Transatlantic Trade — APUSH 2.4 Notes, Review, and Terms


APUSH Unit 2, Topic 2.4 covers concepts and systems related to Transatlantic Trade and the effects on the growth and development of Colonial America.

King Charles II, Crowned at Westminster Abbey

The Restoration Colonies were established during the reign of King Charles II. Image Source: Wikimedia.

Transatlantic Trade Summary

Once European nations established successful colonies in North America, new trade routes were built that allowed the development of trade between continents on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean — the system of Transatlantic Trade. 

Food, Livestock, and people were transported across the ocean in a vast network that transformed the entire world. At the same time, Europeans sought valuable natural resources, including gold and silver, which helped empires grow and expand, despite devastating effects on native populations in the Americas and Africa.

As the English Colonies in North America matured, economic, political, and social structures emerged, evolved, and started to stabilize. The trade routes that were established between the continents created what is known as “Triangular Trade.” In most transactions, merchants traded commodities with each other, but gold and silver were often used to buy goods, products — and people.

AHC Note — England did not formally become Great Britain until 1707. However, for the sake of clarity, we refer to England as Britain for the rest of this essay. See British Constitution for more information on the 1707 Acts of Union.

Colonial Economies

The development of the Transatlantic Slave Trade and its impact on the growth of the Americas is undeniable. Slavery was found in all three regions of the American Colonies, but most prominent in the Southern Colonies. It would take an ideological revolution, the establishment of an independent nation, and a Civil War to abolish the practice.

The economy of the New England Colonies was based on the proximity of the settlements to the sea and forests. Lumber, fish, and livestock were plentiful. Molasses was imported from the West Indies and used to develop a robust rum distillation industry. The growth of New England’s economy was driven by the Puritan Migration, which saw approximately 20,000 Puritans emigrate from Europe to Massachusetts.

The Middle Colonies were shaped by an influx of workers, including slaves, Indentured Servants, and “Redemptioners” who helped plant, grow, and harvest crops. The surplus was sold to the other colonies and European nations, and the region earned the nickname “Breadbasket Colonies.” The growth of the Middle Colonies was driven by German and Scots-Irish immigrants. It was also a haven for Quakers, Catholics, and others who were considered “religious dissenters” by Puritans and Anglicans.

William Penn, Landing in Pennsylvania, 1682
This print by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris depicts William Penn’s arrival in Pennsylvania in 1682. Image Source: Library of Congress.

In the Southern Colonies, large plantations owned by wealthy “planters,” developed around cash crops such as tobacco, indigo, and rice. Naval stores, products used by the British Navy, played a role in the development of North Carolina. From an economic standpoint, policies such as the Headright System made it economically appealing and viable for plantation owners to rely on slave labor. It is estimated that as much as 90% of the exports from the American Colonies were produced in the South.

To the east of the Southern Colonies were the West Indies. Islands rich with sugarcane and large plantations. The plantations produced the sugar that helped drive the Transatlantic Trade — but also relied heavily on slave labor.

Throughout the three regions on the mainland, there was a common economic thread — the Fur Trade. In particular, it connected the English and French to the Native American Indian tribes, including the Iroquois Confederacy. The Fur Trade enticed two distinct cultures to work together, but also created conflicts between Indian nations and European nations, as they fought for control of the Fur Trade and North America. When Americans crept west, it was often in search of valuable furs, which could be traded for commodities and then shipped to Europe where they were used for hats and garments. 

The most prominent conflict that took place in North America over the Fur Trade was the Beaver Wars, which lasted for nearly a century. The wars involved major Indian confederacies, including the Iroquois and Algonquins, along with the French, English, and Dutch.

Economic and Political Policies of the British Empire

When the colonies were first established, Britain subscribed to the economic theory of Mercantilism. Under this, the government regulated and controlled the economy of the entire empire, and the colonies existed to provide natural resources. Those resources were shipped to Britain, where they were manufactured into finished products. Then the products were shipped back to the colonies where Americans bought them with hard money or traded for them.

