Lecture 4: Life in the English Colonies


Outline of Lecture


This lecture describes how colonial Americans made their living, how they lived, and how their attitudes were shaped by their experiences.

Making a Living in Colonial America

What enterprises provided a living for colonial Americans, and how did they fit into the imperial economy” Whereas southern agriculture fit in well, northern subsistence farming did not. Extractive industries of the forest and sea, manufacturing, and ocean-going commerce all had to find their place within the system known as mercantilism.

Religion (and Religious Freedom)

Religion was an important concern to colonial Americans. They wanted religious freedom for themselves, but often denied it to others. Puritanism was the most severe of the established churches. William Penn was a voice for religious liberty.

Opportunity, Ambition, and the Frontier

Headrights made landholding possible for many. Historian Frederick Jackson Turner argues that a frontier of free land had a shaping effect on the ambitious American character. This circumstance, along with the changing demographics of the colonies, posed thorny issues for imperial authority.

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2. Democratic Social Conditions of the Anglo-Americans


This continues Tocqueville's line of thought about why the American colonists became more and more democratic.


·         Two terms you need to be able to define: primogeniture and partible inheritance.

·         What are the effects of these two systems of inheritance, primogeniture and partible inheritance, on a society, on democracy?

·         Take a look at the paragraph on p. 53 that begins, "In America, there are but few wealthy persons; nearly all Americans have to take a profession." Tocqueville here is talking about the effects of democracy on intellectual life. Now see if you can relate this paragraph to how the curriculum of the university is structured.

·         What is the effect of the social condition of equality on the political life of a nation? Is there a danger to it?


Frederick Jackson Turner, Prof. Isern’s page on this influential historian’s theses

Salem Witch Museum—for the story of the Salem witch trials

Film Review

The Crucible

A film adaptation of the Arthur Miller play about the Salem witch trials. Although the stars may be a little too pretty, the film nevertheless raises many of the basic issues and abuses of this episode in colonial history.

The Scarlet Letter

Adaptation of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s novel of adultery in Puritan society.

Book Review

Dunn, William Penn


Lawson, Fur


Washburn, The Governor and the Rebel


Klein, The Middle Passage