Colonial Settlements

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COLONIAL SETTLEMENTS. In the sixteenth century, England sought to emulate other European powers by establishing colonies in the New World. The goal of the colonists and their supporters was to increase England's territorial hegemony and to enrich themselves. Little gold or silver was found in England's North American colonies, but colonists who came to America for a variety of reasons nonetheless accomplished that goal.

Chesapeake Colonies

The first attempts at settlement of North America occurred on Roanoke Island in 1585, under the sponsorship of Sir Walter Raleigh. England claimed North American territory on the basis of the 1497 and 1498 voyages of John Cabot. The Roanoke colony was also to serve as a base from which the English could launch attacks on Spanish vessels as they sailed for European waters. The initial colony and two subsequent attempts failed.

The Virginia Company, a joint stock company composed of London and Plymouth merchants, undertook the next attempt at English colonization. Issued a charter in 1606 by James I, three ships carrying 144 adventurers, soldiers, and fortune hunters were sent in 1607 to establish a colony on the James River in Virginia. The Jamestown settlers were unable to find large stores of precious metals but the colony prevailed, despite an appallingly high death rate. Virginia prospered with the introduction of tobacco cultivation in 1612 and the establishment of private land ownership in 1616. Large plantations were needed for tobacco, which quickly damaged the soil. The need for more territory and population growth led to two major Indian attacks, with 347 colonists killed in 1622 and 500 killed in 1644. As a result of the first attack, the Virginia Company lost its charter and Virginia became the first royal colony, with the governor and council appointed by the Crown and a popularly elected assembly. Tobacco also necessitated a large labor force, and the demand for labor was met by both English indentured servants and African slaves. The population reached 50,000 by the end of the seventeenth century.

Maryland was established by George Calvert, Lord Baltimore, as a refuge for Roman Catholics, who suffered persecution in England, with a charter issued by Charles I in 1632. Following the death of his father, Cecilius Calvert sent some 200 colonists to establish the colony in 1634. Like Virginia, Maryland's prosperity rested on tobacco cultivation, with labor supplied by black slaves and white servants. The colony also produced wheat, fruits, and vegetables. Baltimore attracted settlers by promising 100 acres to every adult man and woman, 50 acres to every child, and granting over sixty manors of 2,000 acres to those who qualified. The population reached 32,000 by 1700. Although a Catholic refuge, Maryl and included a substantial number of Protestants, and it was Protestants who seized control of the government during the English civil wars. The Calvert family regained control of the colony with the 1660 restoration of Charles II to the throne.

New England

While Virginia was settled primarily by fortune hunters, the first settlements in New England, like those in Maryland,

were prompted by religious reasons. The Church of England persecuted a group of extreme Puritans called Separatists. After fleeing their homeland in 1608 and settling unsuccessfully in the Netherlands, the Separatists returned to England and decided to establish a colony in North America. A small group of 102 colonists, 35 of whom were Puritans, sailed for an area just north of Virginia but instead landed much further north on Cape Cod, which they reached on 9 November 1620. They soon proceeded to Plymouth, where they arrived December 16. Most wintered on the ships but the death toll was high, with approximately half the colonists dying before spring. The Wampanoag Indians put up no resistance to the small invasion since their own ranks had been seriously depleted by disease brought by earlier European explorers. The Separatists created a representative government, with only church members who were worth £20 eligible to vote or hold public office. The colony of Plymouth remained separate from Massachusetts until 1691.

Puritans also settled Massachusetts for religious reasons. Charles I granted a charter in 1629 to the New England Company, which promptly changed its name to the Massachusetts Bay Company. A group of a thousand Puritans, led by the attorney John Winthrop, sailed in fifteen ships for New England to form a utopian society in Massachusetts. The Puritans took their charter with them rather than leaving it in London, as was customary, permitting Massachusetts to become virtually a self-governing commonwealth. The English monarchs spent the next several decades in efforts to recall the colony's charter. The government established in Massachusetts was not precisely a theocracy, since ministers did not hold public office, but voting and the holding of public office were restricted to church members, and the church was supported by the state, which also punished heresy. A law code based not on English common law but on the Bible was soon adopted. By 1700, nine years after Massachusetts received a new charter and was united with Plymouth, its population was 80,000.

Minister Roger Williams, forced out of England because of his Puritan beliefs, established Rhode Island only a few years after his 1631 arrival in Massachusetts. Williams was too radical for the Massachusetts Puritans, rejecting the authority of the English king and advocating both a complete separation of church and state and religious toleration. Williams further questioned the right of the English king to grant land in America. Forced out of Massachusetts, Williams founded the colony of Rhode Island, which received a charter from Parliament in 1644 that allowed it to establish a liberal government permitting religious toleration and granting the vote to all free adult white males. Population remained small, with only 4,000 at the end of the seventeenth century.

Minister Thomas Hooker established the colony of Connecticut in 1636, while New Haven, established in 1638 by Theophilus Eaton and the Reverend John Davenport, was separate from Connecticut until 1662. By 1700, the population of Connecticut reached 30,000. New Hampshire originated as the private estate of John Mason, who sold it to the Crown, while Maine was the property of Sir Fernando Gorges. To provide for defense, the United Colonies of New England was formed in 1643. The union included Massachusetts, Connecticut, Plymouth, and New Haven, but not Rhode Island, considered too radical by the other New England colonies. The economy of all the New England colonies was largely based on subsistence farming, the fur trade, fishing, and naval stores.