For the system to work, the Crown has to control the flow of goods via approved trade routes, and forms of transportation. It also restricted manufacturing and trade partners. This was all done via the Acts of Trade and Navigation. However, the laws were often difficult to enforce, and Americans — who sought to maximize their profits — often broke the rules. While this led to an epidemic of smuggling in the colonies, it also contributed to economic prosperity for merchants in the empire. The more money Americans had to spend, then the more British products they bought — including tea.

Britain was often distracted with affairs in Europe and simply neglected to enforce economic and political restrictions in the colonies. This is what is called Benign Neglect or Salutary Neglect, and it is widely viewed as being the unwritten policy of Britain’s first Prime Minister, Robert Walpole.

In the mid-1600s, Britain tried to assert more control over the colonies, due to conflicts with Indian tribes. King James I revoked Virginia’s charter in 1624 due to the Second Anglo-Powhatan War (1622–1632), and King Charles II merged the New England Colonies into the Dominion of New England after King Philip’s War.

Upheaval in Britain

Following the death of King Charles II, his brother, King James II, ascended the throne. James was a Catholic, which concerned the Protestants in the colonies. However, his heir, Mary, was a Protestant and married to William of Orange. Because of this, Protestants were comfortable that when James died, Mary would take the throne.

However, James had a son in 1688, who replaced Mary as the heir — and was baptized as a Catholic. This led to a crisis in Britain that eventually resulted in the “Glorious Revolution.” Parliament essentially replaced King James II with his daughter and her husband, who ruled jointly as King William III and Queen Mary II.

When news reached America, colonists revolted in Massachusetts, Maryland, and New York. Edmund Andros, the Governor of the Dominion of New England, was arrested and the colonies restored their old charters.

Throughout all the turmoil, perhaps the single most important thing that happened was the establishment of the English Bill of Rights. As part of the agreement for William and Mary to ascend the throne, they agreed to the Bill of Rights, which not only gave Parliament the authority over the Crown but also established the basic rights of subjects in the empire — including Americans.

APUSH 2.4 Review Video

This video from Heimler’s History provides an excellent overview of APUSH 2.4. You can also check out our APUSH Guide provides a look at all Units and Topics in the APUSH Curriculum.

APUSH 2.4 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 2 and are broken into sections by APUSH Themes. Within the explanations of APUSH 2.4 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.

APUSH Themes

  1. American and National Identity
  2. Work, Exchange, and Technology
  3. Migration and Settlement
  4. Politics and Power
  5. America in the World
  6. Geography and the Environment
  7. Culture and Society

Work, Exchange, and Technology — Labor Systems

Fur Trade

The Fur Trade in Colonial America was a vital economic activity involving the exchange of animal pelts for goods, particularly with Native American tribes. Europeans, including the French, Dutch, and English, established trading posts and trade agreements with various Indian tribes to acquire furs, which were highly sought after in Europe. The Fur Trade significantly shaped colonial economies and contributed to the westward exploration and expansion of Europeans in North America.

Headright System

The Headright System was a system used in the English colonies in the 17th and 18th centuries to encourage settlement and allocate land. Under the Headright System, individuals who paid for their own passage to the colonies or who brought indentured servants with them were entitled to a grant of land. The size of the grant depended on the number of people the individual brought with them. The Headright System was a way for the colonial authorities to encourage immigration and was a key factor in the rapid population growth of the colonies. Plantation owners used the system to increase their workforce and land holdings.

Indentured Servants 

Indentured Servants were individuals who agreed to work for a fixed period of time, usually four to seven years, in exchange for passage to the colonies. Indentured Servants were a common labor force in the English colonies in the 17th and 18th centuries, and many of the early settlers in the colonies were indentured servants. The system exploited some workers, as Indentured Servants were often not paid and were subject to harsh working conditions.

