Summary of European Colonization in the Americas
For more than a century after the arrival of Christopher Columbus, European nations worked to colonize the Caribbean and the Americas.
Spain dominated, establishing colonies across the Caribbean, South America, and up into the present-day American Southwest. Spain also controlled present-day Florida. France and England established colonies in the Caribbean and present-day Canada. Although New France extended south along the Mississippi River, England claimed a significant portion of the land east of the Appalachian Mountains.
The Netherlands and Sweden also gained a foothold in the east, claiming territory between New France and Virginia. English territory along the Atlantic Coast was initially called Virginia, and then the northern portion became known as “New England.”
The economic philosophy of Mercantilism drove the establishment of colonies, but the companies and nations that founded them also needed people to work the land, harvest crops, and mine national resources.
At first, they relied on Indentured Servants. However, as wars and religious persecution continued in Europe, people decided to take the risk of moving to the “New World” for religious freedom, the chance to own land, and the opportunity to control their own destiny — free of the political and social systems that oppressed them.
As the colonies expanded, democratic municipalities and legislative assemblies gave people more of a voice in politics than they ever had in Europe. However, wealthy landowners and religious leaders had a significant amount of control. It led to dissent, the formation of new colonies, and Bacon’s Rebellion, which undermined the English government in Virginia.
In the aftermath of Bacon’s Rebellion, Indentured Servitude was gradually replaced by the enslavement of captive Africans who were carried from Africa to the Americas across the Middle Passage.
From the moment the Europeans set foot in North America, they traded with the Indians. It led to conflicts between Indian nations, confederacies, and tribes as they fought for dominance of the Fur Trade.
As the European Colonies expanded, they often came into conflict with the Indians. Many of those wars, which were devastating to both sides, led to the colonies expanding further into Indian territory.
The Dutch and Swedes were eventually conquered by the English, giving England nearly complete control of territory along the Atlantic Coast. New France remained to the North and Spain still held Florida.
As the European colonies became more established, European wars expanded into North America, and France and England fought for control of the East Coast. This led to a series of Colonial Wars that saw Indians ally themselves with both sides, often with drastic consequences.
By 1754, the territories of New France, the American Colonies, and New Spain were firmly established. However, one final conflict between Britain and France loomed in North America — the French and Indian War.
APUSH 2.2 Review Video
This video from Heimler’s History provides an excellent overview of APUSH 2.2. You can also check out our APUSH Guide provides a look at all Units and Topics in the APUSH Curriculum.
APUSH 2.2 Review Terms and Notes for Unit 2 Key Concepts and APUSH Themes
The terms and definitions that follow are related to the Key Concepts for Unit 1 and are broken into sections by APUSH Themes. Within the explanations of APUSH 2.2 Terms are links to content on American History Central that should provide a more comprehensive understanding of each topic.
Unit 2 Key Concepts
Key Concept 2.1 — Europeans developed a variety of colonization and migration patterns, influenced by different imperial goals, cultures, and the varied North American environments where they settled, and they competed with each other and American Indians for resources.
Key Concept 2.2 — The British colonies participated in political, social, cultural, and economic exchanges with Great Britain that encouraged both stronger bonds with Britain and resistance to Britain’s control.
- American and National Identity
- Work, Exchange, and Technology
- Migration and Settlement
- Politics and Power
- America in the World
- Geography and the Environment
- Culture and Society
Migration and Settlement — Common Threads
The Columbian Exchange refers to the exchange of plants, animals, diseases, and culture between the Old World — Europe, Africa, and Asia — and the New World — the Americas — that started with the arrival of Christopher Columbus in 1492. The exchange led to significant changes across the entire world.
The Fur Trade, within the context of European Colonization, was the business of exchanging fur pelts, primarily from North America, for European manufactured goods. Indigenous people living in present-day Canada and the United States played an important role in the system, acting as intermediaries, engaging in fur acquisition, and trading with European merchants and settlers. This trade spurred exploration and colonization, leading to the establishment of trading posts and alliances, while also contributing to environmental changes and conflicts over territorial control. It also created conflict between tribes and nations that sought to control the Fur Trade, which is known as the Beaver Wars.
Transatlantic Slave Trade
The Transatlantic Slave Trade was an important, but terrible, part of European colonization in the Americas. It was the forced movement of millions of Africans to the New World. Europeans established a Triangular Trade System, involving Europe, Africa, and the Americas. As part of the system, Africans were captured, transported across the Atlantic Ocean under brutal conditions, and sold as slaves in the Americas. All the European powers that established colonies in North America were involved in the Transatlantic Slave Trade.
America in the New World — New France
During the Colonial Era, French territorial possessions were known as New France. It was a vast territory that extended from the Great Lakes Region down the Mississippi River Valley, to present-day New Orleans, Louisiana. New France was known for its emphasis on the Fur Trade, the establishment of fortified settlements, interactions with indigenous people, and conflicts with the English Colonies. New France’s influence endured until the British conquest in 1763, following the French and Indian War and the 1763 Treaty of Paris.
Quebec was the first settlement in New France, founded in 1608 by Samuel de Champlain along the St. Lawrence River. It served as the capital of New France and was an important center of trade. The city’s strategic location facilitated French control over key waterways and enabled interactions with both indigenous populations and European traders.
Coureurs des Bois
Coureurs des Bois, or “runners of the woods,” were French fur traders and adventurers who operated independently in the vast wilderness of North America. They created relationships with indigenous communities and engaged in Fur Trade outside the confines of formal Trading Posts. Their efforts were instrumental in expanding the French Fur Trade Network. They often married into Indian tribes and adopted their ways and customs.
