Colonial America was a fascinating time in American History.
After the initial struggles had passed and the colonies became more established, the various economies began to flourish.
With the English Empire as a support and limitless land and new opportunities, folks who were once destitute became upper-class citizens. A middle class even began to develop. It was nothing like what was seen in the 20th century, but a step up from what they left in England.
After the French and Indian War, the English realized the wealth that had occurred in the colonies and wanted to squeeze income out of them in order to pay for their debt.
- 1. The Protestant Reformation Had a Profound Impact
- 2. Each Colony Viewed Themselves As an Independent Entity
- 3. Life as a Colonists Got Progressively Better
- 4. There Were 13 Total Colonies By The Time Of The Revolution
- 5. Slavery In The Colonies
- 6. Indian Relations Depended on Location
- 7. Indentured Servants Helped Populate The Workforce
- 8. Colonial Food Progressed With Time But Was Originally Scarce
- 9. Most Colonists Took Pride In Being English
- 10. There Were Multiple Religions Within the Colonies
1. The Protestant Reformation Had a Profound Impact
To talk about the influences of Colonial America and NOT mention the Protestant Reformation is incredible.
New England was settled by Puritans and Separatists, and although there may have been some disagreements when it came to doctrine, they all were heavily influenced by the great reformers such as Martin Luther, John Calvin, and especially William Tyndale, who translated the Bible into the English language.
The Protestant Reformation led to an explosion of Europeans having access to their own Bible rather than relying on the Catholic Church's interpretation. This led to many more conversions and folks understanding more about the Grace of Jesus than before.
2. Each Colony Viewed Themselves As an Independent Entity
Benjamin Franklin created the infamous "Don't Tread on Me" comic, which showed the colonies separated and their need to unify during the French and Indian War. His logo would be shown throughout Colonial America.
They did unify during the war, but by the time of the American Revolution, that bond had faded somewhat. It was still there, but each colony had its own economy, natural resources, and government.
When Boston erupted into war with the British, it took some negotiation and finesse to get every delegate on board to declare independence.
This caused compromise with the institution of slavery because although slavery was fading in the North, it was dependent on the South.
These compromises were necessary to unite against a common enemy but would be dealt with less than 100 years later.
3. Life as a Colonists Got Progressively Better
Life in Colonial America as an early settler was a difficult one.
- Jamestown and Plymouth experienced times of starvation, sickness, and death.
- Infant death rates were high
- Every family member who 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 was 33 - 40.
Also Read: 20 Famous Colonists of Colonial America
As the colonies progressed, colonial food became more sophisticated, and industry 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 few taxes
- 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 itself from Indian attacks
- Women still remained in the home but experienced more freedom in America than they did in England.
4. There Were 13 Total Colonies By The Time Of The Revolution
By the time of the American Revolution, there were a total of 13 colonies in the New World. Here is a list and the year they were founded, along with a short description. They are also divided into the regions of Colonial America.
New England Colonies
- Massachusetts (1620): The Pilgrims arrived first, and then the Puritans almost a decade later. William Bradford, Myles Standish, John Winthrop, and Increase Mather were all famous leaders during the early days of the colony.
- Rhode Island (1636): This colony traces its roots back to Massachusetts when Roger Williams was banished and then founded Providence Plantations. Later, Anne Hutchinson would settle in the colony until migrating to New York. It was known for its fair treatment of Indians and religious freedom.
- Connecticut (1636): Another colony that can trace its beginnings to Massachusetts. The colony was founded by Thomas Hooker, who was a charismatic and popular pastor in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. The colony is known for the Fundamental Orders of Connecticut, which would be an influence on the United States Constitution.
- New Hampshire (1638): New Hampshire seemed to have a conflict with its borders throughout its early history. It was founded by multiple people, but the most well-known is John Wheelwright. The colony did not grow at the same pace as others but would still be recognized as a colony by the time of the American Revolution.
- Maryland (1633): To escape the continuous Protestant and Catholic wars in England, Maryland was founded as a haven for Catholics. George Calvert was the primary founder. By the time of the American Revolution, there were many Protestants, Quakers, and Catholics living among each other in Maryland. Charles Carroll of Carrollton was the only Catholic signer of the Declaration of Independence, and he was from Maryland.
- Delaware (1664): It was known for its eclectic culture. It was a middle colony with heavy Dutch influence that had been settled 20 years prior to the English taking control over it. Peter Minuit founded New Sweden, but the colony would eventually come into English hands in 1664. By the time of the American Revolution, it would serve as a pivotal vote for American independence.
- New York (1664): It was founded as New Amsterdam decades earlier, but the English took control of the colony in 1664. New York was home to an important port and the St. Lawrence Seaway, which allowed for passage into the interior of America. Peter Stuyvesant is recognized as the original founder. They would initially abstain from voting for independence.
- New Jersey (1664): Similar to New York and Delaware, the colony had originally been settled by the Dutch as part of New Netherland but came under British rule after the surrender of Fort Amsterdam in 1664, becoming a proprietary colony.
- Pennsylvania (1682): It was settled by William Penn, who wanted to create a society that had religious freedom and allowed Quakers to live peacefully. Pennsylvania did not have the many restrictions of the Puritans, and it was never a haven for slavery like the southern colonies. Its population exploded, and it would be one of the most populous colonies at the time of the Revolution.
- Virginia (1607): Captain John Smith, John Wolfe, Pocahontas, Powhatan, and Christopher Newport are all names that are known within the founding of this colony.
