History of the United States
The colonial heritage (1607-1753)

The first English attempt to establish a colony in what is now the United States took place in 1585. Sir Walter Raleigh sent settlers to Roanoke Island, off the coast of North Carolina. But this attempt at colonization failed.

In 1607, a small band of about 100 English colonists reached the coast near Chesapeake Bay. They founded Jamestown, the first permanent English settlement in North America. During the next 150 years, a steady stream of colonists went to America and settled near the coast.

The earliest colonists faced great hardship and danger. They suffered from lack of food and from disease, and they were sometimes attacked by Indians. But the colonists soon established productive farms and plantations; built towns, roads, churches, and schools; and began many small industries.

The American colonists also developed political practices and social beliefs that have had a major influence on the history of the United States. They made strides toward democratic government, and they placed a high value on individual freedom and on hard work.

The thirteen colonies

In the early 1600's, the English king began granting charters for the purpose of establishing colonies in America. By the mid-1700's, most of the settlements had been formed into 13 British colonies. Each colony had a governor and legislature, but each was under the ultimate control of the British government.

The 13 colonies stretched from what is now Maine in the north to Georgia in the south. They included the New England Colonies of Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and New Hampshire in the far north; the Middle Colonies of New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Delaware; Virginia and Maryland along Chesapeake Bay; and the Southern Colonies of North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia in the far south.

Virginia and Maryland were among the earliest English colonies. Virginia began with the Jamestown settlement of 1607. The London Company, an organization of English merchants, sent the settlers to America, hoping that they would find gold and other treasures. But the settlers found no treasures at Jamestown, and they faced great hardships. In about 1612, some Jamestown colonists began growing tobacco, which the London Company sold in Europe.

Maryland was founded by the Calverts, a family of wealthy English Roman Catholics. Catholics were persecuted in England, and the Calverts wanted to provide a place where Catholics could enjoy freedom. Colonists established the first Maryland settlement in 1634.

New England.
Puritans, originally financed by English merchants, founded the New England Colonies. Puritans were English Protestants who faced persecution because of their opposition to the Church of England, the official church in England.

In 1620, a group of Separatists (Puritans who had separated from the Church of England) and other colonists settled in New England. Called Pilgrims, they founded the Plymouth Colony along Cape Cod Bay. It was the second permanent British settlement in North America. Between 1628 and 1630, Puritans founded the Massachusetts Bay Colony at what are now Salem and Boston. Plymouth became part of Massachusetts Colony in 1691.

Connecticut was first settled in 1633 and became a colony in 1636. Colonists settled in Rhode Island in 1636. Rhode Island became a colony in 1647. New Hampshire, first settled in 1623, became a colony in 1680.

The Middle Colonies. Soon after English settlement started, the Dutch founded New Netherland, a trading post and colony that included what are now New York and northern New Jersey. They began a permanent settlement in New York in 1624, and in New Jersey in 1660. In 1638, the Swedes established a trading post and settlement called New Sweden in present-day Delaware and southern New Jersey. The Dutch claimed New Sweden in 1655. But in 1664, the English--far better established in America than the Dutch--took over New Netherland and New Sweden.

Swedes established a small settlement in what is now Pennsylvania in 1643. In 1681, William Penn of England received a charter that made him proprietor of Pennsylvania. Penn was a Quaker--a religious group that was persecuted in many countries. At Penn's urging, Quakers and other settlers who sought freedom flocked to Pennsylvania. Penn carefully planned settlements in his colony, and Pennsylvania thrived.

The Southern Colonies.
In 1663, King Charles II gave the land between Virginia and Florida, called Carolina, to eight proprietors. Virginians had set up a settlement in the northern part of Carolina about 10 years earlier. After 1663, Carolina attracted English settlers, French Protestants called Huguenots, and Americans from other colonies. In 1712, the northern two-thirds of the region was divided into two colonies, North Carolina and South Carolina. The southern one-third of Carolina remained largely unsettled until 1733. Then, James Oglethorpe of England founded Georgia there.

Life in colonial America

Reports of the economic success and religious and political freedom of the early colonists attracted a steady flow of new settlers. Through immigration and natural growth, the colonial population rose to 11/3 million by 1753. Most of the settlers came from Britain, but the colonies also drew newcomers from almost every other country of Western Europe. In addition, the slave trade brought in so many Africans that, by the 1750's, blacks made up about 20 per cent of the population.

The colonists.
Europeans knew that a person who went to America faced great hardship and danger. But the New World also offered people the opportunity for a new start in life. Some Europeans went to America seeking religious freedom. In addition to the Puritans, Roman Catholics, Quakers, and Huguenots, they included Jews and members of German Protestant sects.

Other people who went to America had no choice in the matter. They included prisoners from overcrowded English jails, Irishmen captured by the English in battle, and black Africans captured in intertribal warfare and sold to European traders. The prisoners and captives were sold into service in America.

The economy.
The earliest colonists had to struggle to produce enough food to stay alive. But before long, colonial America had a thriving economy. Planters grew large crops of rice, indigo, and tobacco. Small farmers raised livestock and grew such crops as maize and wheat. When not busy in their fields, many farmers fished or hunted. Some cut timber from forests to provide the materials for such products as barrels and ships. The colonists used part of what they produced, but they exported large quantities of goods. They traded chiefly with Britain, whose manufacturing firms depended on raw materials from its colonies. In return, they received manufactured goods. The colonies also traded with the French, Dutch, and Spanish.

The colonists and government.
The colonists rejected the old idea that government was an institution inherited from the past. Instead, they regarded it as something they themselves had created for their own use. The colonists lived under British rule. But to them, laws made in Britain meant little until they were enforced on the spot. They often ignored British laws. This independent attitude would soon lead to a clash between the Americans and the British.