New Orleans (1718)
New Orleans is a city located in the southeastern region of Louisiana, situated along the Mississippi River. Founded by the French in 1718, it became a prominent port and trading center due to its strategic location. The city’s multicultural character was shaped by French, Spanish, and African influences, contributing to its unique cultural heritage, including music, cuisine, and architecture.
America in the New World — New Netherland
New Netherland was a Dutch colony established in the early 17th century. It included portions of present-day New York, New Jersey, Delaware, and Connecticut. The Dutch West India Company funded the colony, focusing on fur trading and establishing settlements along the Hudson River. The English eventually captured New Netherland in 1664, during the Anglo-Dutch Wars, leading to the colony’s transformation into New York under English rule.
Dutch West India Company
The Dutch West India Company was a trading and colonization enterprise established by the Dutch Republic in the early 17th century. It operated in the Americas, Africa, and the Caribbean, focusing on trade, colonization, and the acquisition of resources. The company played a significant role in establishing New Netherland and Dutch settlements in the New World, including Fort Orange and New Amsterdam.
New Amsterdam (1624)
New Amsterdam was a Dutch settlement founded in 1624 on the southern tip of Manhattan Island. It served as the capital of New Netherland. It was renamed New York after the English took control of New Netherland.
The Patroon System was a landholding system implemented by the Dutch West India Company in its North American colonies, particularly New Netherland. Under this system, wealthy individuals known as “Patroons” were granted large estates along navigable waterways. In return, the Patroons were responsible for establishing settlements, promoting agriculture, and maintaining the defense of their estates.
America in the New World — New Sweden
New Sweden was a Swedish colonial venture established in the early 17th century in parts of present-day Delaware, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. The Swedish South Company oversaw this effort, with a focus on trade and colonization. New Sweden’s presence was relatively short-lived, as the Dutch eventually took control of the territory in 1673, during the Third Anglo-Dutch War, and it became part of New Netherland.
America in the New World — New Spain
New Spain referred to the vast colonial territories in the Americas controlled by the Spanish Empire from the 16th to the 19th centuries. New Spain included parts of present-day Mexico, Central America, the southwestern United States, and parts of the Caribbean and South America. New Spain was marked by Spanish exploration, conquest, and the imposition of Spanish culture, language, and institutions on indigenous populations.
The Casta System was a hierarchical social structure implemented in the Spanish colonies of the Americas during the Colonial Era. It classified individuals based on their racial and ethnic heritage, resulting from the intermixing of indigenous, European, and African populations.
The Encomienda System was a labor system established by Spanish colonizers in the Americas during the 16th century. Under this system, Spanish settlers were granted the right to extract labor and tribute from indigenous populations in exchange for protection and religious instruction.
Mestizo refers to individuals of mixed Spanish and indigenous ancestry in the Americas. As a distinct racial and cultural group, mestizos emerged from the intermarriage and cultural blending between Spanish colonizers and indigenous populations.
Spanish Mission System
The Spanish Mission System was a network of religious settlements established by Spanish colonizers in the Americas, particularly in present-day Mexico, the southwestern United States, and parts of South America. These missions aimed to convert indigenous populations to Christianity, while also providing education, agricultural training, and economic opportunities.
Culture and Society — Native American Indian Groups
The Algonquian People were a diverse group of Native American tribes inhabiting the northeastern woodlands of North America. Sharing linguistic and cultural similarities, these tribes were characterized by their semi-sedentary lifestyle, relying on a combination of hunting, fishing, and agriculture. They played a significant role in early interactions with European settlers, engaging in trade, forming alliances, and joining in the battle for control of the Fur Trade.
The Huron Confederacy, also known as the Wyandot Confederacy, was an alliance of several Iroquoian-speaking tribes located around the Great Lakes region. These tribes, including the Huron, Petun, and Neutral, collaborated for mutual defense and trade. Their interactions with both European settlers and other indigenous groups, like the Iroquois Confederacy, shaped their history and influence in the early colonial period.
The Iroquois Confederacy, or Haudenosaunee Confederacy, was a powerful alliance of five Native American tribes: Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, and Seneca. The confederacy was established around the 15th century in present-day New York State. Known for their political cohesion and military strength, the Iroquois played a crucial role in shaping colonial interactions and conflicts, including alliances with European powers during periods of rivalry.
The Pequot were a Native American tribe that resided in present-day Connecticut and neighboring areas. Their society was centered around fishing, farming, and trade. The Pequot War of 1634–1638 marked a significant conflict between the Pequot tribe and English settlers and their allies. The conflict resulted in the near destruction of the Pequot tribe, many of whom were sold into slavery and sent to the Caribbean.
The Powhatan Confederacy was a union of Algonquian-speaking Native American tribes in the Chesapeake Bay region of present-day Virginia. Led by Chief Powhatan, the confederacy was an alliance that included numerous tribes. The confederacy interacted with English settlers, including those at Jamestown, leading to both cooperation and conflict as the two cultures navigated their differences. For roughly 50 years, the confederacy had an uneasy relationship with Jamestown, which contributed to the three Anglo-Powhatan Wars.
The Wabanaki Confederacy was an alliance of several Algonquian-speaking tribes located in the northeastern region of North America, including present-day Maine, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia. The confederacy consisted of tribes such as the Mi’kmaq, Maliseet, Passamaquoddy, Penobscot, and Abenaki. The Wabanaki Confederacy had a history of interactions with French, English, and Dutch settlers, often involving trade and military alliances. The Wabanaki often carried out raids against English settlers living along the border of Acadia and New England during conflicts like King William’s War.
