Arts and Culture

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Arts and Culture

The earliest known European artists in North America were Dutch portrait painters in New Netherland (which became New York in 1664, when the English took over the colony). The Dutch brought a rich artistic tradition with them from the Netherlands. They decorated their homes with oil paintings and prints, including landscapes, still lifes, and religious subjects. Although historical records show that Dutch painters in New Netherland were quite productive during the seventeenth century, only three works survived: portraits of New Netherland governor Peter Stuyvesant, Nicholas William Stuyvesant, and Jacobus Strycker, which were probably painted sometime between 1661 and 1666 by Huguenot (French Protestant) artist Henri Couturier.

Most Dutch painters were "limners" (that is, delineators, or artists who depicted their subjects by drawing). They usually earned their living at other trades such as housepainters or glaziers (people who place glass in windows), and they were sometimes self-taught. Many traveled from place to place in search of commissions (contracts). One of the earliest limners was Evert Duyckinck (1621–c. 1703), who headed a family of artists. None of his paintings has survived, but coats of arms (family emblems or crests) enameled on the windows of the Dutch Reformed Church (a Protestant religious group based in Holland) at Albany, New York, in 1656 are known to be his work. At least ten portraits are attributed to his youngest son, Gerrit Duyckinck. Gerrit's son, Gerardus Duyckinck, painted The Birth of the Virgin (1713), the earliest dated and signed New York painting. He also specialized in portraits and biblical works. Evert Duyckinck III painted portraits in a style similar to that of his cousin Gerardus.

Dutch painters continued to arrive in New York and the neighboring New Jersey colony during the early 1700s. Among them was Pieter Vanderlyn, who painted portraits of leading New York families. Another artist was John Heaten, who married a Dutch woman and was active as a portraitist in the upper Hudson Valley during that period. He is also known for landscapes and genre paintings (those depicting scenes from everyday life). After the English took control of New Netherland, however, wealthy Dutch colonists began to favor English styles of painting.

Painting in New England

New England Puritans rejected religious paintings and other forms of decoration as being too closely associated with Roman Catholicism. (Puritans were a Protestant Christian group that observed strict moral and religious codes. Protestantism was formed partly in opposition to the elaborate decorations and rituals used in the Catholic Church.) Yet they approved of portrait painting, not as an art form but as a practical way for people to have a picture of an important leader or a beloved family member. As in New Netherland, the first New England portrait painters often made a living as housepainters or glaziers, while others were sign painters. Like limners, they traveled from town to town looking for work. One of the most talented was Augustine Clement, a glassmaker from Reading, England, who arrived in Boston, Massachusetts, in 1635. Unsigned portraits of Puritan leaders Richard Mather, John Clark, and John Endecott were probably painted by Clement. The portrait of Clark and an unsigned portrait of Elizabeth Eggington were both inscribed (dated) in 1664, making them the earliest New England portraits that can be dated with certainty.

Portrait style

Seven unsigned paintings of parents and their children, dated between 1670 and 1674, are examples of early New England portrait style. Scholars believe they were done by Boston artist Samuel Clement. All of the portraits—Mr. John Freake, Mrs. Elizabeth Freake and Baby Mary, The Mason Children, Alice Mason, and three individual pictures of children in the Gibbs family—feature rich colors and close attention to facial details. The portraits were painted in a style that had gone out of fashion in London but was still practiced in rural England. For example, the trend in London at the time was to create the illusion of three dimensions with perspective and shading. This artist, however, used bright colors, flattened patterns, and symbolism such as a bird to represent the soul.

Colonies attract portrait painters

In the early eighteenth century, rising prosperity in the colonies began to draw trained artists to growing port cities. Henrietta Johnston, a painter of miniatures (tiny pictures), arrived in Charleston, South Carolina, in 1705 and remained active there until her death in about 1728 or 1729. She was followed by Swiss artist Jeremiah Theüs, who operated a studio that lasted until 1774. German painter Justus Engelhardt Kühn was active in Annapolis, Maryland, from 1708 until his death in 1717. Scots painter John Watson settled in Perth Amboy, New Jersey, in 1714. English painter Charles Bridges arrived in Virginia in 1735 and spent the next few years traveling from plantation to plantation, painting portraits of the Virginia aristocracy (nobility class). He did not stay in the colonies long enough, however, to have much of an influence on other artists.

Hesselius and Smibert have great influence

Two artists who were largely responsible for the development of American painting for the rest of the eighteenth century were Gustavus Hesselius (1682–1755) and John Smibert (1688–1751). Hesselius was born in Sweden and received part of his artistic training in England. In the early 1700s he moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Except for spending a few years in Annapolis in the 1720s, he lived and worked in Philadelphia until his death. In 1735 Hesselius painted portraits of Delaware chiefs Tishcohan and Lopowinsa, thus becoming the first European artist to depict Native Americans in a sensitive manner. The Last Supper, which he did for Saint Barnabas's Church in Queen Anne's Parish, Maryland, was the first painting commissioned for a public building in America. The work has since been lost.

When Smibert arrived in Boston from England in 1729, he was already an established portrait painter. Two years later he completed his best-known work, The Bermuda Group. The large portrait features Anglican (Church of England) bishop George Berkeley, members of Berkeley's family, and others—including Smibert—who participated in Berkeley's failed plan to start a college in Bermuda (an island in the Caribbean Sea). The painting became a model for later American group portraits. Although Smibert had done his best work by 1730, he brought a new sophistication to painting in New England. He did portraits of the leading Boston citizens, and he is credited with organizing the first art show in the colonies.

Smibert also influenced a number of younger American artists.

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Among them was Robert Feke (c. 1705–c. 1750), who was born in Oyster Bay, Long Island. Family of Isaac Royall, which Feke painted in Boston in 1741, has been compared to Smibert's The Bermuda Group. Considered by some art historians to be a more imaginative painter than Smibert, Feke influenced other young painters in the 1740s and 1750s. Though the two men may never have met, Feke also influenced John Singleton Copley, whose earliest works were modeled on portraits by Feke and Smibert. By 1754 American portrait painting was on the verge of a great leap forward with the emergence of Benjamin West, as well as Copley and Charles Willson Peale.


The most popular art form in the British colonies was the print. A print is made by carving or etching an image into wood, stone, or metal. The printmaker then applies ink to the surface of the image and presses it onto paper to produce a picture. The prints that colonists used to decorate their homes were usually small engravings, most often portraits of prominent people. The first known portrait print made in the colonies was a woodcut portrait of Puritan minister Richard Mather made by Boston printerengraver John Foster in 1670. By 1710 colonial artists were making mezzotints, which are engraved images on copper or steel that appear to be more three-dimensional than simpler engravings. The earliest mezzotint may have been a portrait of four Iroquois chieftains, made by engraver John Simon in 1710. Another prominent engraver was William Burgess, who worked in Boston from 1716 to 1731 and made mezzotints of scenes and landmarks around the city.

Influential Mezzotint Artist

The best-known colonial mezzotint artist was Peter Pelham, who had been a printmaker in London before he set up shop in Boston in 1727. His most famous mezzotint is a portrait of Puritan minister Cotton Mather, from which he also made an oil painting. After portrait painter John Smibert arrived in Boston in 1729, Pelham based many of his mezzotints on Smibert's portraits of notable New Englanders. Pelham passed on his knowledge of printmaking to his stepson John Singleton Copley, one of the best artists of the Revolutionary period.

