Colonial America -- Issues and Answers Essay

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Colonial America -- Issues and Answers

Did race determine whom the colonists, would enslave, or was it coincidental that the majority of the enslaved population would be a certain group? Contrast the slavery issues in Chesapeake with the slavery in South Carolina and Georgia.

In the book Slavery in Colonial America, 1619-1776, author Betty Wood delves deeply into the dynamics of the work that needed to be done in Virginia -- and who would do that work -- beginning in Roanoke in the 1580s (but that community vanished, never to be heard from). Meanwhile, before British settlers left Europe for the New World it was known that Spanish galleons "laden down with gold and other precious metals" were making their way back to Europe from the Americas. Hence, the desire for other Europeans to settle the Americas and find some of that gold and silver was great.

The English wanted to emulate the Spaniards, and so in 1606 they established the Virginia Company, thinking that this would be a money making project. Initially the blueprint for the Virginia Company did not involve enslaving any humans to get the work done. The Spaniards and Portuguese had used "racially-based systems of slavery that involved large numbers of" African slaves and Native American slaves to carve out profitable colonies in Latin America and the Caribbean, but the British didn't think they needed to enslave people.

Eventually, however, when the Virginia Company realized that tobacco could be grown in the Chesapeake area the settlers who had survived "against all odds" (including Indian attacks) knew they needed additional labor to produce the tobacco. Even though the settlers had run the Indians off their own land in order to plant tobacco, putting the Indians into slavery was not in the cards for the Virginia Company (although in South Carolina Indians were made into slaves). And although traditionally the British immigrants in the Virginia Company found slavery abhorrent, they needed the labor and eventually brought in slaves.

The rationalization for putting Africans in chains? The English "…commonly associated the color black with sin" hence it was "…all too easy to arrive at the conclusion that god had decreed perpetual bondage as part of the Africans' punishment" (Wood).

Question THREE: How did disease, military force, and religion pacify the Indians in New England by 1670? Which of these was most important in Europeans gaining control?

There were certainly missionaries that attempted to convert some of the Native Americans, as essayist David Murray explains in the book Spiritual Encounters: Interactions Between Christianity and Native Religions in Colonial America. Those attempts at conversion were met with occasional failure as well as success. Initially the Puritans in New England began baptizing Indians, thinking the natives understood the purpose of baptism. However, it turns out that the Indians "…had accepted baptism solely as a sign of friendship, and were unpleasantly surprised to discover that it entailed obligations like monogamy" (Murray, 46).

It should not have come as a surprise to the Christians that just as one cannot expect "…a rational being of competent age to make a solemn profession of the law of God (which is done through Baptism) when he has never been taught the rules and duties of the profession" (Murray, 46). The solution then was to make a rational being of the Indian first, and later the missionaries could begin to share a Christian message with the Indian.

Many other Indians were killed in wars and in what authors call "genocide," but author Russell Thornton believes that the diseases brought into North America by the Europeans by far was the most devastating in terms of the natives' demise. In fact Thornton asserts, "Without doubt, the single most important factor in American Indian population decline was an increased death rate due to diseases introduced from the Eastern Hemisphere" (Thornton, 1987, p. 44).

The diseases that Thornton lists (as having been brought from Europe) include: smallpox, measles, the bubonic plague, cholera, typhoid, pleurisy, scarlet fever, diphtheria, mumps, whooping cough, colds, gonorrhea and chancroid, pneumonia, influenza, typhus and venereal syphilis and "…remotely possibly, tuberculosis" (Thornton, 44). Native Americans were also made sick by diseases brought from Africa (by slaves) including: malaria, yellow fever, "probably dysentery and syphilis" (Thornton, 44).

The greatest killer of Indians in terms of imported diseases was "without doubt" smallpox, Thornton explains on page 45 of his book. And the diseases didn't just spread among the Native Americans, take its toll on their health, and disappear. Thornton claims these diseases came, "spread, and killed again and again and again" (45). There may have been as many as "93 serious epidemics and pandemics of Old World pathogens" among the Native Americans from the sixteenth century right up to the late 19th century, Thornton continues. The problem was severe for the Native Americans because the natives did not have any resistance to these diseases but moreover, a disease like smallpox for example would have a "long temporal sequence" in which populations would recover from one epidemic but the same disease would come around again and a "whole new generation of susceptibles" would become infected and the epidemic would basically start all over again (Thornton, 45).

Question FOUR: What was the impact of British mercantilist policy on colonial economic development and policy-making?

A book by David Kidder and Noah Oppenheim explains that the term "mercantilism" when referencing the British policy regarding the American colony, it means "…stifling economic rules imposed on the thirteen colonies" prior to the revolution. Mercantilism was created and designed in order to "…squeeze every penny of revenue out of the colonies" in order to make the Crown rich and help to further expand the British Empire (Kidder, et al., 2007, p. 18).

In the big picture, what mercantilism did in the colonies was more than just squeeze money out of the colonists; it actually "…contributed to the growing discontent of many middle class American merchants" and eventually caused that anger to spill over into Revolution (Kidder, 18). It is helpful to remember that the British Empire extended far and wide, from India and Africa to the Caribbean. Hence, the British needed revenue, and they saw the colonies (including of course America) as a way to generate profit.

By superficially inflating the price of tea, and making the American colonists pay those higher prices (which include an unfair tax), the British helped to protect "British-controlled tea suppliers in India from foreign competition" (Kidder, 18). This policy of mercantilism with reference to the American colony was "…dismantled by the Revolution and American independence" (Kidder, 18).

Author Michael E. Newton explains that of course "taxation without representation" had a major impact on the colonies in terms of their exasperation with the British government. But mercantilism "…played an equally important role in Britain's American policy…" leading up to the American Revolution (Newton, 2011, p. 14). For more than a hundred years, Newton explains on page 14, Britain used the colonies as "a captive export market" and as a source of "cheap natural resources," and because the young nation had little or not industry, Americans relied on imports.

In fact, Newton claims that the average colonist spent "…nearly a third" of his or her income on imported products and goods. Basically, the author asserts, what happened was the colonists produced "raw goods," shipped them to the mother country (England) and those raw goods were then made into finished products which were shipped back to America to be sold to the colonists (14). A great deal of money was made "at the expense of the colonists," Newton continues.

And in an attempt to "reduce America's competitiveness" Britain beefed up its mercantilist policies with reference to the colonists, who were becoming successful at fishing, whaling, and at building ships, and this was considered by the British as a threat to their dominance (Newton, 14). By competing for fish and whale harvesting with the British and Canadians it irked the British. Also, because there was so much timber available in the colonies (especially New England colonies like Massachusetts), Americans could build ships at "…a cost 20 to 50% less than European builders" (Newton, 15). In time, Americans became the main competitor of Britain in shipbuilding, shipping, whaling and fishing, Newton continues (15).

Moreover, America became a powerful competitor with Britain in manufactured goods as well, so instead of using goods in trade from England, the colonists produced the metal, the wood and textile goods themselves rather than purchasing it from England. For a time in the 17th century, Britain was so involved with wars in other parts of the world that the Dutch began trading with the colonies and it was a good fit for both nations. However, the British were angered by the emerging relationship the colonists had with the Dutch and hence, the British parliament passed the "Navigation Act" in 1651, "…requiring all colonial trade be done by British or colonial ships" -- in effect, punishing the colonies.

With this kind of approach to… [END OF PREVIEW]

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