provincial charter that was issued in 1691.
Charter governments were political corporations created by letters patent, giving the grantees control of the land and the powers of legislative government. The charters provided a fundamental constitution and divided powers among legislative, executive, and judicial functions, with those powers being vested in officials.
As Bonomi (1971) shows, the most distinctive feature of colonial society was the vibrant political culture, which attracted the most talented and ambitious young men into politics. First, suffrage was the most widespread in the world, with every man who owned a certain amount of property allowed to vote. While fewer than 1% of British men could vote, a majority of white American men were eligible. The roots of democracy were present, although deference was typically shown to social elites in colonial elections.
Second, in the colonies a very wide range of public and private business was decided by elected bodies, especially the assemblies and county governments in each colony. They handled land grants, commercial subsidies, and taxation, as well as oversight of roads, poor relief, taverns, and schools. Americans sued each other at a very high rate, with binding decisions made not by a great lord but by local judges and juries. This promoted the rapid expansion of the legal profession, so that the intense involvement of lawyers in politics became an American characteristic by the 1770s.
Thirdly, the American colonies were exceptional in the world because of the representation of many different interest groups in political decision-making. Unlike Europe, where aristocratic families and the established church were in control, the American political culture was open to economic, social, religious, ethnic and geographical interests, with merchants, landlords, petty farmers, artisans, Anglicans, Presbyterians, Quakers, Germans, Scotch Irish, Yankees, Yorkers, and many other identifiable groups taking part. Elected representatives learned to listen to these interests because 90% of the men in the lower houses lived in their districts, unlike England where it was common to have an absentee member of Parliament.
Finally, and most dramatically, the Americans were fascinated by and increasingly adopted the political values of Republicanism, which stressed equal rights, the need for virtuous citizens, and the evils of corruption, luxury, and aristocracy. Republicanism provided the framework for colonial resistance to British schemes of taxation after 1763, which escalated into the Revolution.
None of the colonies had stable political parties of the sort that formed in the 1790s, but each had shifting factions that vied for power, especially in the perennial battles between the appointed governor and the elected assembly. There were often "country" and "court" factions, representing those opposed to and in favor of, respectively, of the governor's actions and agenda. Massachusetts, which from its 1691 charter had particularly low requirements for voting eligibility and strong rural representation in its assembly, also had a strong populist faction that represented the province's lower classes.
Up and down the colonies non-English ethnic groups had clusters of settlements. The most numerous were the Scotch Irish and the Germans. Each group assimilated into the dominant English, Protestant commercial and political culture, albeit with local variations. They tended to vote in blocs and politicians negotiated with group leaders for votes. They generally retained their historic languages and cultural traditions, even as they merged into the emerging American culture.
Ethnocultural factors were most visible in Pennsylvania. During 1756–76, the Quakers were the largest faction in the legislature, but they were losing their dominance to the emerging Presbyterian faction based on Scotch-Irish votes, supported by Germans.
Efforts at common defense of the colonies (principally against shared threats from Indians, the French, and the Dutch) began as early as the 1640s, when the Puritan colonies of New England formed a confederation to coordinate military and judicial matters. From the 1670s several royal governors, notably Sir Edmund Andros (who at various times governed New York, New England, and Virginia) and Francis Nicholson (governed Maryland, Virginia, Nova Scotia, and Carolina) proposed or attempted to implement means to coordinate defensive and offensive military matters. After King Phillips War, Andros successfully negotiated the Covenant Chain, a series of Indian treaties that brought relative calm to the frontiers of the middle colonies for many years.
The northern colonies (particularly present-day Maine and New Hampshire) experienced numerous assaults from the Wabanaki Confederacy and the French from Acadia during the four French and Indian Wars as well as Father Rale's War and Father Le Loutre's War.
One event that reminded colonists of their shared identity as British subjects was the War of the Austrian Succession (1740–1748) in Europe. This conflict spilled over into the colonies, where it was known as "King George's War". The major battles took place in Europe, but American colonial troops fought the French and their Indian allies in New York, New England, and Nova Scotia with the Siege of Louisbourg (1745).