The first historical print published in the colonies was a line engraving of a battle plan by Thomas Johnson. Colonists also began producing portrait prints for use in books and almanacs. A copperplate engraving of Puritan minister Increase Mather, made by Thomas Emmes in 1728, became a model for prints in books published by clergymen. Boston printer James Franklin studied printmaking in London, England, and is believed to have made most or all of the illustrations for the books and almanacs he published.

Early sculpture

The majority of seventeenth-century colonists were struggling to survive in North America, so they paid little attention to artistic trends in England or elsewhere in Europe. They did not have their portraits painted or decorate their homes with landscape paintings and prints by well-known artists. When most colonists created designs, they decorated objects that served a practical purpose. They were producing the earliest form of American sculpture, and they based their work on the traditions of their native countries. The first American sculptors were stone-cutters and carpenters who carved designs onto gravestones and wooden objects such as trunks and Bible boxes.

Grave markers

Grave markers are some of the best examples of colonial stone carving, although only a few markers made before 1660 still exist. The first decorations on gravestones were simple geometric designs such as rosettes, pinwheels, and radiating suns. Such ornaments could be carved with simple tools by craftsmen with no artistic training. By the end of the 1600s, the winged skull—a depiction of a human skull with wings on the sides—had become the most widely used design on gravestones. It continued to dominate graveyard art throughout the eighteenth century.

Portrait sculptures By the early eighteenth century the first American portrait sculptures began to appear on gravestones. (A portrait sculpture is a picture of the deceased that has been carved into the stone.) The earliest of these works may be the portrait signed "N.L." on the stone of the Reverend Jonathan Pierpont in Wakefield, Massachusetts. By the 1740s such carvings could be found in graveyards throughout the colonies. There are two types of stones: two-dimensional and three-dimensional. Examples of both types can be found in the Congregational churchyard in Charleston. The stone of Mrs. Richard Owen, like many of the early colonial portrait paintings, is simple and two-dimensional. It depicts a smiling Mrs. Owen, but the image is flat, with no sense of depth. The Congregational burial ground contains two of the more realistic three-dimensional gravestones—for Elizabeth Simmons and Solomon Milner—which were carved by Henry Eames of Boston.

Other popular eighteenth-century gravestone designs show the increased skills of colonial stone carvers. They include coats of arms, ships, and cherubs' (angel's) heads.

Wood carvings

Early seventeenth-century colonial wood-carvers were also untrained craftsmen. Their carvings were usually geometrical designs (basic shapes such as circles, squares, and rectangles) that could be made with simple carpenters' tools such as the chisel, gouge, and mallet. In the 1650s, however, American carvers were influenced by more intricate European styles. Wood-carvers were frequently called on to produce figure-heads for the bows (front end) of ships, so they set up shop in the wharf (ship docks) sections of port cities. They also made shop signs and ornaments for furniture. As early as 1717 professional wood-carvers were working throughout the colonies, from New England to the Carolinas. For instance, Henry Burnett was a noted craftsman in Charleston in the 1750s. Yet Boston was the center of activity for talented carvers during most of the eighteenth century. Among them was Samuel More, who began making figureheads as early as 1736. Another prominent carver was John Welch, who made a decorative figure called the "Sacred Cod" that now hangs in the Old State House in Boston. Moses Deshon carved the coat of arms (official emblem or crest) for Faneuil Hall (a public meet inghouse and marketplace) in 1742.

First American statue A well-known carved figure from the colonial period is The Little Admiral, which can be seen today in the Old State House in Boston. It is widely considered the earliest free-standing statue created in the American colonies. Some twentieth-century art historians believe The Little Admiral was made by Samuel Skillin, who was a notable craftsman in his day. In a short story titled "Drowne's Wooden Image," however, New England author Nathaniel Hawthorne suggested that the figure was made by Shem Drowne, a Boston tinsmith (one who makes objects from tin). Although someone later painted the date "1770" on the base of this wooden figure, art historians believe it was actually carved in the 1740s or 1750s. Because The Little Admiral once held an object such as a beer stein (a large mug) or nautical instrument (a device used to chart sea routes), it is thought to have been made as a trade sign. In fact, some scholars believe the figure was the image of British admiral Edward Vernon and stood outside the Admiral Vernon Tavern in Boston in 1750. Another expert, however, says The Little Admiral is the portrait of a Captain Hunnewell that stood outside a nautical-instruments shop in the city.

Wax Modeling

Wax modeling was another popular form of sculpture in the colonies during the eighteenth century. Since wax melts easily, few examples of wax sculpture have survived. Working with wax was also a hobby because wax was plentiful and easy to mold. As early as 1731 upper-class women in New York City were offered classes in sculpting fruit and flowers. The August 28, 1749, issue of the New York Gazette newspaper advertised an exhibit of wax figures of members of European royalty. Around that time artists were making small portraits in wax, an art that became more widespread and further refined during the second half of the century.


Music was one of the first forms of culture in North America. When European settlers arrived in the Southwest and along the Atlantic coast, they encountered Native American musical traditions that had existed for thousands of years. Native American music was primarily vocal (made with the voice) and sung mostly in groups as a way to communicate with supernatural powers (holy spirits). Chants and songs were accompanied by drums, rattles, flutes, and whistles. Native Americans performed music to ensure success in battle, appeal to the gods for rain, or cure the sick. There were various kinds of songs. Traditional songs were passed down from generation to generation, while ceremonial and medicine songs appeared to individual tribal members in their dreams. Native Americans also performed songs that celebrated tribal heroes, inserting a hero's name to fit the particular occasion.

Native American music had little influence on Europeans, except in the Southwest, where the Franciscans (members of a Catholic religious order) used Native American music for religious education. They adapted Christian music and drama to the traditional feasts and ceremonies of Native Americans. They also encouraged Native Americans to compose music in the European tradition. For instance, Native American choirs learned chants for Catholic masses (church services) as well as carols (popular songs expressing religious joy) and other traditional religious songs of the Spanish settlers. Though much of this early music has since been lost, some evolved to become part of the folk tradition of the Southwest.

Colonial religious music

Colonial churches used different hymnbooks, but most followed the directive of the Puritan leader John Calvin (1509–1564) that worship services include the singing of verses from the book of Psalms in the Old Testament (a part of the Christian Bible that contains song poems). The Puritans of seventeenth-century New England did not approve of professional singers, singing in harmony, or any sort of accompaniment such as organ music. These were features of the Roman Catholic service, which Puritans rejected as unnecessarily elaborate. (The Roman Catholic Church is a Christian faith based in Rome, Italy, and headed by a pope who has supreme authority in all religious affairs.) Yet even Anglican (Church of England) churches, which did not oppose these practices, did not have organs or use music other than simple hymns in their services. Musical instruments were too expensive for early colonial churches, and few parishioners were trained singers.

When the typical congregation (a separate group of church members) sang a hymn, a deacon (church official), called a "liner," announced which tune would be sung, usually from a choice of only four or five melodies. The liner then read out each line before it was sung. As memories of church music in England grew dimmer and fewer churchgoers could read the music printed in increasingly scarce music books, American music became dramatically different from—and worse than—English music. Especially among the rugged individualists of New England, everyone seemed to sing a different tune and sometimes slipped from one melody to another while paying no attention to tempo (the beat of a piece of music).

Singing schools By the turn of the eighteenth century ministers throughout the colonies were calling for singing schools to instruct people in reading music and singing psalms. Anglican singing instruction began in Maryland as early as 1699, and there were singing classes in Virginia in 1710. Four years later the first school for psalmody (hymn singing) was advertised in Boston. Such schools were most popular in New England from 1720 to about 1750, after prominent clergymen such as Benjamin Colman, Thomas Symmes, Cotton Mather, and Thomas Walter spoke out in favor of singing reform. Once Congregationalists (Puritans) accepted singing reform, they began appointing "choristers" (singing leaders) to sound the first note by voice or pitch pipe (a device for giving the first note of a tune) and then lead the singing. The use of the pitch pipe aroused controversy because some traditionalists considered it a violation of the ban on musical instruments. Many of the same people were also alarmed when young singing-school graduates asked permission to sit together and perform some of the religious songs they had learned. The first New England congregation to agree to such a request was the West Church in Boston, which designated "singers' seats" in 1754. By the end of the 1760s twenty-three churches in New England had made similar arrangements.

First American Tune

Until the second half of the eighteenth century little original music was composed in the colonies. The first piece of new music written in America may have been "Southwell New Tune," a brief hymn published in the Reverend Thomas Walter's The Grounds and Rules of Musick Explained, a popular songbook. The 1723 edition of John Tufts's A Very Plain and Easy Introduction to the Art of Singing Psalm Tunes (first published in 1721) includes another song, "100 Psalm Tune New," that was probably written in America.

Organ music Elsewhere in the colonies, churches were increasingly incorporating organ music into their services. The Anglican King's Chapel in Boston installed an organ in 1714, and the other two Anglican churches in the city had them by 1744. The first known organ in New York City was installed at the Dutch Reformed Church in 1724. During the first half of the eighteenth century Anglican churches in South Carolina, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and New York City installed organs. Between 1737 and 1767 five Virginia churches obtained organs.

Secular music emerges

As new settlers continued to bring their own musical traditions to North America, a distinctly American form of secular (nonreligious) music began to take shape. In the Spanish Southwest ancient songs about European wars were turned into ballads (narrative songs) that reflected the everyday experiences of the settlers. British colonists fitted new lyrics on contemporary topics to old ballad or hymn tunes. In the eighteenth century English colonists adapted new music from England, such as marches or stage and opera music. While poorer people continued to enjoy folk music and dancing, prosperous colonists wanted to copy the latest trends in music and dancing among aristocratic circles in England. They bought instruments and music books and hired professional music tutors and dancing masters. They also enjoyed listening to performances by British and European musicians.

Music flourishes in cities Boston led the way in supporting musical culture in the colonies. Thomas Brattle, a wealthy merchant, installed an organ in his home in 1711 and four years later donated another to the Anglican King's Chapel. Edward Enstone, who arrived from England in 1715 to work as an organist, started a music and dancing school and began holding public balls. By 1717 he had also opened a store where he sold and repaired musical instruments, as well as offering sheet music and instruction books. In 1729 he sponsored the first documented public concert in the colonies. The following year the Men's Musical Society of Boston sponsored a concert in honor of Saint Cecilia, patron saint of music. An early documented private concert was held in 1710 in New York City, where in 1714 musicians were hired for a parade and ball celebrating the coronation (the celebration of the crowning) of King George I. The Philadelphia Assembly, a dancing club founded in 1748, also encouraged musical performances.

African American Music

During the colonial period African Americans preserved their musical traditions in the slave quarters of the great southern plantations. They sang songs and played homemade African-style drums and reed instruments. They also introduced a string instrument called the banjer or banjar, which they brought from West Africa in the seventeenth century. A gourd with an attached handle and four catgut strings, it was the basis for the banjo, which American instrument manufacturers began making in the nineteenth century. The first European instruments played by African Americans were violins, or fiddles, which were often homemade but other times were given to them by white masters. Some slave owners also taught their slaves to play European-style music for white audiences. Over time black musicians began incorporating their own musical ideas into European music.

Musical diversity in rural areas Diverse ethnic groups introduced their own musical traditions throughout the colonies. English and Scots-Irish settlers in remote regions of the Appalachian Mountains brought ballads and tunes, many of which are still being played and sung today. Isolated French settlers in northern New England also maintained their musical traditions, as did German musicians in Pennsylvania. Eighteenth-century Moravian communities in Pennsylvania and North Carolina were well-known for their ability to perform a wide range of European sacred and secular music. By the eighteenth century secular music was exceptionally popular in the South, where people from outlying plantations often came together during sessions of the courts or legislatures. During that time they attended concerts, plays, and balls and took home the music they heard at those events. By 1735 musicians in Charleston were giving public concerts honoring Saint Cecilia. The Tuesday Club of Annapolis met from May 1745 until February 1756 and fostered its members' musical interests. By 1752 the club included five string players, two flute players, a keyboardist, and perhaps a bassoonist. Songs written by several members for performance at club meetings may be the earliest secular music written in America.


When Europeans arrived in North America, they discovered that Native Americans had created rich oral traditions over thousands of years. Stories, poems, and myths were passed on by storytellers from generation to generation. The language of Native American oral performances, which somewhat resembled European poetry, was highly musical. The narrator conveyed meaning through the way he delivered the words. Jesuit missionaries (Catholic priests who belonged to the Society of Jesus and traveled to foreign lands to do religious work) in New France (presentday Canada) were among the first to make written records of Native American oral presentations. In yearly reports to their superiors in France, they described how the Hurons, Iroquois, and other tribes gave speeches and told stories. The Jesuits also attempted to translate some of the speeches and stories, but they could not fully convey the meaning, which depended on the performance of the Native American speakers.

Among the Jesuits who wrote these accounts were Paul Le Jeune, Paul Rageneau, Jacques Marquette, and Louis Hennepin. In his report for 1645 and 1646, Rageneau described a storytelling session at a meeting of elders who had gathered to elect a "very celebrated Captain." They used the occasion to pass on tribal history by telling stories about their ancestors. Hennepin mentioned Native American creation mythology (stories about how the world was made) in a report on his explorations of North America in 1697. He was one of many Europeans who attempted to prove that the lost tribes of Israel were the ancestors of Native Americans. (According to the Bible, the Christian holy book, ten Israelite tribes were taken to Assyria after the Assyrians conquered Israel in 722 b.c. No one knows what happened to the tribes. Early Christian leaders claimed Native North Americans were the descendants of these lost tribes.)

Literature written by Europeans during the colonial period consisted mainly of histories based on their experiences in North America. Many colonists also wrote poetry, which was the primary literary form in Europe at the time.


The earliest literature written by Europeans in North America came from sixteenth-century Spanish explorers who published reports on their journeys after they returned to Spain. The first was Alvar Nuñez Cabeza de Vaca, whose account of an eight-year overland journey from Florida to the west coast of Mexico in the 1520s and 1530s was published in 1542 (see Chapter 2). In 1605 Spanish military leader Garcilaso de la Vega published La Florida del Ynca (Florida of the Inca), a colorful description of the expedition led by Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto in the Spanish territory of La Florida, which is now the southeastern United States (see Chapter 2). It was based on firsthand accounts from expedition members. In the 1560s Pedro de Casteñeda wrote about his experiences as a member of Francisco Vásquez de Coronado's expedition in the American West (see Chapter 2).

