Chapter Three: Colonial Society, How Did Old World Life
Chapter Three: Colonial Society, How Did Old World Life
Colonial Society, How Did Old World Life
and Culture Change in the Wilderness?
Moving Toward Independence
Two powerful ingredients combined to
transform immigrants to Colonial America.
These ingredients were:
1. A different physical environment
• Most of the population of the British colonies
existed on a narrow strip of coast between
the Appalachian Mountain and the sea.
• A few hundred people had settled beyond the
coast, but most of the land was still a vast
• American farmsteads were usually made of
timber and surrounded by scraggly wooden
• Roads were tracks through the forests and
travel was tedious, uncomfortable.
• Inns were scarce and poor quality.
• In the 1770s, only five American towns had
more than 10,000 people – Boston, Newport,
New York, Philadelphia, and Charleston.
2. Diversity Among the Europeans
• The population mix in the American
colonies was very diverse. There were
Germans, French, Dutch, Swedes, English
• Most groups kept their identity generation
• Ethnic groups were often intolerant of the
• Native American-European contacts affected
both sides profoundly.
• Early new England settlers learned Indian
farming techniques and learned much about
food plants and herbs from them.
• The Native Americans learned to need the
colonists’ muskets, cloth, iron implements, and
• The Indians became entangled in the colonial
economy, especially the fur trade.
• Indian-white relations were usually marred by
hostility and violence.
• Indians and whites had a competing view of
• The Indians were armed for the first time with
guns, and Indian-white wars were devastating
for both sides.
• In 1760 about 325,000 of the approximately
1.6 million people in British North America
• About 12,000 of these blacks lived in New
England, 25,000 lived in the Middle Colonies,
and the remainder in the southern colonies.
• A few thousand of these were “free people of
New England, Middle Colonies, the South
• Most of New England was divided into small
communities of about 500 people. New
England “towns” were composed of a central
village and adjacent fields and woods.
• These towns were orderly, compact,
settlements with community decisions made at
a monthly town meeting.
Middle Colonies- New York, New Jersey,
• In the Middle Colonies families lived on
detached farms that separated them from their
neighbors by vast stretches of forest.
• In these Middle Colonies commerce helped
create a sprinkling of small cities except for
Maryland and Virginia.
• Although they were different than New
England towns, communities in Maryland and
Virginia had the same solidarity.
• British Americans brought the political ideas,
customs, and practices of England with them
to the New World.
• Each colony had a chief executive, the
equivalent of the English monarch.
• Although the framework of the colonial
governments resembled Great Britain, political
power was widely diffused in the colonies.
• Membership in the upper houses of the
colonial legislatures were composed of landed
gentlemen, prosperous lawyers and rich
merchants. It was not hereditary as it was in
the English House of Lords.
• A relatively broad electorate chose the colonial
• Slaves, indentured servants, and women could
not vote but property owning males could.
• By the time of the American Revolution,
America no longer was a carbon copy of
Europe and Americans were not just
• One of the factors in this change was the mix
of ethnic components in America, including
Indians and Blacks.
• The special political and social environment of
the New World produced a distinctive citizen.
• The abundance of land in relation to the
population produced better health, larger
families, and eventually a large electorate and
a more democratic political system.
• A more scattered population and less elitist
social structure created a more simple medical
and legal profession in America.
• The arts were pushed toward greater
practicality in America.
• The European majority deliberately inhibited
the contributions of Blacks and Indians.
• At the end of the Colonial period the culture of
the elite began to move closer to that of
Britain’s. The professions, the arts, and
political life had begun to assume the
characteristics of Great Britain.
• By 1775, America in many ways was
becoming an offshoot of Britain, there were
enough differences to keep the two societies
separate and distinct.
• British and American differences would soon
produce a crisis that would cut the
“motherland” connection and create a separate
Moving Toward Independence
Why Did the Colonists Revolt?
The Colonial Economy
• Agriculture. On the eve of the Revolution
about 80 percent of the Colonial population
worked in agriculture and agriculture created
most of the wealth produced in the colonies.
• American colonists were not especially
talented farmers, but there was such an
abundance of land to support them that it
didn’t affect their output.
• New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania
were the “bread” colonies.
• Maryland and Virginia produced tobacco as
well as grain.
• Rice was grown in the South Carolina
lowlands and indigo was also grown in South
Carolina and Georgia and was a profitable
• The southern colonies also exported tar, pitch,
resin, and turpentine.
Fishing and Whaling
• Cod fishing became an important part of the
Massachusetts economy and the trade in dried
fish represented a large part of the Bay
Colony’s total exports.
• The northern colonies also participated in
whaling to produce whale oil from whale
blubber and spermaceti, a waxy substance
from the heads of sperm whales which was
used to make fine candles.
• About five percent of the colonial work force
were full time craftsmen, working as artisans
in cities, towns, and villages. There were
coopers, wheelwrights, cordwainers or
shoemakers, blacksmiths and tanners and
• Thousands of rural colonists produced goods at
home for sale.
• Colonial industries included iron making,
shipbuilding and milling.
• Besides agriculture, commerce or trade was
the most importance part of the colonial
The Economic and Political Results of Empire
• The Navigation Acts restricted the imperial
trade to subjects of the King, but also affored
the American colonists the protection of the
British Army and navy.
• The British paid bounties to encourage the
colonies to produce items that did not compete
with the English economy.
• On the whole, the American experience in the
mercantile system was positive before 1763.
• Before 1763, Americans also had little reason
to complain of British political oppression.
• The French and Indian War, 1756-1763, was a
turning point in British relations with its North
• The Proclamation of 1763 alienated many of
• Laws like the Stamp Act, the Townshend Acts,
and incidents like the Boston Massacre
widened the political, social, and economic
gap between the colonies and Britain.
• The Gaspee Incident, the Tea Act, and the
Intolerable Acts in 1772, 1773, and 1774
hastened the move toward a final break with
• The First Continental Congress met at
Philadelphia in September 1774. It was a
milestone because it demonstrated American
solidarity, and resolve.
• The First Continental Congress was the first
step toward political Union for America,
breaking through selfish localism.
Lexington and Concord-Wrangling into War
• British forces under General Gage arrived in
Lexington, Massachusetts on April 19, 1775
and found 70 Patriot Minutemen waiting for
them. At the end of the skirmish the British
occupied Lexington Common.
• The British soldiers next marched to Concord
and destroyed some Patriot supplies. Colonial
militia attacked them on every side as they
marched the 21 miles back to their base at
• Over a century and more of British rule,
British North Americans developed a
distinctive society and culture and did not
think of themselves as transplanted Europeans.
• The colonies matured both economically and
politically during this time.
• By 1763, British North America had the
population, material resources, and political
self confidence to challenge and defy Great
• The colonial cooperation with the British in
the French and Indian War widened the
political and economic gap between Great
Britain and her colonies.
• The Tory ministers of King George badly
misjudged the British North American
colonies. Treating them as disobedient children
made the Revolutionary War inevitable.
• The King and his ministers imposed measures
that threatened many colonial occupational and
• The punitive measures of King George and his
ministers deeply disturbed the elite merchants,
lawyers and planters in the colonies, many of
whom were loyalists, and ultimately alienated
• The actions of the King and his ministers upset
many thousands of ordinary people who feared
that England was trying to enslave them and
force them to become Anglicans.
• There were economic, religious, and political
factors that motivated the British North
American Colonists to seek independence
from a country that most of them loved.
• The Colonists had a common fear: the fear of
oppression and a fierce commitment to self
determination. These two characteristics were
pivotal in fighting and winning the American