America: A Narrative History

It was both divisive and unifying to carve out a new civilization in the “New World.”
The majority of Europeans, who were desperate for money, were willing to risk their lives to migrate to the American colonies, while others pursued religious freedom or political stability.
The majority of those who arrived in Colonial America were young, with nearly half being under the age of twenty-five, poor, male, or nearly slaves or indentured servants.
In the 1800s, England sent 50,000 convicts to the North American colonies, mainly to alleviate overcrowding in their prisons and provide the amount of staff needed at the time.
I. The Shape of Early America
The average death rate during the settlements first years was around 50%.

Once colonial life became secure, the population grew swiftly whereby the American population during the colonial period doubled every 25 years.

* Population Growth

The average age at marriage for women in England was around 25 or 26 while in America it dropped to around 20. Men in the colony also married while they were young.

The birth rate also grew rapidly because the women who got married at a younger age had adequate time for other two pregnancies especially during years of childbearing.

Death due to childbirth and childhood were also rampant since most women gave birth back at home, which offered harsh conditions and poor sanitary conditions. Between 20 to 25 percent of women died during birthing or later on while almost a quarter of babies died during infancy. Many deaths were reported in children than adults.

Mortality rates were lower in the colonies due to fertile land being in plenty and famine became rare after the first periods of settlement even though the winters were sterner than in England.

Less susceptible to disease people were the Americans since their colonial settlements were more sparsely populated and scattered than those in Europe.

Women in the Colonies

Bringing to America deeply rooted convictions regarding the women’s inferiority by most colonists as one New England Minister pointed out that women are weak creatures not endowed with constancy and strength of the mind as men.

Women in most colonies could not guide the husband but to guide the house. They could not sign contracts, hold any office, bring lawsuits, vote, go to schools, or become ministers.

* Women’s Work

Women’s work involved activities in the fields, garden, and house.

Unmarried women worked outside their home as the majority of them moved into other households to make clothes or assist with children. Others stayed back at homespun thread into yarn or took in children.

Farm women’s duties include waking up in the morning by sunrise to prepare breakfast. They hauled water from the well and building fire. They woke up the children, milked the cows, tended to the gardens, played with the children, churned butter, fed livestock, prepared lunch, worked in the garden again, prepared dinner, prepared the kids ready to bed, made the kitchen clean before retiring to bed.

Elizabeth Pinckney story; she was born in 1722 in West Indies. Eliza was brought up in the Antigua and educated in New England and at the age of 15 relocated with her parents to South Carolina. Her father, Lucas George, who was a British Army officer, inherited three large plantations. When he was called back to Antigua for duty, he left Eliza in charge of the plantations and her younger sister and sick mother. Eliza concentrated on vegetable farming, which made her family a massive fortune in the region. In 1774, she married Charles Pinckney who vowed to keep Eliza running her families plantation. In her marriage, she became a good mother and wife to her husband together with being a good mistress to all her servants.

* Women and Religion

During the colonial area women who challenged ministers’ authority were always prosecuted or punished.

Religious roles of black women were a bit dissimilar from their whites in colonial America.

Black men and women were excluded from church membership due to the hysteria that slaves who were converted to Christianity would try to seek their freedom. To make this clear,

Virginia’s 1667 law specified that children of slaves would forever remain as slaves even after being baptized as Christians.

II. Society and Economy in the Southern Colonies

Planters and merchants became a class after the common folks.

Staple crops were much profitable and valued by the mother country.

Tobacco production was the source of foundation of Virginia in the 17th century.

Rice cultivation was the source of foundation for South Carolina and Georgina.

First huts in VA and MD were one room huts with dirt floors that had little privacy.

Later cabins that were furnished sparsely on brick or stone foundations with thatched roofed straws were built.

III. Society and Economy in New England

New England colonies were a bit dissimilar from the middle and Southern Atlantic sectors that were governed especially by strict religious concerns concentrated on less commercial agriculture, less slavery, and focused more on trade.

* Townships

By law, every New England town had the duty of collecting taxes in support of the church and every resident whether a member or non-member of the church had to attend a Sunday and midweek service.

God had created a covenant whereby people formed a congregation for worship as believed by the Puritans.

