Names & Terms in
   Fasttrack to America's Past
   Section 2:  Colonial America
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aristocracy - a privileged, hereditary upper class of nobility (dukes, barons, etc.), such as that found in Europe before modern times.  The term is sometimes used in a looser sense to refer to the wealthy class in any society.

Boston Massacre - the term used by angry colonists for a clash with British troops in 1770 that left five colonists dead.  A group of some 50 colonists was taunting the soldiers and throwing snowballs when shooting broke out.  The British blamed the incident on the American colonists.  Colonists eager to push for a break with England called it the Boston Massacre and made it a symbol of their cause.

Boston Tea Party - the raid by colonists on British ships carrying tea to Boston in December 1773.  The colonists were angry because the tea carried a small tax passed by the British Parliament, but not by the colonial assemblies.  It appeared to be a direct challenge to the colonists’ right to vote on their own taxes.  A group of colonists dressed up as Indians went on board the ships, and dumped the tea chests into the water.
    Among other actions, the British ordered Boston harbor closed until the cost of the tea was repaid.  Other protests against British tea ships occurred in other colonies, but the one in Boston had the greatest impact on later events.

boycott - a systematic refusal to buy products produced by a particular group, company, or country.  Colonists launched a boycott of British products to force the repeal of the Stamp Act, and another boycott following the Coercive/Intolerable Acts.

Church of England/Anglican Church - the church formed when King Henry VIII broke the Catholic churches in England away from the control of the Catholic Pope in 1534, and placed them under his own control.  This new Protestant church adopted many of the beliefs of other  Protestant churches, but also kept some traditions of the Catholic Church.  People who refused to accept the new official church were called dissenters, and in some periods could face jail or worse.  Disputes revolving around the beliefs of the church led several groups, including the Pilgrims and many Puritans, to leave England and start colonies in America. 

Coercive / Intolerable Acts - the names given by the colonists to a series of laws passed by the British Parliament early in 1774 to punish the colonists in Boston after the Boston Tea Party.  Among other actions, these laws closed the harbor of Boston, and restricted the right of people in Massachusetts to hold town meetings.  The colonists united as never before in a common cause to help the people of Boston.

First Continental Congress - the meeting of representatives from the colonies in 1774 to plan a response to the Coercive/Intolerable Acts.  The meeting was held in Philadelphia, and represents a key step in uniting the separate colonies to oppose British rule.  This first Congress, however, still hoped to avoid a total break with England.  Most delegates wanted a compromise of some sort in which England would recognize the full rights of the colonies in internal affairs and taxation.

Franklin, Benjamin - a printer in Philadelphia who became a key figure in the push for American independence, and later, an important figure in the writing of the U.S. Constitution.
     His interest in science led him to conduct a famous experiment with a kite that proved that lightning is electricity.  He invented the lightning rod and an efficient heating stove that used much less wood than a fireplace.  He is also famous for creating and publishing Poor Richard’s Almanac, with its witty and wise advice on everything from agriculture to marriage. 
    Born in Boston, Franklin ran away to Philadelphia as a young man.  He rose in the printing trade, and went to London to learn more about it.  After returning to America, he made a small fortune in his various endeavors.  Franklin was an elderly man as the colonies rebelled against British rule.  He served on the committee that wrote the Declaration of Independence in 1776 at the Second Continental Congress.
    The Revolution created a hard split with his son, who had risen to be royal governor of New Jersey, and who favored the British side during and after the conflict.
    Franklin went to France as the fighting began, in hope of winning the help of the French government.  There, he became a celebrity  in French society, which saw something inspiring in this man whose background and style were so different from the typical European noblemen.  Later, Franklin helped negotiate the peace treaty ending the Revolution.
    By the time the Constitution was written in 1787, