12 New Colonies

New Colonies

Despite the turmoil in Britain, colonial settlement grew considerably throughout the seventeenth century, and several new settlements joined the two original colonies of Virginia and Massachusetts.

In 1632, Charles I set a tract of about 12 million acres of land at the northern tip of the Chesapeake Bay aside for a second colony in America. Named for the new monarch’s queen, Maryland was granted to Charles’s friend and political ally, Cecilius Calvert, the second Lord Baltimore. Calvert hoped to gain additional wealth from the colony, as well as create a haven for fellow Catholics. In England, many of that faith found themselves harassed by the Protestant majority and more than a few considered migrating to America. Charles I, a Catholic sympathizer, was in favor of Lord Baltimore’s plan to create a colony that would demonstrate that Catholics and Protestants could live together peacefully.

In late 1633, both Protestant and Catholic settlers left England for the Chesapeake, arriving in Maryland in March 1634. Men of middling means found greater opportunities in Maryland, which prospered as a tobacco colony without the growing pains suffered by Virginia.

Unfortunately, Lord Baltimore’s hopes of a diverse Christian colony were dashed. Most colonists were Protestants relocating from Virginia. These Protestants were radical Quakers and Puritans who were tired of Virginia’s efforts to force adherence to the Anglican faith. In 1650, Puritans revolted, setting up a new government that prohibited both Catholicism and Anglicanism. Governor William Stone attempted to put down the revolt in 1655, but would not be successful until 1658. Two years after the Glorious Revolution (1688-1689), the Calverts lost control of Maryland and the colony became a royal colony.

Religion was implicated in the creation of several other colonies as well, including the New England colonies of Connecticut and Rhode Island. The settlements that would eventually comprise Connecticut grew out of settlements in Saybrook and New Haven. Thomas Hooker and his congregation left Massachusetts for Connecticut because the area around Boston was becoming increasingly crowded. The Connecticut River Valley was large enough for more cattle and agriculture. In June 1636, Hooker led one hundred people and a variety of livestock in settling an area they called Newtown (later Hartford).

New Haven Colony had a more directly religious origin. The founders attempted a new experiment in Puritanism. In 1638, John Davenport, Theophilus Eaton, and other supporters of the Puritan faith settled in the Quinnipiac (New Haven) area of the Connecticut River Valley. In 1643, New Haven Colony was officially organized, with Eaton named governor. In the early 1660s, three men who had signed the death warrant for Charles I were concealed in New Haven. This did not win the colony any favors, and it became increasingly poorer and weaker. In 1665, New Haven was absorbed into Connecticut, but its singular religious tradition endured with the creation of Yale College.

Religious rogues similarly founded Rhode Island. Roger After his exile from Massachusetts, Roger Williams (Figure 17) created a settlement called Providence in 1636. He negotiated for the land with the local Narragansett sachems Canonicus and Miantonomi. Williams and his fellow settlers agreed on an egalitarian constitution and established religious and political freedom in the colony. The following year, another Massachusetts castoff, Anne Hutchinson, and her followers settled near Providence. Soon, others followed, and were granted a charter by the Long Parliament in 1644. Persistently independent, the settlers refused a governor and instead elected a president and council. These separate plantations passed laws abolishing witchcraft trials, imprisonment for debt and, in 1652, chattel slavery. Because of the colony’s policy of toleration, it became a haven for Quakers, Jews, and other persecuted religious groups. In 1663, Charles II granted the colony a royal charter establishing the colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations.

Figure 17 — Roger Williams seeking refuge among the Indians by Henry Davenport Northrop, Wikimedia Commons is in the Public Domain

Until the middle of the seventeenth century, the English neglected the settlement of the area between Virginia and New England despite obvious environmental advantages. The climate was healthier than the Chesapeake and more temperate than New England. The mid-Atlantic had three highly navigable rivers: the Susquehanna, Delaware, and Hudson. Because the English failed to colonize the area, the Swedes and Dutch established their own colonies: New Sweden in the Delaware Valley and New Netherland in the Hudson Valley.

