Colonial America

Good luck Christian!!!

Political/Economic relationships with colonial powers:

The overall relationship between the Old World nations and the New World colonies was based around the predominant economic idea of the time: mercantilism. This idea basically favored the state holding a large amount of bullion, self-sufficiency, and accumulation of wealth. In order for the Old World to keep their factories running, they needed colonies from which to pull cheap natural resources and raw materials. Thus, the early economic relationship between the Old World and the New World was simply the exportation of raw materials and the importation of finished goods.

Politically, the colonies were subservient to their Old World colonizers. They were typically run by some form of governor or military leader, who was appointed by colonizer. In certain cases, the colonies were allowed limited self-government. Nonetheless, the governments in the colonies were responsible for managing the colonies, collecting taxes, and maintaining order. So, the hierarchy for rule in the colonies would follow this pattern from the top down: King-Governor-local government.

The chart below shows more specifics for each colonial power regarding the political and economic relationships with its colonies.


Political Relationship

  • House of Burgesses in Virginia was the first colonial government and took care of local laws
  • British appointed Governors presided in every colony

Economic Relationship

  • tobacco, cotton, indigo, etc exported to the mother-country
  • mother-country sent back manufactured goods and supplies
  • workers from Britain were brought over as indentured servants to work on the plantations


Political Realtionship

  • New France (Canada) ruled internally by the Sovereign Council of New France, which had been appointed by the King and featured a Governor general, a Catholic bishop, and an intendant (responsible for finance, economy, justice, etc.)

Economic Relationship

  • fur trade was king, though food-producing agriculture also maintained some importance in South America and the Caribbean
  • raw materials to mother country <=> manufactured goods sent back


Political Relationship

  • Viceroys ruled large regions. Initially there were only 2 viceroyalties. It was later increased to 4 so as to promote more economic growth.
  • Local officials ruled in the units that eventually would become the independent nations of Latin America
  • These were all subjects of Spain and appointed by Spaniards

Economic Relationship

  • Mining and sugar plantations, as well as gold and silver tribute from subjugated Native Americans
  • Exported for manufactured goods


Political Relationship

  • Governor-generals… also known as Viceroys
    • Ruled Brazil in place of the royal family, until 1808, when the Portuguese Royal Family fled to Brazil due to the Napoleonic wars. After the return of the royals to Lisbon in 1821, Brazil, now a state, was under Prince Pedro
  • Everything still ruled from Portugal until Brazil’s secession

Economic Relationship

  • Mining and sugar plantations, as well as gold and silver tribute from subjugated Native Americans
  • Exported for manufactured goods

Social/Economic organization of the immigrant population:

Most of this section is combining pieces from different parts of the colonial section.

Primarily, the colonial governmental officials were at the top of hierarchy, followed by rich planters (who often worked in the colonial governments, i.e. Thomas Jefferson, George Washington), followed by smaller farmers, followed by field laborers, artisans, and craftsmen. Slaves and indentured servants were at the bottom, though indentured servants were more privileged and had the legal opportunity for freedom. A common trend was that the wealthier people were more privileged than the poor. Free white men also enjoyed suffrage within the local governments, while women and slaves enjoyed no such thing.

Role of Religion:

Religion was extremely important in the colonizing of the Americas. In the British colonies, people came to seek religious freedom. For instance, the Plymouth colony was established by puritans, Maryland was established as a safe haven for Catholics by Lord Baltimore, and Pennsylvania was initially a Quaker colony. The British made little effort to convert natives, but rather just “moved” them aside. However, when slavery began, Christianity became more and more prominent on plantations.

  • The French, Spanish, and Portuguese were motivated by the Catholic Church to convert Native Americans to the Christian faith.
  • The French sent missionaries to convert the Aboriginal peoples (natives) such as the Huron tribe. This succeeded in moderate conversions, angry/more hostile natives, and spread of European diseases, such as smallpox
  • The Spanish especially made use of this in the Encomienda system, which granted them the right to enslave Indians on the condition that they would Christianize them. Spanish missions also popped up, especially in New Mexico (1600s) and California (1769, 21 missions running up the coastline from San Diego to San Francisco, started by Junipero Serra)
  • Both the Portuguese and Spanish had Jesuit priests in their service as well, who established schools and missions across South America.
  • Portugal christianized their subjugate natives

The role of religion essentially boils down to several effects: spreading of disease, new converts, indigenous hostility, and incentive to enslave natives. Another important idea behind the role of religion is that it served as a pretext of further colonial expansion.