Spanish poetry Much of the early literature of Spanish colonies in the Southwest (present-day New Mexico, Arizona, and Texas) was passed on orally. Hoping to convert Native Americans and to educate colonists, Franciscan missionaries often staged religious dramas that were either versions of Spanish plays or plays written in Mexico. Some of the songs and poems from these plays inspired traveling troubadours (poets and musicians of knightly rank whose theme was love) to compose their own verses. Spanish settlers also passed on long romance poems, narratives that had moral or religious messages. Another popular tradition was the telling of cuentos, or prose tales (stories in nonpoetic form), which originated in Spain but were modified over time in North America.

A New Mexico Epic

The earliest literature by Europeans in North America came from sixteenth-century Spanish explorers who published reports on their journeys after they returned to Spain. Among these accounts was an epic poem, Historia de la Nuevo-Mexico (History of New Mexico), by Gaspar Pérez de Villagrá. He was one of the six hundred colonists who established the first Spanish settlement in New Mexico in 1598. Beginning with a brief description of earlier expeditions, Villagrá wrote a thirty-four-part poem that included a detailed eyewitness account of the colonists' adventures. Historia de la Nuevo-Mexico is still consulted by modern historians seeking information about the Spanish colonial period.


The earliest French colonial writings were also historical accounts. They included Histoire de la Nouvelle-France (History of New France; 1609–1618) by Marc Lescarbot and Voyages de la Nouvelle France (Voyages of New France; 1632) by Samuel de Champlain, founder of New France (see Chapter 3). The Jesuits' annual reports, Jesuit Relations, were begun by Paul Le Jeune in 1632 and continued through 1673. The most notable French colonial history to mention Louisiana was published by Jesuit priest and travel writer Pierre-François-Xavier de Charlevoix (1682–1761). His Histoire et description de la Nouvelle France (History and Description of New France; 1744) was a report on his travels down the Mississippi River to New Orleans.

French poetry Mock-heroic poems (comic or satirical depictions of heroic events) were another popular form of literature in New France. René-Louis Chartier de la Lotbiniére wrote a verse epic about a military expedition against the Mohawk led by Rémy de Courcelle in 1666. Probably not intended for publication, this comic picture of military life seems to have been circulated widely in New France and France. French officer and traveler Louis-Armand de Lom d'Arce de La Hontan (1666–1715) also gave satirical descriptions of politics and society in "Nouveaux Voyages" (New Voyages) and "Dialogues," both published in 1703. The first surviving poem written in Louisiana was Dumont de Montigny's "Poème en vers" (Poem in Verse), a history of the province from 1716 to 1746. Written in the 1740s, it remained unpublished until 1931. As in the Spanish colonies, there was an active oral tradition in New France. When folklorists (scholars who study the traditional customs of a country) began collecting Canadian stories and songs in the nineteenth century, some were discovered to have originated in France.

Books and Reading in the Colonies

The first European settlers in North America brought books with them or imported books from their home countries. Even in New England, where a printing press was established at Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1638, most books of any length came from England. Printers set up shop in New Amsterdam in the 1650s, Boston in 1675, Philadelphia in 1683, and New York in 1693. By 1750 there were also printing presses in Connecticut, Rhode Island, Virginia, and South Carolina, and Pennsylvania. Yet printing a long work required more type and equipment than colonial printers could afford, so most books sold in America were imported from Britain and Europe until after the American Revolution. Colonial printers concentrated mainly on government documents, almanacs, sermons, and other pamphlet-length works such as primers, political tracts, and essays on contemporary issues. Although many colonists could not read, in New England an estimated 90 percent of white males and 40 percent of white females were literate by 1750. In the other English colonies literacy rates for white males ranged from about 30 percent to more than 50 percent. (Different figures are often given for literacy rates.) In most literate households, however, the only books might be a Bible, an almanac, and possibly a hymnbook. There were impressive private libraries in all the colonies, but the general public used subscription libraries that began springing up during the eighteenth century. The earliest was the Library Company of Philadelphia, which Benjamin Franklin founded in 1731.

New England colonies

Early New England historians tended to focus less on events than on showing that God had chosen the Puritans as instruments of his will and fully supported their ventures in North America. The Puritan mission was the focus of seventeenth-century histories of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, such as Edward Johnson's Wonder-working Providence of Sions [Zion's] Saviour in New-England (1654) and Nathaniel Morton's New Englands Memoriall (1669). Many gave accounts of King Philip's War, the bloody conflict between the Puritans and the Narraganset tribe (1675–76; see Chapter 4). Among them were Increase Mather's A Brief History of the Warr with the Indians of New England (1676), William Hubbard's A Narrative of the Troubles withthe Indians in New-England (1677), and Duodecennium Luctuosum (Two Decades Full of Sorrow; 1699) by Cotton Mather (1663–1728).

A Puritan Defends Native Americans

Most Puritan historians took a negative view of Native Americans, whom they regarded as agents of the devil. An exception was Daniel Gookin, who spent more than twenty years as Indian superintendent in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. He attempted to give a more positive account of Native Americans in his Historical Collections of the Indians in New England, which remained unpublished until 1792, more than one hundred years after his death. Gookin also took the side of Native Americans in An Historical Account of the Doings and Suffering of the Christian Indians in New England in the Years 1657, 1676, 1677 (1836). He wrote this book in response to Increase Mather's and William Hubbard's accounts of King Philip's War, which depicted Native Americans as evil devil worshippers.

Cotton Mather was the most productive Puritan author. In his major work, Magnalia Christi Americana (The Great Works of Christ in America; 1702), he wrote the biographies of more than sixty Puritan "saints" (a term the Puritans used to describe those who were "saved"). The son of Increase Mather and grandson of two first-generation New England men of God (John Cotton and Richard Mather), Cotton Mather published 444 works (mostly pamphlets) during his lifetime. He is considered one of the most published American authors of all time.

Thomas Prince, another clergyman who believed in the Puritans' mission, wrote A Chronological History of New-England. Two of the most useful documents for modern historians were not published during their authors' lifetimes. Plymouth Colony governor William Bradford (see Chapter 4) wrote Of Plimoth Plantation in 1630 and 1646 to 1650, and it was first published in 1856. Massachusetts Bay Colony governor John Winthrop (see Chapter 4) kept journals from 1630 to 1649; they were first published in part in 1790.

New England poetry The first colonial printing press opened in Cambridge in 1638. For this reason the published works of New England poets far outnumbered those by residents of the other English colonies. Many of the earliest poems were elegies (expressions of sorrow) written by Puritan clergymen or brief verses about months and seasons in almanacs. Puritans were also fond of creating anagrams (words or phrases formed with the letters of other words or phrases) from people's names and then using them as the starting points for poems. For example, Puritan minister John Wilson turned "Claudius Gilbert" into "Tis Braul I Cudgel" and then wrote a poem about the "brawling" of the Quakers and other dissenters (those who protest against the established church) and how God "cudgeled" (beat) them with his holy word.

