Thirteen English colonies

Course: The United States of America: History and Political System
Book: Thirteen English colonies
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Date: Utorok, 29 november 2022, 9:40 PM



Thirteen colonies

Stories of the New World's gold attracted the first European explorers who came to America to increase their wealth and broaden their influence over world affairs. The Spanish were among the first Europeans to explore the New World and the first to settle in what is now the United States. The founding of Saint Augustine (in Florida) in 1565 marked the beginning of European colonization. In 1588, England and Spain were engaged in warfare, which virtually annihilated the Spanish naval power. After this defeat, Spain no longer figured as a rival of England for possession of North America. The thirteen colonies along the Atlantic coast were under British rule. West of these was French territory extending to the Rocky Mountains in the west, to Louisiana in the south, and reaching northward into present-day Canada. The territory was called New France. Part of it was later in 1803 bought by the U.S. in the Louisiana Purchase.

The Tobacco Colonies

In 1585 Sir Walter Raleigh with a group of colonists (91 men, 17 women and nine children) settled on the island of Roanoke (present area of North Carolina). Mysteriously, by 1590 the Roanoke colony had vanished entirely and thus it is sometimes refered to as Lost Colony. It is so probably because the first colonists were mostly adventurous and impoverished men incapable of any sustained effort, and that is why the very early wave of colonisation was a complete failure.

The first successful and permanent English colony able to survive thanks to own labour was Virginia (named by Sir Walter Raleigh in honor of the "virgin-queen," Elizabeth I) in 1607, after the London Company had sent 144 men to Virginia on three ships: the Godspeed, the Discovery and the Susan Constant. They reached the Chesapeake Bay in the spring of 1607 and headed about 60 miles up the James River, where they built a settlement they called Jamestown (named after the king James I). The Jamestown colonists had a rough time. They were so busy looking for gold and other exportable resources that they could barely feed themselves. The first year was devastating for the colonists, with only 32 of them surviving the winter. However, the Native Americans helped them and colony of Jamestown survived. It was not until 1616, when Virginia’s settlers learned how to grow tobacco that it seemed the colony might survive. The first African slaves arrived in Virginia in 1619.

In 1634 Maryland was founded, unlike Virginia, by a group of English Catholics who could not practice their religion in England. These were the about 300 settlers sent by Cecilius Calvert, the 2nd Lord Baltimore, after he was granted about 12 million acres of land at the top of the Chesapeake Bay by the English crown. Lord Baltimore´s intention was to create a safe home for English Catholics in the New World in the time of the European wars of religion. Maryland, named after Henrietta Maria – the French Princess, was similar to Virginia in many ways. Its landowners produced tobacco on large plantations that depended on the labor of servants and (later) African slaves. Maryland became known for its policy of religious toleration for all.

A Jamestown settler describes life in Virginia

Sebastian Brandt to Henry Hovener, 13 January, 1622.
(Gilder Lehrman Collection)

The first English settlers in Jamestown, Virginia, who arrived in 1607, were eager to find gold and silver. Instead they found sickness and disease. Eventually, these colonists learned how to survive in their new environment, and by the middle of the seventeenth century they discovered that their fortunes lay in growing tobacco.

This 1622 letter from Jamestown colonist Sebastian Brandt to Henry Hovener, a Dutch merchant living in London, provides a snapshot of the colony in flux. Brandt, who likely arrived in 1619 in a wave of 1,200 immigrants, writes of his wife’s and brother’s deaths the previous year almost in passing. He mentions that, due to his own illness, he “was not able to travell up and downe the hills and dales of these countries but doo nowe intend every daye to walke up and downe the hills for good Mineralls here is both golde silver and copper.” Most of Brandt’s letter is devoted to its real purpose: putting in orders for cheese, vinegar, tools, spices, and other assorted goods from the London Company that were not available in Virginia. Interestingly, he promises to pay in tobacco and furs - not in the gold and copper he’s looking for.

We know little about Brandt. He does not appear in any known existing official records, and historians presume he died not long after writing this letter. The glimpse he offers into early Jamestown serves as a tantalizing example of the challenges and thrills of studying colonial American history.