Compared to other Dutch colonies around the globe, the settlements on the Hudson River were relatively minor. The Dutch West India Company realized that in order to secure its fur trade in the area, it needed to establish a greater presence in the colony. Toward this end, the company formed New Amsterdam on Manhattan Island in 1625.

Although the Dutch extended religious tolerance to those who settled in New Netherland, the population remained small. This left the colony vulnerable to English attack during the 1650s and 1660s, resulting in the eventual hand-over of New Netherland to England in 1667. The new colony of New York was named for the proprietor, James, the Duke of York, brother to Charles I and funder of the expedition against the Dutch in 1664. The Dutch resisted assimilation into English culture well into the eighteenth century, prompting New York Anglicans to note that the colony was “rather like a conquered foreign province.”

After the acquisition of New Netherland, Charles I and the Duke of York wished to strengthen English control over the Atlantic seaboard. In theory, this was to better tax the colonies; in practice, the awarding of the new proprietary colonies of New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and the Carolinas was a payoff of debts and political favors.

In 1664, the Duke of York granted the area between the Hudson and Delaware rivers to two English noblemen. These lands were split into two distinct colonies, East Jersey and West Jersey. One of West Jersey’s proprietors included William Penn (Figure 18). The ambitious Penn wanted his own, larger colony, the lands for which would be granted by both Charles II and the Duke of York. Pennsylvania consisted of about 45,000 square miles west of the Delaware River and the former New Sweden. Penn was a Quaker, and he intended his colony to be a “colony of Heaven for the children of Light.” Like New England’s aspirations to be a City Upon a Hill, Pennsylvania was to be an example of godliness. But Penn’s dream was to create not a colony of unity, but rather a colony of harmony. He noted in 1685 that “the people are a collection of diverse nations in Europe, as French, Dutch, Germans, Swedes, Danes, Finns, Scotch, and English….” Because Quakers in Pennsylvania extended to others in America the same rights they had demanded for themselves in England, the colony attracted a diverse collection of migrants. Slavery was particularly troublesome for the pacifist Quakers of Pennsylvania on the grounds that it required violence. In 1688, Quakers of the Germantown Meeting signed a petition protesting the institution of slavery.

The Pennsylvania soil did not lend itself to the slave-based agriculture of the Chesapeake, but other colonies would depend heavily on slavery from their very foundations. The creation of the colony of Carolina, later divided into North and South Carolina and Georgia, was part of Charles I’s scheme to strengthen the English hold on the eastern seaboard and pay off political and cash debts. The Lords Proprietor of Carolina—eight very powerful favorites of the king—used the model of the colonization of Barbados to settle the area. In 1670, three ships of colonists from Barbados arrived at the mouth of the Ashley River, where they founded Charles Town. This defiance of Spanish claim to the area signified England’s growing confidence as a colonial power.

Portrait of William Penn
Figure 18 — William Penn by Unknown, Wikimedia Commons is in the Public Domain
Map showing the 1750 possessions of Britain (pink and purple), France (blue), and Spain (orange) in contrast to the borders of contemporary Canada and the United States.
Figure 19 — The 1750 possessions of Britain (pink and purple), France (blue), and Spain (orange) in contrast to the borders of contemporary Canada and the United States. A derivative from the original work , “Nouvelle France map-en” by Pinpin, Wikimedia Commons is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

To attract colonists, the Lords Proprietor offered alluring incentives: religious tolerance, political representation by assembly, exemption from quitrents, and large land grants. These incentives worked and Carolina grew quickly, attracting not only middling farmers and artisans but also wealthy planters. Settlers who could pay their own way to Carolina were granted 150 acres per family member. The Lords Proprietor allowed for slaves to be counted as members of the family. This encouraged the creation of large rice and indigo plantations along the coast of Carolina, which were more stable commodities than the deerskin and Indian slave trades. Because of the size of Carolina, the authority of the Lords Proprietor was especially weak in the northern reaches on the Albemarle Sound. This region had been settled by Virginians in the 1650s and was increasingly resistant to Carolina authority. As a result, the Lords Proprietor founded the separate province of North Carolina in 1691. (3)

Consumption and Trade in the British Atlantic

Britain’s central role in transatlantic trade greatly enriched the mother country, but it also created high standards of living for many North American colonists. This two-way relationship reinforced the colonial American feeling of commonality with British culture. It was not until trade relations, disturbed by political changes and the strain of warfare, became strained in the 1760s that colonists began to question these ties.

