Colonial Life

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By — McGraw-Hill Professional
Updated on Feb 4, 2012

Time Line

1650 Navigation Acts
1686 Founding of Dominion of New England
1689 Glorious Revolution; English Bill of Rights
1690 Slaves present in all British colonies in North America
1730-1750 Great Awakening


Colonial Life

After surviving the hard times of their first years in the New World, the European colonists settled down to the task of building a new society. Over the course of the next 200 years, that society became distinctly American, and no longer European.

Society centered around various institutions: the church, local politics, the business economy, and the family. Colonists lived in relatively small communities, and no one, including children, was ever idle. The tasks of building the new towns and cities, creating social and political institutions, cultivating land, and starting new businesses meant that there was something for everyone to do.

As the slave population continued to grow, the slaves developed a society of their own. They held onto what they could of their native cultures while coping as best they could with harsh conditions in a strange land. African slavery remains the most shameful aspect of U.S. history. Many historians have echoed Abigail Adams’s conclusion that slavery in a society that insisted on its own independence was rank hypocrisy.

Most colonists, whatever their home culture, could agree on one thing: they did not want interference from Europe. Religious freedom had been built into the constitutions of all the colonies except Plymouth and Massachusetts, and political freedom seemed to go hand in hand with religious freedom. The British government on the whole felt the same way and left the colonies alone to govern themselves as they saw fit. Spasmodic attempts at British control resulted in the strong assertion of colonial rights. In 1688–1689, Britain had deposed an autocratic ruler and transferred much of the monarch’s authority to the legislature; this revolutionary means of dealing with tyranny made a strong impression on the colonists.

Practice questions for these concepts can be found at:

Colonial Life Practice Test

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