Colonial Life in the 18th Century:


Immigration to the Colonies:

Although Christopher Columbus and the Spanish were the first Europeans to discover the "New World" the English were the ones to start colonization in the new America. The first settlement was in Jamestown, Virginia in 1607. They had a small colony due to many colonists dying from famine and desease between 1609-1610. However, survivors stayed in Jamestown and new colonists and supplies arrived the following June. It is said to be the first successful colony created in America. The Pilgrims were the first to colonize in New England in 1620, landing in the Massachusetts Bay. In 1630, what is known as the Great Migration started occuring in the New England colonies. Settlers coming to the America's reached a high point and in 1640 there had been roughly 21,000 immigrants to New England and about a third had been from England. However, in 1660, the immigration to New England decreased rapidly due to discouragment. (

By the 1700's the number of English immigrants dropped. Those who has been seeking religious freedom had already colonized in America. However, immigration rates were still rising. This was due to an increase of immigrants from Germany, France, Ireland, Italy and many other, smaller European countries.

There were many reasons that the immigration rates spiked between 1700 and the beginning of the Revolutionary War in 1775. One reason was that England began transferring many of their prisoners to the colonies. Immigrants from other countries sought economic opportunity as well as adventure. Some were trying to escape religious persecution (Irish), just as the original colonists had been. Some were also trying to escape revolution and violence in their own countries (France) and thought America was good choice in their search for peace. (

Many immigrants could not afford passage to America and the colonies, so they became indentured servants, or servants who worked until they had paid off the cost of their ticket. Another spike in "immigration" occurred when the slave trade began to puck up and Africans were forced to come to America to work.

It is believed that about 450,000 immigrants came to America pre-Revolution. The rate of immigration fell during the Revolution because not many wanted to move to a country who was in the middle of war, especially when they were fighting a power as great as England. (

English Cultural Dominance:

However, life as an immigrant in the colonies was not easy. English culture was still the dominant culture in the colonies. Even as America pulled away from England, many of their cultural preferences paralleled that of the English. The similarity between English and American culture was one of the reason America depended so heavily on English imports of tea and other goods. It is also one of the reasons that the English knew exactly where to place the taxes to increase revenue, and because American culture was basically English culture with a few twists, the tax hit them hard, which helped to distance America from England and the crown even more. In a way, the domination of English culture in America was the reason that America began revolting. However even after the war had ended and after the Treaty of Paris granted America full independence, British culture still held strong in the Americas. Things like art and literature strongly resembled that of the English and many immigrants coming to America were still migrating from England. (

Social Mobility and the Class System:

Social mobility is defined as "the possibility or ease with which one may change position in the social system" (

In Colonial America, social mobility was a tricky thing. Much of the social structure of the colonies was based off the same fundamental ideas that the English structure had. In fact, America's model was that of England. Social class in the colonies was based off of the usual: money and bloodline. Because of these rigid beliefs held by some colonists (that these two factors were what decided your class), it was very difficult for immigrants to be anything but lower/middle class. However, America isn't called the "Land of Opportunity" for nothing. America presented a very interesting societal idea: that class be based on merit. Instead of your class being based on bloodline and money, it would be based on what you did and money. Who you were still mattered, but now what you did mattered just as much. Though the social rigidity somewhat relaxed, under no means was it easy to change classes. Immigrants and those who had been lower class in England usually stayed that way their whole lives. The difference now was that they could change if they just worked hard enough. (

Living in Colonial America was quite different from living in modern day America. Families during colonial times were often much larger than families of today, with an average household size of nine (typically two parents and seven children). Often, grandparents and aunts and uncles would also live with the household family. ( Colonial families typically had more children than modern day families because infant mortality rates were much higher, as well as children were needed to do chores around the house. Middle class families often ran small businesses or worked in a craft like shoemaking. Lower class families were often day laborers, slaves, sailors, and apprentices. ( Farming families would have even more children than families who lived in town and ran the shops because farming families needed many hands to run their farm, and children were cheaper than hiring laborers.