At the Albany Congress of 1754, Benjamin Franklin proposed that the colonies be united by a Grand Council overseeing a common policy for defense, expansion, and Indian affairs. While the plan was thwarted by colonial legislatures and King George II, it was an early indication that the British colonies of North America were headed towards unification.
The French and Indian War (1754–1763) was the American extension of the general European conflict known as the Seven Years' War. Although previous colonial wars in North America had started in Europe and then spread to the colonies, the French and Indian War is notable for having started in North America and then having spread to Europe. Increasing competition between Britain and France, especially in the Great Lakes and Ohio valley, was one of the primary origins of the war.
The French and Indian War took on a new significance for the British North American colonists when William Pitt the Elder decided that, in order to win the war against France, major military resources needed to be devoted to North America. For the first time, the continent became one of the main theaters of what could be termed a "world war". During the war, the position of the British colonies as part of the British Empire was made truly apparent, as British military and civilian officials took on an increased presence in the lives of Americans. The war also increased a sense of American unity in other ways. It caused men, who might normally have never left their own colony, to travel across the continent, fighting alongside men from decidedly different, yet still "American", backgrounds. Throughout the course of the war, British officers trained American ones (most notably George Washington) for battle—which would later benefit the American Revolution. Also, colonial legislatures and officials had to cooperate intensively, for the first time, in pursuit of the continent-wide military effort. The relations between the British military establishment and the colonists were not always positive, setting the stage for later distrust and dislike of British troops.
In the Treaty of Paris (1763), France formally ceded the eastern part of its vast North American empire to Britain (having secretly given the territory of Louisiana west of the Mississippi River to Spain the previous year). Before the war, Britain held the thirteen American colonies, most of present-day Nova Scotia, and most of the Hudson Bay watershed. Following the war, Britain gained all French territory east of the Mississippi River, including Quebec, the Great Lakes, and the Ohio River valley. Britain also gained Spanish Florida, from which it formed the colonies of East and West Florida. In removing a major foreign threat to the thirteen colonies, the war also largely removed the colonists' need of colonial protection.
The British and colonists triumphed jointly over a common foe. The colonists' loyalty to the mother country was stronger than ever before. However, disunity was beginning to form. British Prime Minister William Pitt the Elder had decided to wage the war in the colonies with the use of troops from the colonies and tax funds from Britain itself. This was a successful wartime strategy, but after the war was over, each side believed that it had borne a greater burden than the other. The British elite, the most heavily taxed of any in Europe, pointed out angrily that the colonists paid little to the royal coffers. The colonists replied that their sons had fought and died in a war that served European interests more than their own. This dispute was a link in the chain of events that soon brought about the American Revolution.
Although the colonies were very different from one another, they were still a part of the British Empire in more than just name.
Socially, the colonial elite of Boston, New York, Charleston, and Philadelphia saw their identity as British. Although many had never been to Britain, they imitated British styles of dress, dance, and etiquette. This social upper echelon built its mansions in the Georgian style, copied the furniture designs of Thomas Chippendale, and participated in the intellectual currents of Europe, such as the Enlightenment. To many of their inhabitants, the seaport cities of colonial America were truly British cities.
Many of the political structures of the colonies drew upon the republicanism expressed by opposition leaders in Britain, most notably the Commonwealth men and the Whig traditions. Many Americans at the time saw the colonies' systems of governance as modeled after the British constitution of the time, with the king corresponding to the governor, the House of Commons to the colonial assembly, and the House of Lords to the governor's council. The codes of law of the colonies were often drawn directly from English law; indeed, English common law survives not only in Canada, but also throughout the United States. Eventually, it was a dispute over the meaning of some of these political ideals, especially political representation, and republicanism that led to the American Revolution.
Another point on which the colonies found themselves more similar than different was the booming import of British goods. The British economy had begun to grow rapidly at the end of the 17th century, and by the mid-18th century, small factories in Britain were producing much more than the nation could consume. Finding a market for their goods in the British colonies of North America, Britain increased her exports to that region by 360% between 1740 and 1770. Because British merchants offered generous credit to their customers, Americans began buying staggering amounts of British goods. From Nova Scotia to Georgia, all British subjects bought similar products, creating and anglicizing a sort of common identity.