Patroon System

The Patroon System was a Dutch landholding system established in the 17th century in colonial New Netherland (later the Province of New York). Under this system, wealthy individuals, known as Patroons, were granted large estates in exchange for bringing settlers to the colony. The Patroons had almost feudal authority over their estates and tenants, including the right to administer justice.


Redemptioners were European immigrants, primarily from Germany and Switzerland, who arrived in Colonial America during the 18th century. Unlike traditional Indentured Servants, Redemptioners agreed to work for a specified period to pay off their passage to America. However, they were not bound to a specific master but instead were sold at auction upon arrival. This system provided a means for immigrants to gain passage to America but often resulted in harsh working conditions and limited opportunities for advancement


Slavery is the practice of owning and controlling people as property, often for the purpose of forced labor. Slavery was practiced in the English colonies in North America from the early 17th century onwards and played a significant role in the economy of the colonies. Slaves were brought to the colonies from Africa and other parts of the world and were often subjected to brutal treatment and exploitation. The abolition of slavery in the United States was a major issue in the 19th century and played a key role in the Civil War.

Migration and Settlement — Immigration

Great Puritan Migration

The Great Puritan Migration was a movement of English Puritans who emigrated to the New World in the early 17th century in search of religious freedom. The Great Puritan Migration was led by John Winthrop and other influential leaders and was a major factor in the rapid population growth of New England. The Puritans established several influential colonies, including the Massachusetts Bay Colony, which became a center of Puritan influence and culture.

This illustration depicts the arrival of John Winthrop and the Winthrop Fleet at Salem in 1630. Image Source: A Treasury of Knowledge and Cyclopaedia of History, Robert Sears, 1853,

Middle Passage

The Middle Passage was a route in the Triangular Trade System that started in Northwest Africa, crossed the Atlantic Ocean, and ended in the Americas. The Middle Passage is most well-known for its use in the Transatlantic Slave Trade and the terrible suffering it imposed on imprisoned Africans who were sold into slavery.

Transatlantic Slave Trade

The Transatlantic Slave Trade was a business in which the commodity was African men, women, and children. They were captured in Africa, transported across the Atlantic Ocean over the Middle Passage, and forced to work in the Americas. It was also part of the Triangular Trade System and the Mercantile System.

Triangular Trade

Triangular Trade was a system of trade between Europe, Africa, and the Americas that developed in the 17th and 18th centuries. Under the Triangular Trade System, European traders would bring manufactured goods to Africa, where they would be exchanged for slaves. The slaves would then be transported to the Americas, where they were sold and used to work on plantations and in mines. The profits from the sale of the slaves were then used to purchase raw materials, such as sugar, tobacco, and cotton, which were then shipped back to Europe.

Politics and Power — British Imperial Policies

Enumerated Goods

Enumerated goods were specific products that were allowed to be exported only to British markets, as mandated by the Navigation Acts. These goods included commodities such as tobacco, sugar, cotton, and indigo. The purpose of the enumeration was to ensure that certain colonial industries remained under British control and to limit competition with British manufacturers. This policy contributed to tensions between the American colonies and Britain which led to the American Revolution.


Mercantilism was an economic theory and policy that dominated European thinking in the 16th to 18th centuries. It emphasized the idea that a nation’s wealth and power were determined by its accumulation of precious metals, primarily gold and silver. To achieve this, mercantilist governments sought to maintain a favorable balance of trade by exporting more than they imported, establishing colonies to provide raw materials, and enacting protectionist measures like tariffs and monopolies. Mercantilism had a profound influence on colonial economic policies and contributed to tensions between American colonies and Britain, which sought to extract economic benefits from its colonial possessions.

