English and Other Traditions in American Colonies Essay

October 14, 2020 by Essay Writer

Colonial life in seventeenth-century North America was hard indeed. Settlers had to survive in severe climatic conditions (suffering from cold and snow in the north and tortured by unbearable heat and mosquitoes in the south), which required unceasing labor and endurance. Besides, constant encounters with the indigenous population presented a considerable threat to colonists’ lives.1 However, despite being exposed to various hardships including previously unknown diseases, many of them managed not only to maintain their existence but to prosper.

One of the reasons for such vitality was the sustained migration of Europeans to the American colonies, without which a lot of settlements would have collapsed.2 It was the period of the Great Migration (starting from 1629) that made the most considerable contribution to the development of the colonial society as the enormous increase of the population could not help telling on all the aspects of people’s lives.3

Thus, the culture, politics, and economy of the colonies, which still preserved close ties with Great Britain and borrowed its philosophical and practical approaches to many spheres of life, started moving in totally unprecedented directions.4 The paper at hand will attempt to prove that the new distinct American lifestyle emerged as a result of mingling features English society had with practices, cultural patterns, and economic advantages brought to the continent by highly diverse immigrant groups.5

The Effects of Migration on the Colonial Life of the 17th Century

Social Effects

The first Pilgrim settlers brought the Protestant faith from Europe to America. Many colonies accepted the new Church, the impact of which on the growing society cannot be overestimated. The Puritan colonists imposed their strong and unbinding religious norms and values on the existing social order.6 For instance, they insisted on the strict adherence to the traditional treatment of gender roles. The problem was that life in the colonies left no chances for women to stay away from hard physical labor (however, they were not equal to men in all other matters: they could neither vote, nor hold public office). The Puritans were strictly opposed to the process of mingling gender roles and brought the traditional patriarchal values with them: husbands were recognized to be the rulers of their wives, who had no property and could not ask for divorce.7

A lot of immigrants came to the North America with their families. It helped the colonial society, which consisted predominantly of middle-aged males, retain the normal generational and gender structure.8

Cultural Effects

The Puritans contributed a lot to the public education of the settlers. They built schools and taught children to read religious manuscripts. Gradually, each town established its own academy. However, the education was mostly theological whereas the country was in a great need for economists, lawyers, and politicians.9

Since the colonial society was expanding at an immense speed due to arriving immigrants, it was mostly interested in disciplines that had practical application for being able to build sustainable roads, houses, and vehicles for growing towns. However this positive effect of migration is counteracted by the negative one: such an approach led to almost total neglect of arts and literature (except for New England). All the publications in newspapers and magazines mostly concerned daily matters. Theater was also banned because of religious beliefs.10

Thus, the arrival of the Puritans accounts for both educational breakthrough and simultaneous cultural lag of American society.

Economic Effects

The greatest economic impact on settlers was produced by the adoption of slavery. Before the import of slaves from Africa, colonists were perfectly able to maintain their living and even ensure a kind of successful future for their children. They owned houses, land, and some movable property and had a sufficient amount of cattle and farm equipment. All settlers were mostly equal to one another. If some of them were wealthier than their neighbors, their prosperity manifested itself in a larger area of land they possessed but not in the luxury of their homes, clothes, or food. It was a perfect way of life for the stability of the community.11 However, with the appearance of slaves on the continent, the economic gap between the rich and the poor started growing wider. Life expectancy in the colonies was higher because of better living conditions. Thus, African slaves continued reproducing, and many of them survived. It led to an enormous number of slaves, who sold themselves to land-owners. They grew tobacco, rice, sugar, coffee, and cotton in large quantities. Since they did not receive any wages, it led to the rapid increase of their masters’ wealth. This brought about a split of the colonial community into the poor and the rich, the rivals and the proponents of slavery.12

Political Effects

The colonists took the best practices of Great Britain in social and economic aspects but, due to the increasing number of both white and black immigrants, chose a completely different approach in politics. They understood that imperial restrictions could not be applied to such a diverse population. Therefore, most colonies enjoyed relative independence, establishing their own governments, taxes, and local authorities responsible for each aspect of political and social life. As a result, a rich diversity was achieved in this sphere. The population was involved in policy-making. There were no political parties but there already existed interest groups that supported or opposed the current ideology. It would be fair to note that the diversity of the immigrant population coupled with controversial ethical nature of political issues (such as slavery) later led to the Civil War.13

