Colonial North America

Home » History » Colonial North America
History No Comments

Colonial history of the United States covers the history of European settlements from the start of colonization of America until their incorporation into the United States.

In the late 16th century, England, France, Spain and the Netherlands launched major colonization programs in eastern North America.

Non-British colonies were taken over and the inhabitants were all assimilated, unlike in Nova Scotia, where the British expelled the French Acadian inhabitants.

There were no major civil wars among the 13 colonies, and the two chief armed rebellions were short-lived failures.

The Spanish and Portuguese centuries-old experience of conquest and colonization during the Reconquista, coupled with new oceanic ship navigation skills, provided the tools, ability, and desire to colonize the New World.

England, France and the Netherlands started colonies in both the West Indies and North America.

They had the ability to build ocean-worthy ships, but did not have as strong a history of colonization in foreign lands as did Portugal and Spain.

Mercantilism meant that the government and merchants based in England became partners with the goal of increasing political power and private wealth, to the exclusion of other empires and even merchants based in its own colonies.

The government protected its London-based merchants and kept others out by trade barriers, regulations, and subsidies to domestic industries in order to maximize exports from and minimize imports to the realm.

All the colonies had similar political and legal systems, with a high degree of self-government.

Most white men could and did vote for local and legislative officials.

The colonies were all prosperous and had high growth rates based on immigration from Britain and Germany, together with ample food supplies and land for new settlers.

Most families operated subsistence farms.

All the colonies had legal slavery, with slave-based plantations in the South producing valuable exports such as tobacco and rice.

The Northern and Middle colonies concentrated on trade.

The frontier districts often confronted Indian wars, but by 1700 the colonists greatly outnumbered the Indians.

In most places it involved house servants or farm workers.

It was of economic importance in the export-oriented tobacco plantations of Virginia and Maryland, and the rice and indigo plantations of South Carolina.

About 287,000 slaves were imported into the Thirteen Colonies, or 2% of the 12 million slaves brought across from Africa. The great majority went to sugar colonies in the Caribbean and to Brazil, where life expectancy was short and the numbers had to be continually replenished.

Life expectancy was much higher in the U.S. Combined with a very high birth rate; the numbers grew rapidly by excesses of births over deaths, reaching nearly 4 million by the 1860 census.

From 1770 until 1860, the rate of natural growth of North American slaves was much greater than for the population of any nation in Europe, and was nearly twice as rapid as that of England.

By the 18th century, the overwhelming number of black slaves was such that Native American slavery was less commonly used.

Africans, who were taken aboard slave ships to the Americas, were primarily obtained from their African homelands by coastal tribes who captured and sold them.

The high incidence of disease nearly always fatal to Europeans kept nearly all the slave capture activities confined to native African tribes.

Rum,  guns, and gunpowder were some of the major trade items exchanged for slaves.