The first book published in Cambridge was The Whole Booke ofPsalmes (better known as The Bay PsalmBook; 1640), a hymnbook that contains some of the earliest Puritan poetry. Clergymen Thomas Welde, John Eliot, Richard Mather, and others rephrased or summarized verses from the Book of Psalms in the Bible so that they could be sung to traditional hymn tunes. Welde and his colleagues did not like existing translations of the psalms, so they went back to the original Hebrew to make a "plaine translation" that aimed for "fidelity rather than poetry." For example, the current translation of the opening lines of the twenty-third psalm was "The Lord is my Shepherd. I shall not want." Welde and the others gave their "plaine translation" as: "The Lord to mee a shepherd is, want therefore shall not I." The Bay Psalm Book, which could be found in many New England homes, went through twenty-five editions. By the mid-eighteenth century, however, it had been replaced by the hymns of English religious leaders Isaac Watts, John Wesley, and Charles Wesley.

Nathaniel Ward Another Puritan pastor, Nathaniel Ward (1578?–1652), wrote an entirely different kind of poetry in The Simple Cobbler of Aggawam in America (1647). The speaker in the poem is a shoemaker who reflects on the religious and political issues of the day. Ward used word-play to express his distrust of such practices as religious debate. At one point the Cobbler of Aggawam says that the devil "cannot sting the vitals [internal organs] of the Elect [Puritan leaders] morally," but he can "fly-blow [make impure] their Intellectuals miserably."

Anne Bradstreet Ward also wrote a poem of dedication for the first book by an American woman, The Tenth Muse Lately Sprung Up in America by Anne Bradstreet (1612–1672), which was published anonymously in 1650. Modern readers admire Bradstreet's love poems, including "To my Dear and Loving Husband," which begins with the memorable lines:

If ever two were one, then surely we
If ever span were lovd by wife, then thee;
If ever wife was happy in a man
Compare with me ye women if you can.

New England colonial readers admired Bradstreet's philosophical and religious poems, marveling at the extent of her knowledge and the quality of her verse. In his dedication Ward wrote, "It half revives my chil frost-bitten blood,/To see a Woman once, do ought that's good."

Michael Wigglesworth Bradstreet's poetry was widely read by New Englanders, especially after her husband had an enlarged edition of The Tenth Muse published in Boston, again anonymously, in 1678. Yet the most popular poet at the time was Michael Wigglesworth (1631–1705), whose book-length poem The Day of Doom (1662) is considered the first American bestseller. The Day of Doom had gone through seven editions by 1751, and the sixth edition of his popular second book, Meat Out of the Eater (1670), was published in 1721. These books were so often read and reread that no copies of the first edition of either have survived. Wigglesworth's sermons in verse did not appeal to later generations, but his contemporaries admired and heeded his warnings about the hellfires that awaited sinners bound for eternal damnation.

Edward Taylor Another important New England poet was Edward Taylor (c. 1645–1729). Yet the only verses by him that appeared in print during his lifetime were two stanzas from "Upon Wedlock and Death of Children" (written in 1682 or 1683), which Cotton Mather included in his Right Thoughts in Sad Hours (1689). While Taylor is believed to have read a few of his poems to his congregation in Westfield, Massachusetts, he was virtually unknown until scholars discovered manuscripts of his poems and published them in the twentieth century. Today Taylor is considered a major American poet, and more than two hundred of his Poetical Meditations (written between 1682 and 1725) have been called the most important poetic achievements of colonial America. Taylor accepted the stern religious beliefs of his fellow Puritans, but he often focused on God's grace and the experience of religious joy:

God is Gone up with a triumphant Shout
The Lord with sounding Trumpets melodies.
Sing Praise, sing Praise, sing Praise, sing Praises out, Unto our King sing praise seraphickwise.
Lift up your Heads ye lasting Doore they sing
And let the King of Glory Enter in.

By the eighteenth century literary tastes were becoming more secular throughout the colonies. Prosperity gave colonists the opportunity to learn about the latest cultural trends in England through imported books, magazines, and engravings. The change became apparent even in New England, where Boston clergyman Mather Byles (1707–1788), nephew of Cotton Mather, wrote sermons in which he concentrated more on style than on religious insights. In later years he became known for his wit. Another eighteenth-century Boston poet, Joseph Green, wrote humorous verses that poked fun at prominent people and public events, including "A Parody on a Hymn by Mather Byles" (1733). Green's most popular work was "Entertainment for a Winter's Evening" (1750), a satire (humorous treatment) on the Freemasons (Free and Accepted Masons, a fraternal organization with secret rituals), in which he named actual people.

Middle colonies

The earliest history of New Netherland (renamed New York in 1664) was written by lawyer Adriaen van der Donck and published in the Netherlands in 1649. His later work, A Description of the New Netherland (1655), was the first book published in New Netherland. Daniel Denton's A Briefe Description of New-York (1670) attracted English settlers to the colony after Britain took it over. Similarly, William Penn lured settlers to his colony with Some Account of the Province of Pennsilvania (1681) and other pamphlets.

One early history, Good Order Established in Pennsilvania & New-Jersey (1685), was written by Thomas Budd, who successfully recommended public education. An important later history was The History of the Five Indian Nations Depending on the Province of New York (1727) by Cadwallader Colden. Colden admired Native Americans and believed that the Iroquois (a powerful tribal alliance in the New York region) could play a role in protecting New York against the French and their Huron allies in New France.

Middle colonies poetry Dutch colonists in New Netherland included some notable poets. Jacob Steendam's "Spurring-Verses" were published in Peter C. Plockhoy's Kort en KlaerOntwerp (Short and Clear: Antwerp; 1662) to encourage settlement in New Netherland. According to Steendam, the colony was a paradise where "birds obscure the sky," the land was filled with wild animals, the waters were teeming with fish, and oysters were "piled up, heap on heap, till islands they attain [until they become islands]." Henricus Selyns, a Dutch Reformed minister, wrote marriage poems, epitaphs for prominent colonists, satires, and verses in Latin. Nicasius de Sille, who held important administrative posts in the colony, also wrote poems. The best known was "The Earth Speaks to Its Cultivator," in which the main character is a "New Adam" (Adam was the first man on Earth, according to the Christian Bible), an image of the European settler in North America that was used throughout American literature well into the nineteenth century.

First History of Thirteen Colonies

New Yorker William Douglass is sometimes called the first American historian to examine the thirteen colonies as a single unit. He wrote A Summary, Historical and Political of the First Planting, Progressive Improvements, and Present State of the British Settlements in North America (1747–1752) in response to what he called the "intolerably erroneous" work of Cotton Mather and other New England historians. Later historians charged, however, that Douglass's own work was sloppy and unreliable.

Although New Netherland became New York in 1664, the transition to English cultural traditions did not gain momentum until the second half of the eighteenth century. Consequently, there were only a few English New York poets writing verse during the colonial period. Among them were William Livingston and Richard Steere, but only Steere achieved any recognition for his work. He was an English Puritan who fled to Boston in 1682 or 1683 after his verses angered British authorities. He then offended Puritan leaders in Boston by voicing unorthodox religious views. Steere finally settled on Long Island in 1710. The poems contained in his collection The Daniel Catcher (1713) include some of the earliest examples of American nature poetry. Steere is also credited with writing the first American poem in blank (unrhymed) verse. Pennsylvania also produced few notable poets during the colonial period. However, James Logan, who came to America as secretary to Pennsylvania founder William Penn, is said to have written original poems in the 1730s and 1740s.

