The thirteen colonies were the British colonies that formed the United States. They were: Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia. On July 4, 1776, they became states and formed a new nation, the United States of America.
|Colony||Year Founded||Founded By||Chief Crops or Trade||Government||Religion|
|Massachusetts||1620||Pilgrims, led by William Bradford||Shipbuilding, fish, lumber||Governor appointed by king||established Puritan Church (after 1700 called Congregationalist);|
|Rhode Island||1636||Roger Williams, for religious reasons left Massachusetts||Lumber, fish.||Elected by colonists.||Complete religious freedom for all- Anglican (Episcopalian), Baptist, Quakers and other Protestants|
|Connecticut||1636||Thomas Hooker, who led a group from Massachusetts who wanted less government||Shipbuilding, lumber, fish||Elected by colonists||Congregationalist Church was established|
|New Hampshire||1623||Colonists who left Massachusetts for political and religious reasons||Molasses, fish||Governor appointed by king||Congregationalist|
For a more detailed treatment, see New England.
The Plymouth Colony, now part of Massachusetts, was founded by the Pilgrims, a small Puritan sect based in England and the Netherlands. One group sailed on the Mayflower. They drew up the Mayflower Compact by which they gave themselves broad powers of self-governance and introduced democracy into America. They established the small Plymouth Colony in 1620 and later merged with the Massachusetts Bay colony. William Bradford (1590-1657) was the main leader.
For a more detailed treatment, see Puritans.
The Puritans, a much larger group than the Pilgrims, established the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1629 with 400 settlers. This group was the Puritans who sought to reform the Church of England by creating a new, pure church in the New World. Within two years, an additional 2,000 arrived. The Puritans created a deeply religious, socially tight-knit and politically innovative culture that still lingers on in the modern United States. They hoped this new land would serve as a "redeemer nation." Seeking the true religion, they fled England and in America created a "nation of saints" or the "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 religious refugees from the Puritan community, including Anne Hutchinson, a preacher of Antinomianism.
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 individual farmers, who harvested enough crops to feed themselves and their families and a surplus to trade for goods they could not produce themselves. There was a generally higher standard of living in New England than in the Chesapeake. Along with farming growth, New England became an important mercantile and shipbuilding center, often serving as the hub for trading between the South and Europe.
|Colony||Year Founded||Founded By||Chief Crops or Trade||Government||Religion|
|New York||1626||Dutch; English in 1664||Shipbuilding and trade||Governor appointed by king||Dutch Reformed, and other Protestants|
|New Jersey||1664||Swedish and Dutch; In 1664 Sir George Carteret and Lord John Berkeley were given the land by the English Duke of York||Oats, wheat, rye||Governor appointed by king||Dutch Reformed, Quaker, others|
|Pennsylvania||1681||William Penn as a safe place for Quakers||Trade and Shipbuilding||Proprietor selected the governor||Quaker Lutheran, and other Protestant|
|Delaware||1682||William Penn||Tobacco||Proprietor selected the governor||Protestant|
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. Many Dutch and Protestant Irish immigrants settled in these areas, as well as in Long Island and Connecticut. The Germans, called "Pennsylvania Dutch," were included in this emigration.
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 Scots-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 Quakers and other immigrants with his policies of religious liberty and freehold ownership. "Freehold" meant that farmers owned their land free and clear of leases. The first major influx of immigrants came mainly from Ireland and consisted of Scots-Irish Presbyterians. The second major immigration came with Germans trying to escape the religious conflicts and declining economic opportunities in Germany and Switzerland.
Ways of life
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. Thus in Germantown, Pennsylvania, 80% of the buildings in the town were made entirely of stone. On the other hand, the Scots-Irish took advantage of America's ample supply of timber and constructed sturdy log cabins.
Ethnic cultures also effected 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.