The Wampanoag were a Native American tribe inhabiting the southeastern region of present-day Massachusetts. They were notable for their interactions with the Pilgrims who arrived on the Mayflower in 1620. The Wampanoag played a crucial role in assisting the Pilgrims by providing them with agricultural knowledge and forming alliances. However, the tension between the Wampanoag and the English eventually led to King Philip’s War.
Migration and Settlement — Early English Settlements
Roanoke — the Lost Colony (1585–1590)
The Roanoke Island Colony, also known as the “Lost Colony,” was one of the first English attempts at colonization in the Americas. Located on Roanoke Island off the coast of present-day North Carolina, the colony was established in the late 16th century. However, it mysteriously disappeared, and its fate remains uncertain. The colonists’ disappearance has led to speculation and various theories, making it one of the most famous historical mysteries in America. The Lost Colony was the culmination of several attempts by Sir Walter Raleigh to establish an English colony on Roanoke Island.
The Popham Colony, established in 1607 on the coast of present-day Maine, was an English colonial venture. Sponsored by the Plymouth Company, it aimed to establish a permanent settlement and trade outpost in the New World. The colony faced numerous challenges, including harsh weather and food shortages, which eventually led to its abandonment after just one year.
Jamestown was the first permanent English settlement in the Americas, established in 1607 in present-day Virginia. Sponsored by the Virginia Company of London, the settlement faced early challenges including disease, famine, and conflicts with the Powhatan Confederacy. Jamestown’s survival was partly due to the leadership of figures like John Smith and John Rolfe, as well as the cultivation of Tobacco as a Cash Crop. The survival of Jamestown played a key role in English colonization and the eventual growth of the Thirteen Colonies.
Plymouth Colony (1620)
Plymouth Colony was the first successful English Colony in New England. It was founded by Puritan Separatists known as Pilgrims in 1620. The colony played a key role in establishing the English presence in New England and eventually merged with Massachusetts.
Migration and Settlement — Regions of English Colonization
New England Colonies
The New England Colonies in Colonial America were Massachusetts — including the territory of Maine — New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Connecticut. They were founded by groups seeking religious freedom. The first colony in New England was Plymouth, which was founded by the Pilgrims in 1620. Later, Plymouth became part of the Province of Massachusetts. Most New England settlements were small towns with a central meeting house. Religious and educational instruction was important, along with self-governance and democratic Town Hall Meetings.
The Middle Colonies in Colonial America were New York, New Jersey, Delaware, and Pennsylvania. Other than portions of Pennsylvania, the region was initially New Netherland and New Sweden, which created a diverse population in terms of culture and religion. The mild climate of the colonies was excellent for growing cereal crops, earning the region the nickname “Breadbasket Colonies.”
Chesapeake Colonies — Upper South
Virginia and Maryland were the Chesapeake Colonies, which are also considered Southern Colonies. Both were plantation-based colonies that relied on the growth of Cash Crops, including Tobacco. This led to a need for a large workforce and both colonies turned to the use of enslaved Africans. Virginia and Maryland both used the Headright System to encourage immigration. Virginia’s House of Burgesses was founded in 1619 and the representative legislative assembly served as a model for other colonies.
Southern Colonies — Lower South
The lower Southern Colonies were North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia. Like the Chesapeake Colonies, they were plantation-based. Agriculture — Rice, Indigo, and Tobacco, played a significant role in the economy. Like the upper colonies, the lower colonies relied on slave labor and had representative assemblies. When Georgia was founded, slavery was abolished, but over time landowners imported slaves and the owners of the colony decided to legalize the practice.
British America — 13 Original Colonies
1. Virginia (1607)
Virginia was the first successful English Colony and started with the establishment of Jamestown in 1607. It was a business venture, intended to mine gold and silver, which were never found. Around 1612, John Rolfe planted a new kind of tobacco that was successful and became Virginia’s first Cash Crop.
2. New York (1614)
The Colony of New Netherland was established in 1614, but colonists did not arrive until 1624. That was the year the Dutch West India Company established the first permanent settlement — Fort Orange — in New Netherland. Fort Orange was on the Hudson River, at present-day Albany, New York. The following year, a second trading post, New Amsterdam, was established on the southern tip of Manhattan Island, at the mouth of the Hudson. In 1664, English forces captured New Amsterdam. Soon after, King Charles II gave the colony to his brother, James, the Duke of York, who renamed it “New York.” Although Dutch control was restored in 1673, England regained control in 1674.
3. New Jersey (1620)
The territory that became New Jersey was originally part of New Netherland and then New York. The Dutch established a trading post at Bergen in 1620, which was followed by others including Fort Nassau and Pavonia, which is present-day Jersey City. In 1638, the Swedes moved into the area and established New Sweden. In 1655, New Netherland captured New Sweden and incorporated the settlements. After the English took control of New Netherland, the area was renamed New Jersey. The Duke of York granted the land between the Hudson River and Delaware River to his friends, Sir George Carteret and Lord John Berkeley. At one point, the colony was divided into East Jersey and West Jersey. In 1702, the two regions were merged into a Royal Colony called the Province of New Jersey.
4. Massachusetts (1620)
Massachusetts was founded by Puritans seeking religious freedom in the New World. It started with the establishment of Plymouth Colony in 1620. More colonists followed the Pilgrims and established settlements like Salem, however, most of those became part of Massachusetts Bay Colony, which received its charter in 1629. Over time, Plymouth also became part of Massachusetts. Strict Puritan enforcement of religious ideology led to the banishment of some colonists, including Roger Williams and Anne Hutchinson, who founded other colonies.
5. New Hampshire (1623)
The establishment of the New Hampshire Colony started in 1622 when the Council for New England gave a grant to Captain John Mason and Sir Ferdinando Gorges for the territory between the Merrimack River and Kennebec River. In 1623, two settlements were established along the Piscataqua River. In 1629, Mason and Gorges divided the territory in the colony, and Mason was given a grant for his portion, which he called “New Hampshire.” New Hampshire was founded as a business venture and often fell under the jurisdiction of Massachusetts.