In recent years historians have enlarged their perspective to cover the entire Atlantic world in a subfield now known as Atlantic history. Of special interest are such themes as international migration, trade, colonization, comparative military and governmental institutions, the transmission of religions and missionary work, and the slave trade. It was the Age of the Enlightenment, and ideas flowed back and forth across the Atlantic, with Philadelphian Benjamin Franklin playing a major role. Warfare was critical, for as Furstenberg, (2008) explains, from 1754 to 1815, the major imperial players – Britain, the American colonies, Spain, France, the First Nations (Indians) and the United States fought a series of conflicts that can be called a "Long War for the West" over control of the region.
Women played a role in the emergence of the capitalist economy in the Atlantic world. The types of local commercial exchange in which they participated independently – especially markets in dairy and produce commodities – were well integrated with the trade networks between colonial merchants throughout the Atlantic region. For example, local women merchants were important suppliers of foodstuffs to transatlantic shipping concerns.
In the colonial era, Americans insisted on their rights as Englishmen to have their own legislature raise all taxes. Tax loads in practice were very light, and far lower than in England. Beginning in 1765 the British Parliament asserted its supreme authority to lay taxes, and a series of American protests began that led directly to the American Revolution. The first wave of protests attacked the Stamp Act of 1765, and marked the first time Americans from each of the 13 colonies met together and planned a common front against illegal taxes. The Boston Tea Party of 1773 dumped British tea into Boston Harbor because it contained a hidden tax Americans refused to pay. The British responded by trying to crush traditional liberties in Massachusetts, leading to the American revolution starting in 1775.
The idea of independence steadily became more widespread, after being first proposed and advocated by a number of public figures and commentators throughout the Colonies. One of the most prominent voices on behalf of independence was Thomas Paine, in his pamphlet Common Sense published in 1776. Another group which called for independence was the Sons of Liberty, which had been founded in 1765 in Boston by Samuel Adams and which was now becoming even more strident and numerous.
The Parliament attempted a series of taxes and punishments which met more and more resistance: First Quartering Act (1765); Declaratory Act (1766); Townshend Revenue Act (1767); and Tea Act (1773). In response to the Boston Tea Party Parliament passed the Intolerable Acts: Second Quartering Act (1774); Quebec Act (1774); Massachusetts Government Act (1774); Administration of Justice Act (1774); Boston Port Act (1774); Prohibitory Act (1775). By this point the 13 colonies had organized themselves into the Continental Congress and began setting up shadow governments and drilling their militia in preparation for war.
The religious ties between the metropole and the colonies was especially strong. The Puritans of New England seldom kept in touch with nonconformists in England. Much closer were the transatlantic relationships maintained by the Quakers. (see History of the Religious Society of Friends). Likewise the Methodists kept in close touch.
The Anglican Church was officially established in the Southern colonies, which meant that local taxes paid the salary of the minister, the parish had civic responsibilities such as poor relief, and the local gentry controlled the parish. see Religion in early Virginia. The church was disestablished during the American Revolution. The Anglicans in America were controlled by the Bishop of London, and there was a long debate over whether to establish an Anglican bishop in America. The other Protestants strongly opposed it.
The experiences of women during the colonial era varied greatly from colony to colony. In New England, the Puritan settlers brought their strong religious values with them to the New World, which dictated that a woman be subordinate to her husband and dedicate herself to rearing God-fearing children to the best of her ability. Hispanic women were at the center of family life in New Mexico and California.
There were ethnic differences in the treatment of women. Among Puritan settlers in New England, wives almost never worked in the fields with their husbands. In German communities in Pennsylvania, however, many women worked in fields and stables. German and Dutch immigrants granted women more control over property, which was not permitted in the local English law. Unlike English colonial wives, German and Dutch wives owned their own clothes and other items and were also given the ability to write wills disposing of the property brought into the marriage. Much later on in the colonial experience, as the values of the American Enlightenment were imported from Britain, the philosophies of such thinkers as John Locke weakened the view that husbands were natural "rulers" over their wives and replacing it with a (slightly) more liberal conception of marriage. Women also lost most control of their property when marrying. Even single women could not sue anyone or be sued, or make contracts, and divorce was almost impossible until the late eighteenth century.
