Unit 2: The Colonial Period - Period Review
At the beginning of the seventeenth century, England was in turmoil. A population explosion and economic upheaval left many people rootless and impoverished. Religious struggles between the Anglican Church and other religious groups created a spiritual malaise as well. The newly opened areas of the Western Hemisphere beckoned to many people as a refuge from the difficulties at home. After several failed attempts, a permanent colony was established at Jamestown, Virginia, in the spring of 1607.
Over the next 125 years, three distinct colonial areas developed along the Atlantic coast: New England, the Middle Colonies, and the Southern Colonies. Each possessed different religious, economic, and social characteristics. In New England, the Congregationalists (Puritans) dominated. They came to North America to create “a city upon a hill“—a holy commonwealth. They stressed hard work and obedience to God’s will as defined by the church. Despite their idealism, the Puritans created a theocracy that became increasingly narrow and intolerant. Defined by a harsh climate and environment, farming was difficult. To supplement their livelihood, the New Englanders fished and traded. Over time, the religious ideals of salvation through work coalesced into the Protestant work ethic.
The Middle Colonies of New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania were much more tolerant religiously than their northern neighbors. Settled by the Dutch Reformed Church and the Society of Friends (Quakers), this area provided freedom of worship to all Christians. The region, blessed with abundant and rich land and a temperate climate, quickly prospered. By 1770, it had the highest standard of living on the Atlantic coast as wheat became the great staple crop of the region, for sale both at home and abroad.
Life was very different in the Southern Colonies. Here, the Anglican Church gained a foothold, although it lacked the political and economic influences of its counterpart in England. Economically, the Southern Colonies developed the cash crops of tobacco, rice, and indigo. Requiring an extensive labor supply and large tracts of land, these crops structured a society constantly in search of labor and land. Specifically, the great quest became finding sufficient numbers of field workers. Starting with the headright system of land distribution and indentured servants, these colonies eventually settled on African slaves to solve their labor needs.
In all the colonies, English relations with Native Americans followed a sad and consistent pattern. At first, the two groups warily interacted with each other. In many cases, Native Americans supplied food and agricultural know-how that allowed the colonists to survive and get established. Sooner or later, however, the colonists’ appetite for land and their lack of respect for Native American cultures brought trouble. Beginning with the Powhatan uprising in 1622 and followed by the Pequot Wars of the 1630s and King Philip’s War in the 1670s, armed conflict broke Native American power. By the eve of the American Revolution, epidemics and wars had driven Native Americans from their land and away from the British settlements.
Mercantilism and Dissent
Mercantilism was the bedrock of British colonial control. The goal was to make the mother country economically self-sufficient by restricting colonial trade to the home islands. The Navigation Acts, first passed in the 1660s, were intended to achieve this control. Mercantilism held that the colonies should provide raw materials, markets, and hard currency. It discouraged colonial manufacturing by restricting production of such items as iron, woolens, and hats. Yet, the system had glaring holes in it as the colonists smuggled in violation of the acts and produced iron in such quantities that by 1770, they manufactured more iron than England and Wales.
Dissent and conflict between the colonists began almost from day one. The Puritans, with their restrictive religious beliefs, had trouble with Roger Williams and Anne Hutchinson, who challenged church doctrines and were banished in the 1630s. In Virginia, Nathaniel Bacon (Bacon’s Rebellion) created trouble over Indian policy. Bacon and his band rose up, temporarily ousted the royal governor, and burned Jamestown in 1676. The rebellion not only called attention to insensitive British policies, but also cast doubts on Virginia’s labor system as well. Many of the rebels were landless former indentured servants, who roamed throughout the countryside. As it put down the rebellion, Virginia began to reconsider indentured servitude and to look at permanent African slavery instead.
Women in the Colonies
Women were greatly valued but poorly treated in colonial America. They were in demand because they could “grow labor“ for a settlement, but they faced many hardships. Society expected women to be submissive to their husbands, watchful of their children, and attentive to their religion. They had a much higher mortality rate than men because of the dangers of childbirth. (On average, a woman had a child every two years.) For all this, a woman received no political rights and was given only one-third of her husband’s estate to live on after his death. (This was surrendered upon remarriage.)
Despite their differences, by 1750’s the colonies had developed a nascent American identity. The focus and form of this new feeling was still not clear, but as Britain sought to end its salutary neglect of the colonies, its manifestation became more concrete and explosive.