To Puritans, the ultimate source of authority was not majority rule but by the Bible as interpreted by magistrates and ministers.

Township grants were provided to settlers groups who usually gathered in the church.

* Dwellings and Daily Life

New England wood-framed houses had roofs that were pitched steeply to minimize the snow buildup, and the roofs were mostly grass thatched.

Family life revolved mostly around the living room that was located on the ground floor (halls) where different meals were prepared in fireplaces, and they spent their time.

* The New England Economy

New England farms were filled with rocks from the glacier-scouted soil; hence, it took 60 days to clear them per acre. Staple foods sold in the market grew in harsh climate due to the short planting season.

New England fishing became an alternative source of income for many people since their waters have the highest concentration of codfish, which was popular in European market. Whales too are common on their coast supplied them with oil for lubrication, lighting, and making other products.

Shipbuilding development was encouraged by the thriving fish industry and growing expertise at seafaring that promoted the transatlantic commerce.

Rising incomes and booming trade led to luxury goods taste in New England that clashed with the Puritan way of thinking and living.

* Shipbuilding

Forests in New England provided a great income to the country. The old trees were utilized as ships’ masts and spars.

Nearly 1/3 of British ships were made in the colonies because the British government had pointed out that the tallest and straightest American trees mostly white oak and pines were to be used in the building of Royal Navy ships. American ships were also popular of their quality and price.

* Trade

Legal and illegal trade was practiced by the New England as it was part of the North Atlantic commercial network thus conducting trade legally with the British Isles together with the British West Indies and also with Portugal, Netherlands, Spain, and other major colonies illegally.

Disadvantages and advantages in trade for Middle colonies and New England were their indifference in trade from the south thus their lack of staple foods to be used for exchange for English goods and the success of their shipping and commercial enterprises respectively.

English government’s prohibitive duties on fish, wheat, flour, and meat were enhanced in 1660 to protect its agriculture and fisheries.

The triangular trade allowed people from New England to ship rum particularly to Africa’s West Coast in exchange for black slaves who were later on taken to West Indies for selling and returned home with West Indian merchandise like molasses used in the manufacturing of rum.

* The Devil in New England

Salem witchcraft hysteria was an episode that was triggered by several girls who were intrigued by the voodoo and fortune telling by Tituba, a slave from Barbados in 1961-1962. The girls started behaving oddly by backing, shouting and when they were asked who did that to them; they claimed it was Sarah Good, Tituba, and Sarah Osborne. They were later arrested, and the trials of those suspected of witchcraft were marred with jailing and hanging of those found guilty.

Farmer Giles Corey story; he was accused of witchcraft; his neighbors lowered him into a grave with a board placed over his body loaded with heavy boulders to force him to confess. After three days of torture, he failed to succumb to guilt but death and uttered only two words “more weight.” He died by leaving his estate to his son instead of allowing it to be confiscated by the government as per the witch trials.

Explanations for the mass hysteria; the event was just an event that was instigated by theatrical adolescents who were trying to escape their normal daily routine life. Majority of the accused were women who failed to abide to their traditional roles.

IV. Society and Economy in the Middle Colonies

Middle colonies were a blend of New England colonies and Southern colonies.

* An Economic Mix

Food-stuffs for export to the West Indies and the South slave-based plantations like barley, wheat, flour, oats, and livestock were cultivated and produced particularly by the middle colonies.

Fur trade that was popular with the Native Americans was conducted through the assistance of Hudson, Delaware, and the Susquehanna that provided a backcountry for New York and Pennsylvania.

* An Ethnic Mix

In NY and NJ, Dutch language and culture lingered.

By the mid-1800’s, the middle colonies were the quickest rising region in the entire North America.

The Germans came to America from the region of Rhineland in Europe to escape religious wars. William Penn brochures that were translated in German circulated all through Europe and his promise of religious freedom appealed to many victims.

Mennonites, German Baptists, represented the first wave of German migrants.

Scots-Irish moved further into the backcountry of Pennsylvania in the 18th century due to the land attraction.

Ethnic minorities in the middle colonies also enriched their population.

* The Backcountry

Pennsylvania became one of the greatest distribution points for the diverse ethnic societies of European origin.