- North Carolina (1663): The first English colony was attempted in North Carolina, but the Roanoke Colony and the disappearance of the colonists remain a mystery to this day. Although founded in 1663, the first permanent English settlement in the Carolinas was established at Albemarle Point in 1670. Many of the original settlers came from the Caribbean island of Barbados, including the new governor, William Sayle.
- South Carolina (1663): It would be founded at the same time as North Carolina because it came under the umbrella of the Carolina Colony. The colony would be divided in 1712 and, by the time of the American Revolution, would be a separate colony that would play a huge role in American Independence.
- Georgia (1732): It was the last colony founded. James Oglethorpe founded the colony for debtors and argued that Georgia could be a buffer colony that would separate the other English colonies from Spanish Florida. George was such a young colony at the time of the French and Indian War that it was the only colony that did not participate, but it did support independence in 1776.
5. Slavery In The Colonies
Despite what many believe, slavery did not start in 1619. Slavery has existed since the beginning of humanity in every culture. The African slave trade had become a lucrative source of money for the barbary pirates and other African countries, and thus, they began exporting captured Africans from enemy nations to the Middle East and the Caribbean.
Also Read: Slavery in the United States
When the original Africans arrived in Jamestown, they arrived because the slavers were blown off course. Those aboard would become indentured servants and eventually gain their freedom.
However, the slave trade continued over time, and for the first time in human history, the slave trade was exclusive to one race. Blacks were seen as inferior and, because they were less than human, could be enslaved.
Slavery did not only exist with European settlers but also with Native Americans, who often enslaved other tribes or were enslaved themselves when they were conquered.
Virginia would eventually become the hub of the slave trade, while in the North, despite slavery being legal, slavery would begin to fade.
At the time of ratification of the Constitution, many states would begin the process of eliminating slavery.
Slavery in America was a black eye to the founders. While one can argue the merits of slavery throughout history, it was the belief that blacks were inferior and the treatment of their families that is quite disgusting for a Christian nation.
6. Indian Relations Depended on Location
The Northeast Indian tribes had a different culture than the Southeast Indian Tribes. These are the two groups of tribes that the colonists interacted with in Colonial America.
In the north, the colonists primarily interacted with the tribes within the Iroquois Confederacy: Wampanoag, Narragansett, Pequot, Lenape, and others. As they migrated deeper into the interior, they would begin to come into contact with the Shawnee.
Most of their relations were peaceful; however, when conflict broke out, it was devastating to the Natives. often, the English had better weapons and allied themselves with other tribes.
The Wampanoag tribe helped save the Pilgrims, but after the death of Chief Massasoit, his son would ignite King Philip's War.
Prior to that conflict, the Pequot fought a war against all New England tribes, which ended with their almost extinction.
In the Southeast, the Jamestown colony dealt with the Powhatan, and the other colonists would consistently be in conflict with the Cherokee or the Creek tribes.
These tensions would remain until the end of American expansion, and even now, many tribes harbor anger toward Americans for what occurred.
7. Indentured Servants Helped Populate The Workforce
Many of the early colonial immigrants came to Colonial America as indentured servants. Indentured servants 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 who was an indentured servant.
That is the story of one of my ancestors who immigrated from Germany, and in exchange for his passage, he signed a contract.
He worked for his master for two years and actually married his master's 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 their 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.
8. Colonial Food Progressed With Time But Was Originally Scarce
Colonial Food during the 17th century was quite different than what we eat today. Religious beliefs, location, and harvest played a role in what was available and how much they ate.
When each colony was founded, they had to learn how to work the region. Some regions were excellent for growing many crops and would become a breadbasket. Others had vast resources of fish and other wild game.
Flavors were initially bland but would progress over time when trade became more available.
Also Read: Colonial Food
Here is a quick breakdown of food by region:
New England Colonies: Growing seasons were short, so they depended more on British Imports, Corn crops, Wild Game, and Seafood. Puritans dominated the population, so their recipes tended to be simple.
Middle Colonies: Growing seasons were longer, and they were called the “breadbasket colonies” due to the number of crops that were grown in their soil. Due to Quaker's influence, cream cheese and various fruit butter were developed.
Southern Colonies: The growing season was year-round, and the population was more diverse. There was a clear difference in the diets of the wealthy and the poor.
9. Most Colonists Took Pride In Being English
Benjamin Franklin would become one of America's greatest patriots, but prior to his seeking independence from Britain, he was an ardent supporter of the British Empire.
The word American did not exist, and most colonists believed themselves to be British, and they enjoyed being part of the largest empire in the world. They believed they were helping the mother country grow its borders.
This can be seen in their willingness to fight against the French in the French and Indian War. At that time, there were immigrants from many countries in Europe, yet the colonies unanimously (except Georgia) united against France and its Native allies.
Things began to shift after the war when England needed to raise taxes to pay for their debt.
10. There Were Multiple Religions Within the Colonies
America was founded by Christians, despite their mistakes, and they formed their government around various doctrines within the Bible.
Within Colonial America, it is quite easy to find Puritans, Separatists, Catholics, Quakers, Presbyterians, Methodists, and other denominations within Christianity living together as neighbors.
While there was conflict within the religion, usually, it was when a dissenter pushed back on the orthodoxy of the ruling power. This was typically seen in Massachusetts and not in other colonies.
Baptists and Anglicans typically resided in the Southern Colonies.
The reason for this religious tolerance was the lack of a state church such as the Church of England. Christians usually believe in the same primary tenants, but the denominations differ on what is known as "open-handed issues" where the locals may disagree but not divide and certainly not burn someone at the stake.