6. Delaware (1631)
The first European settlement in Delaware was established by the Dutch in 1631 near present-day Lewes, Delaware. However, the settlement was destroyed in a dispute with local Indians. The first permanent European settlement was Fort Christina, which was built by Peter Minuit in 1638 at present-day Wilmington. It was the first settlement of New Sweden. Like the other Middle Colonies, Delaware changed hands from the Dutch to the English. In 1681, William Penn sent agents to explore the land that had been granted to him as Pennsylvania. They found that Pennsylvania’s access to Delaware Bay was under the control of New York on the west bank and New Jersey on the east bank. Penn worked out a deal with the Duke of York to rent the land on the western shore of the Delaware River, which became known as the “Lower Counties on Delaware.”
7. Maryland (1632)
Maryland was founded in April 1632 when King Charles I granted a charter to Cecilius Calvert, Lord Baltimore. Like Virginia, Maryland was a plantation colony, focused on the growth of tobacco as a Cash Crop. Maryland was intended to be a haven for English Catholics but also tolerated other religions. Over time, Protestants took control of Maryland and placed restrictions on Catholics.
8. Connecticut (1636)
Connecticut was officially founded in 1636 when a group of Puritans, led by Thomas Hooker, left Massachusetts and established a settlement at present-day Hartford. The three River Towns — Hartford, Wethersfield, and Windsor formed a unified government under the Fundamental Orders of Connecticut, the first written constitution in America. The River Colony purchased Saybrook Colony in 1642 and New Haven merged into it in 1665.
9. Rhode Island (1636)
Rhode Island started in 1636 when Roger Williams purchased land from the Narragansett Indians and established a settlement, which he called Providence Plantations, on the east bank of the Moshassuck River, on Narragansett Bay. Williams was a Separatist minister, who was banished from Massachusetts in 1635 for his religious beliefs and criticism of Puritan leaders and the King. Two years later, another group of Massachusetts dissidents, led by Anne Hutchinson, founded Portsmouth.
10. Pennsylvania (1638)
In 1638, the Colony of New Sweden was established by the settlement of Fort Christina at present-day Wilmington, Delaware. Five years later, Fort New Gothenburg was built on Tinicum Island which is the present-day site of the Philadelphia International Airport. It became the first permanent European settlement in what would become Pennsylvania. In 1681, King Charles II granted a charter to William Penn for the establishment of a new colony between Maryland and New York. The King named the new colony Pennsylvania, in honor of Penn’s father, Admiral William Penn. The first settlers arrived in December 1681 and Penn arrived in October 1682.
11. South Carolina (1663)
In 1663, King Charles II granted a charter to eight men, known as the Lords Proprietors, paving the way for English colonization of the territory south of Virginia. The Proprietors promised political freedom and religious freedom to immigrants and also encouraged settlement with the Headright System. However, the natural terrain divided Carolina into two distinct regions, and it was officially divided in 1712.
By 1719, people living in South Carolina felt the Proprietors were not doing enough to protect them from pirates and Indians. As British subjects, the people sought protection from the Crown. The Crown agreed and Sir Francis Nicholson was appointed as the first Royal Governor of South Carolina. South Carolina focused on rice, Cotton, Tobacco, and Indigo plantations.
12. North Carolina (1663)
After South Carolina became a Royal Colony, the Crown worked to buy the rights to the Carolinas from the families of each of the original Lords Proprietors. By 1729, King George II had purchased nearly all the rights and both colonies became Royal Colonies, under Crown control. The only family that retained its rights was that of George Carteret. North Carolina had a significant agricultural industry with Tobacco, Rice, Indigo, and livestock.
13. Georgia (1732)
British officials looked to establish a colony between South Carolina and Florida in order to create a buffer between British and Spanish territory in the South. There was also a desire to create a place where the poor and destitute in England could be sent to give them a chance at a new life. A group of Trustees oversaw the establishment of Georgia. The first colonists arrived in 1733 and started laying out the town of Savannah. Colonists were given 50 acres of land and silkworms as an incentive to help Georgia prosper.
Migration and Settlement — Key People
Cecil Calvert, Lord Baltimore
Cecil Calvert, 2md Lord Baltimore, was the founder of the Maryland Colony. He was granted a Proprietary Charter by King Charles I in 1632, allowing him to establish a haven for English Catholics seeking religious freedom. Religious tolerance was enshrined in the Maryland Toleration Act of 1649, which provided a degree of religious freedom to Christians of various denominations.
Samuel de Champlain
Samuel de Champlain was a French explorer who played a key role in the establishment of New France. He founded Quebec in 1608 and made several voyages to explore the northeastern coast of North America. Champlain’s interactions with indigenous peoples led to alliances and partnerships that were crucial to the Fur Trade and colonial diplomacy.
Henry Hudson was an English navigator and explorer in the early 17th century. He made multiple voyages in search of a northwest passage to Asia, and during one of these expeditions in 1609, he sailed up the river that now bears his name, the Hudson River. Hudson’s exploration laid the foundation for Dutch claims in the New Netherland region.
Robert de La Salle
Robert De La Salle was a French explorer who is best known for his extensive explorations of the Mississippi River and the Gulf of Mexico. He claimed the entire Mississippi River Basin for France, naming it Louisiana in honor of King Louis XIV. His explorations opened up new territories for France and expanded their colonial claims.
