The Land Is Settled

Though the new continent was remarkably endowed by nature, trade with Europe was vital for the import of articles the settlers could not yet produce. The coastline served the immigrants well. The whole length of shore provided innumerable inlets and harbors. Only two areas - North Carolina and southern New Jersey - lacked harbors for ocean-going vessels.

Majestic rivers-the Kennebec, Hudson, Delaware, Susquehanna, Potomac, and numerous others-linked the coastal plain and the ports with Europe. Only one river, however - the St.Lawrence, dominated by the French in Canada - offered a water passage into the heart of the continent. Dense forests and the formidable barrier of the Appalachian Mountains discouraged settlement beyond the coastal plain. Only trappers and traders plunged into the wilderness. For a hundred years the colonists built their settlements compactly along the coast.

The colonies were self-sufficient communities with their own outlets to the sea. Each colony became a separate entity, marked by a strong individuality. But despite this individualism, problems of commerce, navigation, manufacturing, and currency cut across colonial boundaries and necessitated common regulations which, after independence from England was won, led to federation.

For a map of the colonial period click here

The coming of colonists in the 17th century entailed careful planning and management, as well as considerable expense and risk. Settlers had to be transported nearly 5,000 kilometers across the sea. They needed utensils, clothing, seed, tools, building materials, livestock, arms, and ammunition. In contrast to the colonization policies of other countries and other periods, the emigration from England was not sponsored by the government but by private groups of individuals whose chief motive was profit.1

Two colonies, Virginia and Massachusetts, were founded by chartered companies whose funds, provided by investors, were used to equip, transport, and maintain the colonists.

In the case of the New Haven colony (later a part of the colony of Connecticut), well-to-do emigrants themselves financed the transport and equipment of their families and servants Other settlements - New Hampshire, Maine, Maryland, the Carolinas, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania - originally belonged to proprietors, members of the English gentry or nobility who, as landlords, advanced funds for settling tenants and servants upon lands granted to them by the King.

Charles I, for instance, granted to Cecil Calvert (Lord Baltimore) and his heirs approximately 2,800,000 hectares that were later to become the state of Maryland. Charles II dispensed grants that were to become the Carolinas and Pennsylvania. Technically, the proprietors and chartered companies were the King's tenants, but they made only token payments for their lands. Thus, Lord Baltimore gave the King two Indian arrowheads each year, and William Penn gave him two beaver skins.

The thirteen colonies that eventually became the United States were New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia. The individual colonies reflected their varying origins. Several were simply off-shoots of other settlements: Rhode Island and Connecticut were founded by people from Massachusetts, the mothercolony of all New England. Georgia was established for benevolent and practical reasons by James Edward Oglethorpe and a few colleagues whose plan was to release imprisoned debtors from English jails and send them to America to establish a colony that would serve as a bulwark against the Spaniards to the south. The colony of New Netherland, founded in 1621 by the Dutch, came under English rule in 1664 and was renamed New York.

Most European emigrants left their homelands for greater economic opportunity - an urge frequently reinforced by the yearning for religious freedom, or a determination to flee from political oppression. Between 1620 and 1635 economic difficulties swept England. Many people could not find work. Even skilled artisans could earn little more than a bare living. Bad crops added to the distress. In addition, England's expanding woolen industry demanded an ever-increasing supply of wool to keep the looms running, and sheep-raisers began to encroach on soil hitherto given over to farming.


1. This is not completely correct. The same policy was adapted by the Dutch States General, that granted monopolies to companies for colonization of and trade with certain regions.