SS7 Chapter 04 Notes: Life in the American Colonies

Section 1: Colonial Economy (p. 84-89)

Making a Living in the Colonies

In Colonial America, most colonists were farmers or had a business linked to farming. In each region, the colonists learned how to best use the climate and land.

In New England, long winters and infertile soil made large-scale farming difficult for the colonists. Instead, farmers practiced subsistence farming (only grow enough crops to feed the families). The whole family worked.

Building ships and shipping were important industries in New England. The wood needed for shipbuilding came from forests in the region. Fishing and whaling were also important industries in New England.

In the Middle Colonies, the soil and climate were very good for farming. Farmers were able to plant larger areas and grew more crops. In New York and Pennsylvania, farmers grew large amounts of cash crops (crops that could be sold easily). Farmers sent their farming products to New York City and Philadelphia to be shipped to other places. These cities became busy ports.

The Middle Colonies also had industries. These businesses ranged from small to very large.

Many German, Dutch, Swedish, and other non-English settlers came to the Middle Colonies. They brought cultural diversity, or variety, to the Middle Colonies.

The Southern Colonies also had rich soil and a warm climate that was perfect of farming. There was not much industry in the region. Southerners could plant large areas and produce large cash crops.

Large farms, called plantations, were often located along bodies of water (ocean and rivers). This made it easier to ship crops to market by boat.

In the Southern Colonies, smaller farms grew corn and tobacco. There were many more small farms than there were plantations. Even so, the plantation owners had more money and more power. They controlled the economy and politics in the Southern Colonies.

Tobacco was the main crop in Maryland and Virginia. Many workers were needed for growing tobacco and preparing it for sale. It cost a lot of money to hire workers, so Southern farmers began using enslaved Africans.

The main cash crop in South Carolina and Georgia was rice. Growing and harvesting rice was hard work. Many workers were needed, so rice growers also used slave labor. Farmers made more money from growing rice than from growing tobacco.

The Growth of Slavery

There was slavery in West Africa before the Europeans came to the Americas. Colonial plantation owners needed workers. West African slave traders had workers to sell and began shipping enslaved people to America and were traded for goods. Slavery and the slave trade became important parts of the colonial economy.

Enslaved Africans were sent by ship to the Americas. Slave ships traveled from Europe to West Africa to the Americas (three-legs).  This three-sided route (shaped like a triangle) was called the triangular trade. The second, or middle, part across the ocean from West Africa was called the “Middle Passage.”

Many Africans died (from disease) during the Middle Passage because conditions were terrible on the ships. Enslavers (people that made Africans slaves) tried to squeeze as many slaves on these ships as possible.

Africans were sold into slavery once they arrived in America. Slave owners often split up families. Many colonies had slave codes (rules about the behavior and punishment of enslaved people).  On the plantations, some African slaves worked in the houses, but most worked in the fields.

There were also people who did not like slavery and believed no human had the right to own another. Puritans and Quakers (religious groups) were among those with this point of view.


Section 2: Colonial Government (p. 92-95)

English Principles of Government

English colonists brought their ideas about government with them. Two beliefs were especially important to the English system of government:

  • The first was in protected rights (rights that are protected by law), such as the right to a trial by jury.
  • The second belief was in representative government (a system where voters elect people to make laws and run the government). Colonists believed that their lawmakers should represent the common people.

The colonists believed that government must respect the rights of the people it governs. Laws made sure these rights were protected.

The idea of protected rights started with the Magna Carta which means “Great Charter.” The Magna Carta protected the English people from unfair treatment by the government and unfair punishment and even kings and queens had to follow the law.

Colonists also believed in representative government. In a representative government, the citizens choose people to make laws and run the government. These people represent (act or speak for) the wishes of those who elected, or chose, them.

These representatives gathered in the Parliament (England’s law-making body). It was made up of two parts, or houses: the House of Lords and the House of Commons.

  • The House of Commons included commoners (everyday people).
  • The House of Lords were members of the aristocracy— dukes, earls, barons, and so forth.

Parliament was a model for the lawmaking branches of government in America. Like Parliament, the U.S. Congress has two houses: the House of Representatives and the Senate.

In 1689, the English Bill of Rights set clear limits on a ruler’s power. It limited the ruler’s ability to set aside Parliament’s laws. Rulers could no longer require taxes without Parliament’s permission.

The bill said that members of Parliament would be freely elected.

Types of colonial governments:

  • Some of the thirteen colonies were owned by an individual or group. They were called proprietary colonies and they set up most of their own rules.
  • Other colonies had been started by a company with permission of the English king and were called charter colonies.
  • Some colonies in America became royal colonies which put them under direct English control. Parliament appointed (chose) a governor and a council.

