The Development of American Colonies Term Paper

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History 105

American Colonial Diversity and Marginalization of Oppressed Groups

It is often said that history is written by the winners. In the case of early American history, this is also true. Although America’s founding settlers, much like the Founding Fathers of the new nation, are often portrayed as enthusiastic proponents of liberty, the truth is far more complicated. Although the New World did offer greater social mobility to some groups than did the original Mother Country from which so many settlers came, a new form of social immobility, partially based upon race was instituted in many ways, which disenfranchised African Americans and Native Americans.

Economics and Race

The New World colonies were founded for diverse reasons, and this is reflected in their evolution. Geography, the character of the settlers, and a number of other critical social and historical factors ensured that the colonies evolved in very diverse ways. For example, the early English colony of Jameson was largely founded for economic reasons. Although this particular colony was ultimately not successful, later women who came to what would eventually become the state of Virginia were called tobacco brides because the woman’s dowry was usually tobacco (Foner, Give Me Liberty, 26). This highlights the extent to which the cash crop was a factor in the development of the emerging economy of the new colony. This dependence upon cash crops likewise is reflected in the colony’s dependence upon slavery and its asymmetrical power relationships, even among freed men. Later, of course, tobacco would be replaced by cotton as the driving economic force behind the South’s economy.

The dependence upon slavery would soon become characteristic of all the Southern colonies. What was once considered among whites transient status, in the form of indentured servitude, instead became a permanent status for Black residents of the Americas in the form of racially determined slavery. While indentured servitude was common throughout the colonies, and house slaves were present in all the new settlements, slavery as a primary means of subsistence was concentrated in the South. Of course, this would later become the source of increased tensions between the two regions, North and South, even during the framing of the Constitution and later during the Civil War, but even before America was formally a nation, status, citizenship, and freedom were racially coded.

This was, of course, not the only form of racial discrimination practiced in the New World. Tensions were rife between Native Americans and colonial incursions, particularly amongst the English versus purely trade-driven Europeans such as the French. Still, during the early stages of settlement, there were some efforts to establish better relationships with the Native American population: “Despite their insistence that Indians had no real claim to the land since they did…

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…smaller size and the closer proximity with which people lived to one another (Foner, Give Me Liberty, 68). Later on, this different approach to governing would create friction between different states in terms of dictating how America itself would be ruled.

Similarities and Differences

While there were profound differences in terms of economics and the predominance given to religion within the colonies, it should be noted that there were some uniting similarities. There was an underlying concept of liberty that united all settlers, even if that concept of liberty was vastly different. Some colonists came for religious freedom; some for economic freedom, but all believed that the New World offered them greater potential to live their lives without the existing constraints that hemmed them in back home.

The problem was, however, was that their conceptions of liberty were often conflicting. Freedom for one group did not mean freedom for all. Even within the Puritan colony, there were conflicts about the degree to which religious liberty could be expressed. The Puritans wished to be free to observe what they considered to be the correct religious doctrine, not for all inhabitants to be free to follow their conscience. And economic freedom for colonists often meant the denial of freedom of Native Americans to enjoy their land rights, and for African slaves to enjoy any freedom at all, particularly in the Southern colonies. In fact,…

Sources Used in Documents:

Works Cited

Foner, Eric. Give Me Liberty. New York: W.W. Norton, 2011.

Foner, Eric. Voices of Freedom. New York: W.W. Norton, 2016.


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