Salutary Neglect

Salutary Neglect was a policy of British non-interference in the internal affairs of its American colonies during the 17th and early 18th centuries. This policy allowed the American colonies a degree of self-governance and economic freedom. While British laws were technically in place, they were often loosely enforced, leading to a sense of autonomy among colonial governments and businesses. Salutary neglect encouraged self-reliance and self-government in the colonies, but it eventually ended with increased British control and regulation, contributing to colonial discontent and the American Revolution. Also, see Salutary Neglect Timeline.

Politics and Power — British Laws

Hat Act (1732)

The Hat Act of 1732 was aimed at protecting the hat-making industry in Britain by regulating the production and export of hats from the American Colonies. The act required that all hats made in the colonies for export be sent to Britain for inspection and approval by British officials before being sold in other markets. This restriction limited the ability of colonial hat-makers to compete with their English counterparts and contributed to growing resentment among Colonial Artisans against British trade regulations.

English Bill of Rights (1689)

The English Bill of Rights, enacted in 1689, was a landmark document in English political history. It established limitations on the powers of the monarchy and affirmed certain rights of Parliament and individual citizens. The Bill of Rights affirmed the right to petition the Crown, the prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment, and the right to bear arms for self-defense, among other provisions. It significantly influenced the development of constitutional principles and laid the foundation for democratic governance in Britain and the American Colonies.

Iron Act (1750)

The Iron Act of 1750 regulated the iron industry in the American Colonies. It aimed to restrict the production of iron goods in the colonies by prohibiting the construction of new iron forges and mills, as well as the expansion of existing ones. The act was intended to ensure that the colonies remained dependent on Britain for manufactured iron goods.

Molasses Act (1733)

The Molasses Act of 1733 was a piece of British legislation that imposed high import duties on molasses, rum, and sugar imported into the American colonies from non-British Caribbean sources, primarily the French West Indies. The act aimed to protect the sugar plantations in the British West Indies and generate revenue for the British Crown. However, it was widely evaded through smuggling and was deeply unpopular among colonial merchants, contributing to the rise of illicit trade and colonial opposition to British economic policies. However, the unwritten policy of Salutary Neglect contributed to lax enforcement of the law’s provisions. Also, see Molasses Act Text.

Navigation Acts

The Navigation Acts were a series of British laws passed in the 17th and 18th centuries to regulate colonial trade and ensure that most of it benefited the British Empire. These acts required that certain colonial goods could only be transported in British ships, that goods bound for the colonies had to pass through British ports, and that certain key exports (like tobacco and sugar) could only be sold to Britain. These measures were intended to maintain British economic dominance over the American colonies but also generated tension and resentment, ultimately contributing to colonial discontent that led to the American Revolution.

Wool Act (1699)

The Wool Act of 1699 was a British law that aimed to protect the woolen industry in Britain by restricting the export of woolen goods from the American Colonies. The act prohibited the export of woolen cloth from the colonies to any destination other than Britain or other English territories. This legislation was part of the Mercantile System implemented by Britain to ensure that colonial trade benefited the mother country’s economy.

Politics and Power — British Imperial Control

Charter Colonies

Charter Colonies were a type of colonial government established in the American Colonies during the 17th century. In this system, colonies were granted a charter by the British Crown, outlining the colony’s government structure, rights, and responsibilities. Unlike Proprietary Colonies, which were owned by individuals or companies, Charter Colonies had more autonomy and self-governance, as they were typically governed by elected Colonial Assemblies. This system allowed for greater local control and helped develop colonial governance in America.

Dominion of New England

The Dominion of New England was a short-lived administrative union of several English colonies in North America, established by King James II in 1686. It aimed to strengthen royal control over the colonies by centralizing governance under a single authority. Sir Edmund Andros was appointed as governor-general to oversee the Dominion. The Dominion included colonies such as Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and later New York and New Jersey. However, the Dominion faced strong opposition from colonists due to its authoritarian policies, including the enforcement of the Navigation Acts and the suppression of local assemblies. It was overthrown following the Glorious Revolution in 1689.