Jacques Marquette was a French Jesuit missionary and explorer who, along with Louis Jolliet, undertook a significant expedition exploring the Mississippi River in the 17th century. Their journey expanded French knowledge of the river’s geography and laid the groundwork for further French exploration and colonization in the region.
William Penn was a Quaker and the founder of the Pennsylvania colony. In 1681, King Charles II granted Penn a charter to establish a colony where Quakers and others could live according to their religious beliefs. Penn’s vision included principles of religious tolerance, fair treatment of Native Americans, and representative government.
Pocahontas was the daughter of Chief Powhatan. According to legend, she played a significant role in early colonial interactions, saving the life of John Smith. Her marriage to John Rolfe in 1614 brought a period of peace between the Powhatan tribes and the English colonists.
Powhatan, also known as Wahunsunacock, was the paramount chief of the Powhatan Confederacy during the early years of English colonization in Virginia. His daughter Pocahontas played a key role in interactions with the English, including her association with John Smith and her marriage to John Rolfe. Powhatan’s leadership and interactions with the Jamestown settlers helped shape the dynamics of early colonial relations in the Chesapeake Bay Region.
John Rolfe was an English settler at Jamestown who is best known for introducing and cultivating tobacco as a cash crop in Virginia. His marriage to Pocahontas in 1614 helped create a period of relative peace between the settlers and the Powhatan tribes. Rolfe’s efforts in tobacco cultivation contributed to the economic success of the Virginia colony.
John Smith was a prominent figure in the early Jamestown settlement. He played a leadership role during the colony’s challenging early years, enforcing discipline and establishing relationships with the Powhatan Confederacy. Smith’s account of his interactions with Pocahontas and the Powhatan people has become a part of early colonial history and folklore.
John Winthrop was a Puritan leader and the first governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. He played a central role in the establishment of the colony, envisioning it as a “city upon a hill” — a model of a godly and moral community. Winthrop’s leadership and writings, including his famous sermon “A Model of Christian Charity,” influenced the development of religious and political ideals in New England.
American and National Identity — Groups
Huguenots were members of the Protestant Reformed Church of France during the 16th and 17th centuries. They faced persecution due to their religious beliefs, leading many to flee France in search of religious freedom and safety. Huguenot immigrants settled in various countries, including England, the Netherlands, and the American Colonies. Many settled in New Netherland, which later became New York.
The term “Pennsylvania Dutch” refers to a group of German-speaking immigrants who settled in Pennsylvania during the 17th and 18th centuries. Despite the name, they were not Dutch but rather predominantly German, originating from regions such as the Palatinate and other parts of present-day Germany. Known for their agricultural skills, craftsmanship, and distinctive cultural practices, the Pennsylvania Dutch had a lasting impact on the region’s culture and heritage.
Scottish Highlanders were inhabitants of the Scottish Highlands, a rugged and mountainous region in northern Scotland. Many Highlanders emigrated to various parts of the world, including North America. Highland Scots played roles in the early colonization of areas such as North Carolina, where their cultural traditions and skills in agriculture and animal husbandry influenced local communities. Highland Scots were involved in the Second Jacobite Rebellion (1745–1746). Following the defeat of Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Jacobite Army at the Battle of Culloden (April 16, 1746), many Highlanders fled to America.
Work, Exchange, and Technology — Labor
Indentured servants were individuals who entered into a labor contract, known as an indenture, in exchange for passage to the New World and the promise of land or other benefits at the end of their service. During the colonial period, many individuals, including English, Scottish, Irish, and European immigrants, became indentured servants. They typically served for a fixed number of years, during which they worked on farms, plantations, or in various trades. While indentured servitude offered a pathway to economic opportunity, it also often involved difficult living conditions and limited legal rights. Poor treatment of Indentured Servants by wealthy planters contributed to Bacon’s Rebellion.
African Slaves were individuals of African descent who were forcibly brought to the Americas to work as laborers, primarily on Plantations producing Cash Crops like Tobacco, Rice, Sugar, and Cotton. The Transatlantic Slave Trade involved the brutal transportation of millions of Africans across the Atlantic Ocean — the “Middle Passage” — under inhumane conditions.
Work, Exchange, and Technology — Economy and Business
Cash crops were agricultural products grown primarily for sale and profit, rather than for personal consumption. During the Colonial Era, various colonies in the Americas focused on cultivating cash crops such as tobacco, sugar, indigo, and cotton. These crops were often labor-intensive and were grown on large plantations in the Caribbean and Southern Colonies. The need for a large, inexpensive labor force contributed to the growth of the practice of African Slavery, along with the establishment of Chattel Slavery.
Enumerated Goods were specific products, typically raw materials or agricultural commodities, that were subject to certain trade restrictions imposed by the Navigation Acts. The purpose of these restrictions was to ensure the American Colonies primarily traded these commodities with Britain and the British West Indies. Examples of enumerated products were tobacco, sugar, molasses, and indigo.
The Headright System was a land distribution system employed in some of the American colonies, notably in Virginia. Under this system, a person who paid for another’s passage to Virginia was granted a certain amount of land. Plantation Owners used the system to their advantage, paying for entire families to move to the colonies. When the families arrived, they worked for the Plantation Owner as Indentured Servants. Over time, African slaves replaced Indentured Servants. The Headright System contributed to the growth of colonial populations and the expansion of settlements, but it also allowed Plantation Owners to accumulate more land and wealth.
Joint Stock Company
A Joint Stock Company is a business entity in which individuals invest capital by purchasing shares or stocks, entitling them to a portion of the company’s profits and losses. During the Colonial Era, Joint Stock Companies played a significant role in funding and organizing colonial expeditions. For example, the Virginia Company sponsored the Jamestown settlement. These companies enabled the pooling of resources for exploration, colonization, and trade in the New World, while also distributing risks and benefits among shareholders.