The Europeans brought entirely new animals, which transformed the landscape, such as hogs, cattle, horses, sheep and poulry. (The Indians already had dogs.) 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, Scots-Irish farmed intensively, working small pieces of land trying to get the largest possible production-rate from their crops. In the American colonies, Scots-Irish 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 down by farmers in one day. Farmers also began fertilizing their fields with dung and lime and rotating their crops to keep the soil fertile.
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 flaxseed and wheat since flax was a high demand in the Irish linen industry and a demand for wheat for slaves existed in the West Indies.
Some immigrants who just arrived purchased farms and shared in this export wealth, but many poor German and Scots-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 (barrell makers), seamstresses, cobblers, bakers, carpenters, stonemasons, 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.
|Colony||Year Founded||Founded By||Chief Crops or Trade||Government||Religion|
|Virginia||1607||John Smith, settlers from Virginia Company of London||Tobacco||Governor appointed by king||Anglican Church was established|
|Maryland||1634||Lord Baltimore as a safe place for Catholics||Tobacco||Proprietor selected by governor||Protestant and Catholic|
|North Carolina||1654||Virginia settlers||Tar from pine trees, tobacco, pitch, and rice||Governor appointed by king||Protestant|
|South Carolina||1663||English and other Europeans||Tar from pine trees, tobacco, pitch, and rice||Governor appointed by king||Protestant|
|Georgia||1732||James Oglethorpe, brought English debtors to protect Georgia from the Spanish||Indigo, tobacco||Governor appointed by king||Protestant|
The Southern Colonies were mainly dominated by the wealthy slave-owning planters in Maryland, Virginia, and South Carolina. These planters owned massive estates that were worked by African slaves. Of the 650,000 inhabitants of the South in 1750, about 250,000 or 40 percent, were slaves. Planters used their wealth to dominate the local tenants and yeoman farmers. At election time, they gave these farmers gifts of rum and promised to lower taxes to take control of colonial legislatures.
South: Chesapeake Bay area
The first successful English colony was Jamestown, established in 1607, on a small river near Chesapeake Bay. The 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 barely survived, 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 replaced English indentured servants as Virginia's main labor force. The indentured servants became independent farmers at age 21, and mostly became subsistence farmers.
The colonial assembly that had governed the colony since its establishment was dissolved but was reinstated in 1630. It shared power with a royally appointed governor. On a more local level, governmental power was invested in county courts and sheriffs, also not elected. Voters could vote for a member of House of Burgess.
As cash crop producers, Chesapeake plantations were heavily dependent on trade. With easy navigation by river, few towns and no cities developed; planters shipped directly to Britain. High death rates and a very young population profile characterized the colony during its first decades.
The colonial South included the plantation colonies of the Chesapeake region (Virginia and Maryland) 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 businessmen calling themselves the "Lords Proprietors," who obtained a Royal Charter to the Carolinas in 1663, hoping that a new colony in the south would become profitable like that of Jamestown. Carolina was not settled until 1670, and even then the first attempt failed because there was no incentive for emigration to the south. However, eventually the Lords combined their remaining capital and financed a settlement mission to the area led by John West. The expedition located fertile and defensible ground at what was to become Charleston (originally Charles Town for King Charles II, 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. They 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 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 West Africa. North Carolina remained a frontier through 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 Yamasee War, in 1715, 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 Georgia as a common solution to two problems. British feared that Spanish Florida was threatening the British Carolinas. Oglethorpe established his colony in the contested border region of Georgia and populated it with the poor and debtors who would otherwise have been imprisoned. This plan would both rid Britain of its undesirable elements and provide her with a base from which to attack Florida. The first colonists arrived in 1733.
Oglethorpe established his colony on strict moralistic principles. Slavery was forbidden, as was alcohol. The colonists rejected any puritanical lifestyle and complained that their colony could not compete economically with the Carolina rice plantations. Georgia initially failed to prosper, but in 1752 the trustees turned over control of the colony to the royal government and the restrictions were lifted, slavery was allowed, and it became moderately prosperous.