Proprietary Colonies

Proprietary Colonies were a form of colonial government in North America during the 17th and 18th centuries. Under this system, the British Crown granted land and governing rights to individuals or groups known as Proprietors. Proprietors were given considerable control over the colony, including the ability to establish laws, appoint officials, and administer land. Examples of proprietary colonies included Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Delaware. While the Proprietors enjoyed certain privileges, they were still subject to the authority of the British Crown and were expected to govern following English law.

Royal Colonies

Royal Colonies were a type of colonial administration in North America during the 17th and 18th centuries. In these colonies, the British Crown retained direct control over governance and administration. The Crown appointed a Royal Governor to oversee the colony, often with the assistance of a Governor’s Council. The Governor had significant powers, including the authority to enact laws, levy taxes, and command the colonial militia. By the time of the American Revolution, nearly all the American Colonies were Royal Colonies. Pennsylvania and Maryland remained Proprietary Colonies.

Politics and Power — Military Conflicts

Beaver Wars

The Beaver Wars were a series of conflicts in the 17th century between Native American Indian tribes, primarily the Iroquois Confederacy, and various other tribes in the Great Lakes Region and the Ohio River Valley. These wars were fought over control of the Fur Trade, particularly beaver pelts, which were highly sought after in European markets.

English Civil War

The English Civil War was a series of armed conflicts and political upheavals that took place in Britain between 1642 and 1651. It was fought between the supporters of King Charles I (Royalists or Cavaliers) and those of Parliament (Parliamentarians or Roundheads). The primary causes of the war included disagreements over governance, religion, and the extent of royal power. The war resulted in the temporary overthrow of the monarchy, the establishment of the Commonwealth under Oliver Cromwell, and ultimately, the restoration of the monarchy with King Charles II in 1660.

Oliver Cromwell, Portrait
Oliver Cromwell. Image Source: Wikipedia.

Glorious Revolution

The Glorious Revolution, also known as the Revolution of 1688, was a bloodless coup in Britain that led to the overthrow of King James II and the installation of William III and Mary II as joint monarchs. It was triggered by the fear of Catholicism and James II’s attempts to impose absolutist rule. The revolution resulted in the affirmation of parliamentary supremacy, the Bill of Rights of 1689, and the establishment of a constitutional monarchy in Britain.

Geography and Environment — Crops

Indigo Plantations

Indigo Plantations were agricultural estates primarily located in the Southern Colonies of British North America during the Colonial Period. Indigo, a plant native to Asia and extensively cultivated in South Carolina and Georgia, was a valuable Cash Crop used in the production of blue dye. Indigo Plantations relied heavily on Slave Labor to cultivate and process indigo plants, contributing to the region’s economic prosperity and the expansion of the Transatlantic Slave Trade.

Rice Plantations

Rice Plantations were large agricultural estates in the southeastern United States that specialized in the cultivation of rice, a grain crop that requires a wetland habitat. Rice plantations were common in the low-lying coastal regions of South Carolina and Georgia, and were often worked by slaves. Rice plantations were highly profitable, as rice was in high demand in Europe and the Americas, and were a major contributor to the economy of the southeastern United States.

Sugar Plantations

Sugar Plantations were large-scale agricultural estates primarily located in the West Indies during the Colonial Period. Sugar Plantations specialized in the cultivation of Sugarcane, a labor-intensive crop that required significant manpower for planting, harvesting, and processing. Enslaved Africans were commonly used as laborers on Sugar Plantations. Sugar and its byproduct, Molasses, became a lucrative commodity, driving economic growth and the Transatlantic Slave Trade.

Sugar Cane Plantation, Enslaved Workers, Sugar Act Image
This illustration depicts enslaved workers on a Sugar Plantation. Image Source: New York Public Library Digital Collections.