Southern colonies

The best-known work about Virginia is A True Relation of Such Occurences and Accidents of Noate as Hath Hapned in Virginia (1608) by John Smith, one of the founders of Jamestown, the first permanent English settlement (see Chapter 4). Smith wrote several books about his experiences in Virginia and New England, concluding with The True Travels, Adventures, and Observations of Captaine John Smith (1630). One of the earliest descriptions of Native North American customs was A Briefe and True Report of the New Found Land of Virginia (1588) by Thomas Harriot, a surveyor (a person who measures and describes an area of land) with Richard Grenville's 1585 expedition to Virginia (see Chapter 4). The book had been reprinted seventeen times by 1610 and attracted thousands of English settlers. Other influential pamphlets promoting the southern colonies were John Hammond's Leah and Rachel, or The two fruitfull sisters Virginia and Maryland (1655), George Alsop's A Character of the Province of Mary-land (1666), and John Lawson's A New Voyage to Carolina (1709).

African American Oral Tradition

The first Africans arrived in Virginia as slaves in 1619. They brought a rich heritage of orally transmitted stories and folktales, some of which eventually became part of mainstream American literature. Since most slaves were not taught to read and write English, they passed on Anglicized (adapted to English) versions of African stories orally. The first African Americans to write in the English literary tradition and have their work published were poets Jupiter Hammon and Phillis Wheatley. Hammon's first published poem appeared in 1760, and Wheatley's first poem was published in 1767, when she was only thirteen or fourteen. By about 1760 African Americans were also writing autobiographical narratives to describe their experiences as slaves.

In The History and Present State of Virginia (1705), Robert Beverley (1673–1722) openly criticized several royal governors (colonial officials appointed by the English monarch) for infringing on Virginians' personal liberties. At the same time he praised the simple traditions of Native Americans. Beverley's fellow Virginian William Byrd II made a valuable and humorous contribution to knowledge about life in rural Virginia. In The History of the Dividing Line Betwixt Virginia and North Carolina (published in 1841) and The Secret History of the Line (published in 1929), he wrote accounts of establishing the boundary between Virginia and North Carolina in 1728. Byrd also kept diaries that are quite famous today. Since many of the experiences he wrote about were considered immoral, he used a shorthand code that he invented. Twentieth-century scholars managed to figure out the code and published the diaries, which provide modern readers with fascinating glimpses into the life of a colonial Virginia gentleman. In A True and Historical Narrative of the Colony of Georgia (1741) several Georgia colonists—Patrick Tailfer, Hugh Anderson, David Douglas, and others—used satire and "tall tales" to attack the administration of James Oglethorpe, the founder of the colony (see Chapter 4). In particular they criticized his opposition to slavery and the rum trade.

Southern colonies poetry Ebenezer Cook, a lawyer who wrote satiric verse on life in colonial Maryland, has been called the father of traditional Southern humor writing. Cook's best-known poem, The Sot-Weed Factor (1708), tells the story of an English tobacco (sot-weed) merchant (factor) who was cheated out of all his possessions in a series of scams by Maryland colonists. Cook depicted a land "where no Man's Faithful, nor a Woman Chast [chaste; a virgin]," making fun of Englishmen who expected to get rich fast in North America. Another Marylander, Richard Lewis, is known as the best early American nature poet. He based his poems on close observations of nature, such as this vivid description of a hummingbird in "A Journey from Patapsco to Annapolis" (1731):

He takes with rapid Whirl his noisy Flight,
His gemmy Plummage [gem-like feathers] strikes the Gazer's Sight
And as he moves his ever-flutering Wings,
Ten thousand Colours he around him flings.


According to Gaspar Pérez de Villagrá's Historia de la Nuevo-Mexico, the first European play produced within the boundaries of the modern-day United States was a comedia (a drama that ends happily) by Captain Marcos Farfán de los Godos. It was staged on the banks of the Rio Grande in New Mexico on April 30, 1598. Villagrá described this play, which is now lost, as a drama about the willingness of Native Americans to convert to Christianity. He also mentioned a production of a Spanish drama called Moros y Cristianos (The Moors and the Christians) and a comedia, perhaps by Farfán, at San Juan de los Caballeros, near present-day El Paso, Texas, in 1598. Throughout the Southwest Spanish priests made extensive use of religious plays in their attempts to convert Native Americans to Christianity. The French also brought their theater traditions to the New World (European term for North and South America). Marc Lescarbot's Le Théâtre de Neptune en Nouvelle-France (The Theater of Neptune in New France) was performed at Port Royal, Acadia (later Annapolis Royal, Nova Scotia), on November 14, 1606. It was the first play written and staged in French Canada, and from 1640 until 1699 plays were frequently performed in Quebec.

English colonies

Distinctly American drama was the last cultural form to develop in the colonies, mainly because hardworking settlers in the New World had little time for entertainment. Puritans in New England and Quakers in Pennsylvania also placed religious and moral restrictions on theatrical performances. Even in the southern colonies, where there were few Puritans or Quakers, plays were suspected of encouraging undesirable behavior in the lower classes (servants and laborers).

Amateur productions The first known performance of a play in the thirteen original colonies was an amateur production of Ye Bare and Ye Cubb by William Darby in Accomac County, Virginia. (There are no surviving copies of this play, which is known only through court records.) After Darby and some of his friends gave their performance on August 27, 1665, they were arrested for playacting. They were eventually found not guilty. In 1690 Harvard College students in Cambridge also earned the disapproval of local authorities by staging a play called Gustavas Vasa. According to Virginia records, in 1702 students at William and Mary College in Williamsburg gave a recitation of a "pastoral colloquy."

First Published American Play

In 1705 Robert Hunter, the governor of New York and New Jersey, wrote a play titled Androboros (Maneater), which was not intended for performance. It appeared in print in 1714, thus becoming the first published American play. Androboros was Hunter's attempt to sway public opinion in his favor during a political dispute. He was involved in a conflict with the assembly, the Anglican Church, and the royal commissioner of accounts, Francis Nicholson. The play was set in a mental institution and featured several thinly disguised characters. The keeper of the institution was based on Hunter himself, and the character of Androboros was meant to represent Nicholson.

Professional theater During the first half of the eighteenth century, professional theater began to take hold in the southern and mid-Atlantic colonies. In 1716 or 1717 authorities in Williamsburg allowed a theater to be built, and amateur actors staged plays there for the next several years. In 1723, despite the antitheater sentiment of Quakers, strolling players performed outside the city limits of Philadelphia. During the 1730s amateur acting groups built theaters in Charleston and New York City.

Although theatrical performances remained controversial throughout the eighteenth century, the Quakers had slightly eased their opposition by 1749. That year a British company headed by Walter Murray and Thomas Kean staged English playwright Joseph Addison's tragedy Cato and other plays in a Philadelphia warehouse. In 1750 they took the play to New York City and performed regularly in a large room of a New York building. They met with such success that they presented fifteen more plays in a second season. After closing the production in New York in 1751, the company moved on to Williamsburg, where they opened in October in a recently constructed theater building.

