1600-1700: US Colonies

The Thirteen Colonies

The powerful nations in Europe were starting colonies in the New World (America). Britain didn’t want to be left out, but they were low on cash. The Roanoke Colony was a trial run colony in Virginia that proved how risky they were. When supply ships reached the colony after it was settled, everyone had mysteriously disappeared. No clues were left behind, but there are now legends of blue-eyed Croatan Indians in the area.

Instead of sending out settlers to form colonies ruled by a central Imperial government (the King and Parliament), King James I sent charter companies. These companies, called joint-stock companies, pooled money from stockholders. The King then gave them permission to settle land and to more or less rule themselves by charter. Some companies organized to make money; others were looking for religious freedom because Europe was a dangerous place to live if you didn't go to the right church.

New England Colonies

Most communities in this region were strictly religious. Puritans were very serious, and they tended toward the intellectual life. Children were all taught to read the bible, and early universities like Harvard (1636) and Yale (1701) were founded to educate the clergy in the New World. The Puritans didn't want Anglican ministers from England. Their governments were all very independent. Only New Hampshire and Massachusetts had to answer to the crown.

New England eventually formed a confederation to protect itself from the Dutch and neighboring native peoples. Triangular trade supported the economy. They made boats and sent food (including yummy salt cod) and lumber down to the West Indies (Barbados, Martinique, and Jamaica), and they brought back molasses for making rum. The rum was sent to colonies in Africa and traded for slaves. The slaves were then transported to the West Indies to work on sugar plantations. In return for the slaves, more molasses was sent to New England.


Plymouth was founded in Massachusetts by Puritan separatists led by William Bradford and Myles Standish. They were Calvinists (type of Christians) who thought the Church of England (Anglican) was corrupt. In Britain they were persecuted and hassled for their beliefs. Groups that rejected his church irritated the King.

Only thirty of the hundred settlers were Puritans, so these leaders drew up the Mayflower Compact. This document made sure all the colonists would follow the same rules, even if they weren't Puritans. This was special because it was a sign that they had their own independent government.

They settled empty lands; the Indians that had lived there died awhile before. Actually, the Indians had all been killed by colds and flus carried by previous explorers. Even though they didn't have to fight the Indians, disease, starvation, and harsh weather wiped out half of the Puritans in a few months. Luckily, the neighboring Wampanoag Indians taught them how to survive. They learned how to fish, farm, and build shelter properly. This friendly encounter led to the romanticized harvest stories attached to Thanksgiving. Plymouth joined with the Massachusetts colonies in 1691.


1,000 more Puritans settled what Boston, Salem, and Cambridge. The Massachusetts Bay Company didn't officially reject the Church of England. Governor John Winthrop to be a religious utopia, a perfect place of perfect Christians. Only Puritans could participate in the government.

Because the New England Colonies were more interested in practicing their religion than making money, the towns were a lot different from the colonies in the south. Farms in New England were small family farms rather than large plantations with lots of migrant workers and slaves. There were more women and children in the north. Since the Puritans were neighborly and a little nosy, they liked to live close together. Cities grew larger sooner in New England.


Roger Williams and Ann Hutchinson got a charter in 1663 to start a new colony because the Puritans expelled him from Massachusetts for his beliefs. Ironically, he thought the Puritans should not force their beliefs on others. He also thought it was wrong to take land from the Indians. His colony was still mostly Puritan, but it was tolerant of other Christian faiths. This was the beginning of the freedom of religion in the states today.


Thomas Hooker started a colony in Connecticut because he wanted people to have more say in the government. Connecticut had the first functional written constitution called The Fundamental Orders of Connecticut. It was written in 1639 to unite several settlements there. Between 1630 and 1640 about 15,000 Puritans came to the New England colonies because they had it so tough in England. Also in Connecticut was a New Haven and Milford community of particularly strict Puritans. It was established in 1638 as a theocracy (government by the church).

MAINE (1629)

King James was wary of all the Puritans in New England. He decided to water down the religious rigor with colonies of loyal Anglicans who wouldn't complain about corruption. Sir Fernando Gorges started the colony of Maine. He was a proprietor, or someone who wanted to make money from the colony. Capitalism often defies scruples, and he sold land to Puritans in Massachusetts in 1677. This defeated the King's purpose.


To prevent the Puritans from establishing a monopoly, the King made John Mason's New Hampshire colony a royal colony. The Puritans couldn't buy into it, and the King was completely in charge. Kings tend to prefer absolute rule to democracy.

Middle Colonies

Because of Quaker tolerance and frequent flip-flopping of colonial powers, this area was very diverse. Many different people lived there with the British colonists including the Irish, Scots, Germans, Swedes, and Dutch. Religious freedom, mild climate, and good farmland made the middle colonies a much easier place to live. They produced a lot of lumber and built ships. In addition, the middle colonies were involved in fur trading.