During the seventeenth and eighteenth century, improvements in manufacturing, transportation, and the availability of credit increased the opportunity for colonists to purchase consumer goods. Instead of making their own tools, clothes, and utensils, colonists increasingly purchased luxury items made by specialized artisans and manufacturers. As the incomes of Americans rose and the prices of these commodities fell, these items shifted from luxuries to common goods. The average person’s ability to spend money on consumer goods became a sign of their respectability. Historians have called this process the “consumer revolution.”

Britain relied on the colonies as source of raw materials, such as lumber and tobacco. Americans engaged with new forms of trade and financing that increased their ability to buy British-made goods. But the ways in which colonists paid for these goods varied sharply from those in Britain. When settlers first arrived in North America, they typically carried very little “hard” or metallic British money with them. Discovering no precious metals (and lacking the crown’s authority to mint coins), colonists relied on barter and non-traditional forms of exchange, including everything from nails to the wampum used by Native American groups in the Northeast. To deal with the lack of currency, many colonies resorted to “commodity money,” which varied from place to place. In Virginia, for example, the colonial legislature stipulated a rate of exchange for tobacco, standardizing it as a form of “money” in the colony. Commodities could be cumbersome and difficult to transport, so a system of notes developed, allowing individuals to deposit a certain amount of tobacco in a warehouse and receive a note bearing the value of the deposit that could be traded as money. In 1690, colonial Massachusetts became the first colony, as well as the first place in the Western world, to issue paper bills to be used as money. These notes, called bills of credit, were issued for finite periods of time on the colony’s credit and varied in denomination from quite small to large enough to cover major transactions.

While these notes provided colonists with a much-needed medium for exchange, it was not without its problems. Currency that worked in Virginia might be worthless in Pennsylvania. Colonists and officials back in Britain debated whether or not it was right or desirable to use mere paper, as opposed to gold or silver, as a medium of exchange. Paper money tended to lose value quicker than coins and was often counterfeited. These problems, as well as British merchants’ reluctance to accept depreciated paper notes, caused the Board of Trade to restrict the uses of paper money in the Currency Acts of 1751 and 1763. Paper money was not the only medium of exchange, however. Colonists also made use of metal coins. Barter and the extension of credit — which could take the form of bills of exchange, akin to modern-day personal checks — remained important forces throughout the colonial period. Trade between colonies was greatly hampered by the lack of standardized money. Currency that worked in Virginia might be worthless in Pennsylvania.

To encourage consumers, businesses on both sides of the Atlantic advertised the variety of goods, their quality, and the ease of obtaining credit. The consistent availability of credit allowed families of modest means to buy consumer items previously available only to elites. Cheap consumption allowed middle class Americans to match many of the trends in clothing, food, and household décor that traditionally marked the wealthiest, aristocratic classes. Provincial Americans, often seen by their London peers as less cultivated or “backwater,” could think of themselves as lords and ladies of their own communities through their ability to purchase and display British-made goods. Visiting the home of a successful businessman in Boston, John Adams described “the Furniture, which alone cost a thousand Pounds sterling. A seat it is for a noble Man, a Prince. The Turkey Carpets, the painted Hangings, the Marble Table, the rich Beds with crimson Damask Curtains and Counterpins, the beautiful Chimney Clock, the Spacious Garden, are the most magnificent of any Think I have seen.” But many Americans worried about the consequences of rising consumerism. A writer for The Boston Evening Post remarked on this new practice purchasing status: “For ’tis well known how Credit is a mighty inducement with many People to purchase this and the other Thing which they may well enough do without.” Americans became more likely to find themselves in debt, whether to their local shopkeeper or a prominent London merchant, creating new feelings of dependence.