First professional company The Company of Comedians is considered the first professional theater company to perform in English-speaking North America. They arrived in Williamsburg in 1752, hoping to recover financial losses from a poor season in London. The proprietor of the Company of Comedians was William Hallam, whose brother Lewis Hallam was the actor-manager. Lewis's wife was one of the actors. The company remained in Williamsburg for eleven months, performing about twice a week. They then proceeded to New York, where they built the first theater in the city and spent several months trying to get permission to perform. They finally opened with the comedy The Conscious Lovers by English playwright Richard Steele in September 1753. Meeting with great success, the company performed two or three times a week until March 1754. The final stop on their North American tour was Philadelphia, where, despite strenuous opposition from local Quakers, they played for two months before sailing to Jamaica. Though the Hallams' tour was successful, it did not spur an upsurge of theatrical activity in the colonies. The Company of Comedians was later renamed the American Company. On April 24, 1767, in Philadelphia they staged The Prince of Parthia by American poet and playwright Thomas Godfrey. It is considered the first professional production of a play by an American.


The most lasting contribution of Spanish colonists to American culture was architecture. Buildings dating from the earliest period in La Florida differ from those found in the Southwest. Nevertheless both architectural styles were derived from the tastes of seventeenth-century Spanish aristocrats (upper social class) and adapted to New World conditions by Franciscan missionaries. In the Southwest in particular, the Spanish also drew upon Native American traditions.

The Spanish Southwest

In the Southwest, where the Spanish adapted the building practices of the Pueblo Indians, Native American builders created the only examples of American architecture in which the traditions of the native culture significantly altered European styles. An important example is the Governor's Palace in Santa Fe, New Mexico (1609–1614); it was rebuilt in 1680 and at several later dates. Constructed from adobe (brick or building material of sun-dried earth and straw) and featuring a long covered porch, it is believed to be the oldest surviving structure built for Europeans in the United States. San Estiban in Acoma, New Mexico, which was completed before 1644, is the earliest of many Spanish mission churches still in existence in the United States. Three eighteenth-century mission churches can be seen in Texas. Nuestra Señiora de la Purisima Concepción de Acuna was dedicated in 1755, and the chapel at the Presidio la Bahia in Goliad was established in 1749. The church at the mission of San Antonio de Valero was started in 1744 and completed after 1777. (San Antonio de Valero is now known as the Alamo, the site of a battle during the Texas Revolution in 1836.)


The earliest surviving buildings in present-day Florida date from around the middle of the seventeenth century. Of these the most notable is the Castillo de San Marcos in Saint Augustine, which was begun in 1672 and is often called the finest structure of its kind in the United States. Built around a 100-square-foot central courtyard, this castle has spear-shaped bastions (a projecting part of a fortification) at its four corners, massive walls made of coquina (a form of limestone made by cementing shells and coral together), and a 40-foot moat (a protective trench surrounding a fort). Comparing favorably to fortresses constructed in Europe at the same time, the Castillo provided a successful defense of Saint Augustine during attacks from English forces in 1702 to 1703 and in 1740.

Mississippi River valley

After René-Robert Cavelier, sieur de La Salle, explored the Mississippi River valley in 1682, the French began establishing trading posts at strategic locations in the region, from Canada all the way south to the Gulf of Mexico. The original seventeenth-century structures built at these settlements, however, were destroyed by fire or flood. The oldest surviving French house is the so-called courthouse in Cahokia, Illinois. It was built as a private residence around 1737 and converted to a courthouse and jail in 1793. This and other early French buildings were constructed of upright logs set in the ground or on stone foundations. The logs were hewn flat on the sides that faced the interior and exterior of the structure. The spaces between the logs were filled with stones, bricks, or clay mixed with binding materials such as moss, grass, or even hair. Often the outside was covered with lime plaster to slow erosion by wind and rain. Like later French houses in the New World, the Cahokia Courthouse has a high, double-pitched roof to accommodate a covered galerie, or veranda, around all four sides of the house. Especially adapted to hot climates, this style was also used in larger, often two-story plantation houses in Louisiana later in the eighteenth century.

New Orleans

The French settled New Orleans, Louisiana, in 1718. The earliest buildings were constructed according to a technique called briqueté entre poteaux, which involved setting massive wooden vertical posts in the ground and putting bricks between them to create walls. In France, these walls were often covered with boards or plaster, but in the New Orleans region they were sometimes left exposed and consequently suffered deterioration from the weather. Many early eighteenth-century buildings in New Orleans were destroyed by fires that devastated the city in 1788 and 1794. In 1727 François Broutin designed a briqueté entre poteaux building to serve as the first Ursuline convent (a Catholic religious community). The first major brick building in the city was the prison (1730), which was designed by Pierre Baron. The only public building in New Orleans that dates from before the city was ceded (handed over) to Spain in 1764 is the second Ursuline convent. It is a brick structure designed by Broutin in 1745 to replace the other convent, whose wooden timbers had not held up well in the humid climate of the city. The earliest plantation house, which is called Parlange, was built around 1750 in Pointe Coupée Parish.

British colonies

Colonists of several nationalities contributed to American architecture, but housing styles in the English colonies were predominantly based on British models. Nevertheless architectural trends were slow to reach the New World and were often modified to meet the demands of colonial life. Colonial builders were confronted with extreme temperatures that were uncommon in England, and they did not have enough skilled craftsmen to fashion ornate (elaborately decorated) architectural details. Colonists also modified plans to suit available construction materials. For example, wood was far more plentiful in North America than in England and Europe, where brick buildings were most prevalent. Conversely, a shortage of lime used for mortar made brick buildings expensive in New England.

New England The first full-scale houses in New England were built for ministers and important officials of the Massachusetts Bay Colony soon after the colonists' arrival. The most common house consisted of a heavy oak frame filled with clay and straw, wattle, or sun-dried brick and then covered with a layer of clay. The roof was usually thatched (made of straw mats that are fastened together). But the colonists soon encountered a problem: this kind of house could not withstand the cold winters and harsh storms of New England. Therefore colonists began covering the exterior of their houses with weather boards, eventually adapting this method to build a wood-frame house. Wood shingles also replaced the thatched roof.

The First Settlers' Houses

The earliest settlers of Jamestown in 1607 and New England in the 1620s and 1630s built simple shelters in the tradition of the English peasant class. They bent tree branches to make a frame for a small, one-room cabin or a "wigwam." They often made the walls of woven wattle, or willow rods and other slender tree branches, then covered them with daub, or a mud mixture. Typically the thatched roof had a hole in the middle to let out the smoke from a stone hearth in the center of the earth floor. Occasionally such a structure had a mud-and-stick chimney. In Connecticut, Pennsylvania, and eastern Long Island the earliest English colonists' shelters were dugouts in banks with roofs and walls formed of brush and sod. Some buildings, such as the church at Plymouth and houses in the English settlements of eastern New Jersey, were of palisade construction—that is, planks driven into the ground. The English most often used this construction technique for forts and churches.

Colonists probably lived in one-story or one-and-a-half-story wooden houses. Most surviving New England houses, however, are a two-story style called the "saltbox." It is two rooms wide and one room deep, with the second story extending over the first story in the front to create an overhang. This style became more common in the late seventeenth century. Sometimes lean-to rooms on the back or extra gables (the vertical triangular end of a building) on the roof were added to provide more space. For windows, small, diamond-shaped panes of glass were held together with strips of lead. Because glass was imported from Europe and heavily taxed, windows were quite small and most did not open.