Tobacco Plantations

Tobacco Plantations were agricultural estates in the eastern United States that specialized in the cultivation of tobacco, a crop that is grown for its leaves, which are dried and used to make cigarettes and other products. Tobacco farming was a major industry in the eastern United States in the 17th and 18th centuries, and tobacco was one of the main exports of the colonies. Tobacco farming was labor-intensive, and many tobacco farms in the colonies were worked by slaves.


Wheat, a cereal grain, has been a staple crop in agriculture for thousands of years. It played an important role in the development of early civilizations, including those in Mesopotamia and the Mediterranean. In Colonial America, Wheat cultivation expanded rapidly, particularly in the Middle Colonies, due to favorable soil and climate conditions. Wheat served as a vital source of sustenance for Americans, and surplus production was often exported to other colonies and Europe, contributing to the economic growth of the American Colonies and the establishment of Trade Networks.

Geography and Environment — Disease


Measles, a highly contagious viral infection, was a significant health concern in Colonial America. With limited medical knowledge and preventive measures, Measles outbreaks were frequent and often devastating, especially among children. The disease spread rapidly in densely populated areas, leading to high mortality rates and impacting the overall health of colonial communities. Measles outbreaks could disrupt daily life, affecting agriculture, trade, and social activities.


Smallpox, a highly contagious and often deadly disease caused by the variola virus, had a profound impact on Colonial America. Introduced by European settlers, Smallpox outbreaks were recurrent and devastating, decimating Native American populations and causing significant mortality among colonists. The disease spread rapidly in crowded urban areas and during military conflicts, leading to widespread fear and social disruption. Efforts to control Smallpox included variolation, a primitive form of vaccination, which became more widespread in the 18th century, contributing to the eventual decline of the disease.

Geography and Environment — Manufactured Products


Molasses is a thick, dark syrup produced during the process of refining Sugarcane into Sugar. In Colonial America, Molasses was a valuable commodity, primarily imported from the West Indies. It was widely used as a sweetener in cooking and baking, as well as in the production of Rum and other alcoholic beverages. Molasses played a significant role in trade and commerce, particularly in the Triangular Trade Routes between the American Colonies, Africa, and the Caribbean.

Naval Stores

Naval Stores refer to a range of products derived from pine trees, vital for shipbuilding and maritime activities during the Colonial Period. These products included pitch, tar, and resin, used to seal and waterproof ships’ hulls and rigging. In Colonial America, particularly in regions with abundant pine forests like New England and the Carolinas, the production of Naval Stores emerged as a significant economic activity. Colonists harvested sap from pine trees and then processed it into valuable naval supplies through techniques like distillation and boiling. The Naval Stores industry supported maritime trade, British naval power, and colonial economies. See North Carolina Colony for more information on Naval Stores.


Rum is a distilled alcoholic beverage made from Sugarcane byproducts, such as Molasses. In Colonial America, Rum was a crucial commodity, produced primarily in the Caribbean and New England. It was a vital part of the Triangular Trade, with New England Distilleries exporting Rum to Africa, where it was traded for slaves, who were then traded in the Caribbean for Molasses or Sugar, which was finally shipped back to New England to produce more Rum.

Salted Fish

Salted Fish was a staple food in Colonial America, particularly in coastal regions where fresh fish was abundant. Fish such as cod, haddock, and mackerel were salted and preserved to extend their shelf life, making them valuable commodities for trade and sustenance, especially during the winter months when fresh fish was scarce. Salted Fish was also exported from New England to Europe.

Geography and Environment — Waterways

Atlantic Ocean

The Atlantic Ocean played a crucial role in Colonial America, serving as a highway for trade, transportation, and communication between the colonies and Europe. It facilitated the exchange of goods, ideas, and people, shaping the economic, social, and cultural landscape of the colonies. The Atlantic Ocean also influenced colonial expansion, exploration, and conflict, as European powers competed for dominance and colonies sought access to overseas markets and resources. However, the Triangular Trade Routes across the ocean, including the Middle Passage, helped grow and expand the Transatlantic Slave Trade.