In New England, the Puritans created self-governing communities of religious congregations of farmers, or yeomen, and their families. High-level politicians gave out plots of land to male settlers, or proprietors, who then divided the land amongst themselves. Large portions were usually given to men of higher social standing, but every white man—who wasn't indentured or criminally bonded—had enough land to support a family. Every male citizen had a voice in the town meeting. The town meeting levied taxes, built roads, and elected officials who managed town affairs. The towns did not have courts—that was a function of a larger unit, the county, whose officials were appointed by the state government.
The Congregational Church, the church the Puritans founded, was not automatically joined by all New England residents because of Puritan beliefs that God singled out specific people for salvation. Instead, membership was limited to those who could convincingly "test" before members of the church that they had been saved. They were known as "the elect" or "Saints" and made up less than 40% of the population of New England.
A majority of New England residents were small farmers. Within these small farm families, and English families as well, a man had complete power over the property and his wife. When married, an English woman lost her maiden name and personal identity, meaning she could not own property, file lawsuits, or participate in political life, even when widowed. The role of wives was to raise and nurture healthy children and support their husbands. Most women carried out these duties. During the 18th century, couples usually married between the ages of 20-24 and 6-8 children were typical of a family, with three on average surviving to adulthood. Farm women provided most of the materials needed by the rest of the family by spinning yarn from wool and knitting sweaters and stockings, making candles and soap from ashes, and churning milk into butter.
Most New England parents tried to help their sons establish farms of their own. When sons married, fathers gave them gifts of land, livestock, or farming equipment; daughters received household goods, farm animals, and/or cash. Arranged marriages were very unusual; normally, children chose their own spouses from within a circle of suitable acquaintances who shared their race, religion, and social standing. Parents retained veto power over their children's marriages.
New England farming families generally lived in wooden houses because of the abundance of trees. A typical New England farmhouse was one-and-a-half stories tall and had a strong frame (usually made of large square timbers) that was covered by wooden clapboard siding. A large chimney stood in the middle of the house that provided cooking facilities and warmth during the winter. One side of the ground floor contained a hall, a general-purpose room where the family worked and ate meals. Adjacent to the hall was the parlor, a room used to entertain guests that contained the family's best furnishings and the parent's bed. Children slept in a loft above, while the kitchen was either part of the hall or was located in a shed along the back of the house. Because colonial families were large, these small dwellings had much activity and there was little privacy.
By the middle of the 18th century, New England's way of life was threatened by overpopulation, going from about 100,000 people in 1700 to 250,000 in 1725 and 375,000 in 1750 thanks to high birth rates and low overall life expectancy (a 15 year old boy in 1700 could expect to live to about 63) As colonists in Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island continued to subdivide their land between farmers, the farms became too small to support single families. This overpopulation threatened the New England ideal of a society of independent yeoman farmers.
Some farmers obtained land grants to create farms in undeveloped land in Massachusetts and Connecticut or bought plots of land from speculators in New Hampshire and what later became Vermont. Other farmers became agricultural innovators. They planted nutritious English grass such as red clover and timothy-grass, which provided more feed for livestock, and potatoes, which provided a high production rate that was an advantage for small farms. Families increased their productivity by exchanging goods and labor with each other. They loaned livestock and grazing land to one another and worked together to spin yarn, sew quilts, and shuck corn. Migration, agricultural innovation, and economic cooperation were creative measures that preserved New England's yeoman society until the 19th century.
By the mid-18th century in New England, shipbuilding was a staple, particularly as the North American wilderness offered a seemingly endless supply of timber (by comparison, Europe's forests had been depleted and most timber had to be purchased from Scandinavia) The British crown often turned to the cheap, yet strongly built American ships. There was a shipyard at the mouth of almost every river in New England.
By 1750, a variety of artisans, shopkeepers, and merchants provided services to the growing farming population. Blacksmiths, wheelwrights, and furniture makers set up shops in rural villages. There they built and repaired goods needed by farm families. Stores selling English manufactures such as cloth, iron utensils, and window glass as well as West Indian products like sugar and molasses were set up by traders. The storekeepers of these shops sold their imported goods in exchange for crops and other local products including roof shingles, potash, and barrel staves. These local goods were shipped to towns and cities all along the Atlantic Coast. Enterprising men set up stables and taverns along wagon roads to service this transportation system.
