Colonial America facts and history begin with the first permanent colony in Jamestown and eventually spread to the east coast of America. By the time of the American Revolutionary War the eastern coast of North America was home to Thirteen English colonies also known as the 13 original colonies. These colonies would become the first United States of America after the British lost the Revolution.
Colonial America Facts: Timeline
The first English explorer to explore North America was John Cabot in 1497. It would not be until the reign of Queen Elizabeth that England began sending more explorers. Soon Sir Walter Raleigh, Sir Francis Drake, Captain John Smith and others began exploring the New World for places to colonize. Here is a timeline of those colonies:
1585: The colony of Roanoke is founded. The colony would eventually disappear without a trace and remains a mystery to this day.
1607: The Jamestown Settlement is founded and would become England’s first permanent colony in the New World.
1620: The Pilgrims found Plymouth Colony.
1629: New Hampshire Colony and Carolina is founded
1630: The Puritans found Boston and ten other settlements. The settlements become known as the Massachusetts Bay Colony. It would become the most successful colony in the New World.
1632: The Province of Maryland was established. Maryland would become the first settlement to allow Catholics to settle.
1637: The founding of the New Haven Colony
1638: The first Swedish peoples settle in Delaware
1663: The Province of Carolina is established.
1664: The English capture New Netherland and establish the province of New York. Delaware becomes an English Colony.
1670: Charleston, Carolina Founded.
1681: William Penn was given a charter for Pennsylvania.
1682: William Penn founds the “city of brotherly love.” Philadelphia would become the largest city in the colonies.
1685: James II consolidates the New England colonies into the Dominion of New England.
1733: Savannah was founded.
1734: The Great Awakening begins in Massachusetts when Jonathan Edwards delivers his famous sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.”
1739: James Oglethorpe is granted a charter for Georgia.
1756: Beginning of Seven Years War, also known as the French and Indian War. The war would end in 1763.
Colonial America Facts: Influences
Many of the early settlers were misfits of the British Empire. The Pilgrims, Puritans, Quakers, and others all came to America seeking to escape some sort of persecution. Others came to America seeking financial gain. This eclectic group of individuals created the 13 original colonies and brought with them different views of the world, at least a different view as compared to that of the Old World.
The Protestant Reformation challenged the infrastructure of the old world and opened up new possibilities. The Puritans, Pilgrims, and Roger Williams were certainly influenced by the writings of reformers such as Martin Luther, John Calvin, and others. Their influence challenged the notion that in order to get to heaven you must follow certain rules and perform certain tasks so that God would love you. The restrictive nature of religion in the old world caused many to use religion as a tool to control the masses. However, the reformers talked of something new, Grace.
Grace means receiving something that you don’t deserve. Instead of requiring people to chant different prayers or go to a specific church and fulfill a bunch of rituals, Martin Luther suggested that all the work for salvation was done at the cross of Jesus. After the death and resurrection of Christ, there was no need for the rituals.
This caused a chain reaction throughout the Old World. It questioned the church and opened the minds of many. This questioning of power would eventually lead to the Renaissance and even the Enlightenment. This is the world that many of the early settlers left.
They came to America with new ideas that would eventually lead to Thomas Jefferson penning the phrase, “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” and although some of the habits of the Old World came with them nothing would not eventually be challenged, i.e. Women’s Rights and Slavery.
Colonial America Facts: Life of a Colonists
The life of an early settler was a difficult one.
- Jamestown and Plymouth experienced times of starving, sickness, and death.
- Infant death rates were high
- Every family member that was able to walk helped with chores
- Illiteracy rates were high
- Relations with the Indians were questionable, although some tribes were friendly many were not.
- Life Expectancy in the early years were 33 – 40.
As the colonies progressed and became more efficient things would change for the better and the colonists enjoyed a better life than those they left in England.
- The fishing industry became profitable in the northern colonies and the southern farms eventually became large plantations.