Great Lakes

The Great Lakes, comprising Lakes Superior, Michigan, Huron, Erie, and Ontario, played significant roles in Colonial America’s exploration, trade, and settlement. French and British explorers used the Great Lakes as strategic waterways for fur trading and establishing colonial outposts. The lakes provided access to the interior of North America, facilitating trade networks and migration routes that shaped the region’s economic and cultural development during the colonial period.

Geography and Environment — Locations

Breadbasket Colonies

The Breadbasket Colonies, also known as the Middle Colonies, were a region of Colonial America consisting of Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, and Delaware. These colonies were characterized by fertile soil and favorable climate, making them ideal for agriculture. They became major producers of wheat, corn, oats, and other grains, earning them the nickname “Breadbasket” for their significant contributions to the colonial economy through grain exports.

Chesapeake Colonies

The Chesapeake Colonies were a group of English colonies in North America that included Virginia, Maryland, and parts of present-day Delaware. Named after the Chesapeake Bay, these colonies were primarily characterized by their reliance on agriculture, particularly tobacco cultivation. The region’s warm climate and fertile soil made it ideal for tobacco farming, which became the primary cash crop. The Chesapeake Colonies also played a significant role in the development of representative government in America, with the establishment of the House of Burgesses in Virginia in 1619, marking the first representative assembly in the English colonies.

Middle Colonies

The Middle Colonies were a group of English colonies in North America situated between the New England and Southern Colonies. The region included present-day New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Delaware. The Middle Colonies were notable for their diverse population, which included immigrants from various European countries, as well as a significant number of Quakers, Dutch, Germans, and Scots-Irish. Economically, the Middle Colonies were known for their fertile soil, diverse agricultural production, and thriving trade. The cities of New York and Philadelphia emerged as important commercial centers and helped grow trade and cultural exchange with Europe and the other regions in Colonial America.

New England Colonies

The New England Colonies were a group of English Colonies located in the northeastern region of North America during the Colonial Period. This area included the present-day states of Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and New Hampshire. The New England Colonies were characterized by their Puritan religious beliefs, which influenced their social, political, and economic structures. These colonies emphasized education and established the first American public school systems. Economically, the New England Colonies relied on fishing, shipbuilding, trade, and agriculture, although the rocky soil and harsh climate limited agricultural production compared to other regions. The New England Colonies played a significant role in the early history of the United States, particularly in terms of religious freedom, governance, and the development of an American identity.

Restoration Colonies

The Restoration Colonies were established in the American colonies during the period of the English Restoration (1660–1688), following the return of King Charles II to the throne. These colonies included Carolina, New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. They were granted by the English Crown to loyal supporters in recognition of their service or as a means of repaying debts.

Southern Colonies

The Southern Colonies were a group of English Colonies located in the southeastern region of North America during the Colonial Period. This area included the present-day states of Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia. The Southern Colonies were characterized by their reliance on cash crops, particularly tobacco, rice, and indigo, which were cultivated on large plantations using slave labor. The plantation economy shaped social structures, with a small wealthy elite class dominating politics and society. The Southern Colonies also had a significant African slave population, which contributed to the development of distinct cultural and racial dynamics. Additionally, the Southern Colonies had a more rural and agricultural economy compared to the industrial and commercial economies of the Northern Colonies.

West Indies

The West Indies refers to the islands of the Caribbean Sea and surrounding coastal areas, including the Greater Antilles, Lesser Antilles, and the Bahamas. During the Colonial Period, the West Indies were a crucial part of European colonial empires, particularly those of Spain, Britain, France, and the Netherlands. The islands were significant for their production of cash crops such as Sugar, Tobacco, and Cotton, which were cultivated on large plantations using enslaved African labor. The West Indies played a role in the Transatlantic Slave Trade, serving as a major hub for the transportation of enslaved Africans to the Americas. The region’s strategic location also made it a target for European rivalries and conflicts over control of lucrative trade routes and resources.