After these products had been delivered to port towns such as Boston and Salem in Massachusetts, New Haven in Connecticut, and Newport and Providence in Rhode Island, merchants then exported them to the West Indies where they were traded for molasses, sugar, gold coins, and bills of exchange (credit slips). They carried the West Indian products to New England factories where the raw sugar was turned into granulated sugar and the molasses distilled into rum. The gold and credit slips were sent to England where they were exchanged for manufactures, which were shipped back to the colonies and sold along with the sugar and rum to farmers.
Other New England merchants took advantage of the rich fishing areas along the Atlantic Coast and financed a large fishing fleet, transporting its catch of mackerel and cod to the West Indies and Europe. Some merchants exploited the vast amounts of timber along the coasts and rivers of northern New England. They funded sawmills that supplied cheap wood for houses and shipbuilding. Hundreds of New England shipwrights built oceangoing ships, which they sold to British and American merchants.
Many merchants became very wealthy by providing their goods to the agricultural population and ended up dominating the society of sea port cities. Unlike yeoman farmhouses, these merchants resembled the lifestyle of that of the upper class of England living in elegant 2 1⁄2-story houses designed the new Georgian style. These Georgian houses had a symmetrical façade with equal numbers of windows on both sides of the central door. The interior consisted of a passageway down the middle of the house with specialized rooms such as a library, dining room, formal parlor, and master bedroom off the sides. Unlike the multi-purpose space of the yeoman houses, each of these rooms served a separate purpose. In a Georgian house, men mainly used certain rooms, such as the library, while women mostly used the kitchen. These houses contained bedrooms on the second floor that provided privacy to parents and children.
Education was primarily the responsibility of families, but numerous religious groups, especially the Puritans in New England, established tax-supported elementary schools so their children could read the Bible. Nearly all the religious denominations set up their own schools and colleges to train ministers. Each city, and most towns, had private academies for the children of affluent families.
The practical sciences were of great interest to colonial Americans, who were engaged in the process of taming and settling a wild frontier country. While science could eventually be applied to political problems, the mainstream of intellectual activity in the colonies was on technological and engineering developments rather than more abstract topics such as politics or metaphysics. American scientific activity was symbolized by David Rittenhouse, who constructed the first planetarium in the Western Hemisphere, New York lieutenant governor Cadawaller Colden, botanist and anthropologist, and Dr. Benjamin Rush, the celebrated physician and social reformer and member of the American Philosophical Society founded by Benjamin Franklin, who had contributed important discoveries to physics such as electricity, but was more successful in his practical inventions such as stoves and lightning rods.
The arts in colonial America were not as successful as the sciences. Literature in the European sense was nearly nonexistent, with histories being far more noteworthy. These included The History and present State of Virginia (1705) by Robert Beverly and History of the Dividing Line (1728–29) by William Byrd, which however was not published until a century later. Instead, the newspaper was the principle form of reading material in the colonies. Since printing was expensive, most publications focused on purely practical matters such as major news, advertisements, and business reports. Aside from newspapers, almanacs were very popular, Benjamin Franklin's Poor Richard's Almanac being the most famous. Literary magazines appeared at mid-century, but few were profitable and most went out of business after only a few years. While American publications never approached the intellectual quality of European writers, they were much more widespread and achieved a greater readership than anything produced by Voltaire, Locke, or Rousseau.
New Englanders wrote journals, pamphlets, books and especially sermons—more than all of the other colonies combined. Cotton Mather, a Boston minister published Magnalia Christi Americana (The Great Works of Christ in America, 1702), while revivalist Jonathan Edwards wrote his philosophical work, A Careful and Strict Enquiry Into...Notions of...Freedom of Will... (1754). Most music had a religious theme as well and was mainly the singing of Psalms. Because of New England's deep religious beliefs, artistic works that were insufficiently religious or too "worldly" were banned, especially the theater. The leading theologian and philosopher of the colonial era was Jonathan Edwards of Massachusetts, an interpreter of Calvinism, and the leader of the First Great Awakening.
