As of December 31, 2014, I retired from full-time teaching in Humboldt State University's Department of History. While this website will remain online, it is no longer maintained.

History 110 - Dr. Gayle Olson-Raymer

The Colonists - What They Created

Map of Colonial North American 1700

Today, we continue our story with the next chapter that serves as a link between previous discussions about life in the Old World of Medieval Europe and life in the "New World" of North America's diverse Indian Nations. This link has been variously characterized as

But there is another and very relevant way of looking at the relationship between the Old and New Worlds, as the map below illustrates. By the end of the colonial era in North America, conomic exchanges between the "old" and the "new" worlds demonstrates the existence of a global economic empire.

Map of global trade routes in colonial american

Discussion Topics

  1. To explain the importance of studying colonial history in the 21st Century.
  2. To understand the geographical claims of European nations in colonial North America.
  3. To examine the new economic model for the development of the English colonies.
  4. To study the characteristics of the early colonists.
  5. To explore the governance, economy, and social structure created during the 17th Century within each of three colonial regions:  the Southern Colonies, the New England Colonies, and the Middle Colonies.
  6. To take an indepth exploration of three colonies - Jamestown in the south, Pennsylvania in the Middle, and Massachusetts in New England - and one of the most unusual of all the colonies - Georgia.
  7. To compare and contrast the political, economic, social, and spiritual development of the three colonial regions throughout the Seventeenth Century.

Goal #1 - To explain the importance of studying colonial history in the 21st Century

Map of colonial populations 1775Six Reasons to Study Colonial History

  1. To realize that diversity in North America was here from the beginning and such diversity makes us uniquely American.
  2. To understand the dominance of Protestantism. While religious diversity existed from the beginning of British colonization, the vast majority of Euro-Americans were Protestant - and a substantial minority were Calvinist. Thus, their religion was tied to the need to use their own individual resources to achieve spiritual and material success. This will shape the American psyche.
  3. To comprehend the full extent of the racist attitudes Euro-Americans held toward non-white people.  Euro-Americans used discrimination, subordination, enslavement, paternalism, and finally, violent policies to deal with their racial fears and prejudices.
  4. To learn the origins of our political institutions. Some type of self-governance arrived very early in North America, even while the colonists were still under control of the British. Why? Geography. Britain had no choice but to honor the self government that arose in the colonies because it was too far away to maintain regular, centralized control.
  5. To study the development of the unique American character, attitudes, and practices.  The majority of colonists were the outcasts of Europe, most of whom were seeking economic, religious, and political freedom from the shackles of European governments. When they landed in America and were forced to deal with the decidedly un-European factors of forests, Indians, wild territory, unlimited land, and the chance to become wealthy, they developed a uniquely individualist, entrepreneurial, "leave me alone while I make a buck" attitude.
  6. To gain an appreciation for the deeply-held belief in American Exceptionalism - that we are unique in the world, have a special destiny, and must spread our way of life into new territory. There are at least two ways of understanding the belief in American Exceptionalism.

Goal #2: To understand the geographical claims of European nations in colonial North America

Within 93 years after the first permanent British colony was settled in North America in 1607, the Spanish, French, Dutch, and British were deeply involved in the great race for empire. Colonization and the creation of empires Map of European Colonies in North Americahad become common place by the early 1700s.

Spain - The first Spaniards to arrive in the "New World" - the conquistadores - were interested in getting rich. And for 300 years, they were quite successful. Beginning in the 1500s, the mines in Spanish America yielded more than 10 times as much gold and silver as the rest of the world's mines put together. By 1600, the Spanish already had a rich empire in North America which included most of current day California, Nevada, New Mexico, Arizona, Florida, and Texas, as well as parts of Louisiana and Mississippi. These riches made Spain for a time the wealthiest and most powerful nation on earth.

France - The French had established a strong trading colony in Quebec, had built a strong inland empire for fur trading throughout the Mississippi River regions, and had several settlements along important water routes.

Netherlands - By 1613, the Dutch were firmly entrenched in the trading economy in New Netherlands

The British, then, were among the last of the great European powers to gain colonial influence in North America. As the map below of world colonization by the mid-1700s indicates, Spain and France had a much greater foothold in the Americas than the English.

