History 110 - Dr. Gayle Olson-Raymer

Discussion Guides : The Colonists - What They Created

Map of Colonial North American 1700

Below, please find the discussion guides for today's discussion. Each is separated by a solid line

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 study the characteristics of the early colonists.
  4. To explore the governance, economy, and social structure created during the 17th Century within each of four colonial regions:  the Chesapeake, Southern Colonies, the New England Colonies, and Middle Colonies.
  5. To study the predominant American Indian nations within each colonial region and examine the manner in which the first European colonists dealt with the indigenous peoples.
  6. To compare and contrast the political, economic, social, and spiritual development of the four colonial regions throughout the Seventeenth Century.

Six 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.Map of colonial populations 1775
  2. To understand the dominance of Protestantism.
  3. To comprehend the full extent of the racist attitudes Euro-Americans held toward non-white people. 
  4. To learn the origins of our political institutions.
  5. To study the development of the unique American character, attitudes, and practices. 
  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. (See the video, "What is American Exceptionalism at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zrl19LVrxfk&feature=related)


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

Characteristics of the First Colonists

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...


Regional Groups of the Original 13 Colonies

Map 13 colonies 1763Chart of 13 Colonies

Original maps of Jamestown http://www.virtualjamestown.org/maps1.html

Jamestown Chronology

1606 Jamestown is settled by the Virginia Company which began as a joint stock company.  Any "adventurer" who could pay 12 lbs, 10 shillings could purchase stock.  The Company hopes to increase its profits in this corporate venture.
King James grants the Virginia Company a charter to the "New World".  According to the first historian of the Virginia Colony, "The chief Design of all Parties concern'd was to fetch away the Treasure from thence, aiming more at sudden Gain, than to form any regular Colony." The charter proclaimed that "all and everie the parsons being our subjects which shall dwell and inhabit within everie or anie of the saide severall Colonies and plantacions and everie or anie of theire children... shall have an enjoy all liberties, franchises, and immunities as if they had been abiding and borne within this our realme of England."  This portion of the Charter provided the authority for the first legislative assembly as well as provided the source of one of the colonists' greatest grievances during the Revolution - England had failed to grant the colonists the same rights as those citizens residing in the mother country.

In December, 144 men and boys leave England on three boats: Susan Constant, Godspeed, and Discovery.  105 are to settle in Virginia and 39 are crew members.

1607 In May, 104 settlers choose an island on the north shore of what they call the James River to build a settlement.  (One person perished on the trip.)  Upon arrival, the written instructions of the Virginia Company decrees the colonists "were not permitted to manure or till any ground."  Instead, they were to trade with the Indians for gold and work at bringing in a profit for the Company.
In June, the first fort is finished, a "triangle-wise having three bulwarks at every corner like a half-moon, and four or five pieces of artillery mounted in them."  (John Percy.)

Mid-year, one settler, who is named "JR" by late 20th Century archeologists, dies under mysterious circumstances.  Full skeletal remains were found located within the first wooden palisade, indicating this young man died within a few months after arriving in May 1607.  He had a lead bullet embedded in his lower leg. Painstaking investigation indicates he was shot at fairly close range and died of the injury.  We know from the diaries of John Smith and John Percy that a great deal of civil unrest existed from the wretched living conditions, the disappointment that the settler were not going to get rich, hunger, and disease - so it is clear he died at the hands of a fellow settler.

Colonists meet Powhatan, the leader of the united Powhatan Indian confederacy in the area.

By the fall, 67 of the original settlers are dead.

1608 In January, the original fort is destroyed by an unknown cause.
Smith begins to train volunteers to fight "amongst the trees" against any native attackers.  Skirmishes between the Powhatans and the colonists began on a regular basis.  Kidnappings and prisoner exchanges become more common.

Smith leads the first colonial offensive in Virginia and destroys a series of native towns and canoes along the James River.  Although no one died in this attack, it was a costly and  painful loss for the Indians.

In April, supplies and between 40-60 new colonists arrive from England.

In the fall, the first women arrive in Jamestown.  (By the following year, about 100 English women lived in Jamestown.  The men were in Jamestown for over a year before an English woman arrived, two years before a significant number arrived.  Although there are no official marriages recorded between the English and native women, a Spanish visitor reported in 1612 that as many as "... 40 or 50 of the men had married with the salvages.")

On September 10, John Smith becomes the leader of the colony and begins a "food for work" program proclaiming, "You see now that power resteth wholly in my selfe: you must obey this now for a law, that he that will not worke shall not eate (except by sicknesse he be disabled), for the labours of thirtie or fortie honest and industrious men shall not be consumed to maintain an hundred and fiftie idle loiterers."