Germans and Scots-Irish moved into the backcountry, built cabins, tended farms on Indian lands and also built evangelical churches.

V. Race-Based Slavery

Race-based slavery (not a moral issue); some white colonists believed that only God was the one who could determine a person’s station in life.

Slave codes (in most colonial legislatures) were used in regulating aspects of their entire lives.

Codes allowed owners to severely punish the slaves by slitting their noses, whipping them, cutting the cords of their ankle, or even ending their lives.

* Color Prejudice

The Portuguese and Spanish established a common global trade in enslaved Africans.

The color was the crucial rationalization used to justify the slavery establishment and its harsh brutality.

*Colonial Slavery

Sugar-based economies in the French and British West Indies had the total demand for black slaves.

The profits generated by sugar in the Caribbean were much greater than all of the commerce in the American colonies.

Tobacco, rice, and indigo in VA and MD became established as the number of slaves increasing.

Indentured servants decreased whereby between 1700 and 1800, only 1500 arrived in American colonies.

* The Market in Slaves

Africans were forbidden to use their ancient languages, practicing their African religion, or sustaining their cultures.

The demand for slaves soared in the Southern colonies. By 1750, British American had almost 250,000 slaves.

There were 150,000 African slaves in VA and MD; there were 60,000 in SC and GA.

* Slave Abuse and Resistance

Colonial laws allowed whites to employ brutal means in disciplining and controlling slaves.

The Stono River (SC) Rebellion in 1739 gave freight to the white planters that made them convince the national assembly to set up the Negro Act.

The Negro Act of 1740 called for harsher punishment for rebellious slaves and more oversight of their daily activities.

* Slavery in New York City

Most slaves in the northern colonies resided in the towns and its surrounding area provided them with more chances in moving around the urban.

Conspiracy of 1741 (in NYC) finally ended after four whites, and 17 slaves were hanged as 13 black slaves were burned as others deported.

Such organizations for revolt were rare because the punishments were severe and the likelihood of success was also minimal.

VI. Colonial Cities

Colonial cities hugged the coastline, or like Philadelphia sprang upon a river large enough to handle oceangoing vessels.

The population was 10 % in the large coastal cities but had a disproportionate influence on the society, politics, commerce, and culture.

* The Social and Political Order

The middle class was shop owners, skilled craftsmen, and Innkeepers.

Urban male workers were artisans who made their living at handing.

Dangers in colonial cities were common due to frequent fires and epidemics like malaria.

The “helpless” in the towns were offered food, shelter, money, and fuel.

* The Urban Web

Overland travel in the colonies was by foot or by the horse.

Inn and taverns were vital since traveling at night was dangerous, and most Americans enjoyed drinking.

Act against Intemperance, Immorality and Profaneness (Mass Bay Colony) were directed to taverns, which had become nurseries for intemperance.

By the end of the 1700’s, there were more taverns in the United States than any other established business since they became social institutions and more democratic.

Postal service was almost non-existent in the 17th century since people gave letters to sea captains or travelers.

The popularity of newspapers grew as the due to the success and reliability of mail delivery.

John Peter Zenger’s court case (1735) in NY was a vital landmark in the development of the press freedom.

VII. The Enlightenment in America

The Enlightenment celebrated rational inquiry and individual freedom.

They employed new materials such as telescopes and microscopes used in close observation and experiment observation.

* The Age of Reason

Nicolaus Copernicus (1533) and the heliocentric challenged the respected ancient belief that planet earth was at the epitome of the universe.

Isaac Newton (1687) and the theory of gravity explained the earth’s gravitation pull.

He implied that natural laws apparently could be grasped by the reasoning of human beings and mathematical calculation.

Deists believed that God created the world and place it in its exact motion, but was no longer interacting with human beings and the earth.

Evil, they said, resulted from human ignorance of the natures rational laws.

Deists like B. Franklin and T. Jefferson said the best way to develop both the human nature and society was by cultivating reason since it was our highest virtue.

John Locke maintained that natural law required a government that governed people well and respected everyone’s natural rights.

* The American Enlightenment

Franklin was devoted to scientific investigation.

