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Toolbox Library, primary resources thematically organized with notes and discussion questionsOnline Seminars, professional development seminars for history and literature teachersBecoming American: The British Atlantic Colonies, 1690-1763
Becoming American: The British Atlantic Colonies, 1690-1763
Theme: GrowthTheme: PeoplesTheme: EconomiesTheme: IdeasTheme: American
Theme: Growth

Philip Lea, map of North America, 1685
The Colonies: 1690-1715
- Massachusetts: Pamphlet debate between colonists and the governor, 1707-08 (PDF)
- Connecticut: Journal of a woman traveler, 1704 (PDF)
- New York: Report of an English chaplain, 1695 (PDF)
- Pennsylvania: Description by a German settler, 1700 (PDF)
- Virginia: Status report by a planter, 1705 (PDF)
- Carolina: Views of an official and a settler, 1699, 1712 (PDF)
- Map (zoomable): North America divided into its III principall parts, 1685
It does not seem difficult to find out the reasons why the people multiply faster here than in Europe. As soon as a person is old enough he may marry in these provinces without any fear of poverty. There is such an amount of good land yet uncultivated that a newly married man can, without difficulty, get a spot of ground where he may comfortably subsist with his wife and children. The taxes are very low, and he need not be under any concern on their account. The liberties he enjoys are so great that he considers himself as a prince in his possessions.
Peter Kalm, Swedish traveler in New Jersey, 17481
It is fitting to begin this toolbox on the British Atlantic colonies from 1690 to 1763 with the theme GROWTH. From 260,000 settlers in 1700, the colonial population grew eight times to 2,150,000 in 1770. (In comparison, the French colonial population grew from 15,000 to 90,000 in 1775, i.e., just 4% of the English total.) In fact, the English colonial population doubled almost every 25 years in the 1700s.2 If the U.S. population had doubled since 1983, it would be 468 million (not 300 million) in 2007.

In this section we capture a snapshot of the British Atlantic colonies around the turn of the 18th century. In 1700 Jamestown was 93 years old, Charleston 37 years old, and Philadelphia only 19 years old. There were two Jerseys but only one Carolina, and Georgia wouldn't be settled until 33 years later. Note that all the readings in this section, except the travel journal, were written to inform a European audience to promote emigration, provide status reports, or, in one case, to accuse the governor of abuse of power. What overall view do they give of the colonies at this time?

  • Massachusetts. Power of the mother country over its faraway territories was a defining issue for the British Atlantic colonists in the 1700s. The freedom from strict English control they had enjoyed in the 1600s and had come to assume narrowed as the colonies' economic value became more apparent to the Crown. Did the "privileges of Englishmen . . . follow them to the end of the World"? The Colonists: YES. England: NO. In Massachusetts, the animosity between the Puritan leaders and their royal governor, Joseph Dudley, led to a prose feud of accusations and rebuttals, recall petitions and royal hearings. Here we read selections from a 1707 pamphlet (probably written by Cotton Mather, the famed Puritan minister), accusing the governor of abuse of power, juxtaposed with the governor's rebuttal in 1708. Despite the persistent and passionate campaign of the colonists, Dudley was not recalled by the Crown and served as governor until 1715. Read the Mather pamphlet along with his 1689 Declaration of Grievances against the then-governor Andros in the POWER section of the toolbox American Beginnings.
    • - Cotton Mather, A Memorial on the Present Deplorable State of New-England, with the many Disadvantages it lies under, by the Male-Administration of their Present Governor, Joseph Dudley, 1707, excerpts.
    • - Joseph Dudley, A Modest Inquiry into the Grounds and Occasions of the Late Pamphlet Entitled A Memorial of the Deplorable State of New-England, 1708, excerpts.