In late September, another ship arrives from England with new instructions from the Virginia Company that describe a new mission:  First, the colonists must find something in Virginia of major value (gold, passage to the Pacific, or the lost Roanoke Colony); and second, Captain Newport was to place an English crown on Chief Powhatan's head thus rendering him a loyal prince of King James.  Newport attempts to carry out the coronation, but once Powhatan realizes that the crown means subjugation to the English king, he forbids his people to bargain with the English for food.  Thus, the colonists face winter without the necessary grain they needed to survive.

1609 Smith returns to England after a serious injury and the colony begins to deteriorate.
The "Starving Time" begins.  Supplies are low, nobody had planted enough corn to last through the winter, and there is not enough to eat.  They turn to eating "doggs, Catts Ratts and myce" and some resort to boiling boot leather.  Conditions are so desperate that one man "did kill his wife, powdered her, and had eaten part of her" before leaders discover his actions and have him executed.  At the beginning of the year, 500 colonists live in Jamestown; by the year's end, 60 survive.  Those who do survive are "so Leane that they looked Lyke Anotamies Cyreing owtt we are starved We are starved... "
1610 In March, 60 colonists out of the 500 who had arrived, are still alive.
In May, John Rolfe arrives in Jamestown for .

In June, the small number of survivors abandon Jamestown, only to meet the new governor, Lord Delaware, who orders them back, provides provisions to reinvigorate the colony, and places all colonists under martial law until the end of the year.

1611 Captain Samuel Argall kidnaps Pocahontas, daughter of Powhatan, and holds her for ransom.   Argall offers her freedom in exchange for English prisoners held by Powhatan.  Pocahontas is held first in Jamestown and then in other Virginia settlements where she becomes educated in the Christian faith.

1614 Pocahontas is baptized, christened by the name of Rebecca, and marries John Rolfe, a successful tobacco planter.

Rolfe cross-pollinates Indian tobacco with seeds brought over from England to make a sweeter tobacco that suits the taste of Europeans.  He begins sending tobacco to England.
1616 Virginia colonists export 2,300 pounds of tobacco to England.
Rolfe takes Pocahontas and their young son, Thomas, to England. Seven months later, in March 1617 on the voyage home, Pocahontas dies, possibly of pneumonia.  The ship returns to England and Pocahontas is buried in a churchyard in Gravesend.
1617 Only 400 of the 2,000 settlers who had arrived remain alive; only 200 are trained or fit enough to farm.  Most have trades - especially in the lumber, glass, and pottery services.
Virginia colonists export 18,839 pounds of tobacco to England.
1618  Virginia colonists export 49,528 pounds of tobacco to England.

1619 The first Africans arrive in the "New World" as indentured servants. Two officials in Jamestown purchased them in exchange for food and supplies.

In July, the first representative assembly in the "New World" begins.  The Virginia Company orders the people of Jamestown "to establish one equal and uniform government over all Virginia" and to provide "just laws for the happy guiding and governing of the people there inhabiting."   This is an attempt to give Englishmen in American certain rights and privileges, common to the mother country, that were guaranteed in the company charter; it is not intended to establish self government.  This first meeting is the beginning of the Virginia General Assembly and a forerunner of the U.S. Congress.

The first recorded laws concerning indentured servitude are passed in Jamestown during the first General Assembly.  Indentured servitude in Virginia allows English servants to be bought and sold freely, used as gambling stakes, transferred to another master through a will, and taken by the sheriff for satisfaction of his master's debt.

The Virginia Company adopts a new policy for luring colonists to Virginia that allows individuals to own land for the first time since the settlement began.  Colonists who arrived before 1616 would receive 100 acres apiece "to be held by them and their heirs and assigns forever."  Those who arrived later received 50 acres.  Tradesmen who chose to practice their trade rather than farm received four acres and a  house.  Investors, including investors who lived in the colony,  received additional land if they paid ship passage for indentured servants.  Indentured servants received their allotment after their service was completed.

1620  A large number of women arrive in Jamestown - women recruited to become wives of the settlers.  This decision is indicative of a growing recognition that Jamestown must be more than just a commercial settlement and that in order to have a prosperous colony, it must be populated with families, women and children - and not just eager adventurers in constant need of supplies from home.  As the Treasurer of the Virginia Company, Sir Edwin Sandys wrote in 1620, "... the plantation can never flourish till families be planted and the respect of wives and children fix the people on the soil."

1622  In March, Powhatan's brother, Openchankanaugh leads a devastating assault on colonial Virginia.  More than one-third of all the colonists - 300 men, women, and children - are killed in one day.  Jamestown is spared because the people had been forewarned by a "friendly" Indian. Survivors are ordered to move into eight fortified settlements, one of which is Jamestown.