Religion in the Colonies:

America was founded on the principle of religious freedom. The original colonists (and many immigrants afterwards) moved to America in order to escape religious persecution. The colonies were founded by mostly Puritans. Though they had fled their homeland to escape persecution, the Puritans (in the beginning) often fined and punished those colonists who did not worship in the Puritan way. However, the strong presence of the Quakers in Pennsylvania helped to end the persecution and also helped to open the doors for other religions to find their way to the colonies.

By the 1700's numerous different religions had found their way to the colonies. Roman Catholics, Protestants, Anglicans (who had already been established in the colony, but not as openly worshiped as the Puritan and Quaker religions), Baptists and even some German religions all began to appear and draw a larger following in the colonies. In the Carolinas, Maryland and Virginia, the Church of England was recognized as the established religion.The rest of the colonies felt that if they made everyone be part of one church they would have the battles that they just left in England. They recognized each religion as an indivdual and let everyone worship freely. There was no truly "established Church," meaning that there was no one specific church that all of the colonists worshiped. The colonies also established that there would be a difference between church and state. America had become a nation of religious freedom. ( (

The Great Awakening:

The Great Awakening (1730-1760) was a "spiritual renewal that swept the American Colonies, particularly New England" ( The idea behind the Great Awakening was a more emotional form of worship and prayer which would create a greater closeness with God. This idea was very different from previous religions, which called for quiet and private prayer. It began in 17th century England when Charles and John Wesley, along with George Whitefield, pulled away from the strict ideas of Christianity and more openly worshiped.
John and Charles Wesley
George Whitefield

Whitefield brought the idea of The Great Awakening to America in 1740, when he moved from England to Boston. America had turned religion into a cold, logical and rational thing, the exact opposite of Whitefield's ideas. Whitefield, already famous from his sermons in England, began to speak in the colonies, urging people to focus less on the philosophical and more on the teachings and word of the Bible. (

Around the same time that America began to "awaken," Jonathan Edwards brought forth another idea. He brought about the idea of "“total dependence” on the transformative emanations of the Holy Spirit" ( His teachings about feeling the senses from God as a tool for human development helped to influence and spread the revivalist movement throughout New England, especially in Connecticut.
Jonathan Edwards

Under the Great Awakening, the New Light camp was formed. Colonists grabbed a hold of the idea of the camp and began to rebel against their own church ministers and leaders in favor of this new idea of emotional worship.

Eventually, Whitefield and his ideas began to weaken. Under Whitefield's successor, Gilbert Tennent, people in the revivalist movement began to feel alienated, not just from society but from those of their own religion. (

However, some of the basic ideas of the Great Awakening found their way into Colonial society. The idea of revolting against those who are in authority was one of the major ones. Instead of remaining silent when people in authority did wrong, people now spoke up and out. "Rather than believing that God’s will was necessarily interpreted by the monarch or his bishops, the colonists viewed themselves as more capable of performing the task. The chain of authority no longer ran from God to ruler to people, but from God to people to ruler." ( Under that idea of the Great Awakening, people began to have more power in what they worshiped, and in the political sphere. They used this idea of assertion and "knowing best" to argue for independence later during the Revolution.

Art and Architecture in the Colonies:

Many of the larger and more upscale homes in colonies were of Georgian design. Georgian architecture is named as such because it grew popular during the reign of Kings George I, George II, George III and George IV. "The red brick house, with courses and cornices of white stone and trimmings of white painted woodwork, is what is popularly termed the Georgian style". However, with the crafts that artisans would be creating, these mostly resembled crafts of the English, Dutch, and in some cases Barvarian models. Things like silver, class, and textiles were created closely following those coming from European countries. (

Benjamin West was an American, born in Pennsylvania in 1739. From a young age he became interested in arts and portraits and began painting. In 1760, West was sent by sponsors to Italy to continue and expand on his training. In 1763, after training in Italy, West moved to England where he began work for the royal family under King George III. In 1768, West co-founded the Royal Academy of Arts with Sir Joshua Reynolds. In 1772, he was appointed the historical painter of the English court by King George III. West was president of the Academy from 1792-1805. He was succeeded for a short while, but was re-elected in 1806. He then remained President until his death in 1820.

