American Colonialism Opportunity in Colonial Amercia Colonization Essay

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American Colonialism


Colonization of the New World in the seventeenth century offered unprecedented opportunity for Europeans, particularly refugees from the religious intolerance and persecutions of minority religions in England. Even after initial reports suggested that the new territories were rich in precious metals proved erroneous, the new colonies still presented opportunities for increased political autonomy and potential for exploitation of new natural resources. Despite the progress in the areas of personal freedoms and potential for profitable work in early colonial America, social change in certain areas was comparatively slow to take root, especially in the case of women, and of course, black

Africans brought over to the New World as slaves (Hayes).

Gradually, over the course of the first century and a half of the original settlements at Plymouth and Massachusetts, public opposition to slavery arose in certain colonies, eventually culminating in the Civil War whose outcome abolished slavery as an American institution in 1865. The descendants of slaves, while free, were still subject to significant social prejudices and deprivations for most of the next hundred years until the Civil Rights era of the 1960s. Women would eventually achieve equal rights and female suffrage as well, but not for another half century (Nevins).

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On one hand, religious autonomy was the primary influence that sparked the first settlers to leave England and establish colonies in the New World; on the other hand, some of the first colonies immediately emulated the very principle responsible for their persecution in Europe, by establishing mandatory churches in the new colonies. Several of the new colonies were owned by British ventures; consequently, the Royal Crown continued to dictate religious affiliation, even in the New World. Other colonies established different religions, but required membership to benefit from the full rights and privileges available within those colonies. Under British rule in the colony of Virginia, opportunities were obviously favorable to Church members, and under the Puritan Church in Massachusetts, opportunity comparatively restricted for non-members of the Puritan Church. Only with the Great Awakening of the late seventeenth century would settlers of the new colonies first begin to unite in their religious beliefs, but equal opportunity irrespective of religious affiliation would await the War of Independence and the drafting of the United States Constitution in 1787.

Gender Equality and Land Ownership in the Early Colonial Period:

In early colonial society, women had some rights that were the same as those of men, others that differed substantially, and still others that were the same in an official sense, but significantly different from men's rights in actual practice and everyday life

Uden). Women in Colonial America had the same freedoms of speech and travel, and to trial by jury as men, but could not own property on their own. In marriage, all family property automatically was titled in the husband's name.

Probably the greatest significance of the difference in property rights between men and women was that real property ownership was an absolute prerequisite for voting, which automatically excluded female suffrage in the colonies (Nevins) Even technical legal rights that failed to distinguish between men and women allowed for differential treatment in actual practice. For example, while entitled to free speech, it was practically unheard of for colonial women to voice their opinions publicly on social issues and matters of law. Likewise, while not specifically proscribed by law, social convention and custom made it almost inconceivable for colonial women to hold jobs or work outside the home (Fenton). Even in later colonial periods when it became more common for women to work outside the home, taxation laws in some colonies "discouraged" the employment of women outdoors in the field by exempting only landowners who did not employ women outside (Uden).

Slavery in the Early Colonial Period:

Naturally, the most significant social differences in colonial America were between the white settlers and their African slaves and indentured servants. Slavery first came to the colonies in the form of a Dutch ship that brought a shipment of kidnapped

West African slaves to Virginia in 1619 (Furlong). The slave trade quickly became incorporated into the colonial economy, especially in the southern states, where fieldwork in cotton plantations and tobacco fields lent themselves naturally to hard forced labor by Africans who were used to difficult manual labor in a hot climate (Furlong).

Slavery did not infiltrate the northeastern colonies to the same degree, primarily because industrial labor in the developing cities lent itself less to the type of physical labor needed in southern plantations. Nevertheless, slavery did also exist in the rest of the colonies, and two hundred years after its initial introduction in Virginia, there were approximately half a million African slaves working in the American states (Furlong)..

Certain religious groups, particularly the Puritans and Quakers in the northeastern colonies always objected to the practice of slavery, which they considered to be an immoral sin. Many historians credit them with inspiring the first widespread sentiments against slavery, which eventually became a crucial issue leading to the Civil War.


Fenton, E. (1969) a New History of the United States. Holt: New York.

Furlong, P., Margaret, S., Sharkey, D. (1966) America Yesterday: A New Nation (Revised). Sadlier: New York.

Hayes, C., Clark, F. (1983) Medieval and Early Modern Times: The Age of Justinian to the Eighteenth Century. Macmillan: New York

Nevins, a., Commager, H.S. A Pocket History of the United States 9th Ed.

1992) New York: Pocket Books

Uden, G., Arnold, G. (1989) World History. Ivy Leaf: London


Background and History:

The first settlers who pioneered the transition to life in the (then) English colonies left England at the beginning of the seventeenth century for several reasons, including the hope of prosperity. Initial reports back to England had suggested (wrongly) that the New

World was rich in natural resources, particularly gold and other precious metals (Fenton).

In Virginia, the Church of England became the official religion, just as it had been in England, but in general, the primary motivation for many settlers for making what was then still a very dangerous voyage across the Atlantic to chart an uncertain future in the new territories was the principle of religious freedom.

Religious Differences in the Early Colonial Period:

Besides the Virginia settlers, the other groups of settlers maintained different respective religious ideals, and different degrees of continued affiliation with the Church of England. These attitudes were reflected in the different customs and social expectations that developed in the different colonies in the New World for most of the first hundred years of life in the Americas.. Some settlers had remained loyal to the English Church in the new land, while others specifically rejected the English Church in its entirety since the first generation of Separatists set sail for Virginia pursuant to a grant and charter from the London Company.

Prior to making the trip, the Separatists had first left England for Holland, where they were permitted to practice religious choice, but they found much greater difficulty than they had anticipated making other transitions smoothly, especially in the nature of earning a living. Their ship drifted off-course, landing in what would eventually become Massachusetts, near Cape Cod, which territory was not owned by the London Company, and therefore, not governed by the charter secured in advance of their voyage (Furlong).

Their colony near Plymouth Harbor is one of the best known historically as the birthplace of the Thanksgiving holiday.

Whereas many of the original Separatists had rejected the English Church, other groups of settlers like the Puritans left England to escape the hash penal laws of the King, but without necessarily giving up the English religious traditions in the New

World. Approximately a decade after the first Separatists settled at Plymouth, the Puritans arrived nearby and established who settled near Plymouth in Massachusetts, establishing the Puritan Church as the official religion of Massachusetts, and requiring

Church membership as a prerequisite for voting or holding office in local government.

Maryland was the first colony to recognize absolute religious freedom after originally being established by the son of George Calvert, a Catholic convert in England who had remained close to the Royal family, nevertheless. His son, Lord Baltimore intended Maryland as a refuge for Catholics, but refrained from imposing any religious affiliation and welcomed Protestants as well (Furlong).

Resolving Religious Differences in Early Colonial America:

Shortly before the end of the seventeenth century, the English King had decided to combine the two colonies known as the Plymouth Colony, (consisting of the first descendents of the original Settlers), and the Massachusetts Bay Colony, (consisting of the first descendants of the Puritans), into a single colony to be named Massachusetts.

By that time, friction over religious differences between the two had largely disappeared, mainly because the Puritans had great difficulty continuing their affiliation with the Church of England without remaining subject to the penal laws from which they had fled

England in the first place (Furlong).


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