Colonial Snapshot


Colonial Society on the Eve of Revolution [1700-1775] 

Distinctive social, economic, and political structures of the thirteen 
Atlantic seaboard colonies  evolve into a recognizably American culture. 


Conquest by the Cradle
In 1775, the most populous colonies were Virginia, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and Maryland.  About 90% of people lived in rural areas.



A Mingling of the Races  Colonial America was a melting pot.





Germans were 6% of the total population in 1775.  Many Germans settled in Pennsylvania, fleeing religious persecution, economic oppression, and the ravages of war.


Scots-Irish were 7% of the population in 1775.  They were lawless individuals.


By the mid 18th century, a chain of Scots-Irish settlements lay scattered along the "great wagon road" which hugged the eastern Appalachian foothills from Pennsylvania to Georgia.


The Scots-Irish led the armed march of the Paxton Boys in Philadelphia in 1764, protesting the Quaker oligarchy's lenient policy toward the Indians, and a few years later, spearheaded the Regulator movement in North Carolina, a small but nasty insurrection against eastern domination of the colony's affairs.


About 5% of the multicolored colonial population consisted of other European groups- French Huguenots, Welsh, Dutch, Swedes, Jews, Irish, Swiss, and Scots Highlanders.




 The Structure of Colonial Society






Dominant Denominations

Two established, or tax-supported, churches were conspicuous in 1775: the Anglican and the Congregational.


The Church of England, Anglicans, became the official faith in Georgia, North and South Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, and a part of New York.  The College of William and Mary was founded in 1693 to train a better class of clerics for the Anglican Church.


The Congregational Church had grown out of the Puritan Church, and was formally established in all the New England colonies except independent minded Rhode Island.  Presbyterianism was never made official in any of the colonies.


Religious toleration had made tremendous strides in America.  There were fewer Catholics in America; hence anti-Catholic laws were less severe and less strictly enforced.  In general, people could worship or not worship as they pleased.


The Great Awakening

A few churches grudgingly said that spiritual conversion was not necessary for church membership.


The Great Awakening exploded in the 1730s and 1740s.  The Awakening was started in Northampton, Massachusetts, by Jonathan Edwards.  He said that through faith in God, not through doing good works, could one attain eternal salvation.  He had an alive-style of preaching.


George Whitefield gave America a different kind of enthusiastic type of preaching.  The old lights, orthodox clergymen, were skeptical of the new ways of preaching.  New lights, on the other hand, defended the Awakening for its role in revitalizing American religion.


The Awakening had an emphasis on direct, emotive spirituality and seriously undermined the older clergy.  It started many new denominations and greatly increased the numbers and the competitiveness of American churches.



Schools and Colleges

Puritan New England was more interested in education than any other section.  Dominated by the Congregational Church, it stressed the need for Bible reading by the individual worshiper.


College education was regarded very highly in New England.


9 local colleges were established during the colonial era.



 Pioneer Presses

A celebrated legal case in 1734-1735 involved John Peter Zenger, a newspaper printer.  He was charged with printing things that assailed the corrupt royal governor of New York.  The jury voted him not guilty to the surprise of the judge and many people.  This paved the way for freedom of the press.