Timeline of American Colonies

Timeline of American Colonies

When one looks at the roots of the United States it is easy to see a striking difference in the colonies that formed on the east coast. A quick glance into our nations past shows a sectional divide between the founders of the colonies of the north and those in the Deep South. Even when you look at the Dutch in what is now New York or those of the Puritan faith who fixed their settlement in New England, distinct differences can be spotted rather easily. One could certainly look at these three examples and make a broad sweeping assumption that there is no homogeneity. However, a closer look at these distinct groups brings to light some similarities that often go unnoticed. Although these comparisons are not as prominent, there is still a point to be made of how these drastically different parts of the “New World” all have indistinguishable features, which helped to unify the foundations of our nation.

The discovery of the New World was a chance for opportunity and profit for many in Europe. This was certainly the case for the Dutch, who founded New Netherland in 1624. New Netherland was established as a fur-trading post with the sole purpose of commercial and financial gain. The rudimentary purpose of the colony was to make a profit for the West India Company. Due to this, “the Dutch West India Company dominated the city’s affairs and formally governed New Netherland for the first decades.”[1] An appointed member of the West India Company, whose main mission was to ensure trade and progress for the company, ruled those in New Netherland. Because of this, an emphasis on religion that can be seen in other colonies in the northeast is of little importance in the Dutch’s New Netherland. In fact, in New Netherland toleration was not solely limited to religion. An extremely diverse colony began to form in what would later become New York. By 1650, “Indians roamed the streets, and Africans—slave, free, and half-free—already formed a fifth of the population.”[2] Due to the fact that the Dutch Colony’s main agenda was profit, religion and ethnic homogeneity was not given the same attention. This, however, is not the case for the Puritans that settled in New England.

Only four years after the Dutch established the colony of New Netherland, the deeply religious Puritans were able to secure a royal charter for their colony. These settlers took to the New World to create a religious utopia, a “New England.” They set out to create a model for the rest of the world, a “city on a hill.”[3] Although they left Europe for religious purposes they were far from welcoming to other religions. Dissenters were banished, “Quakers were disfigured for easy identification,” a stark contrast to those of New Netherland.[4] The Puritans had a similar view of Native Americans as they did for religions other than their own. Because of their Puritan beliefs and the teachings of John Calvin, the stability and salvation of the community was dependent on everyone involved. The emphasis on the individual was unimportant compared to the overall group. This doctrine rid the privileges of the rich or the wellborn and put the importance on the colony as a whole. The Puritans who settled in New England, “gave town charters to approved groups of settlers, who in turn elected a committee of their peers to select the location of the public road, church, schoolhouse, and town green and to divvy up family lots.”[5] This lack of importance put on an individual was not mirrored in the settlers of the Deep South.

Those who settled in the Deep South were the grandchildren of the English colony of Barbados. The culture in the south, specifically in the colony of South Carolina, was rooted in slavery and a radical difference in wealth and privilege. The elite who were of the minority, but were the enforcers of the government and the judiciary of the colony. Unlike the Puritans in New England, those in South Carolina and the Deep South, “were fixated on acquiring appropriate status symbols and followed the latest fashions and customs of the English gentry with a dedication that startled visitors.”[6] With the exception of Georgia (who outlawed the practice of slavery), those that encompassed the Deep South partook in slavery from the outset with the view that blacks were inferior to whites.

Although not as blatantly obvious, comparisons can be made between settlers in the Deep South and those in the north. By 1670 every colony in what would be the United States tolerated slavery.[7] Just as settlers of the Deep South saw blacks as subordinate, the Puritans in New England viewed the Natives as savages and serpents and, in most instances, were very violent to the Natives. The Puritans branded or disfigured dissenters or those who misbehaved in their colony, much like the treatment that many blacks faced in the Deep South.

Likewise, comparisons between the Dutch in New Netherland and those in the Deep South can also be seen. Although much more open to ethnicity and race than those in the south, the Dutch colony in the north was founded for very similar reasons as that of South Carolina. The colonies that emerged in South Carolina and the colonies that neighbored her were mirrored from Barbados, the wealthiest colony of England. Because of the great emphasis put on indigo, rice, sugar, tobacco, and later cotton, Charlestown, South Carolina, “quickly became the wealthiest town on the eastern seaboard.”[8] Just like the Dutch in New Netherland, the driving force to settle the south was profit.

While it is much easier to spot the differences between the colonies that emerged in our nation, by taking a more acute look at these settlements, some similarities can be drawn. By studying the founders of New Netherland, New England, and the Deep South comparisons can be drawn that tie the three together, while still showing the distinctions that kept them apart. At a quick glance one might argue the Dutch and the Puritans, who settled in the North, have more similarities than the colonies of the south. However, after a deeper look there is no argument that, although more distant, a greater amount of parallels can be drawn between those who colonized the Deep South and the Dutch in New Netherland.

[1] Colin Woodard, American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America (New York: Penguin Group, 2011), 65.

[2] Ibid., 66.

[3] Ibid., 57.

[4] Ibid., 58.

[5] Ibid., 59.

[6] Ibid., 85.

[7] Ibid., 87.

[8] Ibid., 84.

