The Colonial Era: Introduction
Following the first sustained arrival of Europeans in the Americas with Columbus's voyage in 1492, English colonization of North America was driven by many factors: national competition, especially with the Spanish, religious and political conflict, and visions of a new society that could solve the problems facing Europeans. But one thing was in common among almost all of the people who came to live along the Atlantic seaboard of what is now the United States. They were tied to a global economy and a system of trade. All of the earliest English colonies were founded by private "joint-stock" companies, including those in New England which primarily sought religious freedom. Even the Puritans and Pilgrims knew that if their colonies were to survive, they had to be able to trade raw materials from the New World, such as furs, foodstuffs, tobacco, and timber, for European manufactures, from guns to textiles.
The availability of land made such trade attractive to tens of thousands of colonists during the 1600s and 1700s. Some arrived from England or Ireland as indentured servants, a few came as wealthy land owners, but most arrived seeking ways to make their fortunes. This inculded people from many countries, such as Germany, Sweden, and Holland.
This desire for land, however, often put colonists in conflict with Native Americans. While most new colonies began by establishing trade and sharing of land between Europeans and American Indians, as more colonists arrived war was often the result. Moreover, as available land made it hard for plantation owners to find willing laborers, especially in the southern colonies such as Virginia or South Carolina, English colonists increasingly turned to enslaved Africans for their workforce. The freedom that many Europeans found in land ownership and independent farming was in stark contrast to the bondage of slavery.
These documents offer different perspectives on the diverse societies that developed in British North America between 1607 and the era of the American Revolution.
"The Colonial Era: Introduction" is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) license by Prof. Stephen Duncan at Bronx Community College.