Treatment of Indigenous Peoples:

Mixed treatment

  • The Spanish Conquistadors, who first came to the New World, simply wanted to acquire vast amounts of gold
    • Hernando de Soto went on gold-raids in Florida and ended up at the Mississippi river
    • Francisco Pizarro (1532) demolished the Incan empire and added vast amounts of gold to the Spanish coffers
    • Hernando Cortez fought the Aztec empire (1519-1521) because they resisted his cruel ways of pillaging their gold
      • They had no regard for the natives if they did not provide precious metals
  • After creating settlements, the Spanish began enslaving Natives under the encomienda system, which was basically slavery with the promise to Christianize
  • They also established missions along the Pacific coast line and in New Mexico.
    • Ex. San Diego, San Francisco
    • Had moderate converts
      • Many converts were killed by their former tribesmen or lost contact with their former culture
  • The French established fur trade with the Aboriginals in New Canada (Quebec and Acadia)
    • Unlike other colonial powers, the French were not particularly hostile to the natives
    • Hostility only arose when the French began giving in to pressure from the Catholic Church to generate converts, but the hostility was minor by comparison to other colonial powers
  • The English established coastal settlements along the Atlantic coast line
    • Virginia was ravaged by hunger and malaria
      • However, when the relief party arrived under the command of Lord De La Warr, the settlers were ordered to remain in Jamestown and he imposed a military regime
      • He then ordered a declaration of war on the Powhatan Indians in the region in 1610
      • 1614 – Peace settlement last for 8 years due to colonist need for tobacco lands, since tobacco was harsh on the soil
      • The Second Powhatan war ended with a serious Indian defeat due to use of “Irish tactics” (burning of cornfields, houses, etc. as well as stealing of provisions) in 1646
    • Similar events occurred elsewhere in the Thirteen Colonies, due to the need for agricultural lands
    • The British basically were friendly to begin with, but as their agendas required the destruction of Indian tribes, they would turn hostile and militaristic

Origins of Slavery:

British colonies:

Slavery in the Americas came about as the need for agricultural labor increased. In the Thirteen colonies, indentured servitude, which promised freedom to workers brought over from the Old World in exchange for labor, did not provide the necessary means to facilitate the vast amount of farming (common cash crops included tobacco and cotton). Additionally, Bacon’s Rebellion (1676) in which many indentured servants participated caused the wealthy planters to fear the power of their servants. As a result, by the end of 17th century, importation of slaves from Africa became cheaper and more prominent, particularly in the South where the majority of farming occurred. This was more advantageous since many of the slaves were separated from people of their own geographical origin and were kept illiterate, which kept them from rebellious activity. Thus, slavery took hold in the Southern colonies.

Spanish colonies:

Slavery in the Spanish colonies started much earlier. As early as the 1503, the Spanish crown granted the Peninsulares (Spanish settlers in the Americas) the right to subjugate Native Americans living in a particular area with the promise of converting them to Catholicism. This was known as the Encomienda system. Though not officially slavery, it was in practice. As the number of Native Americans declined, the Spanish colonies eventually began importing African slaves to work on the sugar, cotton, indigo, cacao, and coffee plantations. Examples of these include Cuba, which has a mixed population with some African heritage.


Though very few slaves were imported to Canada, which ran primarily on indentured servants, the French gain of Haiti, a part of the Spanish colony of Hispaniola, prompted African slavery to feed its growing need for labor as a major sugar colony. These slaves would be the only ones in the New World to launch a successful slave rebellion.


The Portuguese were the first to use slaves as well as the last of the powers to abolish it. However, it was not until 1550 that the Portuguese began trading slaves to work in mining and on sugar plantations in its American colony, Brazil (which was given as a provision of the Treaty of Tordesillas in 1494). Prior to this, the Portuguese had, like the Spanish, enslaved indigenous populations. However, as the populations started to rapidly deteriorate due to European diseases, the Portuguese needed to find labor elsewhere. Since Portugal already had a virtual monopoly on African slave trade, it was the simplest choice to import African slaves. As a result, more than 3 million slaves were brought to Brazil. Although slavery was abolished in Portugal by 1761, slavery continued in Brazil. Some slave-like workers still exist in Brazil.

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License