CHAPTER 3 Putting Down Roots: Opportunity and Oppression in
Each colony developed a different social order depending on the local labor supply, the
abundance of land, the demographic pattern, and whether there were strong commercial
ties to England. This chapter examines the differences between New England and the
I. SOURCES OF STABILITY: NEW ENGLAND COLONIES OF THE
Each region in English America developed a characteristic culture, depending on the
shape or strength of the families that comprised the population. In New England, for
example, families were stable; in the Chesapeake, they were fragile. After 1660, a trend
toward cultural convergence began, primarily because the Crown imposed a set of
uniform commercial regulations.
A. Immigrant Families and New Social Order
Most New England immigrants arrived as members of a nuclear family in which
the father exerted strong authority. They therefore found it easier to cope with
the wilderness and to preserve English ways. It was even possible to reproduce
an English family structure in New England because the sex ratio was about
even. New England families differed from the English pattern in only one
important aspect; people lived longer in New England. This meant that parents
could expect to see their children grow up, marry, and have their own children.
New England may have "invented" grandparents, who gave an additional
measure of stability to society.
B. Commonwealth of Families
Most people in New England married neighbors of whom their parents
approved. Marriage created a new household, and a New England town was
really a collection of interrelated households. This was not a society in which
individualists felt comfortable. The family played an important role in every
aspect of life including both religion and education. Church membership,
theoretically open to all, became so associated with certain families that the
Puritans began to suspect that grace was inherited. The family was also the
society's primary educational institution, and it did a good job in this respect.
Most New England males could read, and the region produced an impressive
C. Women's Lives in Puritan New England
New England women contributed to the stability and productivity of the entire
society, even though no woman enjoyed full political or legal equality with men.
Most women probably accepted their roles as wives and mothers, and there is
plenty of evidence that New England marriages were based on mutual love.
Women contributed to the stability and productivity of New England society as
wives, mothers, church members, and even as small-scale farmers, raising
produce and poultry.
D. Social Hierarchy in New England
In every colony it was necessary to create a new social order because the
"natural" leaders of society, the very rich, simply did not emigrate from England.
In New England, a local gentry of prominent pious families emerged, but their
position as leaders was always challenged from below by men who had acquired
Most New Englanders were neither gentry nor poor. They worked small farms
that they owned outright. These independent yeomen gave their voluntary
allegiance to the local community rather than to their own self-interest or to
some external government. By 1700, the New England Puritans were proud of
the society they had created.
II. THE CHALLENGE OF THE CHESAPEAKE ENVIRONMENT
The high death rate suffered in early Virginia, more than any other factor, created a
society far different from the one that evolved in New England.
A. Family Life at Risk
Most of the immigrants settling in Virginia came as young male indentured
servants and most died soon after arriving. Normal family life became an
impossibility. Even if a man found a wife, the chances were that one of the
partners would die within a decade. Children had to expect to be orphaned and
to grow up in a stranger's home. Women, because they were so scarce, may have
been in a good position to bargain in the marriage market, but women who did
not have a family to protect them were especially vulnerable to sexual
B. The Structure of Planter Society
In Virginia, wealth meant tobacco, but growing tobacco in large quantities
required large amounts of labor. Those who were most prosperous were able to
amass a large number of dependent workers who could be pushed as hard as
possible. The gentry regarded their servants as possessions and sometimes even
gambled for them. In this way, Virginia prepared for the future introduction of a
By the late seventeenth century, Virginian society became less fluid. The death
rate declined and the gentry passed on their wealth to their children. An
indigenous ruling elite emerged, more interested in Virginia than in England, and
they gave the colony a greater degree of stability.
Tobacco also dictated that Virginians live along the great tidal rivers within easy
reach of water-borne commerce. The population therefore dispersed, and
Virginia remained a completely rural society, devoid of towns.
III. RACE AND FREEDOM IN BRITISH AMERICA
Africans were brought to America against their will in order to fill the places of the
Indians who had been decimated and the European indentured servants who did not
come in sufficient numbers.
A. Roots of Slavery
The English colonies in America received only a small percentage of the eight to
eleven million Africans taken from their native land, because North American
colonies could not pay the price for slaves that the West Indies could.
Nevertheless, the English colonists took as many slaves as they could acquire.
They justified their purchases by claiming that they were rescuing the Africans
from barbarism and heathenism.
So long as the black population remained small in Virginia, the government did
not bother to define their legal position. After 1672, Virginia began to receive a
steady supply of slaves from the Royal African Company, and as the number of
slaves increased, their legal oppression became more strict. Africans, simply
because they were black, were slaves for life, and their status was passed on to
their children. White masters could even murder slaves without worrying much
about the legal consequences.