New York and New Jersey

The residents of the Chesapeake and New England colonies enjoyed a somewhat homogenous society in terms of ethnicity and religion, but this was not the case in New York and New Jersey, where settlers were culturally diverse. European settlement of this area followed Henry Hudson's voyage of exploration in 1609. Sailing for the Dutch East India Company, Hudson's report of the excellence of furs in the area caused the company to establish a trading post at Fort Orange, site of present-day Albany. The Dutch West India Company, formed in 1621, established a community at the tip of Manhattan Island, called New Amsterdam. The New Netherland territory was vast and effectively separated the New England and Chesapeake colonies. The territory included parts of Maine, New Hampshire, the islands from Cape Cod to Cape May except for Block Island, the western half of Connecticut to the Connecticut River, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Delaware. To increase the small population of only 10,000 the West India Company drew colonists from several European countries who practiced several different religions.

New Netherland's small population made it relatively easy for the English to seize the province from the Dutch in 1664. King Charles II promptly gave the territory to his brother, James, duke of York. The duke established a non representative, authoritarian government in the province, with an appointed governor and council. New York's growth was slow compared to that of Massachusetts, reaching only 30,000 in 1700, partly because English governors established a manorial system. Colonists preferred owning their own land in nearby colonies to becoming tenants on a New York manor lord's estate.

Owing favors to two courtiers, John Lord Berkeley and Sir George Carteret, James paid them off by giving them part of the conquered territory. Carteret named the territory New Jersey, in honor of his island home. James claimed he gave away only the soil in New Jersey, not the rights of governance. The new proprietors, who had split the territory into separate colonies of East New Jersey and West New Jersey, disagreed. Several years of strife ensued as New York governors tried to exert authority over New Jersey. This strife, coupled with insecure land titles and multiple proprietors, eventually led New Jersey residents to request that the province be made a royal colony. The request was granted and East and West New Jersey united as a royal colony in 1702, by which time the population had reached 15,000. Like New York, New Jersey's economy was based primarily on the fur trade and the export of wheat and other agricultural products such as pitch and tar, wood products, and horses.

Southern Colonies

Charles II further expanded the empire in 1663, when he granted a charter to eight proprietors for the territory that would comprise North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia. Settlement in North Carolina was sparse throughout the seventeenth century, with only about 5,000 settlers by 1700, its growth and development slowed because it did not have a good harbor. North Carolina was settled mostly by freed indentured servants and poor whites who lived on small subsistence farms. The fur trade and the production of naval stores bolstered the economy. Originally part of South Carolina, it became a separate colony in 1712.

South Carolina had an excellent harbor at Charles Town, which developed into a cultured and sophisticated city. Its white settlers were mostly displaced planters from the West Indies, who acquired vast estates. The colony attracted about 7,000 colonists by 1700, and its economy boomed with the introduction of rice cultivation, followed in the eighteenth century by the cultivation of indigo. Like tobacco, rice required a large labor force, resulting in a black majority in the colony by 1720.

Georgia's development began in the eighteenth century when James Edward Oglethorpe, who was interested in establishing a haven for European Protestants, promoted its settlement. George II granted a charter in 1732, and Georgia became a Crown colony in 1751. A decade later, the population had reached 9,000.


Another vast territory settled for religious reasons was developed after 1681, when Charles II granted William Penn Jr. a charter for Pennsylvania. A convert to the Quaker faith, Penn led Quakers to the Pennsylvania area shortly thereafter, the colony becoming a refuge not only for Quakers but for other persecuted religious minorities, reaching a population of 20,000 by 1700. Known for his equitable treatment of the indigenous Indians, Penn quickly established good relations with them. The territory was briefly taken away from Penn following the 1688 Glorious Revolution but returned to him by 1696. It remained in the hands of William Penn's descendants until the American Revolution.

While settled for a variety of reasons, the plantations endured and prospered to form part of the first British Empire. In 1607, the only English settlement on the North American mainland was in Jamestown, Virginia. In 1763, by the terms of the Treaty of Paris that concluded the French and Indian War, the English acquired Florida from the Spanish and Canada from the French. The line of English colonies stretched in an unbroken chain down the entire eastern seaboard of North America and to the west as far as the Mississippi River.


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Calloway, Colin G. New Worlds for All: Indians, Europeans, and the Remaking of Early America. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1997.

Delbanco, Andrew. The Puritan Ordeal. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1989.

Kulikoff, Allan. Tobacco and Slaves: The Development of Southern Cultures in the Chesapeake, 1680–1800. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1986.

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Mary LouLustig

See alsoChesapeake Colonies ; Massachusetts Bay Colony ; New England Confederation ; New Haven Colony ; New Netherland ; New York Colony ; Plymouth Colony ; Puritans and Puritanism ; Virginia Company of London ; andvol. 9:Starving in Virginia, 1607–1610 .

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Colonial Settlements

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