In the early 1600’s, Colonists came from Europe to establish new Colonies on the American continent. When they began establishing settlements, they immediately ran into conflict with the Native Americans who had been living on the land for thousands of years. The two groups competed for land, food, and the use of natural resources.
British colonies dominated the East coast of the American continent. There were a total of 13 colonies by the early 1700’s. Europeans came to America for a variety of reasons; some came looking for religious freedom, others came to seek gold and fortune.
The poorest Europeans, often criminals, signed a contract obligating them to service for an average of seven years, and came to the Americas as Indentured servants. Their terms of work required them to perform certain tasks such as field work, sewing, cooking, or other chores. In exchange they often received a free passage to the United States, room, lodging, and were even often given land upon their release from service.
Each of the 13 colonies was unique in terms of environment and geography. This led to different economic activity.
In the New England colonies, because of the rocky soil and harsh winters, farming was not a lucrative economic pursuit. However, because of their coastline, industries such as Fishing and Ship building became popular ways to earn income.
In the middle colonies, because of milder winters and less rocky soil, Grains, such as wheat and rye, were often cultivated, giving these colonies the nickname “breadbasket colonies”.
The Southern colonies had a nearly year round growing season due to warmer winters and humid summers. This allowed them to grow Cash crops such as tobacco and rice.
The British colonies had to comply with the British economic policy of Mercantilism. This meant that all Raw materials cultivated in the colonies had to be shipped to England. England would in turn provide the colonies with manufactured goods, often at a marked up higher price. This ultimately meant that the colonies were forever in debt to the British government and that the colonists couldn’t sell their goods or raw materials to any other nation legally.
Almost all colonies participated in the trade of Enslaved people from Africa. Over time, the institution of Slavery grew so quickly that there were more Enslaved people from Africa than colonists from Europe or Native Americans.
Politically, the colonies each formed different governments; however, most incorporated some aspect of Democracy. Whether it was the equal representation found in the Virginia House of Burgesses, or Town hall meetings in New England, the democratic roots of America were formed in these early years.
For nearly 100 years, the colonies each operated fairly independently; this lasted until the French and Indian War threatened the safety and security of the British colonists.
Specifically, British colonists were trying to expand their settlements into the Ohio River valley, which the Native Americans claimed as their own territory. This was further complicated by the French colonists, who were also trying to settle on this same land.
Just before the French and Indian War, Benjamin Franklin wrote a piece called “Join or Die” calling for the thirteen colonies to unite against their common enemies. This would be the first time the colonists united against a common enemy, but it would not be their last.