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Colonial America

Although people from other European nations were first to explore and settle certain parts of what would become the United States, by 1650 Britain had established itself as the dominant colonizing power along the Atlantic coast. Colonial AmericaThe first British colony was established at Jamestown, Virginia, while another colony was established at Plymouth, Massachusetts in 1620. Yet despite the British origins of both colonies, it soon became obvious that Colonial America would experience rather different patterns of colonization and development.

American myth has often emphasized the New England experience and colonization by Pilgrims who fled religious persecution in search of freedom in the New World. Most of the early New England colonists were from the middle ranks of English society and a large majority immigrated as established family groups. Servants accounted for a small minority and the Puritan leaders discouraged the migration of persons claiming noble blood. As such, they established relatively stable, orderly and egalitarian communities based mainly on self-sustaining family enterprises.

Conditions were markedly different around Virginia, which was colonized more by individuals (and fewer families) from both the upper ranks and the servant classes of British society. Moreover, Virginia was soon organized around the production for export of a major cash crop: tobacco. The result was a more competitive, hierarchical, unstable environment that emphasized risk-taking and labor exploitation in pursuit of quick profits. Different parts of Colonial America would develop in rather different directions.

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