Why were the colonies established?
How were they governed?
How do you think their relationship with the mother country soured over time?
The United States started out as a collection of independent colonies, set-up as business to exploit the resources of this new land. However, the first attempt at this was a failure. The community on Roanoke Island struggled to sustain itself. When supplies from England arrived in 1587, the settlement was abandoned. No one knows what happened to the colonists.
A second attempt to colonize was made by the Virginia Company in 1607. They set up a colony in modern-day Virginia that they named Jamestown. Jamestown struggled like Roanoke. Hundreds of settlers starved to death. It seemed that Jamestown was doomed to be abandoned as well. In 1612, colonist John Rolfe started growing tobacco at Jamestown. The colony transformed overnight and became extremely profitable. To keep up with the demand for tobacco, more workers were needed for the fields. Immigration to the colonies exploded many as indentured servants—people who had to ‘work off’ their passage b working for a contracted number of years.
Eventually, as the colonies became wealthy, African slaves started to be brought in to work the fields. Whereas indentured servants became regular citizens at the end of their contract, slaves were condemned to a life of hard labor.
In Virginia—as the colony started to be called—a council was set up to make decisions about the colony. Two representatives for each area met in the House of Burgesses to make laws, although the English governor could veto any laws it passed. The House of Burgesses helped create the expectation by the colonists that the people should have a say in government (even though only land-owning males could really participate in the House).
While the colony in Virginia was developing, another one was established North of it, in modern-day Massachusetts. These colonists were not motivated by money, as those who went to Jamestown. Instead, they sought to create a new society based on their religious beliefs. They were Puritans, a religious group that wanted to “purify” the Church of England, but instead broke off to form their own churches. Originally, some left England to go to Holland. When North America was being opened up for colonization, some Puritans got permission to start the Plymouth Colony in 1620. This colony landed, by accident, near Boston, Massachusetts.
On the trip over, the Mayflower Compact was drawn up. It was a framework for the government of the colony. It is cited as an example of colonists’ expectations for a fair and responsive government.
Later, more Puritans sought a charter for the Massachusetts Bay Company to start another colony. Soon Plymouth was absorbed into the Massachusetts Bay Colony. In “New England,” the Puritans were free to create a society based on their beliefs, free from control of the Church of England and the English government. The Puritans who migrated to New England were called Pilgrims. After a period of difficulty and some help from the local Native Americans, their settlements in modern-day Massachusetts flourished.
In between Jamestown and Massachusetts Bay Colony, the Dutch granted charters to colonize New Netherlands, with New Amsterdam as its center. Unhappy with the Dutch presence in the middle of its colonies, the English drove the Dutch out in 1664 and renamed it New York and New York City quickly became a center of commerce in the colonies.
With the taking over New York, the English sough to build the empire in the Americas. In the 1660’s, William Penn was granted a charter in modern-day Pennsylvania for his religious group, the Quakers. The Quakers were pacifists—people who don’t believe in violence—and extended friendship to all (they are sometimes called “Friends”), including Native Americans. To grow his colony, Penn recruited immigrants from other parts of Europe, such as the Dutch, French and especially Germans (the Pennsylvania Dutch are actually Deutsch—or Germans). Pennsylvania also grew and became a prosperous colony.
England was making lots of money on the American colonies and they were a prized possession. Unfortunately, the relationship was about to go sour.
AFTER: The American Revolution