Shipbuilding refers to the construction of ships and other water vessels. During the Colonial Era, shipbuilding was a crucial industry in many colonies, especially those with access to forests and maritime resources. Shipbuilders crafted vessels for various purposes, including trade, transportation, and naval defense. Shipbuilding centers like New England and the Mid-Atlantic colonies played pivotal roles in supplying ships for colonial commerce and exploration.
Tobacco was a cash crop that played a significant role in shaping the economies of the American Colonies, particularly in the Chesapeake Bay Region. The cultivation of tobacco became a major export commodity, driving trade and economic growth. Virginia and Maryland were prominent tobacco-producing colonies, and the demand for labor to cultivate and harvest tobacco contributed to the growth of the system of indentured servitude and, later, African slavery.
Virginia Company of London
The Virginia Company of London was a Joint Stock Company established in 1606 with a Royal Charter to establish colonies in the New World. It sponsored the Jamestown settlement in 1607, which became the first permanent English settlement in North America. The company’s efforts laid the foundation for English colonization in the Americas and introduced the concept of self-governance through the Virginia House of Burgesses, along with the Headright System.
Virginia Company of Plymouth
The Virginia Company of Plymouth was a Joint Stock Company formed in 1606, along with the Virginia Company of London. This company was established to plant a colony in New England but its efforts failed when colonists abandoned Popham Colony.
Politics and Power — Government Systems
House of Burgesses
The House of Burgesses was established in 1619 in Virginia. It was the first legislative assembly in the English Colonies in North America and was a significant step towards representative self-governance. Elected by male property owners, the “Burgesses” were responsible for passing laws, regulating local affairs, and interacting with the Governor and the Council. However, the assembly was dominated by wealthy planters who often crafted laws for their own benefit. This was one of the causes of Bacon’s Rebellion.
New England Town Meetings
New England Town Meetings were democratic gatherings that allowed local residents to participate in the decision-making process of their communities. These meetings, often held in the town’s meetinghouse, enabled residents to discuss and vote on various matters, such as local ordinances, budgets, and elections. New England Town Meetings promoted direct participation in governance and fostered a sense of civic responsibility among the colonists. These meetings created a tradition of participatory democracy in communities that continues today.
Culture and Society — Religion in the English Colonies
Act of Toleration
The Maryland Act of Toleration, enacted in 1649, was a colonial law in the Province of Maryland that provided religious freedom and protection to Christians of various denominations, including Catholics and Protestants. It was one of the earliest legislative acts in the English colonies that promoted religious tolerance, aiming to prevent conflicts between different Christian groups. However, this act did not extend religious freedom to non-Christians.
Catholics are members of the Christian faith who follow the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. In the context of European colonization, Catholics faced varying degrees of religious persecution, particularly in Protestant-majority colonies. In Maryland, Catholics were initially a minority but gained some religious freedom with the Maryland Act of Toleration, which allowed them to practice their faith without fear of prosecution.
Quakers, also known as the Religious Society of Friends, were a Protestant religious group that emerged in England during the 17th century. Quakers emphasized direct spiritual experience, inner light, and social equality. They were persecuted for their beliefs in England and sought refuge in various colonial regions, including Pennsylvania, where founder William Penn established a colony with religious freedom as a guiding principle.
Puritans were members of a Protestant reform movement in England during the 16th and 17th centuries. They sought to “purify” the Church of England from what they saw as remnants of Roman Catholic practices. Some Puritans, known as Pilgrims, sailed on the Mayflower to establish the Plymouth Colony in present-day Massachusetts, while others settled in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. They played a significant role in shaping the early cultural and religious landscape of New England.
Separatists were a subset of Puritans who believed that the Church of England was beyond reform and chose to separate from it entirely. Seeking religious freedom, Separatists, also known as “Pilgrims,” were among the passengers aboard the Mayflower when it arrived at Plymouth Colony in 1620. Their desire to create a separate religious community played a key role in the establishment of Plymouth and the growth of New England.
Politics and Power — British Systems of Colonial Control
Mercantilism was an economic theory that dominated European colonial powers for much of the 16th century to the 18th Century. Mercantilism advocated for a nation’s economic strength and self-sufficiency through controlled trade, accumulation of gold and silver, and the establishment of colonies as sources of raw materials and markets. Colonial possessions were viewed as a means to enhance the Mother Country’s wealth and power. Mercantilism influenced colonial economic policies, trade regulations, and competition among European powers for overseas territories. In England, it drove the establishment of the American Colonies, the Navigation Acts, and the Triangular Trade System, contributing to the institution of African slavery in English colonies and territories in the Americas.
The Navigation Acts were a series of maritime laws enacted by England during the 17th century to regulate colonial trade and ensure that colonial goods were primarily exported to England or other English colonies. These acts required that certain “enumerated goods” be transported on English ships, and they aimed to establish a favorable trade balance for England. The Navigation Acts also dictated the ports English ships could sail to, which contributed to the establishment of the Triangular Trade System. Enforcement of the Navigation Acts was a primary cause of the American Revolution.
Salutary Neglect refers to an informal British colonial policy in the late 17th and early 18th centuries. British authorities relaxed enforcement of Navigation Acts and governance over the American Colonies, allowing them greater autonomy in local affairs and business enterprises. The Salutary Neglect Era provided freedom from direct control and allowed the colonies to develop their own economies, institutions, and self-governing practices. Although American merchants continued to follow some of the maritime laws, they generally tried to avoid laws that required them to pay customs duties, which was considered smuggling by British officials. When the policy was reversed in 1763, Britain started to strictly enforce the Navigation Acts. The reversal of Salutary Neglect is considered a primary cause of the American Revolution.