  • Connecticut. While Massachusetts remained a homogenous colony of English settlers, other colonies became more diverse as German, Scot, Irish, Dutch, and French immigrants arrived by the thousands, a development often noted in colonists' diaries and travel journals. In 1704, a Boston widow named Sarah Kemble Knight began a five-month roundtrip journey to New York to complete some family business after a cousin's death. She traveled alone, staying in inns along the route, and employing local men as guides. (This was not 2004, but 1704, and Knight's now famous journey was remarkable for its time.) In these excerpts from her travel journal, Knight describes the colony of Connecticut, emphasizing the diversity and prosperity of its white inhabitants: "No one that can and will be diligent in this place need fear poverty, nor the want of food and raiment." Read Kemble's description along with the diary of a Connecticut farmer in the PERMANENCE section of the toolbox American Beginnings.
    • - Sarah Kemble Knight, Journal: October 1704 - March 1705; first published in 1825 (ed., Thomas Dwight), excerpts.

  • New York. John Miller, an Englishman and an Episcopal minister, gained his insight into the New York colony while serving as chaplain to the English soldiers stationed there in the 1690s. In his lengthy report to the Bishop of London, Miller surveys the colony's climate, resources, settlements, population, commerce, and military fortifications. Noting the colony's weaknesses, he offers proposals for the moral and religious improvement of the colonists, the conversion of the Indians, and the "subduing & resettlement" (i.e., invasion) of French Canada. Read his report along with the 1687 report of the New York governor in the PERMANENCE section of the toolbox American Beginnings.
    • - John Miller, A Description of the Province and City of New York (also known as New York Considered and Improved), 1695, excerpts.

  • Pennsylvania. Francis Daniel Pastorius, founder of the first German settlement in Pennsylvania (1683), wrote several accounts of the colony to persuade his countrymen in Europe to emigrate. He surveys the history, resources, government, inhabitants (settlers and Indians), farming, and commerce of Pennsylvania, emphasizing its inevitable prosperity and progress. "It is truly a matter for amazement," he exclaims, "how quickly, by the blessing of God, it advances, and from day to day grows perceptibly." Read his account along with the 1692 poem on Pennsylvania's success in the PERMANENCE section of the toolbox American Beginnings.
    • - Francis Daniel Pastorius, Circumstantial Geographical Description of the Lately Discovered Province of Pennsylvania, Situated in the Farthest Limits of America, in the Western World, 1700, excerpts.

  • Virginia. An abundance of publications titled "The Present State of [colony name]" appeared in our colonial history. Some disappeared from notice after one printing, while others went through multiple printings and are often cited today. One of the latter is Robert Beverley's The History and Present State of Virginia (1705). Son of a prominent Virginia plantation owner, Beverley served as a Virginia legislator and official before writing his "status report" on the colony to refute errors in an Englishman's account. In these excerpts, he combines lavish praise of the colony's growth and potential with acerbic criticism of the governor's arrogance and the settlers' "slothful indolence." Read his account along with the governor's 1663 status report on Virginia in the PERMANENCE section of the toolbox American Beginnings.
    • - Robert Beverley, Jr., The History and Present State of Virginia, 1705, excerpts.

  • Carolina. In 1690 the colony of "Carolina" included all the land south of Virginia and north of Spanish Florida (territory later divided into North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia). It had been settled only two decades earlier by English planters from the Caribbean island of Barbados, who brought with them African slaves and an entrenched slave culture. Here we read two viewpoints on Carolina's prospects—one from an English official who lauds the commercial potential of the colony, and one from a settler who employs a question-and-answer format to encourage other English farmers to emigrate. (Only the English official addresses the ever-present threat of the Spanish to the south and the French and Indians to the west.) Read these texts along with the Carolina documents from 1666 and 1682 in the PERMANENCE section of the toolbox American Beginnings.
    • - Edward Randolph (Surveyor-General of His Majesty's Customs for North America), Letter to the English Board of Trade and Plantations, 1699, excerpts.
    • - John Norris, Profitable Advice for Rich and Poor . . . Containing a Description, or True Relation, of South Carolina, An English Plantation, or Colony, in America, 1712, excerpts.

Before reading, we encourage you to explore the 1685 zoomable map of North America to re-set your mental map of the continent. And finally, be sure to compare these texts with those written later in the century, in #8 of this section: The Colonies, 1720-1760. (39 pages.)