1624  Due to colonial strife and low profits, King James I dissolves the Virginia Company and proclaims the Virginia settlements a royal colony.  Jamestown becomes the royal colony of Virginia.

1625 Jamestown population is 1,218 people out of 8,000 total who had immigrated over the past 19 years.  Of those, 942 were males, 276 were females; 60 percent were between 15-25 years of age - only 8% was 40 years or older; 40 percent were indentured servants.  All 23 black residents are servants.

1640 The earliest recorded case of enslavement occurs when the General Court for running away tries three indentured servants.  The two white servants are punished by an additional four years of service.  The only black servant is forced to serve his master for the rest of his life.

1643 Government becomes bicameral, forming two separate houses similar to the English Parliament.  The General Assembly becomes largely independent of England.

1644   The second major Indian attack takes place in Jamestown.  Somewhere between 400 and 500 colonists are killed.

1646  Opechancanough is captured and killed.  The General Assembly boasted that the natives were "so routed and dispersed that they are no longer a nation, and we now suffer only from robbery by a few starved outlaws."

1661 Virginia institutionalizes slavery.

1662 The General Assembly passes a law, "All children born in this country shall be held bond or free only according to the condition of the mother."  Thus, if the mother is enslaved, the child will be enslaved.

1667 The General Assembly passes a law, "The conferring of baptism does not alter the condition of the person as to his bondage or freedom; that divers masters, freed from this doubt, may be more carefully endeavor the propagation of Christianity."  Thus, a Christian could enslave another Christian.

1669 The General Assembly passes a law, "If any slave resists his master... and by the extremity of the correction should chance to die, that his death shall not be accompted a Felony, but the master... be acquitted from molestation since it cannot be presumed that proposed malice... should induce any man to destroy his own estate."

1676 Nathaniel Bacon and his followers rebel against the stern rule of Governor William Berkeley and his handling of the frontier Indians.  Bacon's troops attack and burn Jamestown in September, but Berkeley escapes to the Eastern Shore.  Bacon dies of dysentery soon thereafter and the rebellion ends without its leader. The aftermath results in the hanging of several dozen survivors and the loss of much of the General Assembly's independence.

1699  The capital of Virginia moves from Jamestown to Williamsburg.

1700  Jamestown becomes a plantation.  Its early buildings disappear and the land reverts to agriculture.

1893  The Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities (APVA) purchases 22.5 acres to preserve and interpret the site. Between 1893-1903, the first excavations uncovered the first Jamestown Church and the APVA rebuilt a replica.

1934  Jamestown becomes a National Park on 1,500 acres, with all but the 22.5 owned by the APVA run by the National Park Service.

1994  The first phase of the APVA's Jamestown Rediscovery Project begins on the 22.5 acres it owns on the island.  By 1996, their archaeologists found the remains of the first Jamestown Fort.  Since that time, the archaeological findings have changed the way we think about Jamestown.

2007  The 400 year anniversary of the founding of Jamestown was celebrated throughout Virginia.

The CHESAPEAKE  COLONIES, 1607 to 1750 -
Virginia and Maryland

1.     Governance:  Colonies directly responsible to England, but local rule determined by the type of colony established by the monarch:  Virginia as 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 owners, the Calverts, the right to appoint all governors and to control the government.

2.     Economy:  Single crop economies – both based their farming on large profits from a single plantation crop, rather than diversified farming that could sustain a growing community.  Virginia and Maryland’s big cash crop was tobacco.  The quest for profits, which depended upon a constant source of cheap labor, created a large indentured servant class, and eventually, an enormous slave population.

3.     Social Structure:  The minority of European colonists consisted of free men and women; the majority consisted of laborers: indentured servants, most of whom would become free after a contractual period; and slaves, who by the early 1700s, were a significant proportion of the southern population.  Society was socially stratified according to wealth as dictated by English tradition:  plantation owners; smaller landowners, merchants, and craftsmen; the servants; Indians;  and slaves.  Social and political life was closely tied to England.  The predominate religion was Anglican.  The growth of large plantations led to the development of rural areas with few large cities.  Social strife between classes and religions arose in these two colonies – bringing about more social conflict in this region than in the others.

4.     American Indians.   By 1640, the native population in Virginia declined from 20,000 to 10,000.  By the 1670s, only a dozen tribes and about 2,000 Native Americans remained in the colony.


THE SOUTHERN  COLONIES, 1607 to 1750 -
North and South Carolina, Georgia

1.     Governance:  All three were royal colonies  which gave the King absolute power to appoint all governors and their councils.

