English colonial settlement in the New World took place in the 17th century and grew out of the turbulent political, religious and economic conditions in England during that time. Colonization was not the result of a systematic, long-range plan envisioned by the Crown or the Parliament, but a response by groups within England to circumstances of their daily lives. The 16th century Protestant Reformation in Europe, for example, had a profound impact upon England's settlement in the New World.
Politically England experienced considerable tension between Parliament and the Crown over the rightful powers and prerogatives of each institution. This friction led to a civil war by 1640 when the King was ousted and Parliament under the leadership of Oliver Cromwell became dominant. By 1660, with Cromwell dead and Parliament weakened, the Monarchy was restored. If one was a Royalist (follower of the Crown) during a period of Parliamentary ascendancy one might seek political haven in the New World, and the same for a follower of Parliament during an era when the Crown was dominant. Politics was thus one motive in encouraging overseas settlement.
Economically England faced chronic hard times and recurrent depressions during the 17th century. This economic situation led many to forsake the mother country to seek new opportunity overseas. In the Chesapeake Bay colony of Jamestown (Virginia) founded in 1607, for example, the primary motivation was economic gain. A joint stock company was formed, received a land grant and charter from the Crown, and set out to establish a colony which would send gold and silver back to enrich the company and the colonists. Handicapped by a poor location with no precious metals, and with no spirit of cooperation among the settlers, the colonists took up subsistence agriculture.
Then John Rolfe, with the aid of Indian tribes, introduced the cultivation of tobacco which became the commercial crop and economic salvation of Virginia. The culture of Virginia was based on large-scale tobacco production which led to the development of large plantations with indentured servants forming the bulk of the labor force and population. Having had no quarrel with the Crown or the Church of England the settlers of Virginia established the Church of England and quickly became a Royal colony (one in which the joint stock company lost its charter and control of the colony reverted to the Crown.)
Maryland, also on Chesapeake Bay, was founded for quite another reason, but developed the same type of tobacco-based economy and the same kind of culture. The basic difference was that Maryland was established as a haven for Roman Catholics fleeing religious discrimination in England. George Calvert, Lord Baltimore, received a proprietary charter from the Crown and encouraged English Catholics to take up residence. Initially then Maryland diverged culturally from Virginia only in that Catholicism, not Protestantism, was the dominant religious strain. By 1649, when Protestants became the majority of the population Calvert had to enact a law providing for religious toleration for Catholics.
Religiously the 17th century saw England racked by tension between Roman Catholicism and the Protestant Church of England. During the reign of monarchs more Catholic in their sympathies Protestants might seek to escape religious discrimination overseas and vice-versa. This situation was further confused by the emergence of "radical" Protestant sects who felt that the Church of England was still too Roman Catholic in its rituals and beliefs. Pilgrims and Puritans are examples of these Protestant dissenters against the established church. Both of these Protestant groups were Calvinist, followers of perhaps the most radical Reformation theologian, John Calvin.
In New England, for example, the primary motivation for the founding of most of the colonies was a religious one. Pilgrims, Protestants who felt that the Church of England was too Catholic broke with it and , after a brief sojourn in Holland (where they found religious toleration, but saw their children adopting the Dutch culture), got a charter and founded Plymouth Colony (later absorbed into Massachusetts Bay Colony). Having been driven to the New World by a desire to live out their religious beliefs without interference the Pilgrims (also called Separatists because of their desire to separate from the Church of England) had no intention of allowing other religious beliefs to "corrupt" their community and permitted no religious toleration.
Massachusetts Bay Colony was founded by Puritans, like the Pilgrims a group of Protestant followers of John Calvin (with an underlying belief in predestination) who sought to "purify" the Church of England. Rather than break completely with the Church they wished to establish a "Holy Commonwealth" in the New World as an example of a perfect Christian community. Convinced of the absolute truth of their theology the Puritans were also not willing to risk the introduction of "heretical" ideas and practices and thus allowed no religious freedom of expression or practice.
The founding of the colony of Rhode Island resulted from the religious intolerance of Massachusetts Bay Colony. When Roger Williams, a Puritan mininster, was driven from Massachusetts because of his "heretical" belief in the separation of Church and State he established his own colony where religious freedom was permitted. Both Connecticut and New Hampshire were off-shoots from Massachusetts Bay Colony resulting from minor differences over religious practices and personal conflicts among followers of different religious leaders. These colonies, like all those in New England, had poor soil and short growing seasons. Instead of commercial agriculture these colonies developed diversified economies based on trade and ship-building and small-scale home manufacturing.
The Middle Colonies of Pennsylvania, Delaware, New Jersey, and New York were the most culturally diverse of any region. The primary reason was that a very open and tolerant religious group, the Quakers, was the most influential in all of these colonies except New York. Believing that each person had an "inner light" (or conscience) through which God told him what was right and wrong the Quakers rejected the ideas of original sin and predestination, and stressed freedom of conscience and religious toleration. Pennsylvania, founded by William Penn as a "Holy Experiment" in Quaker community, influenced the cultures of New Jersey and Delaware, both of which had been established as proprietary colonies for primarily economic motives. New York was unique in having been founded by the Dutch and then taken over by the English government.
The Carolinas, originally one colony, was founded by a group of proprietors who wanted to secure and maintain absolute political and economic dominance of a colony by their families in perpetuity. Their original plan called for an essentially feudal state with titles of nobility and all political power and lands vested in the few founding families. Peasants, or indentured servants, were to work the land. Obviously such a scheme would not work in a region where land was so abundant and the Carolinas became much like the other Southern colonies politically and economically. Rice and indigo became the cash crops and large plantations worked by indentured servants became the cultural model.
Georgia, the last of the original thirteen colonies, was founded in 1733 by an English humanitarian, James Oglethorpe, to give those in English debtor prisons a new start in life. Oglethorpe contended that these prisoners were essentially good, decent, honest Englishmen who, because of hard economic times , had been thrown into prison for not paying their debts. He also argued the need for a buffer colony between the Carolinas and the Spanish in Florida. Georgia, like its sister Southern colonies, developed a commercial crop economy worked by indentured servants. Thus the thirteen original English colonies showed considerable cultural differences, with loyalty to the Crown about their only commonality. (End of Essay 2. Click on Contents to select another essay or on Test to take a practice quiz, or on Quit to leave the tutorial.)