Art and drama were somewhat more successful than literature. Benjamin West was a noteworthy painter of historical subjects and two first-rate portrait painters emerged in John Copley and Gilbert Stuart, yet all three men spent much of their lives in London. Theater was more developed in the Southern colonies, especially South Carolina, but nowhere did stage works attain the level of Europe. Puritans in New England and Quakers in Pennsylvania opposed theatrical performances as immoral and ungodly.
Elementary education was widespread in New England. Early Puritan settlers believed it was necessary to study the Bible, so children were taught to read at an early age. It was also required that each town pay for a primary school. About 10 percent enjoyed secondary schooling and funded grammar schools in larger towns. Most boys learned skills from their fathers on the farm or as apprentices to artisans. Few girls attended formal schools, but most were able to get some education at home or at so-called "Dame schools" where women taught basic reading and writing skills in their own houses. By 1750, nearly 90% of New England's women and almost all of its men could read and write. Puritans founded Harvard College in 1636 and Yale College in 1701. Later, Baptists founded Rhode Island College (now Brown University) in 1764 and Congregationalists established Dartmouth College in 1769. Virginia founded schools the College of William and Mary in 1693; it was primarily Anglican. The colleges were designed for aspiring ministers, lawyers or doctors. There were no departments or majors, as every student shared the same curriculum, which focused on Latin and Greek, mathematics, and history, philosophy, logic, ethics, rhetoric, oratory, and a little basic science. There were no sports or fraternities and few extracurricular activities apart from literary societies. There were no separate seminaries, law schools, or divinity schools. The first medical schools were founded late in the colonial era in Philadelphia and New York.
Some migrants who came to Colonial America were in search of religious freedom. London did not make the Church of England official in the colonies—it never sent a bishop—so religious practice became diverse.
The Great Awakening was a major religious revival movement that took place in most colonies in the 1730s and 1740s. The movement began with Jonathan Edwards, a Massachusetts preacher who sought to return to the Pilgrims' strict Calvinist roots and to reawaken the "Fear of God." English preacher George Whitefield and other itinerant preachers continued the movement, traveling across the colonies and preaching in a dramatic and emotional style. Followers of Edwards and other preachers of similar religiosity called themselves the "New Lights", as contrasted with the "Old Lights", who disapproved of their movement. To promote their viewpoints, the two sides established academies and colleges, including Princeton and Williams College. The Great Awakening has been called the first truly American event.
A similar pietistic revival movement took place among some German and Dutch settlers, leading to more divisions. By the 1770s, the Baptists were growing rapidly both in the north (where they founded Brown University), and in the South (where they challenged the previously unquestioned moral authority of the Anglican establishment).
Unlike New England, the Mid-Atlantic Region gained much of its population from new immigration, and by 1750, the combined populations of New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania had reached nearly 300,000 people. By 1750, about 60,000 Irish and 50,000 Germans came to live in British North America, many of them settling in the Mid-Atlantic Region. William Penn, the man who founded the colony of Pennsylvania in 1682, attracted an influx of British Quakers with his policies of religious liberty and freehold ownership. ("Freehold" meant owning land free and clear, with the right to resell it to anyone.) The first major influx of settlers were the Scotch Irish, who headed to the frontier. Many Germans came to escape the religious conflicts and declining economic opportunities in Germany and Switzerland.
Much of the architecture of the Middle Colonies reflects the diversity of its peoples. In Albany and New York City, a majority of the buildings were Dutch style with brick exteriors and high gables at each end while many Dutch churches were shaped liked an octagon. Using cut stone to build their houses, German and Welsh settlers in Pennsylvania followed the way of their homeland and completely ignored the plethora of timber in the area. An example of this would be Germantown, Pennsylvania where 80 percent of the buildings in the town were made entirely of stone. On the other hand, settlers from Ireland took advantage of America's ample supply of timber and constructed sturdy log cabins.
