Theme: The English hoped to follow Spain’s example of finding great wealth in the New World, and that influenced the financing and founding of the early southern colonies. The focus on making the southern colonies profitable shaped colonial decisions, including choice of crops and the use of indentured and slave labor. This same focus also helped create economic and cultural ties between the early southern colonies and English settlements in the West Indies.
Theme: The early southern colonies’ encounters with Indians and African slaves established the patterns of race relations that would shape the North American experience—in particular, warfare and reservations for the Indians and lifelong slave codes for African Americans.
Theme: After a late start, a proud, nationalistic England joined the colonial race and successfully established five colonies along the southeastern seacoast of North America. Although varying somewhat in origins and character, all these colonies exhibited plantation agriculture, indentured and slave labor, a tendency toward strong economic and social hierarchies, and a pattern of widely scattered, institutionally weak settlements.
The defeat of the Spanish Armada and the exuberant spirit of Elizabethan nationalism finally drew England into the colonial race. After some early failures, the first permanent English colony was established at Jamestown, Virginia. Initially it faced harsh conditions and Indian hostility, but tobacco cultivation finally brought prosperity and population growth. Its charter also guaranteed colonists the same rights as Englishmen and developed an early form of representative self-government.
The early encounters of English settlers with the Powhatans in Virginia established many of the patterns that characterized later Indian-white relations in North America. Indian societies underwent their own substantial changes as a result of warfare, disease, trade, and the mingling and migration of Indians from the Atlantic coast to inland areas.
Other colonies were established in Maryland and the Carolinas. South Carolina flourished by establishing close ties with the British sugar colonies in the West Indies. It also borrowed the West Indian pattern of harsh slave codes and large plantation agriculture. North Carolina developed somewhat differently, with fewer slaves and more white colonists who owned small farms. Latecomer Georgia served initially as a buffer against the Spanish and a haven for debtors.
Despite some differences, all the southern colonies depended on staple plantation agriculture for their survival and on the institutions of indentured servitude and enslaved Africans for their labor. With widely scattered rural settlements, they had relatively weak religious and social institutions and tended to develop hierarchical economic and social orders.
1. What international events and domestic changes prompted England to begin colonization?
2. What was it like for the early settlers of Jamestown?
3. Why were Native Americans unable to repel English colonization of North America?
4. What crops were important to the English colonies in the south of North America? How did the cultivation of those crops shape those colonies?
5. How did the English sugar plantations in the Caribbean differ from the English colonies in the south of North America?
6. How did slavery develop in North America during colonization?
7. What features were shared by Virginia, Maryland, South Carolina, North Carolina, and Georgia? What distinguished them from one another?
1. How did Spanish success in the New World influence the English colonial efforts? How did England’s earlier experience in Ireland influence its colonial efforts in the New World? How did different events in England (and Europe) affect England’s southern colonies in the New World?
2. Were the English colonizers crueler or more tolerant than the Spanish conquistadores? Why did the Spanish tend to settle and intermarry with the Indian population, whereas the English killed the Indians, drove them out, or confined them to separate territories? How did this pattern of interaction affect both white and Indian societies?
3. Was the development of enslaved Africans in the North American colonies inevitable? (Consider that it never developed in some other colonial areas, for example, Mexico and New France.) How would the North American colonies have been different without slavery? What role did the Spanish encomienda system and British sugar colonies play in introducing slavery to the southern colonies? (See boxed quotes on pages 33 and 34.)
Contending Voices: Richard Hakluyt VS. George Percy
1. Contrast Hakluyt’s view of the possibilities of the Virginia colony with the realities experienced by Percy.
2. Compare Percy’s experiences with the boxed quotes on page 29 and on page 30.
makers of america: the iroquois
1. It is sometimes suggested that the Iroquois Confederacy may have provided a model for the union of states into the United States of America. What similarities and differences are there between the two confederations?
2. What role did the Iroquois play in the politics and warfare of British North America? Was the decision of most Iroquois to side with the British in the Revolutionary War the most decisive moment in their history? Why or why not?
Settling the Northern Colonies, 1619–1700
Theme: Religious and political turmoil in England shaped settlement in New England and the middle colonies. Religious persecution in England pushed the Separatists into Plymouth and Quakers into Pennsylvania. England’s Glorious Revolution also prompted changes in the colonies.
Theme: The Protestant Reformation, in its English Calvinist (Reformed) version, provided the major impetus and leadership for the settlement of New England. The New England colonies developed a fairly homogeneous social order based on religion and semicommunal family and town settlements.
Theme: Principles of American government developed in New England with the beginnings of written constitutions (Mayflower Compact and Massachusetts’s royal charter) and with glimpses of self-rule seen in town hall meetings, the New England Confederation, and colonial opposition to the Dominion of New England.