Of course, the thirteen continental colonies were not the only British colonies in the Western hemisphere. In fact, they were considerably less important to the Crown than the sugar producing islands of the Caribbean, including Jamaica, Barbados, the Leeward Islands, Grenada, St. Vincent, and Dominica. Though separated from the continent by the Caribbean Sea, these British colonies were inextricably connected to the continental colonies through commerce. Caribbean plantations dedicated nearly all of their land to the wildly profitable crop of sugar cane, so North American colonies sold surplus food and raw materials to these wealthy island colonies. Lumber was in high demand, especially in Barbados where planters nearly deforested the island to make room for sugar plantations. To compensate for a lack of lumber, Barbadian colonists ordered house frames from New England. These prefabricated frames were sent via ships where planters transported them to their plantations. Caribbean colonists also relied on the continental colonies for livestock, purchasing cattle and horses.

Connections between the Caribbean and North America benefitted both sides. Those living on the continent relied on the Caribbean colonists to satisfy their craving for sugar and other goods like mahogany. British colonists in the Caribbean began cultivating sugar in the 1640s, and sugar took the Atlantic World by storm. In fact, by 1680, sugar exports from the tiny island of Barbados valued more than the total exports of all the continental colonies. Jamaica, acquired by the Crown in 1655, surpassed Barbados in sugar production toward the end of the seventeenth century. North American colonists, like Britons around the world, craved sugar to sweeten their tea and food. Colonial elites also sought to decorate their parlors and dining rooms with the silky, polished surfaces of rare mahogany as opposed to local wood. To meet this newfound demand, furniture makers from North America traveled to the Caribbean to acquire mahogany that was then transformed into exquisite furniture.

These systems of trade all existed with the purpose of enriching Great Britain. To ensure that profits ended up in Britain, Parliament issued taxes on trade called Navigation Acts. Through these taxes, consumption became intertwined with politics. Prior to 1763, Britain found that enforcing the regulatory laws they passed was difficult and often cost them more than the duty revenue they would bring in. As a result, colonists found it relatively easy to trade on their own terms, whether that was with foreign nations, pirates, or smugglers. Customs officials were easily bribed and it was not uncommon to see Dutch, French, or West Indies ships laden with prohibited goods in American ports. When smugglers were caught, their American peers often acquitted them. British officials estimated that nearly £700,000 of illicit goods was brought into the American colonies annually. Pirates, or what colonists considered privateers, also helped to perpetuate the illegal trading activities by providing a buffer between merchants and foreign ships.

Beginning with the Sugar Act in 1764, and continuing with the Stamp Act and the Townshend Duties, Parliament levied taxes on sugar, paper, lead, glass, and tea, all products that contributed to colonists’ sense of gentility. In response, patriots organized non-importation agreements. They reverted to their domestic products, making items such as homespun cloth a political statement. A writer in The Essex Gazette in 1769 proclaimed, “I presume there never was a Time when, or a Place where, the Spinning Wheel could more influence the Affairs of Men, than at present.”

Art work by Richard Byron showing ships in Boston Harbor, 1764
Figure 20 — Boston Harbor in 1764. by Richard Byron, is in the Public Domain

The consumer revolution fueled the growth of colonial cities. Cities in colonial America were crossroads for the movement of people and goods. One in twenty colonists lived in cities by 1775. Some cities grew organically over time, while others were planned from the start. New York and Boston’s seventeenth-century street plans reflected the haphazard arrangement of medieval cities in Europe. In other cities like Philadelphia (Figure 21) and Charleston, civic leaders laid out urban plans according to calculated systems of regular blocks and squares. Planners in Annapolis and Williamsburg also imposed regularity and order over their city streets through the placement of government, civic, and educational buildings.

1762 Map of the plan of the improved part of the city of Philadelphia created by a surveyor showing city blocks and Delaware Harbor
Figure 21 — 1762 Clarkson Biddle Map of Philadelphia by Matthew Clarkson, Wikimedia Commons is in the Public Domain

By 1775, Boston, Newport, New York, Philadelphia, and Charleston were the five largest cities in British North America. Philadelphia, New York, Boston, and Charleston had populations of approximately 40,000; 25,000; 16,000; and 12,000 people, respectively. Urban society was highly stratified. At the base of the social ladder were the laboring classes, which included both enslaved and free persons ranging from apprentices to master craftsmen. Next came the middling sort: shopkeepers, artisans, and skilled mariners. Above them stood the merchant elites who tended to be actively involved in the city’s social and political affairs, as well as in the buying, selling, and trading of goods. Enslaved men and women had a visible presence in both northern and southern cities.