- The colonists lived with little tax burden
- Infant mortality was still high, but improving
- Colonists in the 18th century lived longer than their English brothers and sisters.
- The frontier still remained dangerous and Indians still attacked settlers when they felt threatened.
- Families were large and everyone was expected to work to pull their own weight. Children did chores at an early age.
- The economy grew quickly and America quickly became an economic powerhouse for England
- Each town had a local militia to defend themselves from Indian attacks
- Women still remained in the home, but experienced more freedom in America than they did in England.
Colonial America Facts: Slavery
The slave trade was introduced to the colonies in Virginia. Eventually slaves could be found throughout the colonies, North and South, but the South had more reliance on them due to the large plantations.
Slavery faded in the North, but prejudice towards them did not. In the South it became a lucrative business. By the time of the Revolutionary War, slavery was an issue of contention between the North and the South, but both ignored it.
Dealing with the issue of slavery in today’s culture tends to be a difficult issue to tackle. It is hard for many living in the modern era to judge those living in the 15th century through 19th century without placing our own biases on the issue. We see slavery as evil, but for those growing up with slavery around them and treated as a natural commodity they did not see it that way. That is not to diminish the evil that is slavery, but it is a historical fallacy to place our morals on those in the past.
By placing our morals on the past we miss the struggle those in Colonial America had with the struggles of slavery. We did not arrive at our final opinions of racial relations without evolving to where we are now. Many believe that slavery was not a big issue before the Civil War and that the founders were all slave owners. That could not be further from the truth! Most of the colonists in the New England Colonies did not support slavery and by the time of the American Revolution it had already become a divisive issue that had to be placed on the back-burner so that the South would unite with the rest of the 13 original colonies.
Colonial America Facts: Indian Relations
Indian relations throughout Colonial America had their peaceful times and times of war. There are some stories such as the story of the Pilgrims where the natives aided the colonists and helped them survive and their our some where war broke out and many natives and colonists killed each other. Relations always remains tenuous.
The english settlers treated the natives with much more respect, then their Spanish peers. English missionaries did not try and convert the natives to Christianity by force and some, such as David Brainerd, had a fruitful ministry to the natives. Conversely the Spanish routinely executed the natives for not converting to Christianity.
There were problems with the native Florida population and the problems with the native population in Spanish Florida led to the settlement of the Georgia Colony.
Colonial America Facts: Indentured Servants
Many of the early colonial immigrants came to America as an indentured servant. An indentured servant were men and women who signed a contract (also known as an indenture or a covenant) by which they agreed to work for a certain number of years in exchange for transportation to the colonies and, once they arrived, food, clothing, and shelter.
If you are able to trace your ancestry back to the early to mid 18th century, then you will most likely have an ancestor that was an indentured servant. That is the story of one of my ancestors who immigrated over from Germany and in exchange for his passage he signed a contract. He worked for his master for two years and actually married his masters daughter. He then moved from Pennsylvania to Maryland where he died in 1777. His sons would fight in the American Revolution.
There are many stories such as this one. While life was not easy for many colonists in the New World, the life they were leaving in the Old World was worse. Protestant and Catholic wars, no middle class, no chance to better yourself or own land, and poor health conditions had taken its toll on European populations. To many the conditions of becoming an indentured servant afforded them an opportunity that did not exist in any part of the world.
Colonial America Facts: 13 Original Colonies
By the time of the Revolutionary War the British Colonies could be divided in to three sections and totaled to 13. If you’d like to read more about the individual colonies, then I would recommend my article on the 13 Original Colonies.
- New England Colonies
- Middle Colonies
- Southern Colonies
Colonial America Facts: Resources
- Wikipedia – Colonial History of the United States
- Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History – Colonization and Settlement
- Constitution Society – Early American Documents
- General Society of Colonial Wars
- The History Junkie’s Guide to Famous Explorers
- The History Junkie’s Guide to the French and Indian War
- The History Junkie’s Guide to the Signers of the Declaration of Independence
- The History Junkie’s Guide to the American Revolutionary War