While it might seem that a selection of people living in the same region would all share the same beliefs, wants, and needs, geography can justly play tricks on the would-be observer. One such case is Canada in relation to the early thirteen colonies. Although, close in proximity to one another, the development of Canada, including history, religion, and cultural ideology were not the same as those in the thirteen colonies. When the thirteen colonies made their fateful decision to fight for independence, their northern neighbors were not of the same ilk. Britain was well aware that a war against both Canada and their young American neighbors at the same time would be unwise. Because of this, the Quebec Act of 1774 was passed. This was a key policy, that allowed Britain to avoid such a disaster and was a main determinate in keeping Canada on the side of the British, or at least in a passive role.

By 1755, the French and the British found themselves pitted against each other in yet another war. The only difference for these old enemies was the continent that the war took place on. A conflict, which began in North America, between the British and the French, quickly spread to all parts of the world; forcing major European countries to chose one side or the other. After nearly a decade of fighting all across the globe, France and her allies were forced to come to peace. On February 10, 1763, the Treaty of Paris went into effect.[1] Under the treaty, Britain gained Florida from Spain; however, this was minor compared to the vast amount of territory gained from the French.

In 1763, the small island nation of Great Britain found herself with a commanding hold in North America. The Seven Years’ War gave the British Canada, Cape Breton Island, Newfoundland, the Ohio River Valley, as well as all the land east of the Mississippi River; thus forcing France to renounce all claims she previously held in New France.[2] Although this left Great Britain with more land than previously thought, it also left them with a lot of problems. Religious and cultural differences were big dilemmas that the British faced in their newly acclaimed territories, not to mention the growing assertiveness in the thirteen colonies to the south.

When the British gained Canada and the other lands in the north it was no shock that these previously French territories were almost entirely Catholic. Small amounts of Huguenots lived in the Canadian frontier but even so, this was an enormous problem for the Protestant British. The Protestants saw the Catholic faith to be a deterrent for prosperity and “the enemy of liberty.”[3] An example of this being the City of Quebec, who, at the time had a population of approximately seventy thousand, much larger than the colony of Georgia or Delaware, and only a few hundred being Protestants.[4] This was not just an issue because of the overwhelming Catholic majority but more importantly it was a problem because, in English Law, Catholics were unable to hold positions in public office. As a result, the British desperately needed to find a way to properly incorporate the people of Canada, who were still deeply rooted in French culture.

Canada was not the only issue the British faced after the Seven Years’ War came to an end. A world war that spanned over multiple continents around the world caused immense debt for the island nation; not to mention the maintenance it takes to control overseas colonies. Because of this reason, Britain, justly so, began to place taxes on her overseas colonies in North America. Not only did the thirteen colonies think this to be unfair but they also felt a sense of pride and strength in helping to beat the French in war, no doubt aiding in their assertive attitude towards the Crown.[5] Although a push for independence was not set in stone at this point, it was evident to Britain that her thirteen colonies in North America were growing ever more anxious for change.

The thirteen colonies to the south knew very well that French loyalty was strong all across Canada. The fact that Benedict Arnold led an attack into Canada in the early stages of the American Revolution, with at least partial intentions to garner Canadian support shows the knowledge level the early Americans had of the situation. This was apparent to the British as well. Knowing tensions in the thirteen colonies were rising every day, and war against all of North America was impractical, the issue of the faith of Canada grew more and more dire.

After much debate, and aggression in the thirteen colonies increasing every second, finally on May 2, 1744, Parliament, under Lord North, introduced the Quebec Act.[6] The Quebec Act addressed multiple issues, the first being law. Parliament decided to keep French civil law, the law of the land, whilst replacing French criminal law with that of the milder English.[7] The acts most controversial point however, was the choice to let the Roman Catholic Church keep its former rights and privileges in Canada. This last point, along with the fact that Canada was given the land as far south as Ohio, outraged the thirteen colonies.[8]

There is no denying that the Quebec Act of 1774 fueled the fire, which is now known as the American Revolution. When news of the act spread to the thirteen colonies to the south many felt betrayed by the crown. Whilst this, amongst many other reasons, caused the colonies to push for independence it secured, for the British the support they needed from Canada. Canada proved to be a very important gain for the British. During the American Revolution, the British used Canada as a base of operations in many instances.

The Quebec Act holds great importance in the history of the British Empire. When looking at Canada and the city of Quebec specifically, the strong French ties that the country holds are still ever so visible. That said, throughout the Twentieth Century, many examples can be used to show Canada’s loyalty to the British. In the First World War Canada volunteered thousands of men to fight for the British Empire. Nearly 500,000 Canadians crossed the Atlantic to fight in the western front, of which, nearly 200,000 lost their lives for Britain.[9] World War II easily shows the same resolve of Canada to its parent nation. Not only did the Quebec Act secure Canada for the British, but most importantly it gave the British a basis for how to treat the Irish at home.

[1] Walter R. Borneman, The French and Indian War: Deciding the Fate of North America (New York: Harper Collins Publishers, 2006), 272.

[2] Daniel Marston, Essential Histories: The Seven Years’ War (Oxford: Osprey Publishing, 2001), 77.

[3] Robert Bothwell, The Penguin History of Canada (Toronto: Penguin Group, 2006), 98.

[4] Ibid, 98-99.

[5] George M. Wrong, Canada and the American Revolution: The Disruption of the First British Empire (New York: Cooper Square Publishers, 1968), 1-2.

[6] Bothwell, The Penguin History of Canada, 101.

[7] Wrong, Canada and the American Revolution, 245.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Bothwell, 300.