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American Beginnings: 1492-1690
Topic: ContactTopic: ExplorationTopic: SettlementTopic: PermanenceTopic: Power
Topic: Permanence
Toolbox Overview: American Beginnings: 1492-1690
Resource Menu: Permanence
Text 1. Prosperity
Text 2. Cities & Towns
Text 3. English Colonies I: New England Colonies
Text 4. English Colonies II: Middle Atlantic Colonies
Text 5. English Colonies III: Chesapeake/Southern Colonies
Text 6. Servitude (Chesapeake Colonies)

Reading Guide
Quebec, ca. 1686
Quebec, ca. 1686
Cities & Towns
- Spanish: Tour of Mexico City, 1554 (PDF)
- French: Visits to Quebec, 1676, 1684 (PDF)
- English: The growth of Philadelphia, 1685 (PDF)
- English: The need for towns in Virginia, 1661 (PDF)

Santo Domingo, Mexico City, Santa Fé, Quebec, Boston, New Amsterdam, Philadelphia, St. Mary's City, Charles Town—all colonial capitals, representing the wide variety of colonial urbanization. To what extent do they signify a colony's success or permanence? Are seaport towns more significant than interior communities? Does the lack of cities or towns reflect a deficiency in a colony? The answers are, annoyingly, dependent on the colony you're talking about. But one factor appears in the cities that came to herald a colony's permanence: a sense of possession and continuity in the residents, and a sense of awe in its visitors.
  • MEXICO CITY. Built on the site of the destroyed Aztec city of Tenochtitlan as the capital of New Spain, Mexico City grew in a few decades into a metropolitan center of trade, religion, and government, the largest city in North America with thousands of residents. In this dialogue, written in Latin by a Spanish scholar in Mexico City for teaching language, a visitor is taken on a tour of Mexico City in the mid 1550s "that he may view the magnitude of so great a city" with its boulevards, grand plaza, churches, canals, homes of the elite, hospitals and orphanages, and its diverse ethnic population.
    [Francisco Cervantes de Salazar, Civitas Mexicus, 1554]

  • QUEBEC. In contrast to Mexico City, Quebec remained a small town on the St. Lawrence River for decades after it was founded in 1608. In 1663, it had less than 1000 settlers. Still, it was ideally situated for trade, defense, and colonial administration, and it came to symbolize New France with its national palace, six churches, a seminary, and a dependable harbor. In these two letters from French visitors to Quebec, we read their descriptions of the colonial capital as "but a very pretty village" in 1676 and "the Metropolitan of New-France" in 1684.
    [Letter from Jean Enjalran, S.J., 1676, in Relation of New France, 1676-1677 (Jesuit Relations); Letter from Louis Armand, Baron de Lahontan, 1684, in Lahontan, New Voyages to North-America, 1703]

  • PHILADELPHIA. William Penn and Philadelphia are part of elementary-schoolbook America, but William Penn himself spent only four years in America. One of his friends and colleagues in planning the Pennsylvania colony was Robert Turner, who lived in the colony from his arrival in 1683 until his death in 1700. He held numerous official positions during these years and also built the first brick house in Philadelphia, a sign of permanence you will note in other accounts in this section. In this letter to Penn in 1685, Turner describes the progress of house-building and industry in Philadelphia, assuring him that "it goeth on in Planting and Building to admiration."
    [Letter of Robert Turner, 1685, in William Penn, A Further Account of the Province of Pennsylvania, 1685]

  • VIRGINIA. What if there were no significant towns in a colony? The settlers of Virginia in the mid 1660s were widely dispersed in plantations with no towns of any size to serve as centers of community, government, and religion. This latter function, of religious community, so concerned the Anglican Bishop of London that he commissioned an investigation into the failure of Virginia's planters to build an adequate number of churches. The main recommendation of the report: build towns. "It is easy to conclude," stresses the report's author, "that the only way of remedy for Virginia's disease . . . must be by procuring towns to be built."
    ["R.G.," Virginia's Cure: An Advisive Narrative Concerning Virginia, for the Bishop of London, 1662]
Comparing these colonial capitals with the early settlements will amplify your discoveries. Consider Isabella, Fort Caroline, St. Augustine, Jamestown, Santa Fé, Dorchester, and Three Saints Bay. (14 pages.)

Discussion questions
  1. From these readings and those in #1: Prosperity, what is the relationship of urban centers to the growth and stability of colonies?
  2. How does the intended audience of each selection affect its tone and conclusions?
  3. What actual and symbolic aspects of town-building contribute to settlers' sense of permanence?
  4. What characteristics of towns contribute to settlers' image of themselves and of their colonies?
  5. From the readings on the colonial capitals, how would you amplify or dispute R.G.'s advice to build towns as "Virginia's cure"?
  6. Compare these colonial capitals with the earliest settlements described in Topics Two and Three (EXPLORATION and SETTLEMENT). What makes a colony endure?

Topic Framing Questions
  •  What factors contributed to the permanent presence of Europe in North America by the mid 1600s?
  •  How did Europeans adjust their cultures and institutions to create permanent societies in North America?
  •  What roles did commerce, religion, geographic setting, population diversity, and cultural perspectives play in developing a stable colony?
  •  What did "North America" signify to Europe in the mid 1600s?

Mexico City:  6
Quebec:  3
Philadelphia:  2
Virginia:  3
14 pages
Supplemental Sites
Early Cities of the Americas, including Quebec City, Mexico City, Santa Fé, New Amsterdam, Philadelphia, Boston, and Charleston, from Common-place (American Antiquarian Society and the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History)

Mexico City, from Wikipedia

Quebec City, from Wikipedia

Philadelphia, from Wikipedia

Religion in Early Virginia, from Colonial Williamsburg

*PDF file - You will need software on your computer that allows you to read and print Portable Document Format (PDF) files, such as Adobe Acrobat Reader. If you do not have this software, you may download it FREE from Adobe's Web site.

Texts:   National Humanities Center

Image: Quebec City, ca. 1688, inset in map by Jean Baptiste Louis Franquelin entitled Carte de l'Amérique Septentrionnale: depuis le 25, jusqu'au 650 deg. de latt. & environ 140, & 235 deg. de longitude, 1688 (twentieth-century copy). Courtesy of the Library of Congress, Geography and Map Division: G3300 1688 .F7 Vault Oversize.

Toolbox: American Beginnings: 1492-1690
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