Theme: The middle colonies of New Netherland (New York), Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware developed with far greater political, ethnic, religious, and social diversity, and they represented a more cosmopolitan middle ground between the tightly knit New England towns and the scattered, hierarchical plantation in the South.
The New England colonies were founded by English Puritans. While most Puritans sought to purify the Church of England from within, and not to break away from it, a small group of Separatists—the Pilgrims—founded the first small, pious Plymouth Colony in New England. More important was the larger group of nonseparating Puritans, led by John Winthrop, who founded the Massachusetts Bay Colony as part of the Great English Migration of Puritans fleeing persecution in England in the 1630s.
A strong sense of common purpose among the first settlers shaped the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Because of the close alignment of religion and politics in the colony, those who challenged religious orthodoxy, among them Anne Hutchinson and Roger Williams, were considered guilty of sedition and driven out of Massachusetts. The banished Williams founded Rhode Island, by far the most religiously and politically tolerant of the colonies. Other New England settlements, all originating in Massachusetts Bay, were established in Connecticut, Maine, and New Hampshire. Although they shared a common way of life, the New England colonies developed with a substantial degree of independence.
The middle colonies took shape quite differently. New York, founded as New Netherland by the Dutch and later conquered by England, was economically and ethnically diverse, socially hierarchical, and politically quarrelsome. Pennsylvania, founded as a Quaker haven by William Penn, also attracted an economically ambitious and politically troublesome population of diverse ethnic groups.
With their economic variety, ethnic diversity, and political factionalism, the middle colonies were the most typically American of England’s thirteen Atlantic seaboard colonies.
1. What religious turmoil in the Old World resulted in the little colony of Plymouth in the New World?
2. Why was the initial and subsequent colonization of the Massachusetts Bay Colony more successful than Plymouth?
3. How did the colony of Plymouth and Massachusetts Bay Colony contribute to the origins of American independence and government? What were the contributions to American independence and government from the New England Confederation, the Dominion of New England, and the Glorious Revolution?
4. What role did religious intolerance play in the founding of New England colonies other than Plymouth and Massachusetts Bay and in the founding of some middle colonies?
5. Besides England, what other nations influenced the colonization of the Atlantic coast of North America?
6. How did the colonization of Pennsylvania differ from the New England colonies and other middle colonies?
questions for class discussion
1. Did the Puritans really come to America seeking religious freedom? How did they reconcile their own religious dissent from the Church of England with their persecution of dissenters like Hutchinson and Williams? Does their outlook make them hypocrites?
2. How does the founding of the New England colonies compare with the origin of the middle colonies? In what ways were New England and the middle colonies each like the South, and in what ways were they different?
3. What were the push and pull factors for immigrants coming to each region of English colonies (New England, the middle colonies, and the southern colonies)?
Contending Voices: John Winthrop VS. Anne Hutchinson
1. Contrast Winthrop’s accusation with Hutchinson’s response. (See section “Character Sketches” above for more information on Hutchinson’s response to her accusers. See questions listed in the above section “For Further Interest: Additional Class Topics” as well as in the above section “Questions for Class Discussion” for more on how Hutchinson’s dissent can be used to explore the issues of dissent and intolerance in Puritan New England.)
Expanding the View
Thomas J. Wertenbaker, The Founding of American Civilization (1938).
A view of America as the product of European culture:
“The most stupendous phenomenon of all history is the transit of European civilization to the two American continents. For four and a half centuries Europeans have been crossing the Atlantic to establish in a new world their blood, languages, religions, literatures, art, customs. This movement, involving many nations and millions of men and women, has been termed the expansion of a new Europe in America. The Indian civilizations have been overwhelmed or subordinated, and in their place have arisen great nations speaking English, Spanish, Portuguese, or French, whose peoples profess the Christian religion, are partly or entirely European in blood, accept Shakespeare or Cervantes or Molière or even Tolstoy as their own. … Historians have been too prone to neglect the factor of inheritance in interpreting the United States, especially the multiple inheritance which makes it the child, not of England, but of Europe.”
Gary Nash, Red, White, and Black: The People of Early America (1974).
A view of America as the product of the meeting of Indian, European, and African cultures:
“The pathways of power did not strictly dictate the history of cultural interchange—a point that is obscured if we mistakenly assume that under conditions of oppression and exploitation, acculturation occurs in only one direction. The cultures of Africans and Indians—their agricultural techniques, modes of behavior, styles of speech, dress, food preference, music, dance, and other aspects of existence—became commingled with European culture.… A New World it is…for those who became its peoples remade it, and in the process they remade themselves, whether red, white, or black.”
Questions for Class Discussion
1. Does J.H. Elliott’s work about the New World represent more of a Eurocentric discovery and conquest history or more of a contact and adaptation history? How does Elliott contrast Spanish colonization with English colonization? What were the long-term consequences of those differences according to Elliott?