Born in 1738 in Boston, John Singleton Copley became one of the greatest portrait artists in pre-Revolution America. Copley's portraits are most easily recognized by his use of setting to convey emotion and mood in the painting. "Ladies posed before fine furniture and textured draperies; men were surrounded by books and tools, hunting dogs and guns" ( Copley painted the portrait of noted figures such as John Hancock, Samuel Adams and John Adams. In 1774, Copley decided to leave Boston (for he felt his work was being underappreciated) and headed for London, with a quick stop by Italy, as most artists did. (

Cotton Mather:

Cotton Mather, born 1663 in Boston changed the world that he lived in. At just twelve years old, he entered Harvard where he studied philosophy. Soon after he turned sixteen, Mather took up the study of medicine and would eventually become the reason the smallpox inoculation exists in America. Married three times, with fifteen children (of whom only two outlived their father), Mather is well known for his dealings with the Salem Witch Trials (though he later condemned the practices).( However in 1721, Dr. Zabdiel Boylston preformed the first inoculation for the smallpox virus after much urging from Mather. Mather had met a young boy from Africa in 1706, who told him of an inoculation he had received as a child and how it prevented him from
Cotton Mather
the disease. Mather was immediately fascinated by the idea and began further research into the concept of the vaccine. For years he sent his research to doctors in Boston, in hopes of preventing another outbreak of smallpox. However, it wasn't until the outburst of 1721 that any of the doctors even replied. Boylston was willing to try the idea of an inoculation for the disease. Boylston, like Mather, was deeply religious, but both men differed from the rest of society in one way: they believed that religion alone could not save lives. They were willing to go against the Catholic belief of not experimenting on the human body and find a way to save lives via science, not prayer. ( Mather was also a very noted writer and speaker during this time period.

Benjamin Franklin:
Benjamin Franklin

One of the most recognizable people of the time period, Benjamin Franklin, born 1706, remains one of the greatest writers, inventors, scientists and diplomats that America has ever seen. Franklin, who left Boston in 1723. Franklin's original goal was New York, in hopes he would find work as a printer. However, he didn't find work and instead of returning home traveled through New Jersey to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where he would eventually open his own print shop and begin publication of the Pennsylvania Gazette. However, before he could have his own print shop, he was to be an apprentice printer. Franklin impressed the governor in Pennsylvania with his hard work as an apprentice printer and the governor agreed to give Franklin his own shop in exchange for Franklin traveling to London and to purchase printing equipment. However, the governor did not keep his word and Franklin spent two years in London. (

In 1772, Franklin authored some of the most famous letters to ever be published in a newspaper. The 14 essays, written under the alias Silence Dogood, were published in the New-England Courant, a newspaper owned and run by Franklin's brother James. (

In 1729, Franklin took over the Pennsylvania Gazette and under him it became the most popular newspaper in the colonies. It is the first newspaper to ever feature a political cartoon (which Franklin did himself). It was discovered later that many of the pieces featured in the PG were penned by Franklin himself under aliases. (

From 1732 to 1757, Poor Richard's Almanack was published by Richard Saunders, another of Franklin's aliases. Almanacks at this time were used to predict weather as well as report recipes and give ideas about life. Poor Richard's Almanack was a bestseller thanks to Franklin's use of the language and witty phrases ("A penny saved is a penny earned."). (

In 1736, Franklin set up Philadelphia's first fire department as well as an insurance company for those who had suffered a fire. (