Only white men who owned property (wealthy) could vote. Even so, a large share of the population did take part in government in some way.

English Economic Policies

Many European nations followed an idea called mercantilism (a system for building wealth and power by building supplies of gold and silver). To do this, a country must export, or sell, to other countries more than it imports, or buys, from them. A country must also set up colonies. Colonies have two purposes. They provide raw materials and are a market for exports.

The English followed this system of mercantilism. The American colonies provided raw materials. These raw materials might be crops such as tobacco and rice. They might be natural resources, too, like lumber and fur. The colonies also bought English-made goods such as tools, clothing, and furniture.


Section 3: Culture and Society (p. 96-100)

Life in the Colonies

In 1700, there were about 250,000 people living in the colonies. By the mid-1770s, there were about 2.5 million colonists.  Immigration (when people move permanently to one country from another) was important to this growth.

Overall living in the colonies was safe but there were still some outbreaks killed large numbers of people. This is called an epidemic.

The American spirit of independence began in these early years. Settlers left their home countries far behind. In America, they faced new challenges. The old ways of doing things no longer worked, so people began doing things in a different way—their own way.

Men were the official heads of the family and most ran the farms or businesses. A young man might also become an apprentice (a person trained by a skilled craftsman).  Women ran their homes and cared for the children.  Even children worked and started around four to five.

American Beliefs

Life in the colonies was built upon a strong, two-part foundation: the spirit of independence and the family.

Americans valued education. Parents often taught their children to read and write at home.  Massachusetts passed a public education law.  The result of this was a high level of literacy (the ability to read and write) in New England.

In the Middle Colonies, most schools were private and were run by women and religious groups.

Religion shaped much of colonial life. Ministers were asking people to renew their faith and return to the strong faith of earlier days. This renewal of religious faith was called the Great Awakening.  The most important effect of the Great Awakening was greater religious freedom. More colonists began to choose their own faith.  It helped to spread other ideas as well including political ideas (like revolution and independence).

Another movement spread from Europe to the colonies called the Enlightenment. With it came the idea that knowledge, reason, and science could improve society.  The Enlightenment also brought ideas about freedom of thought and expression, equality, and popular government.

Freedom of the press became important. Newspapers carried news about politics. Often the government did not like what the newspapers wrote and told them not to publish the information. The publishers fought this censorship. Their battle helped a free press to grow in the United States.


Section 4: Rivalry in North America (p. 101-105)

Rivalry Between the French and the British

In the 1700s, Britain and France were top world powers and competed for colonies all over the world, including North America.

West of the thirteen English colonies were the Appalachian mountains. Beyond them was the Ohio River Valley which held many natural resources. Both the British and French wanted the region. The French were there first trading furs but England desired this land.

The British and French both built forts throughout the Ohio River valley.  George Washington (a member of the British military at this point) attacked a French fort but could not overtake it.

Both the French and the British looked to the Native Americans for help. The French had the advantage because Native Americans trusted them. The British had already taken much land from the Native Americans and could not be trusted.

The British tried to make a treaty with the Iroquois Confederacy but the Iroquois leaders decided to stay neutral (to take no side in the fighting).

Rivalry Between the French and the British

Early in the war, the French were winning when they captured several British forts.

William Pitt (a great military planner) became the leader of the British government.  He decided to send more trained British soldiers to fight in North America. He also decided that Great Britain would pay the high cost of fighting the war. Higher taxes on the colonies would pay for it later.

The British won a major victory when they captured Quebec (the capital of New France). The next year, the British took Montreal and ended the war in North America. The war finally ended with the Treaty of Paris in 1763.  In the treaty, Great Britain received Canada, Florida, and French lands east of the Mississippi. French lands west of the Mississippi – the Louisiana Territory – went to Spain.

New British Policies

After the war, the British controlled the Ohio River valley and wouldn’t compensate Native Americans for use of their land. Worst of all, British settlers began moving west.

In 1763, Pontiac, chief of an Ottawa village near Detroit, decided to fight back and attacked British forts, killing settlers. This was called Pontiac’s War.

Surprisingly, King George III (of England) ruled that colonists could not settle west of the Appalachian Mountains and called it the Proclamation of 1763.  It was meant to calm the fighting between colonists and Native Americans. It also stopped colonists from leaving their colonies on the coast, where the important markets and businesses were.

Colonists were alarmed that the proclamation would limit their freedom of movement. British troops might take away their liberties. They quickly began to distrust their British government.