Ethnic cultures also affected the styles of furniture. Rural Quakers preferred simple designs in furnishings such as tables, chairs, chests and shunned elaborate decorations. However, some urban Quakers had much more elaborate furniture. The city of Philadelphia became a major center of furniture-making because of its massive wealth from Quaker and British merchants. Philadelphian cabinet makers built elegant desks and highboys. German artisans created intricate carved designs on their chests and other furniture with painted scenes of flowers and birds. German potters also crafted a large array of jugs, pots, and plates, of both elegant and traditional design.
There were ethnic differences in the treatment of women. Among Puritan settlers in New England, wives almost never worked in the fields with their husbands. In German communities in Pennsylvania, however, many women worked in fields and stables. German and Dutch immigrants granted women more control over property, which was not permitted in the local English law. Unlike English colonial wives, German and Dutch wives owned their own clothes and other items and were also given the ability to write wills disposing of the property brought into the marriage.
By the time of the Revolutionary War, approximately 85 percent of white Americans were of English, Irish, Welsh, or Scottish descent. Approximately 8.8 percent of whites were of German ancestry, and 3.5 percent were of Dutch origin.
Ethnicity made a difference in agricultural practice. As an example, German farmers generally preferred oxen rather than horses to pull their plows and Scots-Irish made a farming economy based on hogs and corn. In Ireland, people farmed intensively, working small pieces of land trying to get the largest possible production-rate from their crops. In the American colonies, settlers from northern Ireland focused on mixed-farming. Using this technique, they grew corn for human consumption and as feed for hogs and other livestock. Many improvement-minded farmers of all different backgrounds began using new agricultural practices to raise their output. During the 1750s, these agricultural innovators replaced the hand sickles and scythes used to harvest hay, wheat, and barley with the cradle scythe, a tool with wooden fingers that arranged the stalks of grain for easy collection. This tool was able to triple the amount of work done by farmers in one day. Farmers also began fertilizing their fields with dung and lime and rotating their crops to keep the soil fertile. By 1700, Philadelphia was exporting 350,000 bushels of wheat and 18,000 tons of flour annually. The Southern colonies in particular relied on cash crops such as tobacco and cotton. South Carolina produced rice and indigo. North Carolina was somewhat less involved in the plantation economy, but because a major producer of naval stores. Virginia and Maryland came to be almost totally dependent on tobacco, which would ultimately prove fatal at the end of the 18th century thanks to exhausted soil and collapsing prices, but for most of the century, the soil remained good and a single-crop economy profitable.
Before 1720, most colonists in the mid-Atlantic region worked with small-scale farming and paid for imported manufactures by supplying the West Indies with corn and flour. In New York, a fur-pelt export trade to Europe flourished adding additional wealth to the region. After 1720, mid-Atlantic farming stimulated with the international demand for wheat. A massive population explosion in Europe brought wheat prices up. By 1770, a bushel of wheat cost twice as much as it did in 1720. Farmers also expanded their production of flax seed and corn since flax was a high demand in the Irish linen industry and a demand for corn existed in the West Indies. Thus, by mid-century, most colonial farming was a commercial venture, although subsistence agriculture continued to exist in New England and the middle colonies.
Some immigrants who just arrived purchased farms and shared in this export wealth, but many poor German and Irish immigrants were forced to work as agricultural wage laborers. Merchants and artisans also hired these homeless workers for a domestic system for the manufacture of cloth and other goods. Merchants often bought wool and flax from farmers and employed newly arrived immigrants, who had been textile workers in Ireland and Germany, to work in their homes spinning the materials into yarn and cloth. Large farmers and merchants became wealthy, while farmers with smaller farms and artisans only made enough for subsistence. The Mid-Atlantic region, by 1750, was divided by both ethnic background and wealth.
Seaports, which expanded from wheat trade, had more social classes than anywhere else in the Middle Colonies. By 1750, the population of Philadelphia had reached 25,000, New York 15,000, and the port of Baltimore 7,000. Merchants dominated seaport society and about 40 merchants controlled half of Philadelphia's trade. Wealthy merchants in Philadelphia and New York, like their counterparts in New England, built elegant Georgian-style mansions.