NEW YORK (1664)

New York was originally New Amsterdam, the capital of the originally named New Netherlands, which was founded in 1620. But the Dutch were more interested in their colonies in Brazil and Africa than in New Netherlands. When Britain got tired of trying to get along with the Dutch neighbors in the New World, the King demanded surrender. The Dutch didn't resist, and King Charles II gave the colony to his brother James II, Duke of York in 1685.


New Jersey has more or less the same story as New York, but you should know that Bon Jovi is from NJ! Anyway, the colony was granted to two groups of proprietors. Some of them were Quakers like William Penn. It became a royal colony in 1702.


Pennsylvania was named after William Penn. He got the colony because King Charles II owed Penn's dad some money. Pennsylvania was a bit like Rhode Island. It was much more tolerant of different races and Christians of all creeds.

Penn was a Quaker. Quakers were pacifists. They didn't believe in war, slavery, or churches. They had meeting houses instead of churches. Since both Quaker State Oil and Pennzoil are named for this area, it is easy to remember where the Quakers settled.

The people living in Philadelphia didn't get along fantastically because there were some political and economic problems. But it was a really nice place to live and by 1760 it was the biggest colonial city with a population of about 18,000 people. Benjamin Franklin was from Philadelphia.


William Penn set up in Delaware, too. He bought it from James, Duke of York in 1680. It's right next to the ocean in a way that Pennsylvania is not, while still being near Pennsylvania. Actually, it is closer to Maryland and separated from Pennsylvania by the Delaware River, but that's not the point. Ocean access and calm, unfrozen bays and harbors were important back then: people couldn't get very far unless they were on a boat. Pennsylvania needed access to ports to send and receive goods.

Southern Colonies

Social division in the South was extreme. Colonists were either wealthy plantation owners; poor workers like migrants, indentured servants or recently freed men; or they were slaves. Almost all of the first settlers were proprietors that didn't care at all about religious freedom, except for those in Maryland.

There weren't as many women and children here. Proprietors were making money, not settling families. Workers weren't allowed to marry until they completed their work terms. Tobacco was the primary product for export and British laws said it could only be sent to Britain. This was part of mercantilism; laws designed to make money for the crown (and the head that wears the crown). But also, they were laws that seemed to be designed to be broken by smugglers.

When the settlements were formed, the proprietors were given freedom to set up their own government. They became much attached to this independence, and they deeply resented it when the King reclaimed his authority there.


The Virginia Company named this colony after the King, but it got off to a rough start. The colonists were either convicts or gentlemen not used to working. A lot of them died; the rest didn't find Virginia to be the expected land of plenty. In fact, it was a malaria field. But Captain John Smith was a tough leader and they made it through. Unfortunately, more than 700 colonists died in the first three years.

Luckily, John Rolfe discovered a special way to grow and cure tobacco in 1616. This tobacco tasted better and didn't hurt the tongue, so, of course, it made a lot of money. Britain started selling only Virginia tobacco, and the Virginia Company offered 50 acres of free land to every new colonist.

In 1619, the Virginia Assembly was formed. It was a legislature called The House of Burgesses and it gave independence and political power to the colonists. The cult of American individualism got its start here. There wasn't much of a community in the colony, and there were few schools and churches. This created a self-sufficient and fiercely independent citizenship.

Successful farmers started bringing over indentured servants. These settlers world work for five years in return for the cost of the trip to Virginia. Afterwards, they would try to make it on their own. Very wealthy farmers bought slaves. The King dissolved the Company in 1624, but the colony continued with a new royal governor and a Church of England. The colonists continued to enjoy their political privileges.


The Calvert family was given Maryland as a reward for their loyalty to the monarchy. The head proprietor had total control of the colony with one big loophole. All the free men in Maryland had to agree with his decisions. For awhile there was religious freedom called the Toleration Act (1649) because there were large numbers of both Catholics and Protestants in Maryland.

The colonists grew tobacco on plantations, as was done in Virginia. The need for workers on these plantations was a huge issue for the southern colonies. The neighboring native peoples (Powhatan Confederacy) didn’t trust the English colonists, and they didn't want to work for them. This meant plantation farmers had to import workers. Indentured servants weren't as expensive as slave labor. And they were more willing to work because they were promised freedom and a new start on life after about five years. But they more often than not died before their work terms were up. The work was hard and the climate was hot. Many the workers got typhoid, dysentery, and malaria.


King Charles II gave 8 proprietors colonies in the Carolinas. North Carolina was mostly controlled and settled by Virginians. Tobacco was farmed there. South Carolina was more independent. Tobacco, rice, and sugar were grown. This was much harder work in a much more intense climate and it was hard to attract willing indentured servants; slave labor was preferred here. Slaves, however, were very expensive and a lot of people felt horrible about the very concept of slavery from the start. But because Africans were better adapted to the southern climate than the Europeans, slavery became a part of the economy.

GEORGIA (1732)

Georgia was meant to offer a new start to poor men and to provide a buffer zone between the Carolinas and Spanish Florida. It tried to forbid alcohol, slavery, and large plantation farming. It failed. Once rum running and slavery was permitted in Georgia, the colony became successful.