TRANSCRIPT of the letter

Well beloved good friend Henry Hovener

My comendations remembred, I hartely [wish] your welfare for god be thanked I am now in good health, but my brother and my wyfe are dead aboute a yeare pass’d And touchinge the busynesse that I came hither is nothing yett performed, by reason of my sicknesse & weaknesse I was not able to travell up and downe the hills and dales of these countries but doo nowe intend every daye to walke up and downe the hills for good Mineralls here is both golde silver and copper to be had and therefore I will doe my endeavour by the grace of god to effect what I am able to performe And I intreat you to beseeche the Right Hon: & Wor: Company in my behalfe to grant me my freedome to be sent either to me I dowbte not to doo well & good service in these countries

humbly desyringe them also to provyde me some [appointed] fellowe & a strong boye to assiste me in my businesse, and that it may please the aforesaid Company to send me at my charge a bed wth a bolster and cover and some Linnen for shirtes and sheetes. Sixe fallinge bands wth Last Size pairs of shoes twoo pairs of bootes three pairs of cullered stockings and garters wth three pairs of lether gloves some powder and shott twoo little runletts of oyle and vinnegar some spice & suger to comfort us here in our sicknesse abowte ffyftie pounds weight of holland and Englishe cheese together, Lykewyse some knyves, spoons, combes and all sorts of cullerd beads as you knowe the savage Indians use Allso one Rundlett wth all sortes of yron nayles great and small, three haire sives, two hatchetts wth twoo broad yrons and some Allum And send all these necessaries thinges in a dry fatt wth the first shippinge dyrected unto Mr. Pontes in James Towne here in Virginia And whatsoever this all costes I will not onely wth my moste humble service but allso wth some good Tobacco Bevor and Otterskins and other commodities here to be had recompence the Company for the same And yf you could send for my brother Phillipps Sonne in Darbesheere to come hether itt [were] a great commoditie ffor me or suche another used in minerall workes And thus I comitt you to the Almighty. Virginia 13 January 1622.


Source: The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, resources/jamestown-settler-describes-life-virginia-1622

The New England Colonies

In the North, English Puritans established several settlements. These people came to America to escape persecution in England. These first colonies in the North were called and even now the territory is referred to as New England. In the years 1620 - 1640, some 30,000 Puritans settled there. A group of Puritans called the Pilgrims crossed the Atlantic in the ship Mayflower and settled at Plymouth (named after a port in Britain), Massachusetts in 1620. They escaped Britain because of catholic persecution of the Stuarts. Originally, their desired destination was Virginia, however, thanks to poor navigation abilities and unknown sea currents they landed at what is know the coastline of Boston. With the help of local natives, the colonists soon got the hang of farming, fishing and hunting, and Massachusetts prospered. The Puritans were orthodox Protestants and even now the term puritan denotes a man of extreme moral and religious principals, especially in sexual matters. No wonder the famous witch trials took place in colonial Massachusetts in the town of Salem, where a series of hearings and prosecutions of people accused of witchcraft were held in 1692 and 1693. The trials resulted in the executions of twenty people, fourteen of them women, and all but one by hanging.

As the Massachusetts settlements expanded, they generated new colonies in New England. To the north of the Massachusetts Bay colony, the colony of New Hampshire was founded in 1629. Since the land in Massachusetts was very rocky and also some of its Puritan settlers were not satisfied with the acting of their leaders, a handful of adventurous men led by John Mason went to find more fertile farming land and they settled in Portsmouth and founded the New Hampshire Colony. Firstly, the colony (or province, as colonies are also refered to) consisted for many years of a small number of communities along the seacoast and the Piscataqua River. The province's economy was dominated by timber and fishing and the New Hampshire population was more religiously diverse.

Puritans who thought that Massachusetts was not pious enough formed the colony of Connecticut. The colony, originally known as the River colony, was founded in 1636 by Thomas Hooker, who left the Massachusetts Bay Colony with 35 families. Later, two other English colonies merged into the Colony of Connecticut: Saybrook Colony and New Haven Colony. The economy began with subsistence farming and developed with greater diversity and an increased focus on production for distant markets, especially the British colonies in the Caribbean. The colony was also the scene of a bloody and raging war between the English and the Pequot tribe of Native Americans, known as the Pequot War. The Pequots lost the war and about 700 Pequots had been killed or taken into captivity.

Another man who decided to leave the Massachusetts Bay Colony and begin a colony of his own was Roger Williams. He was a Puritan minister who disagreed with the decisions of the community and he protested that the state should not interfere with religion. He claimed that the colony leaders should not be the church leaders and he also believed the Indians should be paid for the land they were taking. Puritan leaders wanted to punish him, but he escaped. In 1636 he bought the land from Indians and established the Rhode Island Colony. The land was first home to the Narragansett Indians, who had extensive trade relations across the region, which evoked the idea of the town of Narragansett (today´s recreation town of some 16 thousand population) to show respect to the Indians. In the colony, everybody including Jews was allowed to practice their own religion and enjoy complete “liberty in religious concernments”. The separation of church and state was thus guaranteed.