2.     Economy:  Single crop economies.  Initially, all three profited greaty from rice, but they also grew tobacco, indigo, and later, cotton. The quest for huge profits, which depended upon a constant source of cheap labor,  created an enormous slave population.

3.     Social Structure:  The minority of European colonists consisted of free men and women; the majority consisted of laborers: indentured servants, most of whom would become free after a contractual period; and slaves, who by the early 1700s, were a significant proportion of the southern population.  Society was socially stratified according to wealth as dictated by English tradition:  plantation owners; smaller landowners, merchants, and craftsmen; the servants; Indians; and slaves.  Social and political life were closely tied to England.  The growth of large plantations led to the development of rural areas with few large cities. The predominate religion was Anglican.

4. American Indians.  The main tribes of the south were the Algonquian, Yamasees, Creeks, Cherokees, Chickasaws, Chocktaws, and Tuscaroras.  Autonomy within the tribes was largely local.  Because the colonies were populated by families, and because the economy depended upon imported labor, there was no need for the English to incorporate Indians into their lives. Colonists sought social exclusion.  The need for more and more land to grow tobacco and the policy of social exclusion led to direct and violent confrontations between the colonizers and the colonized.   Thus, the colonists began to expropriate land from the Indians which led to the drastic decline of Native populations.


Massachusetts Bay, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New Hampshire

1.     Governance.  The New England colonies experienced much inde-pendence from Britain during their early years. By the 1690s all colonies were under control of the Crown.  Each still retained much control through two vehicles: (1) Central governments, which were representative and responsive to the needs of the majority, and consisted of a governor and bicameral legislature. Officials were annually elected by white, free men who were church members and had sought salvation. (2) Local government town meetings where all white male Church members who owned property gathered regularly to consensually decide matters of local importance.

2.     Economy.  Small, family-run farms and small household manufacturing endeavors comprised the majority of economic enterprise.  Farmland - typically 100-150 acres per family - consisted of fields adjacent to the clustered dwellings in town.  Almost every adult male owned land.  The farm economy was rigidly controlled by division of labor within the family: men responsible for field work; women responsible for housework, gardening, dairy, hen house, etc.  The reliance upon family farming meant little need for servants or slaves.

3.     Social System.  New Englanders created clustered settlements which encouraged the growth of strong vital communities and a rigorous sense of local order.  New England communities were largely homogeneous, comprised of people whose religious beliefs, values, and societal structure determined and maintained local order.  The church was an equally-important partner with town governance in preserving social order.  Calvinist religions thrived throughout New England.  In every colony but Rhode Island, civil law required every settler to attend worship services on the Sabbath and every taxpayer to contribute to the support of the clergy.

4.     American Indians.  The main tribes - Abenaki, Pawtucket, Massa-chusett, Narragansett, Wampanoag, Pequots - were largely independent in nature, with political power residing at the local rather than confederated level.  Within each village, a single leader known as the sachem  directed economic life administered justice, and negotiated with other tribes and English settlers. The New England colonists used divide and conquer strategies to exploit historical tribal enmities and to create powerful alliances used to fight various local and continental wars.  By 1676, all the tribes had been subdued and the Pequots were virtually extinct.  All resistance to land expansion in New England was crushed.


New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Delaware

1.    Governance.  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.

2.    Economy.  By the 1630s, the Dutch had created a strong commercial economy throughout the Hudson valley and the Swedes had created an independent fur-trading community in the Delaware River Valley.  Thus, their commercial histories and geographical locations, ensured that the middle colonies under English control would continue to be commercially oriented and fueled by small farmers, craftsmen, and merchants.

3.    Social System.   The middle colonies were the most diverse and multicultural of the three regions.  The population was culturally, linguistically, and spiritually diverse.  People lived in small settlements throughout the colonies which encouraged the growth of small towns run by county governments.

4.    American Indians.  The Iroquois League, established in 1451, was strong with the Dutch arrived.  Consequently, the Dutch allied themselves with the Iroquois.  Thereafter, with Dutch arms and ammunition, the Iroquois began a series of military expeditions that invaded and seized the territory of neighboring tribes - most notably the Hurons who had helped the French control the flow of furs from the Great Lakes to Montreal. The power of the Huron was substantially weakened in this campaign, leaving the Iroquois reasonably strong throughout the 1600s.


Regional Differences

Economic differences:

Social differences:

Political differences:

Religious differences:


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:

By the mid-1700s, all 13 colonies had become royal colonies.

3.   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. 

4.   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:  they took advantage of the cheap and abundant natural resources; and they used simple manufacturing processes that required little capital to convert raw materials into crude products.

5.    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:

6.   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.

7. A small but powerful spirit of tolerance arose in colonial North America within the Quaker community of Pennsylvania. 

8.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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