Shopkeepers, artisans, shipwrights, butchers, coopers, seamstresses, cobblers, bakers, carpenters, masons, and many other specialized professions, made up the middle class of seaport society. Wives and husbands often worked as a team and taught their children their crafts to pass it on through the family. Many of these artisans and traders made enough money to create a modest life.
Laborers stood at the bottom of seaport society. These poor people worked on the docks unloading inbound vessels and loading outbound vessels with wheat, corn, and flaxseed. Many of these were African American; some were free while others were enslaved. In 1750, blacks made up about 10 percent of the population of New York and Philadelphia. Hundreds of seamen, some who were African American, worked as sailors on merchant ships.
The Southern Colonies were mainly dominated by the wealthy planters in Maryland, Virginia, and South Carolina. They owned increasingly large plantations that were worked by African slaves. Of the 650,000 inhabitants of the South in 1750, about 250,000 or 40 percent, were slaves. The plantations grew tobacco, indigo and rice for export, and raised most of their own food supplies. In addition, many small subsistence farms were family owned and operated by yeoman. Most white men owned some land, and therefore could vote.
Since the social history revolution in the 1970s historians have paid special attention to the role of women, family and gender in the colonial South. In the early Chesapeake colonies, very few women were present. In 1650, estimates put Maryland's total population near six hundred with fewer than two hundred women present. Much of the population consisted of young, single, white indentured servants, and as such the colonies, to a large degree, lacked any social cohesiveness. African women entered the colony as early as 1619, although their status: free, slave or indentured servant remains a historical debate. In the 17th century high mortality rates for newcomers and a very high ratio of men to women made family life either impossible or unstable for most colonists. These factors, along with dispersed settlements and a reluctance to live in villages, together with a growing immigration of white indentured servants and black slaves made families and communities in the Virginia-Maryland region before 1700 fundamentally different from their counterparts in Europe and New England. These extreme conditions both demeaned and empowered women. Lacking male protectors, women, especially teenage girls who were indentured servants, often were vulnerable to exploitation and abuse. On the other hand, without parental oversight, young women had much more freedom in choosing spouses, and the shortage of eligible women enabled them to use marriage as an avenue to upward mobility. The high death rates meant that Chesapeake wives generally became widows who inherited property; many widows increased their property by remarrying as soon as possible. The population began to stabilize around 1700, with a 1704 census listing 30,437 white people present with 7,163 of those being women. Women married younger, remained wed longer, bore more children, and lost influence within the family polity.
Slaves imported to American colonies
About 600,000 slaves were imported into the U.S., or 5% of the 12 million slaves brought across from Africa. The great majority went to sugar colonies in the Caribbean and to Brazil, where life expectancy was short and the numbers had to be continually replenished. Life expectancy was much higher in the U.S. (because of better food, less disease, lighter work loads, and better medical care) so the numbers grew rapidly by excesses of births over deaths, reaching 4 million by the 1860 Census. From 1770 until 1860, the rate of natural growth of North American slaves was much greater than for the population of any nation in Europe, and was nearly twice as rapid as that of England.
The enslaved African (known as African slaves, although they were not considered slaves until they were officially purchased by a planter or plantation owner) who worked on the indigo, tobacco, and rice fields in the South came from mainly western and central Africa. Slavery in Colonial America was very oppressive as it passed on from generation to generation, and slaves had no legal rights. The colonies that had the most specialization in production of goods, such as sugar and coffee, relied most on slaves and consequently, had the highest per capita (including slaves) income in the New World. However, the slaves did not accrue wages or receive rights and provided free labor to those who purchased them and received just enough to live. They were considered in Chattel slavery. Between 1500 and 1700, over 60% of the 6 million people who were brought or traveled to the New World were involuntary slaves. In 1700, there were about 9,600 slaves in the Chesapeake region and a few hundred in the Carolinas. About 170,000 more Africans were forcibly brought over the next five decades. By 1750, there were more than 250,000 slaves in British America; and, in the Carolinas, they made up about 60 percent of the total population. The first post-colonial Census found 697,681 slaves and 59,527 free blacks, who together made up about 20% of the country's population. Most slaves in South Carolina were born in Africa, while half the slaves in Virginia and Maryland were born in the colonies.
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