Triangular Trade was a complex trading system that emerged during the Colonial Era, involving three major trade routes connecting Europe, Africa, and the Americas. European manufactured goods were traded for captive Africans, who were then transported to the Americas and sold into slavery. In the Americas, the Africans were exchanged for raw materials such as sugar, tobacco, and cotton. The trade network was the result of Mercantilism and the Navigation Acts, which dictated trade routes.
Politics and Power — Colonial Era Conflicts
Beaver Wars (1609–1701)
The Beaver Wars, also known as the Iroquois Wars, were a series of conflicts that took place from 1609–1701 between the Iroquois Confederacy and various Indian tribes, as they fought for control of the Fur Trade. The majority of the conflict took place in the Great Lakes Region and the Ohio Valley. Some consider the start of the Beaver Wars to be a 1609 fight at Lake Champlain between Samuel de Champlain and his Algonquin allies against the Iroquois. The wars had significant effects on regional power, trade networks, indigenous populations, and Euro-Indian alliances, and came to an end in 1701 with the Peace of Montreal.
Anglo-Powhatan Wars (1609–1646)
The Anglo-Powhatan Wars were fought between English settlers in Virginia and the Powhatan Confederacy. The First Anglo-Powhatan War (1690–1614) saw sporadic hostilities and ended with the “Peace of Pocahontas” — the marriage of John Rolfe and Pocahontas. The Second Anglo-Powhatan War (1622–1632) started with a brutal attack by the Powhatan on Jamestown and ended with a treaty that established a border between English and Powhatan territory. The Third Anglo-Powhatan War (1644–1646) started with another attack on English settlements and ended with the Powhatans forced to live on reservations and pay an annual fee to the English.
Pequot War (1634-1638)
The Pequot War was the first war between the English colonists and Indian tribes living in the New England Colonies. A group of English traders was killed and Massachusetts responded by attacking the Pequot in Connecticut. The Pequot retaliated by attacking Connecticut settlements. Over the course of the war, Connecticut and Massachusetts Bay, along with warriors from various tribes, including the Narragansett, virtually eliminated the Pequot. After the fighting ended, a treaty was signed that gave Connecticut control of the Connecticut River Valley and sold the surviving Pequot Indians into slavery.
Kieft’s War (1643–1645)
Kieft’s War, also known as the Wappinger War, was a conflict in the mid-17th century in the Dutch colony of New Netherland — present-day New York. The war took place from 1643 to 1645 and was characterized by clashes between Dutch settlers and several indigenous groups, including the Wappinger Confederacy.
Peach Tree War (1655)
The Peach Tree War, also known as the Peach War, was a conflict that took place in 1655 between Dutch and Swedish colonists and Native American tribes, particularly the Susquehannock, in New Netherland and New Sweden. The Susquehannocks drove the colonists from some of their settlements, including Staten Island, forcing them to move to Long Island. Peter Stuyvesant eventually negotiated the right to resettle the area between the Hudson River and Hackensack River.
Esopus Wars (1659–1663)
The Esopus Wars were a series of conflicts between Dutch settlers and the Esopus people, Lenape-speaking Indians, in the mid-17th century in the Dutch colony of New Netherland. The first war, known as the First Esopus War, occurred in 1659-1660, while the second war, the Second Esopus War, took place in 1663-1664. The wars were marked by violence, raids, and battles as the Dutch sought to control territory along the Hudson River. The conflict resulted in the displacement of the Esopus people from their homeland.
King Philip’s War (1675–1678)
King Philip’s War was fought between the New England Confederation and its Indian allies against a confederation of Indian tribes led by Chief Metacom of the Wampanoag, who was also known as King Philip. The war was caused by disputes over land and the poor treatment of the Wampanoag by English officials. After three Wampanoag men were executed by Plymouth Colony in 1675, the Indians attacked English settlements in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, and Maine. A series of back-and-forth attacks ensued, including the burning of Providence, Rhode Island by the Indians. Eventually, the Confederation and its allies overwhelmed Philip’s forces and Philip was killed. The war was costly to both sides. The Wampanoag and Narragansett were almost exterminated. English villages and towns suffered severe damage and roughly a tenth of the men who fought in the war died. King Philip’s War is also known as Metacomet’s War.
Pueblo Revolt (1680)
The Pueblo Revolt, also known as Popé’s Rebellion, took place in 1680 in the Spanish Colony of New Mexico. Led by the Pueblo leader Popé, indigenous Pueblo communities rose up in protest of Spanish colonization and religious oppression. The revolt aimed to drive the Spanish out of the region and restore the religious practices of the Pueblos. The Pueblo Revolt resulted in the temporary expulsion of Spanish authorities from New Mexico and a period of indigenous self-governance before Spanish reoccupation in 1692.
King William’s War (1689–1697)
King William’s War was the first war between the English and French in North America. It was an extension of the Nine Years’ War, which was fought in Europe for control of the English Crown and to limit French expansion. During this First Intercolonial War, the English allied with the Iroquois Confederacy, and the French with the Wabanaki Confederacy. The war in North America was the beginning of a series of wars fought for control of the eastern half of North America and the Fur Trade. When peace was agreed to, territories and borders were restored to what they were before the war. For the first time, European powers involved their North American colonies, which is why King William’s War is also considered by some to be the first true world war.