Map of European Colonization of No. America, 1700-1763

But remember, during the entire period of English colonization (1607 to 1776), the vast majority of America was populated by American Indians. Thus, it was not the European influences that were strongest in the 1600s - it was the Indian influence.

Map of major American Indian nations in 1600

So, why did James I (1603-1625) seek a geographical claim to North America?

Goal #3: To examine the new economic model for the development of the English colonies

The New Economic Model for Colonizing British North America - Mercantilism, Corporations, and Capitalism

Goal #4: To study the characteristics of the early colonists

Characteristics of the First Colonists

"Meet the Puritans" poster

The Puritans and Separatists - The Debate. After the Protestant Reformation, the biggest religious debate was about the proper way for a Christian to gain access to the will of God.

The Puritans - who began arriving in Boston in 1630 - wanted to “purify” the Church of England.  Thus they..

The Separatists (also known as the Pilgrims) - who settled Plymouth Colony in 1620 - were Puritans who believed that the Church of England was not a true Church of Christ.  Thus they...

Both Puritans and Separatists were...


Goal #5: To explore the governance, economy, and social structure created during the 17th Century within each of three British colonial regions:  the New England Colonies, the Middle Colonies, and the Southern Colonies

The 13 British colonies were founded and settled in many different ways. Additionally,Map of Colonial Regions the governance, economy, and social structure of each developed around the geographical realities of each colony. In turn, these geographical realities led to the gradual formation of three regional groups of colonies.

The New England Colonies. The New England colonies experienced much independence from Britain during their early years. By the 1690s - when all of the New England colonies were under control of the Crown - each colony still retained much control through two vehicles:

The geography was hilly and mountainous with many rivers and densely-timbered forests; the soil was rocky. The climate was the coldest within all three colonial regions because it is so far north; it had long, harsh winters and the shortest growing season. Map of New England ColoniesThe abundant natural resources included fish, whales, trees, and furs.

New England's society was

New England's economy was characterized by:

The Middle Colonies. The middle colonies experienced diverse settlement. New York was settled by the Dutch, Delaware by the Swedes, and New Jersey and Pennsylvania by the English.  By the 1660s, the English divided their territory into three chartered colonies:  New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania.  Delaware was an unchartered colony until it became a state in 1776.  The most democratic and inclusive of all colonial governments arose in Pennsylvania under the leadership of the Quakers and William Penn - all free men could vote, not just landholders and/or members of a recognized church.

The geography included flat land with rich soil, coastal plains that spread to the Appalachian foothills, and many navigable waters The climate was milder than New England allowing for a longer growing season The abundant natural resources included timber, fur, and rich farmland.

The Middle Colonies' society was

The Middle Colonies' economy was characterized by:

The Southern Colonies. Virginia was a corporate colony governed by a royal charter  giving the Virginia Company complete control over colonial governance until 1624 when Virginia became a royal colony; Maryland was a proprietary colony which gave its Catholic owners, the Calverts, the right to appoint all governors and to control the government. North and South Carolina and Georgia were royal colonies  which gave the King absolute power to appoint all governors and their councils.

The geography of the Southern colonies included rivers with deep water estuaries and natural ocean ports. The geographyof the lower southern colonies included broad, coastal plains with rich soil. The climate was the warmest within all three colonial regions, and it allowed for Map of Southern Coloniesthe longest growing season within the three colonial regions - 7 months. The natural resources included rich farmland and fish.

The Southern Colonies' society was

The Southern Colonies' economy was characterized by:

Goal #6: To take an indepth exploration of three colonies - Jamestown in the south, Pennsylvania in the Middle, and Massachusetts in New England - and one of the most unusual of all the colonies - Georgia

Jamestown Chronology (Original maps of Jamestown

Photograph of Jamestown today

Pennyslvania. In 1681, a royal charter made Map of PennsylvaniaWilliam Penn, a Quaker, the proprietor of the only ungranted land left along the North American coast.

Pennyslvania's population tripled within five years and stood at 21,000 by 1700. About half were indentured servants and the remainder were families of free farmers and artisans. People of diverse nationalities and religions came to the settlement, bringing experienced farmers and established merchants with trading connections.

Quakers were pacifists who also believed the Indians rightfully owned the land. Thus, peace prevailed between the Lenni Lenapes - or Delawares in English (a tribe of the Algonquin federation) - and the settlers. Penn purchased all land from the Indians before colonization was permitted, prohibited the sale of alcohol to the tribe, strictly regulated the fur trade, and learned the Indian language.