The Middle Colonies

Also the Dutch were trying to colonize the New World. They sent Captain Henry Hudson and he found a river that ran westward, followed it and found that it turned north in what is now New York. The river still bears his name. In 1623 the Dutch sent people to live in this area. They formed a new colony and began trading with the native inhabitants. They called this new colony New Netherlands. Its main town was New Amsterdam (Nieuw Amsterdam) on Manhattan Island, which was bought from local Indian chiefs for 60 gilders ($24). However, in 1664, English king Charles II gave the territory between New England and Virginia, much of which was already occupied by Dutch traders and landowners called patroons, to his brother James, the Duke of York. The English soon absorbed Dutch New Netherlands along with New Amsterdam and renamed it New York (named after the Duke of York), but most of the Dutch people, as well as the Belgian Flemings and Walloons, French Huguenots, Scandinavians and Germans who were living there, stayed. This made New York one of the most diverse and prosperous colonies in the New World.

In 1680, the king granted 45,000 square miles of land west of the Delaware River to William Penn, a Quaker (member of a Christian sect) who owned large swaths of land in Ireland. Penn’s North American holdings became the colony of “Penn’s Woods,” or Pennsylvania. Lured by the fertile soil and the religious toleration that Penn promised, people migrated there from all over Europe. Like their Puritan counterparts in New England, most of these emigrants paid their own way to the colonies – they were not indentured servants – and had enough money to establish themselves when they arrived. As a result, Pennsylvania soon became a prosperous and relatively egalitarian place. The colony was also characterized by religious toleration where religious freedom was granted to everyone monotheist and government was initially open to all Christians. Pennsylvania Hospital, the first hospital in the British American colonies, and The Academy and College of Philadelphia, the predecessor to the private University of Pennsylvania, both opened here.

The Province of New Jersey had originally been settled by Europeans as part of New Netherlands, but came under English rule after the surrender of Fort Amsterdam in 1664, becoming a proprietary colony. The English then renamed the province after the Isle of Jersey in the English Channel. The English justified the seizure by claiming that John Cabot, an Italian under the sponsorship of the English King Henry VII, had been the first to discover the place. The original boundaries of the province were slightly larger than the current state and it was not dominated by a specific religion, which gave way to religious freedom for Quakers, Catholics, Lutherans, Jews and others. New Jersey was often referred to as a breadbasket colony because it grew so many crops, especially wheat. The wheat was ground into flour and then shipped to England.

Sweden also wanted a colony of their own to trade with the others, so they landed in Delaware in 1638 and established a new colony there. The Delaware Colony was founded in 1638 by Peter Minuit and New Sweden Company. But the land fell under British control in 1664 when William Penn was given the deed by the Duke of York. Delaware was then governed as part of Pennsylvania from 1682 until 1701. The colony was named after the Delaware River whose name was derived from that of Sir Thomas West (Lord de la Warr) who was Virginia Company's first governor. The Delaware Colony's mild climate made farming feasible for the colonists and its natural resources included also timber, coal, furs, fish, and iron ore. There was no dominating religion there and religious tolerance made the area attractive to those who were not purists.

The Southern Colonies

The land that stretched south of Virginia to Florida was granted to the group of King's Charles friends in 1663. They named the colony Carolina in honor of Charles. The first settlement was Charleston. When these men arrived to the area they found that many people had been already living there and the area was much less cosmopolitan when compared to the northern states of New England. In its northern half, poor farmers eked out a living. In its southern half, planters managed vast estates that produced corn, timber, beef and pork, and since the 1690s even rice. The south Carolinians had close ties to the English planter colony on the Caribbean island of Barbados, which relied heavily on African slave labor, and many were involved in the slave trade themselves. As a result, slavery played an important role in the development of the Carolina colony, too. The overall differences caused arguments between the two groups, and in 1729 the colony was divided into two separate colonies: North Carolina and South Carolina.

In 1732, inspired by the need to build a buffer (border) between South Carolina and the Spanish settlements in Florida, the Englishman James Oglethorpe established the Georgia colony, the last of the original 13 British colonies. The King also planned this colony as a place to get rid of people he did not want in England. It was named in honor of King George II of England and the first settlement was Savannah. In many ways, Georgia’s development mirrored South Carolina’s, except for slavery. Originally, Oglethorpe imagined a province populated by sturdy and strong farmers that could guard the border. Because of this, the colony's charter prohibited slavery. But in the beginning, the colony had a sluggish start. James Oglethorpe did not allow alcohol as well and he did several limitations for land ownership. Discontent grew in the colony because of these restrictions, and so Oglethorpe canceled them. With slavery, liquor, and land acquisition the colony improved much faster. Slavery had been permitted from 1749. There was some internal opposition, particularly from Scottish settlers, but by the time of the War of Independence, Georgia was much like the rest of the South.

In 1700, there were about 250,000 settlers in North America’s 13 English colonies, both Europeans and Africans. By 1775, on the eve of revolution, there were nearly 2.5 million and several small but growing urban centers had emerged. Philadelphia, with 28,000 inhabitants, was the largest city, followed by New York, Boston and Charleston. The colonists did not have much in common, but they were able to band together and fight for their independence.