Differences and Similarities of Colonial and English Societies

As it has already been mentioned, colonial America borrowed a lot from Great Britain. However, it developed its new political and social ideas, some of which were even conflicting with those of the English. Despite the fact that colonists were striving for freedom and democracy, they still had no sense of altruism. This made them similar to the English authorities, who also sought their personal profit in politics.14

The American Enlightenment led to the appearance of new ideas, which did not resemble the accepted English philosophy. Americans no longer believed in the power of aristocracy and its cult of idleness. Merchants, farmers, economists, and other men of action, who made their fortune by labor became heroes of the new nation.15

Despite all the ideological differences, both societies had a common purpose: to make the most of each other. The British wanted taxes and trade revenues whereas colonists wanted independent economic and political systems. This brought about the War of Independence.


As we can see from the analysis, colonists, who were mostly of the English descent, were eager to accept changes that the inflow of immigrants (from England and other countries) brought to the continent. It had both its benefits and drawbacks (mostly because it slowed down the development of arts and literature and widened the social gap). However, settlers did not reject British traditions either. They adopted some of its economic and social practices adjusting them to the new conditions. This was the way a completely new society was born.


Bailyn, Bernard. The Peopling of British North America: an Introduction. London: Vintage, 2011.

Foner, Eric. Give Me Liberty! An American History: Seagull Fourth Edition. Vol. 1. New York: WW Norton & Company, 2013.

Furnivall, John Sydenham. Colonial Policy and Practice. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014.

Greer, Allan. “Commons and Enclosure in the Colonization of North America.” The American Historical Review 117, no. 2 (2012): 365-86.

Home, Robert. Of Planting and Planning: the Making of British Colonial Cities. London: Routledge, 2013.

Lloyd, Christopher, and Jacob Metzer. “Settler Colonization and Societies in World History: Patterns and Concepts.” Settler Economies in World History, 1-34. Boston: Brill, 2013.

Mariani, Paul. William Carlos Williams: A New World Naked. San Antonio: Trinity University Press, 2016.

Shi, David E., and George Brown Tindall. America: A Narrative History. New York: WW Norton & Company, 2016.

Steinmetz, George. “The Sociology of Empires, Colonies, and Postcolonialism.” Annual Review of Sociology 40 (2014): 77-103.

Wells, Robert V. Population of the British Colonies in America before 1776: A Survey of Census Data. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2015.


  1. Eric Foner, Give Me Liberty! An American History: Seagull Fourth Edition. Vol. 1 (New York: WW Norton & Company, 2013), 52.
  2. Ibid., 52-53.
  3. Ibid., 67.
  4. Robert Home, Of Planting and Planning: The Making of British Colonial Cities (London: Routledge, 2013), 12.
  5. Bernard Bailyn, The peopling of British North America: an Introduction (London: Vintage, 2011), 16.
  6. John Sydenham Furnivall, Colonial Policy and Practice (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014), 56.
  7. Robert V. Wells, Population of the British Colonies in America before 1776: A Survey of Census Data (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2015), 34.
  8. Ibid., 38.
  9. Allan Greer, “Commons and enclosure in the colonization of North America,” in The American Historical Review 117, no. 2 (2012): 367.
  10. Christopher Lloyd and Jacob Metzer, “Settler colonization and societies in world history: patterns and concepts,” in Settler Economies in World History (Boston: Brill, 2013), 43.
  11. Ibid., 48.
  12. George Steinmetz, “The sociology of empires, colonies, and postcolonialism,” in Annual Review of Sociology 40 (2014): 97.
  13. David E. Shi and George Brown Tindall, America: A Narrative History (New York: WW Norton & Company, 2016), 84.
  14. Paul Mariani, William Carlos Williams: A New World Naked (San Antonio: Trinity University Press, 2016), 59.
  15. Ibid., 60.
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