Massachussetts. We can’t talk about the Massachusetts Bay Colony without first discussing Plymouth Colony which was officially absorbed into Massachusetts in 1691.

Georgia. Georgia was the last of the British colonies to be established in North America. In 1732, General James Oglethorpe and several of his wealthy English friends became trustees of a new colony. For the next 21 years, they would help Georgia grow and prosper, and then it was to revert to royal control. From the beginning, Georgia was to be a colony entirely different from the other Southern English colonies. The trustees sought three goals:

Consequently, Georgia developed an ethnically and spiritually diverse society unlike that of the other southern colonies. In 1752, after a great deal of unrest in the new colony due to Oglethorpe's desire to create an egalitarian society, the King made Georgia a royal colony. Thereafter, Georgia developed a comparable economy to South Carolina based upon rice cultivation and dependency on slave labor. Cotton dominated its econmy by the early 1800. On the eve of the Civil War, Georgia produced more cotton than any other state.

Goal #7: To compare and contrast the political, economic, social, and spiritual development of the three colonial regions throughout the Seventeenth Century

Chart of the three colonial regions showing differences in economic, social,religious, and political characteristics

Economic differences:

Map of colonial ethnicity




Social differences:

Political differences:

Religious differences:

Geographical differences:

Maps comparing geography and climate of colonial regions















Similarities among the Colonists and Colonial Regions

While each colony and colonial region differed from one another, from the very beginning, the regions also shared some important similarities. Map of colonial trade routes

  1. Most of the colonies were business enterprises financed by private companies or individuals. Most were expected to produce a profit.
  2. The colonists isolated themselves as much as possible from the Native Americans and created enclosed societies that were transplantations of the English world they left behind.
  3. The colonists believed themselves to be racially, culturally, and spiritually superior to Native Americans, as well as the slaves they imported from Africa.
  4. Each of the colonies developed class distinctions, largely between rich and poor, free and unfree, educated and uneducated.
  5. The colonists were part of a global empire. They could not effectively isolate themselves from the world around them - a world populated by Native peoples, as well as European colonists, explorers, traders, and missionaries. Further, they were tied by trade to Europe, the Mediterranean, and Africa, as we can see by this map of colonial overseas trade.

Conclusions:  The Colonists - What They Created

  1. Within the first century of European colonization in America, colonists had created strong governments, were involved in a wide array of agricultural and industrial activities, and had established societies that would forever shape the growth of the American continent.
  2. By 1732, three types of colonial governments existed within the 13 colonies:
  3. By the mid-1700s, three colonial regions existed - New England, Middle, and Southern - and all 13 colonies had become royal colonies.
  4. Capitalism and corporations came to the colonies with the first colonists.  Five of the 13 colonies were corporate in origin: Virginia, Plymouth, Maryland, South Carolina, and North Carolina.  Because England initially left colonization to corporate and individual private initiative, a capitalistic economy quickly emerged whereby small farmers, artisans, merchants, and aristocrats worked for profit.  In time, some Americans created commercial monopolies that needed a constant source of dependent labor to augment their wealth. 
  5. While the primary mode of economic activity in colonial America was farming, industrial production had also begun in the form of household manufacturing whereby families produced articles for their own use; and commercial industries for profit - fishing, lumbering, shipbuilding, flour milling, iron manufacturing.  All such industrial production had two things in common: 
  6. A great deal of political, cultural , socio-economic, religious, racial, and national diversity already existed in America by the end of the 17th Century. Rather than creating a "melting pot" of peoples who blended into a distinctly American personality, such diversity created a bubbling cauldron of cultural, racial, and social differences which resulted in many conflicts during these early decades – conflicts between:
  7. Within the first few decades of settlement, European colonists began eliminating American Indian nations, as well as dispossessing and unempowering the American Indians who survived.  While beyond colonial boundaries, Indians still outnumbered the colonists, their social and economic power within colonial borders had diminished.
  8. A small but powerful spirit of tolerance arose in colonial North America within the Quaker community of Pennsylvania. 
  9. Throughout all the colonies, a small but vocal voice of resistance arose in response to the social, political, and economic status quo.


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