In 1748, Franklin retired from his print shop (though he would still stay partially involved with another to pay the bills) and became a gentleman. He bought a larger house in a "nicer" part of town, had his portrait painted and bought some slaves. Now that Franklin wasretired with time to spare, he could experiment with something that fascinated him: electricity and lightening. In 1751, he co-published a book that explained the findings he and the co-author, Peter Collinson, had of electricity thus far. However, Franklin's experiments with electricity are most remembered through one experiment he conducted: the kite in the middle of the thunderstorm. This finding of this experiment, however, had already been found in France. Some of Franklin's more original findings in regards to electricity come from him coining words in English to describe electricity and how it works. Words like: electrify, condense, charge, conductor, discharge, armature and condense. He was also the first to differentiate between insulators and conductors as well as creating the first "battery" to hold electrical charges. (

Franklin, in 1758, became a member of the Philadelphia City Council and in 1751 a member of the Pennsylvania Assembly. "In 1757 he went to England as the agent of the Pennsylvania Assembly in order to get the family of William Penn, the proprietors under the colony's charter, to allow the colonial legislature to tax their ungranted lands" ( However, the actual goal of Franklin and some of his colleagues during their time in London was to oust the Penn family altogether. Franklin would spend the next 18 years in London (staying at a friend's apartment) with a two-year trip back to Philadelphia to see his wife and daughter from 1762 to 1764. Between 1765 and 1775, Franklin wrote and published 126 newspaper articles, trying to create peace and end the turmoil between the colonies and the British government. However, these were highly unsuccessful as neither side favored him for their cause. Franklin returned to America, after failing to incorporate himself into English politics, in 1775. ( Upon his return to America, he joined the cause for Independence.

Almost immediately upon his arrival back in America, Benjamin Franklin was elected to the Continental Congress. He also sat on a committee of five that were responsible for writing and editing the Declaration of Independence. In 1776, the Congress elected Franklin to act as ambassador to France. Franklin was thrilled to be once again traveling overseas, this time in a political capacity. Franklin was one of the major reasons that the French came to the aid of America at the end of the Revolution and afterwards. (

Phillis Wheatley:

Phillis Wheatley was a the personal slave of Susannah Wheatley of Boston. Susannah's daughter, Mary, taught Phillis to read and write in English. At age 12, Mary introduced her to Latin and poetry. Phillis Wheatley absorbed knowledge at a ridiculous rate, so much so that the Wheatley family would often show her off to their friends. Wheatley became well known among the Wheatley family's friends for her poetry and many of her letters to Susannah Wheatley when Phillis was in England with Nathaniel Wheatley were written in poem form.
Phillis Wheatley

In 1773, Phillis Wheatley became the first black American to publish a book of poems (thirty-nine of them to be exact). Most of her poems are about growing up in New England and religion. Many of her poems are focused around Christian salvation. Rarely does she right about the inequality happeneing in America. She became famous in both England and America for her poetry and it is believed that her fame and renown is what bought her her freedom in October of 1773. Phillis Wheatley was the first African-American woman to use her writing as her major source of income. She lived off of the money she made from her poetry. She was also presented in front of George Washington for her poetry. She opened many doors for African-Americans, especially in the literary world. ( (

John Bartram:

John Bartram, born March 1699 in Darby, Pennsylvania, was America's first botanist. He was also the first colonists to hybridize plants. Because of lack of financial stability, Bartram could not study botany the way he truly wanted to. Until he met English wool merchant and botanist, Peter Collinson. Collinson hired Bartram to collect plants in America and send them to England. This job allowed Bartram to make connections in the scientific community that he otherwise would have been denied. Bartram now explored the American wilderness to find new plants, his lifelong dream. ( During his life Bartram worked as a pharmacist, stonemason, lawyer and physician though he had almost no training in those fields. (