By the 1720s, a sew aspiring planters began to construct large Georgian-style mansions, wear bright red attire, and hunt deer from horseback. Wealthy women in the Southern colonies shared in the British culture and spent large sums on the latest fasions and furniture.
The wives of the plantation owners supervised the household slaves, handled medical services for all the slaves, and put on elaborate dinners and festive balls. These efforts were the most successful in South Carolina, where wealthy rice planters lived in townhouses in Charleston, a busy port city. Active social seasons flourished in the few towns, such as Annapolis, Maryland, and on tobacco plantations in Virginia.
The African slaves who worked on the indigo, tobacco, and rice fields in the South came mostly from the Caribbean sugar islands (plus a few who came directly from Africa). In 1700, there were about 9,600 slaves in the Chesapeake region and a few hundred in the Carolinas. About 170,000 more Africans arrived over the next five decades. By 1750, there were more than 250,000 slaves in British America; in South Carolina they made up about 60% of the total population. Very favorable food and health standards contributed to rapid population growth.
see also American economic history
The great majority of people throughout the colonial era were farmers and their income was not cash but the value of the crops and animals produced on farms, and mostly consumed by the family. The estimates are based on inventories of estates when people died. Most people lived in poverty—with very few possessions such as a small stock of clothes, a shack to live in, a few household goods—and land and animals. In terms of wealth the per capita wealth of Americans in 1774 was £37.4 ($6700 in 2009 dollars); per adult male £172 ($30,700); and per white adult male £218 ($39,000).
Colonial American literature is perhaps the most vibrant field in American literary studies today. In the last decade an explosion of anthologies designed to make widely available a broad range of non-canonical writings produced in and about Great Britain's colonies in the Western hemisphere has provided teachers and scholars with important new tools. The explosion has been driven partly by the identity-based recuperation movements of the 1970s and 1980s, partly by a new awareness of the importance of texts circulated in manuscript or newspapers rather than in book form, and partly by dissatisfaction with the predominant Puritan origins narrative and a swelling interest in transnationalism. New anthologies include Myra Jehlen and Michael Warner's The English Literatures of America, 1580–1800 (Routledge, 1996), Vincent Carretta's Unchained Voices: An Anthology of Black Authors in the English-Speaking World of the Eighteenth Century (Lexington, Ky., 1996), Sharon M. Harris's Early American Women Writers to 1800 (Oxford, 1996), and Thomas W. Krise's Caribbeana: An Anthology of English Literature of the West Indies, 1657–1777 (Chicago, 1999), Susan Castillo and Ivy Schweitzer, The Literatures of Colonial America: An Anthology (Oxford, 2001) Carla Muford's Early American Writings (Oxford 2002), and Susan Castillo's, Colonial Encounters in New World Writing, 1500–1786: Performing America (Routledge, 2006). Add in the University of Massachusetts Press series on native writers and scholars have made readily available a vast array of once obscure English-language works. Some of these new volumes represent an effort by colonialists to catch up to the rest of the field of Americanist scholarship, providing the pre-literary history to contemporary Caribbean or African American literature. In an important sense, however, colonialists occupy a unique position among Americanists. At a moment when many scholars are rejecting nationalist narratives of literary history, which they view as the intellectual equivalent of isolationism in a world increasingly committed to globalization, students of colonial American literature rightly claim a pre-national vantage point. A transnational approach to colonial literature has the attractive features of being both intellectually sound and trendy.
Unification of the 13 colonies
A common defense
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"; most of the fighting took place in Europe, British colonial troops attacked French Canada.
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. Franklin did not give up; more than anyone, he invented the idea of a United States of America.
For a more detailed treatment, see First Great Awakening.
One event that began to unify the religious background of the colonies was the First Great Awakening, a Protestant revival movement that took place in the 1730s and 1740s. It began with Jonathan Edwards, a Massachusetts preacher who sought to return to the Pilgrims' strict Calvinist roots and to reawaken the "Fear of God". Edwards was a powerful speaker and attracted a large following with sermons such as "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry 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, and as such represented at least a small step towards the unification of the colonies.
