settling and colonizing america

US History

The Colonial Era



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The Colonial Era (1607-1753)

The first English attempt to establish a colony in what is now the United States took place in 1585. Sir Walter Raleigh sent settlers to Roanoke Island, off the coast of North Carolina. But this attempt at colonization failed.

In 1607, a small group of about 100 English colonists reached the coast near Chesapeake Bay. They founded Jamestown, the first permanent English settlement in North America. During the next 150 years, a steady stream of colonists went to America and settled near the coast.

The Colonial Heritage

The earliest colonists faced great hardship and danger. They suffered from lack of food and from disease, and they were sometimes attacked by Indians.

But the colonists soon established productive farms and plantations; built towns, roads, churches, and schools; and began many small industries.

The American colonists also developed political practices and social beliefs that have had a major influence on the history of the United States. They made strides toward democratic government, and they placed a high value on individual freedom and hard work.

Life in Colonial America

Reports of the economic success and religious and political freedom of the early colonists attracted a steady flow of new settlers. Through immigration and natural growth, the colonial population rose to 11/3 million by 1753.

Most of the settlers came from Britain, but the colonies also drew newcomers from almost every other country of Western Europe.

The Colonists

Europeans knew that a person who went to America faced great hardship and danger. But the New World also offered people the opportunity for a new start in life.

Some Europeans went to America seeking religious freedom. In addition to the Puritans, Roman Catholics, Quakers, and Huguenots, they included Jews and members of German Protestant sects.

Other people who went to America had no choice in the matter. They included prisoners from overcrowded English jails, Irishmen captured by the English in battle, and black Africans captured in intertribal warfare and sold to European traders. The prisoners and captives were sold into service in America.

The slave trade brought in so many Africans that, by the 1750’s, blacks made up about 20 percent of the population.

The Economy

The earliest colonists had to struggle to produce enough food to stay alive. But before long, colonial America had a thriving economy.

Small farmers raised livestock and grew such crops as maize and wheat, while planters grew large crops of rice, indigo, and tobacco.

When not busy in their fields, many farmers fished or hunted. Some cut timber from forests to provide the materials for such products as barrels and ships.

The colonists used part of what they produced, but they exported large quantities of goods. They traded chiefly with Britain, whose manufacturing firms depended on raw materials from its colonies. In return, they received manufactured goods.

The colonies also traded with the French, Dutch, and Spanish.

The Colonists and Government

The colonists rejected the old idea that government was an institution inherited from the past. Instead, they regarded it as something they themselves had created for their own use.

The colonists lived under British rule. But to them, laws made in Britain meant little until they were enforced on the spot. So they often ignored British laws.

This independent attitude would soon lead to a clash between the Americans and the British.

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1. The first English settlement in North America was established in Roanoke Island in 1585. True or false? Did it develop into a major town, city and establishment?

2. In 1607, English colonists founded the settlement of Jamestown in what is now Virginia, US. Why was it named Jamestown?

3. Was it extremely difficult to establish colonies and settlements? Did the settlers eventually “succeed”?

4. The social and political systems and atmosphere in the settlements were exactly the same as those in Europe. Is this right or wrong? How did they differ?

5. Were Europeans attracted to the colonies? Did they come to the colonies or leave them? Why did they come?

6. Did everyone come to America voluntarily?

7. Describe the early economy of the colonies. What did they produce? What did they do with them?

8. The colonies were independent from the beginning. Yes or no? Could British authorities enforce all laws and rules there?


A. Were (many) Europeans anxious and enthusiastic about moving to America?

B. Why was America different from Europe?

C. Is America still a popular destination for immigrants, or has it lost some or much of its luster?

D. Would you or your friends like to live in the US?

E. If explorers discovered new land today, what would happen?

F. How would you design a new colony or settlement?


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