Thirteen Colonies Essay

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Thirteen Colonies

The formation of the thirteen original colonies was an extremely diverse process that took decades to complete.  In the Northeastern region, the Pilgrims of the Plymouth Colony and the Puritans of the Massachusetts Bay Colony defined their settlements by their religious faith.  For the Pilgrims, their settlement was dictated largely by hardship and miscalculation.

Originally setting off from England for Virginia, because of a navigational error they landed in New England.  Despite continuous struggle with disease and poverty, the Pilgrims managed to replicate the humble little farm communities that they had once known in England, they formed Separatist congregations, experimented with commercial fishing and fur trades, though most families relied upon mixed husbandry, grain, and livestock (Divine 45).  Because of it limited economic success, however, the colony was eventually absorbed by the larger and more prosperous Massachusetts Bay Colony.

            The Chesapeake colonies experienced many of the same problems of disease and difficulty as the northern colonies, but was determined not to become a lost colony like the one at Roanoke just a generation prior.  Through use of the joint stock company, the Virginia Company, set out to build a fortifiable outpost far up a navigable river, finally deciding on a location along the James River (37).  The settlement proved wrought with problems, as its low-lying location encouraged disease and the drinking water was brackish.

  Quarreling among colonists persisted, until John Smith helped bring order and kept the colony alive, though it was still not the profitable enterprise investors had hoped.  However, with the help of John Rolfe, tobacco became an important export and helped transform the failing colony into a success (41).  Farther south, colonists in the Carolinas and Georgia learned from many of the mistakes of Virginia, anticipating the many problems and planning accordingly.

Carolina proprietors divided their grant into three distinct jurisdictions to ensure that they would become the centers of settlement, though like the other colonies it took the work of visionary men to see it to fruition (59).  With the creation of governments that included landed elite and nobility, and the colony began to enjoy success.  The southernmost colony of Georgia was added as an aggressive act against Spain, who had equal claim over the region, and the colony progress much like its northern neighbors.  And while the southern colonies grew, so did the need for labor and the introduction of slaves, which would remain a peculiar institution in America for over 200 years.

Throughout the colonial period, there were many factors that promoted a sense of national identity for the diverse collection of colonies, but it was only when Britain began passing increasingly oppressive restrictions that nationalism became a major influence.  Americans were convinced that it was the British Constitution that protected their liberties, however there were many examples of English encroachment against liberty of the colonists.  British policies enacted were meant to place the colonies under strict British political and economic control, compel the colonies to respect and obey British law, and make the colonies bear their part of the cost of maintaining the British Empire (Gordon 38).

The series of British decrees that followed faced strong opposition in the colonies and did little but encourage separation from England.  The Navigation Acts and Writs of Assistance greatly hindered the colonists’ freedom to pursue maximum profit from their labor, as well as freedom from unfair searches by British authorities.  The Stamp Act was the first internal tax levied on the colonies and negatively affected influential lawyers, clergy, and printers, who would increase the sense of national unity and opposition to the crown.  The Townshend Acts were a new tax levied on colonial imports, and those colonists in violation were forced to submit to a military trial instead of trial by jury in colonial court (39).

These taxes and acts, mostly designed to create subordination amongst colonists, had the opposite effect.  Colonist began to protest, and delegates from nine colonies even created a Stamp Act Congress in 1765 to protest British tax and boycott British goods.  A group of tax protestors even dressed as Indians and through English tea overboard in what became known as the Boston Tea Party.  With widespread opposition continuing to grow, the Boston Massacre enraging colonists, and the Intolerable Acts coming as the final blow, the First Continental Congress was formed in 1774 and the first steps towards complete national unity had been taken (41).

The steps American colonists took from originally setting off from England to eventually declaring their independence were not easy or universal.  The diversity of the colonies and the colonists may have made them unique unto themselves, but it could not prevent them from unifying to fight what they saw as the tyranny of the British government.  In just over a century, the colonies grew from small settlements dotting the east coast of North America to a symbol of freedom and independence that would inspire the world to seek the same.

Works Cited:

Gordon, Irving, American History, Second Ed. New York: Amsco School Publications, Inc.,

1993.

Divine, Robert. America Past and Present, Third Ed. New York: HarperCollins Publisher, Inc.,

1991.

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