Queen Anne’s War (1702–1713)
Queen Anne’s War was the Second Intercolonial War between England and France in North America. It took place while the War of Spanish Succession was being fought in Europe. In North America, English and French colonial forces, along with their Indian allies, carried out raids along the frontier between Acadia and New England. The war escalated and both sides carried out large expeditions and the war spread as far south as St. Augustine. In 1704, the French and their Indian allies carried out a brutal raid on Deerfield, Massachusetts. While the war carried on, England and Scotland agreed to the Act of Union, which created the United Kingdom of Great Britain. Finally, the war came to an end in 1713 when the Treaty of Utrecht was signed. However, it failed to resolve territorial boundaries and led to the continuation of hostilities between the American Colonies, New France, and their Indian allies. The Treaty of Utrecht also contributed to Britain’s involvement in the slave trade. Britain was given exclusive rights to provide African slaves to Spanish colonies in America, which was known as the Asiento Contract.
War of Jenkins’ Ear (1739–1748)
The War of Jenkins’ Ear was partially the result of an incident that took place on April 9, 1731, where Spanish coast guard officers near Havana, Cuba accused Captain Robert Jenkins of smuggling. They punished him by cutting off his ear. War broke out between England and Spain in 1739, after Jenkins appeared in front of a committee of the House of Commons and showed them his ear, which led to public outrage. British merchants and the public demanded retribution. Spain was also upset with Britain for conducting excessive trade with its colonies in the Spanish West Indies. In 1740, General James Oglethorpe led forces from the Province of Georgia in an attack on Spanish Florida. The Spanish responded by invading Georgia in 1742 but were forced to withdraw to St. Augustine. Ultimately, the conflict between Britain and Spain was superseded by their involvement in King George’s War, which started in 1744.
King George’s War (1744–1748)
King George’s War was the Third Intercolonial War between England and France in North America and took place while the War of Austrian Succession was being fought in Europe. During the war, British forces under the command of Massachusetts Governor William Shirley were able to capture Fort Louisbourg — a French stronghold — at the mouth of the St. Lawrence River. The fighting ended on October 18, 1748, when the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle was signed by Britain, France, and the Dutch Republic. In the agreement, all territories were restored, including Fort Louisbourg being returned to New France. One of the significant outcomes of King George’s War was that it strengthened trade between the British and the Native American Indians in the Ohio Country.
Politics and Power — Rebellions and Slave Revolts
Bacon’s Rebellion (1676–1677)
Bacon’s Rebellion was a significant uprising that took place in 1676 in the Virginia Colony. Led by Nathaniel Bacon, a Virginia planter, the rebellion was sparked by grievances against colonial elites and perceived injustices in the colony’s governance, led by Governor William Berkeley. The rebels, composed of indentured servants, poor farmers, and slaves, attacked Indian villages and challenged the authority of colonial leaders. The rebellion highlighted class tensions and issues related to land ownership, labor, and governance in the early colonial period. In the aftermath of the rebellion, Virginia plantation owners transitioned their workforce from Indentured Servants to African slaves.
New York Slave Revolt (1712)
The New York Slave Revolt of 1712 was a violent uprising of enslaved Africans and Indians that took place in New York City in April 1712. Enslaved individuals, predominantly from West Africa, rebelled by setting fire to buildings and attacking white residents. The revolt was swiftly suppressed by colonial authorities, resulting in the capture, trial, and execution of the rebels involved. Afterward, the Province of New York passed new “Black Codes” — or Slave Laws — that placed significant restrictions on slaves and severe punishments for those who broke the law.
Stono Rebellion (1739)
The Stono Rebellion, also known as Cato’s Conspiracy, was a significant slave revolt that occurred in 1739 in the colony of South Carolina. Enslaved Africans, led by a man named Jemmy — also known as Cato — rebelled against their owners and attempted to escape to Florida, where the Spanish offered freedom to those who reached their territory. The rebellion was suppressed by local militias, leading to the deaths of many rebels.
New York Slave Conspiracy (1741)
The New York Slave Conspiracy — or Slave Plot — was a series of events that took place in the City of New York in 1741. At that time, the people of New York were living in fear of attacks from England’s Catholic enemies — France and Spain — and Native American Indian Tribes. A recent influx of Irish immigrants and Spanish slaves fueled the fear they would help overthrow the English government. Following a robbery that uncovered a possible crime ring, a series of mysterious fires broke out in the city. Soon after, rumors spread that a slave uprising was being planned. Although there was little evidence to support the rumors, roughly 30 people were tried, convicted, and executed for crimes they likely did not commit.
American and National Identity — Events
First Great Awakening
The First Great Awakening was a religious movement that swept through the American Colonies in the 18th century, particularly during the 1730s and 1740s. It was characterized by passionate preaching, emotional conversions, and an emphasis on personal religious experience, the movement sought to renew Christian faith and devotion. Men like George Whitefield and Jonathan Edwards helped drive the movement, which played a significant role in establishing a unique American identity where the people believed they controlled their destiny, rather than clergymen or monarchs.
Newspapers and Print Culture
Newspaper and print culture played a transformative role in colonial society. The first American newspaper published on a regular basis was “Publick Occurrences Both Foreign and Domestick,” which started in 1690. By the mid-18th century, newspapers were widely circulated, providing information on local events, trade, politics, and culture. Print culture also facilitated the spread of ideas and influenced public opinion, contributing to the growth of a colonial public sphere and setting the stage for the exchange of revolutionary ideas that would lead to the American Revolution. Pamphlets and Broadsides were also used to distribute information during the Colonial Era.
Salem Witch Trials
The Salem Witch Trials were a series of witchcraft trials and prosecutions that took place in Salem, Massachusetts, in 1692–1693. A wave of mass hysteria led to accusations of witchcraft against numerous individuals, predominantly women. The trials resulted in the execution of 20 people before they were ended when Cotton Mather denounced the use of spectral evidence. Governor William Phipps also dissolved the court that conducted the trials, moved the remaining trials to another court, and pardoned anyone who was accused of witchcraft.