B. Constructing African American Identities
The slave experience differed from place to place. Some Africans lived in
societies where they never saw a white, while others lived in communities where
they were a small and distinct minority. Africans made up a majority of the
population of South Carolina and nearly half that of Virginia, but were less
numerous in New England and the Middle Colonies.
There was a tendency for blacks who had successfully coped with white society
to look down on recent arrivals from Africa who had not yet learned English.
However, all Africans participated in what was the creation of an
African-American culture, which required an imaginative reshaping of African
and European customs.
By the early eighteenth century, Africans in America had become numerous
enough to begin to reproduce themselves successfully, a fact that ensured their
permanence in American life. Blacks resented the debased status forced upon
them and occasionally rose up in arms, as in 1739, when blacks killed several
whites at Stono, South Carolina. Such rebellions, though crushed, kept whites
worried. Meanwhile, Black communities far apart were increasingly tied
together by those who escaped the confines of the plantation. Many blacks, for
example, worked as mariners, sailing from port to port along the Atlantic coast.
IV. RISE OF A COMMERCIAL EMPIRE
Until the 1660s the English Crown ignored the colonies. During the Restoration, the
king finally realized the profits to be made by regulating colonial trade. This section
discusses the mercantile system in general and the Navigation Acts in particular.
A. Response to Economic Competition
Mercantilism was a set of conventional answers to particular problems. Its
leading tenet was that one nation's gain must be another nation's loss. As the
Netherlands developed into a major commercial power, England became more
hostile and tried to ban the Dutch from trading with the English colonies.
B. Regulating Colonial Trade
The Navigation Act of 1660 was the heart of England's system of regulation. It
restricted trade within the empire to English (including American) ships and
enumerated certain cargo, such as tobacco, which could not be sold to foreigners
until it had first landed at an English port. Another act, in 1663, required that
most goods going to America had to come from or through England.
The Dutch resented these laws, which spoiled their profitable intermediary
position, and Holland fought three wars against England to force their
abrogation. The Dutch failed, but the laws fell victim to New England merchants
who violated the regulations or found loopholes in them. The English
government retaliated by passing even stricter regulations and by sending agents
to the colonies to prosecute smugglers. The most important agent was Edward
Randolph, who made himself obnoxious by sending damning reports about New
England back to London.
England's imperial officials were hardly competent to regulate colonies so far
away. Often one office did something that completely contradicted what another
was trying to accomplish. Nevertheless, for every new problem, England passed
more laws. The most important colonial agency was the Board of Trade, created
in 1696. The Navigation Acts became effective over time, mainly because
colonial merchants found it to their benefit to obey them.
V. COLONIAL FACTIONS SPARK POLITICAL REVOLT, 1676-1691
At the end of the seventeenth century, the colonies of Virginia, New York and
Massachusetts experienced a scramble for power among emerging gentry classes.
A. Civil War in Virginia: Bacon's Rebellion
In 1676, Nathaniel Bacon, an Indian-hating recent immigrant, led a rebellion
against the royal governor, William Berkeley. Bacon's attack allowed small
farmers, blacks and women to join together to demand reforms. The rebellion,
however, collapsed after Bacon died. The gentry recovered their positions and
in the eighteenth century became a united force in opposition to a series of royal
B. The Glorious Revolution in the Bay Colony
The Puritans found it hard to adjust to English regulations. A series of setbacks,
including a devastating Indian war in 1676, left New England in debt and
uncertain of its future. In 1684, King James II annulled the charter of
Massachusetts Bay and incorporated the colonies stretching from Maine to New
Jersey under a single governor, Sir Edmund Andros. In 1689, when news
reached America that James II had been overthrown in England, a rebellion broke
out in Boston and Andros was deposed. The new monarchs of England, William
III and Mary, gave Massachusetts a charter that took the franchise away from
"saints" and gave it to those with property.
C. Contagion of Witchcraft
The crises of the late seventeenth century culminated in the Salem witchcraft
panic. Although witches had been arrested and executed before 1691, there had
never been a case when so many people were involved. After the death of
twenty victims, the panic subsided and a shocked community confessed its guilt.
D. The Glorious Revolution in New York and Maryland
The people of New York also rose up when news arrived that King James II had
been chased out of England, but nobody knew who had the authority to rule.
Jacob Leisler, a German immigrant and militia officer, seized control. He
maintained his position for about a year before he was arrested and executed by
a royal governor sent from England. In Maryland, John Coode rallied
Protestants against the Catholic governor. King William approved of Coode's
rebellion and took control of Maryland out of the hands of the Calvert family. It
was later returned when the Calverts ceased to be Catholics and no longer
favored Catholics in the colony.
VI. CONCLUSION: LOCAL ASPIRATIONS WITHIN AN ATLANTIC EMPIRE
All of the American colonists became more "English" as the seventeenth century
progressed, but original regional distinctions remained.
August 6, 2008