The New England Meetinghouse

The first public building in a New England village was the meetinghouse, which served as both church and town hall. The only surviving seventeenth-century structure of this type is the Old Ship Meeting House, which was built in 1681 in Hingham, Massachusetts. The roof looks like a ship's hull turned upside down, and the interior has been compared to the great halls of medieval Europe. In keeping with Puritan beliefs, however, the plain furnishings and simple exterior seem to have been modeled on churches in Protestant Holland. Similar meetinghouses are known to have been built in other New England towns during the seventeenth century.

The earliest surviving New England house is the residence of Jonathan Fairbanks, which was begun in 1636 in Dedham, Massachusetts. It has been altered by later renovations and additions, so houses from a slightly later period are better examples of seventeenth-century New England architecture. In Massachusetts these houses include the Whipple House (1640) at Ipswich, the "Scotch"-Boardman House (c. 1650) at Saugus, the Parson Capen House (1683) at Topsfield, and the John Ward House (1684) at Salem. Perhaps most famous is the Turner House at Salem, which was built in 1668 and was the inspiration for The House of the Seven Gables, a story by nineteenth-century author Nathaniel Hawthorne. Among notable seventeenth-century Connecticut houses is the faithfully restored Stanley Whitman House (c. 1660) in Farmington. It is one of the best-preserved examples of the typical New England saltbox style.

Middle colonies Dutch settlers brought to New Netherland a rich tradition of brickwork that is still evident in Holland and Belgium. Though some bricks may at first have been imported from Europe as ballast (a heavy substance used to improve stability) on ships, kilns (ovens used for processing a substance by burning, firing, or drying) capable of producing good-quality bricks were established soon after the first settlers arrived in New Amsterdam in 1626. Before long the first settlement of thirty bark-covered houses and a palisaded blockhouse (fort) was replaced by a city that looked much like those found in Holland. Most of the buildings were brick with steep tile roofs and gables facing the street. On the gables were steplike features that were useful to chimney sweeps (workmen who clean chimneys), who would otherwise have had to climb on the dangerously slippery roof tiles. Similar houses were built in Albany and other larger settlements. Unfortunately, none of these early Dutch city houses has survived.

The earliest Dutch farmhouses were built in the same style, but they tended to have straight gables at the sides. Dutch farmers in the lower Hudson River valley, northern New Jersey, and western Long Island usually built houses of stone or wood or combined the two. The still-popular Dutch colonial house, with a double-hipped roof (called a gambrel roof), originated in colonial farm settlements. Buildings of this type were not found in the Netherlands. They may have been adapted to suit the weather and available materials of the region.

Southern colonies While early Virginians built wooden houses similar to those in New England, most seventeenth-century houses in the southern colonies were made of brick. One notable exception is Bond Castle, a wooden house built in Calvert County, Maryland, in the late 1600s. In most areas throughout the South, settlers had adequate supplies of lime for mortar, so brick construction was more common there than in New England. Like New England houses of the same period, the earliest Southern houses were only one room deep. While New Englanders usually put the chimney at the center of the house for maximum warmth, Southerners tended to put the chimney at either end, with a central passageway for ventilation during hot weather. In general Southern architecture of the seventeenth century was more varied than that of New England.

The Log Cabin

The log cabin was the major architectural contribution of Swedish settlers in New Sweden, which was established in the Delaware River valley in 1636. (New Sweden was later taken over by the Dutch; under the English it became the colony of Delaware.) This type of house—made of round logs with notched corners and projecting ends—was unknown in England, Holland, and France. Some historians believe the German settlers of Pennsylvania brought similar construction traditions with them, but others suggest the Germans may have learned cabin building from their Swedish neighbors. In either case, the Swedes and Germans were responsible for teaching settlers of other nationalities how to build the log cabins that dominated the western frontier throughout the eighteenth century and into the nineteenth century.

Georgian architecture

During the early eighteenth century a new architectural movement began throughout the American colonies. By this time many colonists had become quite wealthy and wanted to build houses that displayed their affluence and refined tastes. They had to look to England for house designs and furnishings, however, because the Navigation Acts (passed by the British Parliament between 1650 and 1775) required them to import nearly all products—including books and furniture—only from Great Britain. English architectural design books became popular, and colonial gentlemen often had several volumes in their libraries. For instance, Virginia aristocrat William Byrd II owned ten design books published before 1730. During that period a style called neo-Palladian (also called Anglo-Palladian) was in vogue in England. In 1715 Scottish architect Colin Campbell (d. 1729) revived interest in the work of sixteenth-century Italian architect Andrea Palladio (1508–1580). Palladio copied features—called the classical style—that he found in ancient Greek and Roman architecture. The classical style used columns and arches on the front of a two-story structure made of basic materials such as stone or brick. The floor plan consisted of a central hall surrounded by rooms arranged in a symmetrical pattern.

Bacon's Castle

One of the most unusual and interesting Southern houses is Bacon's Castle in Surry County, Virginia. Built of brick around 1655 by Arthur Allen, the house was called Bacon's Castle because it was used as a fortress by protesting colonists during Bacon's Rebellion of 1676. With three diamond-shaped chimney stacks at each end, the building resembles houses that were built in England during the first forty years of the seventeenth century. The cross-shaped layout was similar to other Southern buildings of the period. The most notable of these was the fourth Virginia statehouse, which was constructed at Jamestown in 1685 and destroyed by fire in 1698. Newport Parish Church (Saint Luke's), begun at Smithfield, Virginia, in 1632, also has architectural features similar to those of Bacon's Castle.

During the early eighteenth century the neo-Palladian style was adapted by English architects and came to be known as Georgian architecture (named for English kings George I and George II). The Georgian style was also influenced by the Dutch, who used red brick and white stone with white-painted wood trim. These features—sometimes with modifications—were typically used in houses, public buildings, and churches throughout the colonies. Many are still standing today. One well-known example is Stratford Hall, a house built between 1725 and 1730 by the Lee family in Westmoreland County, Virginia. Stratford features a symmetrical floor in the classical style. Westover, the plantation house of the Byrd family in Charles City County, Virginia, has an unbalanced floor plan and classical door frames. Westover also has two features that appeared for the first time anywhere in the colonies: dormers (a window projecting through a sloping roof) and sash (frame) windows. The first truly Palladian feature in America can be found on the Ionic-style door frame at Whitehall in Newport, Rhode Island. The first completely Georgian building in America is Drayton Hall, near Charleston. Built by John Drayton between 1738 and 1742, this house seemed to signal the arrival of the Georgian style, which dominated American architecture for the rest of the century.

Church architecture

The greatest influence on eighteenth-century colonial church architecture was English architect Christopher Wren, who designed fifty-one churches to replace those destroyed in 1666 during the Great Fire of London. Wren's spires (steeples) were widely copied in the colonies and sometimes added to existing churches. The spires were tall and tapered, sometimes featuring classical columns at the base. The distinctive feature was a steep pyramid-shaped roof. A Wren spire can be found on the Anglican Christ Church, or Old North Church, in Boston. Designed by William Price, the church was begun in 1723 and the spire was added in 1741. The Anglican Trinity Church in Newport is also topped with a Wren spire. The church was designed and built by Richard Munday in 1725 and 1726, and its spire was also added in 1741. Wren influences can be seen in the Congregationalist Old South Church of Boston, which was designed by Robert Twelves and built in 1729 to 1730. The building has a nearly square New England-meetinghouse shape, but many architectural features are similar to those of the Old North Church. The spire resembles the one Wren designed for Saint Mary-le-Bow in London.