In port cities, slaves often worked in skilled trades, distilleries, shipyards, lumberyards, and ropewalks. Between 1725 and 1775, slavery became increasingly significant in the northern colonies as urban residents sought greater participation in the maritime economy. Massachusetts was the first slave-holding colony in New England. New York traced its connections to slavery and the slave trade back to the Dutch settlers of New Netherland in the seventeenth century. Philadelphia also became an active site of the Atlantic slave trade, and slaves accounted for nearly 8% of the city’s pop ulation in 1770. In southern cities, including Charleston, urban slavery played an important role in the market economy. Slaves, both rural and urban, made up the majority of the laboring population on the eve of the American Revolution. (3)

Slavery Anti-Slavery and Atlantic Exchange

Slavery was a transatlantic institution. However, it developed distinct characteristics in British North America. By 1750, slavery was legal in every North American English colony, but local economic imperatives, demographic trends, and cultural practices all contributed to distinct colonial variants of slavery.

Virginia, the oldest of the English mainland colonies, imported its first slaves in 1619. Virginia planters built larger and larger estates and guaranteed that these estates would remain intact through the use of primogeniture (where a family’s estate would descend to the eldest male heir) and the entail (a legal procedure that prevented the breakup and sale of estates). This distribution of property, which kept wealth and property consolidated, guaranteed that the great planters would dominate social and economic life in the Chesapeake. This system also fostered an economy dominated by tobacco. By 1750, there were approximately 100,000 African slaves in Virginia, at least 40% of the colony’s total population. The majority of these slaves worked on large estates under the gang system of labor, working from dawn to dusk in groups with close supervision by a white overseer or enslaved “driver” who could use physical force to compel labor.

Virginians used the law to protect the interests of slaveholders. In 1705, the House of Burgesses passed its first comprehensive slave code. Earlier laws had already guaranteed that the children of enslaved women would be born slaves, conversion to Christianity would not lead to freedom, and owners could not free their slaves unless they transported them out of the colony. Slave owners could not be convicted of murder for killing a slave; conversely, any black Virginian who struck a white colonist would be severely whipped. Virginia planters used the law to maximize the profitability of their slaves and closely regulate every aspect of their daily lives.

In South Carolina and Georgia, slavery was also central to colonial life but specific local conditions created a very different system of slavery. Georgia was founded by the philanthropist George Oglethorpe, who originally banned slavery from the colony. But by 1750 slavery was legal throughout the region. South Carolina had been a slave colony from its founding and, by 1750, was the only mainland colony with a majority enslaved African population. The Fundamental Constitutions of Carolina, co-authored by the philosopher John Locke in 1669, explicitly legalized slavery from the very beginning. Many early settlers in Carolina were slaveholders from British Caribbean sugar islands, and they brought their brutal slave codes with them. Defiant slaves could legally be beaten, branded, mutilated, even castrated. In 1740, a new law stated that killing a rebellious slave was not a crime and even the murder of a slave was treated as a minor misdemeanor. South Carolina also banned the freeing of slaves unless the freed slave left the colony.

Despite this brutal regime, a number of factors combined to give South Carolina slaves more independence in their daily lives. Rice, the staple crop underpinning the early Carolina economy, was widely cultivated in West Africa, and planters commonly requested that merchants sell them slaves skilled in the complex process of rice cultivation. Slaves from Senegambia were particularly prized. The expertise of these slaves contributed to one of the most lucrative economies in the colonies. Rice production soared from 20 million pounds in 1720 to nearly 80 million pounds by 1780. The swampy conditions of rice plantations, however, fostered dangerous diseases. Malaria and other tropical diseases spread, and caused many owners to live away from their plantations. These elites, who commonly owned a number of plantations, typically lived in Charleston townhouses to avoid the diseases of the rice fields. West Africans, however, were far more likely to have a level of immunity to malaria (due to a genetic trait that also contributes to higher levels of sickle cell anemia), reinforcing planters’ racial belief that Africans were particularly suited to labor in tropical environments.

