By the mid-eighteenth century, the area that would become the United States was home to a remarkable diversity of peoples and different kinds of social organization, from Pueblo villages of the Southwest to tobacco plantations of the Chesapeake, towns and small farms of New England, landholdings in the Hudson Valley that resembled feudal estates, and fur trading outposts of the northern and western frontier. Elites tied to imperial centers of power dominated the political and economic life of nearly every colony. But large numbers of colonists enjoyed far greater opportunities for freedom—access to the vote, prospects of acquiring land, the right to worship as they pleased, and an escape from oppressive government—than existed in Europe. Free colonists probably enjoyed the highest per capita income in the world. The colonies’ economic growth contributed to a high birthrate, long life expectancy, and expanding demand for consumer goods.
In the British colonies, writes one historian, lived “thousands of the freest individuals the Western world has ever known.” Yet many others found themselves confined to the partial freedom of indentured servitude or to the complete absence of freedom in slavery. Both timeless longings for freedom and new and unprecedented forms of unfreedom had been essential to the North American colonies’ remarkable development.
1. Both the Puritans and William Penn viewed their colonies as “holy experiments.” How did they differ?
2. The textbook states, “Prejudice by itself did not create American slavery.” Examine the forces and events that led to slavery in North America, and the role that racial prejudice played.
3. How were the act ions of King James II toward New England perceived as threats to colonial liberty?
4. How did King Philip’s War, Bacon’s Rebellion, and the Salem witch trials illustrate a widespread crisis in British North America in the late seventeenth century?
5. The social structure of the eighteenth-century colonies was growing more open for some but not for others. For whom was there more opportunity, and for whom not?
6. By the end of the seventeenth century, commerce was the foundation of empire and the leading cause of competition between European empires. Explain how the North American colonies were directly linked to Atlantic commerce by laws and trade.
7. If you traveled outside of eighteenth-century New England, you might agree with fellow travelers that the colonies were demonstrating greater diversity in many ways. How would you support this claim?
8. Despite their lack of rights, hard-working women and children were often the key to the success of independent family farmers. Demonstrate the truth of this statement.
1. English settlers insisted that true freedom for Native Americans meant they must abandon their traditions and accept English ways. Examine the changes to Native American life by the mid-eighteenth century, and discuss whether Native American freedom increased by any standards.
2. Freedom and lack of freedom existed side-by-side in the English colonies. Using examples from Pennsylvania and elsewhere, demonstrate how greater freedom for some colonists in one area meant less freedom for others.
3. British citizens connected freedom and liberty to land ownership and not having to work for wages. Why did they make these connections and what were the consequences for the social structure?
4. Some historians have argued that the freedoms and prosperity of the British empire were all based on slavery. Examine this statement using specific examples.
5. Many British settlers in North America believed it was the “best poor man’s country,” and that they were the freest people in the world. What factors would lead to such a claim?