John Bartram

However, Bartram's spelling and grammar were lacking. He was encouraged by Benjamin Franklin himself to write a book about everything he had learned in his years dealing with botany. Collinson seconded this idea. Bartram, however, was not so eager. He was aware of his lacking skills in English. The book was published and Collinson, in order to protect his friend from criticism, wrote a preface that said Bartram did not know the book was being published and that he did not feel right editing his friend's work. (

Bartram started sending rare and unusal plants across the Atlantic to England. Because of this he was able to recieve financial support from England in exchange for his seeds, bulbs, and cuttings. In 1765, King George III appointed Bartram as the Royal Botanist and a few years later was appointed to the Royal Academy of Science at Stockholm. He died in September of 1777. ( (

Religion, Law and Medicine in the Colonies:

Colonial America was a time of disagreement. It was a time of religion vs survival. Before now, medicine and experimentation on the human body had been banned by some of the religions, who believed that sickness and disease were brought on by God as a punishment. A burden meant to be born, no matter the outcome. Religion was also ingraining itself in the law with acts like that passed by Catholics in Maryland that promised religious toleration, which they repealed whenever they felt like it. (

Religion vs Law became more heated with the Great Awakening and revivalist movement. With people being encouraged to rebel against those in authority, who would keep order? This was one of the very first times the ideas of Church separate from State came into play. If law did not have to be subjected to religion (and therefore bias) then authority could be restored. However, much of the law at this time was based around those in power's religious beliefs. This began one of the first occurrences of sectarian vs non sectarian government, or government with religious influence vs government without. (http://www.usahistory.infol)

The example of the first inoculation is a perfect one to illustrate how the colonists felt about new medicines. Smallpox was seen as an act from God; His way of telling the people that He was displeased with them. However, with the introduction of vaccines, death could be avoid. The "wrath of God" could be avoided. For many years, however, doctors refused to go against their religion and experiment with inoculations. Eventually, doctors came to see that religion and medicine also had to be seen separately for the good of the human race. (

The Zenger Case:

John Peter Zenger was a German immigrant who came to New York to become an apprentice printer. In 1735, he became the editor of the New York Weekly Journal. Zenger and the Journal were famous for publishing articles that sympathized with the public against the governors put in power by the throne. Governors such as William Cosby, the governor of New York while Zenger was editor. Zenger's articles were not without bias: he did nothing but criticize the governor and his actions. One of Zenger's favorite topics was the removal of New York Supreme Court Justice Lewis Morris. Morris would not be controlled by Zenger, so Zenger replaced him with a friend from the royal party. (

In November, 1774, Cosby had Zenger arrested under the charge of "seditious libel." Basically, Zenger was slandering Cosby in a way that caused the public to turn against him. Zenger did not see his day in court until 8 months later. Originally under the council of James Alexander, it looked as if Zenger would be found guilty of the charges pressed against him. However, Alexander was found in contempt of court and Zenger got a new lawyer: Alexander Hamilton. Hamilton blew the court away with his argument: Zenger could not be guilty of libel, because, though harsh, what he published about Crosby was true. Though Chief Justice James Delancey (Cosby's friend who he had appointed to the Supreme Court) made it obvious that he thought Zenger guilty, the jury returned a verdict of not guilty. The verdict of this case would have far-reaching effects in colonial America and would set the precedent for how far reporters and journalists could go when reporting against those in power. This idea would again come in to play when the Bill of Rights was being written (freedom of the press). The press could now freely report the truth, however unflattering it may be, without fear of persecution. (

John Peter Zenger

Alexander Hamilton

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English cultural domination
social mobility
colonial families
established church
Great Awakening
Jonathan Edwards
George Whitfield
Georgian style architecture
Benjamin West
John Copley
Cotton Mather
Benjamin Franklin
Poor Richard's Almanack
Phillis Wheatley
sectarian vs non sectarian
John Bartram
relgion medicine and law
John Peter Zenger; libel cases
Andrew Hamilton
Team of Melanie B and Allie B