His experiments encompassed the fields of physics, geology, medicine, astronomy, meteorology, and among others.

Franklin questioned Jesus divinity and the assumption that the Bible was truly Gods word.

* Education in the Colonies

White colonial Americans were the known for being much more literate in the world.

Education was primarily the foundation of the family together with the church.

In 1647, the Mass. Bay Colony needed each town to set up a grammar school.

The Dutch in New Amsterdam was much fascinated by Education just like the New England Puritans.

The Quakers in Pennsylvania established private schools.

Wealthy Southern planters and merchants hired experienced tutors as some took their children to New England for schooling.

VIII. The Great Awakening

The growing popularity of Enlightenment rationalism posed a significant challenge to the lives of in Europe and America.

The American colonies experienced a prevalent spiritual zeal revival designed to restore the emotions primacy in the realm of religion.

The Church of England, the Anglican Church, in Maryland, Virginia, Carolinas, and Delaware was established.

In New York, the Dutch Reformed Church competed with Anglicanism for control.

Pennsylvania had no single state that supported the church.

The parish system was thrown into turmoil (1730’s-1740) by outspoken traveling evangelists known as itinerants who claimed the majority of church ministers were incompetent.


Worries about the erosion of religious dedication helped ignite emotional revival series referred to as the Great Awakening.

Every social class, region, and ethnic group, which participated, was swept with renewed spiritual passion ecstasy.

Revivals divided families, congregations, and towns.

Revivals fueled the growth of new denominations.

*Jonathan Edwards

A pastor in Northampton was one of the brilliant theologian and philosopher in America.

He was shocked by the town’s growing lack of convictions

The young people’s redemptions were pre-occupied with pleasures that were sinful which in turn indulged other innocent individuals; hence, corrupted them.

And Christians’ dangerous obsession with making money and the new ideas brought about by the enlightenment instead of leading a religious life.

“Sinners in the hands of an Angry God” (1741) was designed in part to frighten people to seek salvation.

*George Whitefield

English minister whose reputation as a great spellbinding Christian evangelist was known throughout the colonies.

Whitefield set out to restore the religious fire’s intensity in America.

A fourteen-month tour, preaching from Maine to Georgia.

Enthralled audiences with the flamboyant style, golden voice, and unparalleled eloquence.

Even B. Franklin who went to attended one of his sermons in Philadelphia was appalled by his fiery service that he emptied his pockets into the collection plate. Franklin also was quoted, “I was almost persuaded to believe.”

* Radical Evangelists

William Tennet and son, Gilbert Tennant, said they invaded parishes only when the local minister showed no interest in “Getting to the place and getting in it.”

These preachers also denounced members of the colonial elite for spreading anarchy and dissolution.

Rev. James Davenport (later found to be unstable) 1743 attracted a huge crowd by building a bonfire and then urged them to burn their rationalist books and fancy clothes.

* Women and Revivals

The Great Awakening’s most controversial element was the surfacing of women who did defy the biblical injunction that prohibited them speaking in religious services.

Jonathan Edwards denounced one such woman as a brawling woman and should keep chiefly at home.

* A Changing Religious Landscape

The Great Awakening made religion intensely personal by establishing both a deep spiritual feeling of guilt among Christians and an intense yearning for salvation.

It also undermined established churches by emphasizing that all individuals could receive Gods grace without the guidance of ministers.

“Old Lights” conservatives criticized democratic revivalism and disruptive and sparred with “New Lights” evangelist provoked emotional outbursts of their listeners and celebrated individual freedom in faith.

In New England, Puritanism disintegrated in the middle of the intense warfare over the Great Awakening revivals.

* The Heart versus the Head

The Great Awakening subsided by 1750.

Ministers could no longer control the spiritual life directions as many Christians were taking charge of their spiritual life and more denominations were established.

The Awakening and the Enlightenment both cut across the colonies mainland thus assisting in binding them together.

Both emphasized the right and of people making decisions.

And both aroused hope that America would be the Promised Land that will assist individuals to get the perfection of reason or piety.

Revivals weakened the authority of the ministers who were already established and their churches.

Just as colonial resentment of British economic laws would weaken colonials’ loyalty to the king.

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