A similar pietistic movement took place among some of the German and Dutch Lutherans, leading to internal dvisions. 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.
French and Indian War
The war is called the French and Indian because the Iroquois confederacy—which had been playing the British and the French against each other successfully for decades fought on both sides. The French were defeated and in the Treaty of Paris (1763), France surrendered its vast North American empire to Britain.
The French and Indian war took on a new significance for the North American colonists in Great Britain when William Pitt the elder decided that it was necessary to win the war against France at all costs. For the first time, North America was one of the main theatres of what could be termed a "world war". During the war, the status of all the British Colonies (including the thirteen 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 colonies, 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, state legislatures and officials had to cooperate intensively, for arguably the first time, in pursuit of the continent-wide military effort.
The British and colonists triumphed jointly over a common foe. The colonists' loyalty to the mother country was stronger than ever before. The war produced prosperity, as royal officials hired American troops and sent in well paid British troops. The French were defeated, and the British took Canada. Most important, the military threat from any foreign power ended, and the colonies no longer needed the protection of the Royal Navy. The British army handled Indian affairs on the frontier, so Indians were no longer a major threat to the Americans.
Ties to the British Empire
Although the colonies were very different from one another, they were still a part of the British Empire and each looked to London for leadership. military protection, and trade.
The political institutions of the colonies were originally patterned after English models, but by the 1760s there was a very different tone. Americans ignored the Royal Court and paid attention to the "country" party in Britain which was opposed to the Court; this was the origin of republicanism which increasingly dominated American political values.
The codes of law of the colonies were drawn directly from English common law, which was carefully studied by the hundreds of lawyers in the colonies. Eventually, it was a dispute over the meaning of the English Constitution and the rights of Englishmen that animated a new generation after 1760 to demand respect for their historic rights as Englishmen.
Another point on which the colonies found themselves more similar than different was the booming import of British goods by international merchants based in American seaports. Socially, the colonial elite imitated British styles of luxurious consumption, dress, dance, and etiquette. This social upper echelon built its mansions in the Georgian style (named after King George), copied the furniture designs of Thomas Chippendale, and participated in the intellectual currents of Europe, such as Enlightenment. To many of their inhabitants, the seaport cities of colonial America were truly British cities. 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 English goods. Economic integration across the Atlantic was more and more a reality, as the economy of each colony matured and was more involved in oceanic trade.
From unity to revolution
The general sentiment of inequity that arose soon after the Treaty of Paris of 1763 was solidified by the Proclamation of 1763, which temporarily prohibited settlement west of the Appalachian Mountains. Colonists resented the measure, and it was never enforced.
Acts of Parliament
Parliament had generally been preoccupied with affairs in Europe and let the colonies govern themselves. It was no longer willing to do so. A series of measures resulting from this policy change, while affecting the New England colonies most directly would continue to arouse opposition in the 'thirteen colonies' over the next thirteen years, leading to the American Revolution:
- Sugar Act (1764)
- Stamp Act of 1765
- First Quartering Act (1765)
- Declaratory Act (1766)
- Townshend Acts (1767)
- Tea Act (1773)
- The Intolerable Acts, also called the Coercive or Punitive Acts
- Prohibitory Act (1776)
Following the official act of Independence, the colonies were known as the "United Colonies". On September 9th, 1776, the Continental Congress voted to change the name of the country to the "United States of America".
- Cooke, Jacob Ernest, ed. Encyclopedia of the North American Colonies (3 vol 1993), comprehensive coverage with Spanish, French and Dutch receiving equal attention with British
Scholarly secondary sources
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- Sandra M. Gustafson, "The Americas in Writing," William and Mary Quarterly 2003 60(1): 207-213. ISSN: 0043-5597 Fulltext: History Cooperative
- Scotland had a different legal system which did not carry over to the colonies.