Discussion questions
  1. Overall, what impressions do you get from these readings of the British Atlantic colonies at the turn of the eighteenth century?
  2. What aspects of colonial life receive the most scrutiny from the writers?
  3. What positive aspects do they extol the most?
  4. What negative aspects concern them the most?
  5. Why would these positive and negative aspects be first-and-foremost to colonial settlers?
  6. What issues might you have expected in these readings that do not appear? Why might this be so?
  7. How do the writers describe colonists of other religions or from other European countries?
  8. How do they describe Native Americans? African slaves?
  9. How does the goal of each writer affect his or her content?
  10. Compare two texts with different audiences and goals, e.g., the private journal of Sarah Kemble Knight with the popular history of Virginia by Robert Beverley. What different impressions do they give of English colonial life?
  11. Compare two texts with similar audiences and goals, e.g., the promotional works of Francis Daniel Pastorius (Pennsylvania) and John Norris (Carolina). How do they compare with the "status reports" of John Miller (New York), Robert Beverley (Virginia), and Edward Randolph (Carolina)?
  12. How does each reading include the issue of power, from Mather's anti-governor tract to Norris's "profitable advice for rich and poor"?

Framing Questions
  •  What factors fostered or hindered the growth of the British Atlantic colonies (that later became the United States of America) from 1690 to 1763?
  •  How did the European colonists respond to the growing diversity among them—by religion, ethnicity, economic status, and country of origin?
  •  How did the colonies’ growth affect Native Americans and enslaved Africans?
  •  How were the inhabitants’ concepts of liberty and rights affected by the colonies’ growth?
  •  List the power relationships that influenced the colonies in this period, e.g., between the colonies and England, the colonies and the French and Spanish on their borders, the settlers and the Native Americans, the clergy and their congregants, the southern planters and their servants and slaves, etc. How did the totality of these power relationships affect the colonies’ growth and self-perception?

Massachusetts:  4
Connecticut:  6
New York:  4
Pennsylvania:  7
Virginia:  8
Carolina: 10
TOTAL 39 pages


In American Beginnings: 1492-1690, the first toolbox in the Toolbox Library, we study all the peoples who settled North America—Native Americans, Norse, Spanish, Portuguese, French, English, Dutch, Swedish, and Russians. In this toolbox, Becoming American, we narrow our focus to the British Atlantic colonies from 1690-1763, especially those that became the United States of America.

Listing the colonies as of 1690 reveals how fluid were the boundaries and political dynamics of the British Atlantic colonies. In that year, the colonies that would become the United States of America 86 years later were:
  • - Massachusetts Bay, including Maine, New Hampshire, and Nova Scotia. (New Hampshire became a separate colony in 1691; Nova Scotia in 1696.)
  • - Connecticut
  • - Rhode Island
  • - New York
  • - Pennsylvania (including Delaware)
  • - East Jersey
  • - West Jersey
  • - Maryland
  • - Virginia
  • - Carolina (including what became North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia).
Because the commercial and power relationships between Britain and its Atlantic colonies reflect the totality of British holdings in the western hemisphere, we include some texts relating to colonies that did not become part of the U.S., including Nova Scotia and Newfoundland in Canada, and Jamaica and Barbados in the Caribbean.

One final note on the names "England" and "Britain." In 1707 England and Scotland united to form the Kingdom of Great Britain, so we will use "England" when referring to pre-1707 texts and events, and "Britain" for texts and events from 1707 forward.

1 Peter Kalm's Travels in North America: The English Version of 1770, revised from the original Swedish and edited by Adolph B. Benson (Wilson-Erickson, 1937); reprint edition (Dover, 1966), p. 211.

2 T. H. Breen & Timothy Hall, Colonial America in an Atlantic World: A Story of Creative Interaction (New York: Pearson/Longman, 2004), p. 257.

Image: Philip Lea, map, North America divided into its III principall parts, 1685, details. Courtesy of the Library of Congress, Geography & Map Division, #G3300 1685 .L4 TIL Vault.

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1. The Colonies: 1690-1715   2. Cities & Towns   3. Coming to America
4. New Settlers   5. Servants & Slaves   6. New Colonies
7. Indian Lands   8. The Land   9. The Colonies: 1720-1763

TOOLBOX: Becoming American: The British Atlantic Colonies, 1690-1763
Growth | Peoples | Economies | Ideas | American

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