Culture and Society — People

Samuel de Champlain

Samuel de Champlain was a French explorer, navigator, and cartographer known as the “Father of New France.” He played a crucial role in the early exploration and colonization of Canada and the northeastern United States. Champlain founded Quebec City in 1608, establishing the first permanent European settlement in Canada. He made numerous voyages exploring and mapping the St. Lawrence River and the Great Lakes region, seeking a westward passage to Asia and establishing trade relations with Indians.

Samuel de Champlain, Discovery of Lake Champlain, Illustration
This illustration depicts Samuel de Champlain during the discovery of Lake Champlain. Image Source: The Founder of New France: A Chronicle of Champlain by Charles W. Colby, 1920.

Olaudah Equiano

Olaudah Equiano, also known as Gustavus Vassa, was a prominent African abolitionist, author, and former enslaved person. His autobiography, The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, published in 1789, provided a firsthand account of the horrors of the Transatlantic Slave Trade and played a role in the growth of the Abolitionist Movement. Equiano was born in present-day Nigeria and was enslaved at a young age. He endured the Middle Passage to the Americas and was eventually sold to a British naval officer. After gaining his freedom, Equiano became actively involved in the Abolition Movement.

Lords Proprietors of Carolina

The Lords Proprietors of Carolina were the eight noble individuals to whom King Charles II of Britain granted the Carolina Territory in 1663. They were tasked with establishing and governing the colony. The Lords Proprietors had considerable autonomy in managing Carolina, including the ability to establish laws, appoint officials, and distribute land. However, conflicts arose among them, leading to the eventual division of Carolina into North Carolina and South Carolina in 1712.

William Penn 

William Penn was an English Quaker and the founder of the Province of Pennsylvania, which later became the state of Pennsylvania. Penn was granted a charter by King Charles II in 1681 to establish a colony in the New World as a haven for Quakers and other religious minorities. Penn also played a key role in the development of the concept of religious freedom in the colonies and was instrumental in the passage of the Charter of Liberties, which granted religious freedom to all inhabitants of the colony.

Robert Walpole

Robert Walpole was a British politician who is often regarded as the first Prime Minister of Great Britain. He served as Prime Minister from 1721 to 1742 and held influence over British politics in the early 18th century. Walpole was a member of the Whig Party and is known for stabilizing the British government and promoting economic growth. He pursued a policy of moderation and compromise, seeking to maintain stability and avoid costly foreign entanglements. In American History, he is recognized for the unwritten policy of Salutary Neglect, which eased the enforcement of British laws in the American Colonies.

Culture and Society — Religion

French Jesuit Priests

French Jesuit Priests were members of the Society of Jesus, a Catholic religious order founded by Ignatius of Loyola in the 16th Century. In Colonial America, French Jesuit Priests played a significant role in missionary work among Native American Indian tribes, particularly in the Great Lakes Region and present-day Canada. They sought to convert indigenous peoples to Christianity, often adapting their approach to Indian customs and languages. French Jesuits established missions, schools, and churches, contributing to the spread of Catholicism and European influence in the New World.

Sabbath Laws

Sabbath Laws in Colonial America, derived from religious principles, regulated activities on Sundays. These laws varied by colony but generally mandated strict observance of the Christian Sabbath, prohibiting work, recreation, and secular activities on Sundays. Violations could result in fines or other penalties. Sabbath Laws reflected the religious values of the colonists and aimed to uphold the sanctity of the Sabbath day as a time for worship, rest, and reflection, shaping social and cultural norms in colonial society.

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  • Article Title Transatlantic Trade — APUSH 2.4 Notes, Review, and Terms
  • Date 1607–1754
  • Author
  • Keywords APUSH US History, Transatlantic Trade
  • Website Name American History Central
  • Access Date June 21, 2024
  • Publisher R.Squared Communications, LLC
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update June 14, 2024