With plantation owners often far from home, Carolina slaves had less direct oversight than those in the Chesapeake. Furthermore, many Carolina rice plantations used the task system to organize slave labor. Under this system, slaves were given a number of specific tasks to complete in a day, but once those tasks were complete, slaves often had time to grow some crops of their own on garden plots allotted by plantation owners. These slaves participated in a thriving underground market that allowed them a degree of economic autonomy. Carolina slaves also had an unparalleled degree of cultural autonomy. Carolina’s black majority, most of whom were imported directly from West Africa and relative lack of direct oversight allowed for the retention of many African cultural and religious practices. Syncretic languages like Gullah and Geechee contained many borrowed African terms, and traditional African basket weaving (often combined with Native American techniques) survive in the region to this day.

This unique Low Country slave culture contributed to the Stono Rebellion in September 1739. On a Sunday morning while planters attended church, a group of about 80 slaves set out for Spanish Florida under a banner that read “Liberty!” burning plantations and killing at least 20 white settlers as they marched. They were headed for Fort Mose, a free black settlement on the Georgia-Florida border, emboldened by the Spanish Empire’s offer of freedom to any English slaves. Though the Stono Rebellion was ultimately unsuccessful – the local militia defeated the rebels in battle, captured and executed many of the slaves, and sold others to the sugar plantations of the West Indies – it was a violent reminder to South Carolina planters that their slaves would fight for freedom.

Slavery was also an important institution in the mid-Atlantic colonies. While New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania never developed plantation economies, slaves were often employed on larger farms growing cereal grains. Enslaved Africans worked alongside European tenant farmers on New York’s Hudson Valley “patroonships,” huge tracts of land granted to a few early Dutch families. As previously mentioned, slaves were also a common sight in Philadelphia, New York City, and other ports where they worked in the maritime trades and domestic service. New York City’s economy was so reliant on slavery that over 40% of its population was enslaved by 1700, while 15-20% of Pennsylvania’s colonial population was enslaved by 1750. In New York, the high density of slaves and a particularly diverse European population increased the threat of rebellion. A 1712 slave rebellion in New York City resulted in the deaths of 9 white colonists. In retribution, 21 slaves were executed and 6 others committed suicide before they could be burned alive. In 1741, another planned rebellion by African slaves, free blacks, and poor whites was uncovered, unleashing a witch-hunt that only stopped after 32 slaves and free blacks and 5 poor whites were executed. Another 70 slaves were deported, likely to the sugar cane fields of the West Indies.

Increasingly uneasy about the growth of slavery in the region, Quakers were the first group to turn against slavery. Quaker beliefs in radical non-violence and the fundamental equality of all human souls made slavery hard to justify. Most commentators argued that slavery originated in war, where captives were enslaved rather than executed. To pacifist Quakers, then, the very foundation of slavery was illegitimate. Furthermore, Quaker belief in the equality of souls challenged the racial basis of slavery. By 1758, Quakers in Pennsylvania disowned members who engaged in the slave trade, and by 1772 slave-owning Quakers could be expelled from their meetings. These local activities in Pennsylvania had broad implications as the decision to ban slavery and slave trading was debated in Quaker meetings throughout the English-speaking world. The free black population in Philadelphia and other northern cities also continually agitated against slavery.

Slavery as a system of labor never took off in Massachusetts, Connecticut, or New Hampshire, though it was legal throughout the region. The absence of cash crops like tobacco or rice minimized the economic use of slavery. In Massachusetts, only about 2% of the population was enslaved as late as the 1760s. The few slaves in the colony were concentrated in Boston along with a sizeable free black community that made up about 10% of the city’s population. While slavery itself never really took root in New England, the slave trade was a central element of the region’s economy. Every major port in the region participated to some extent in the transatlantic trade – Newport, Rhode Island alone had at least 150 ships active in the trade by 1740 – and New England also provided foodstuffs and manufactured goods to West Indian plantations. (3)


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U.S. History I: Pre-Colonial to 1865 Copyright © by Lumen Learning is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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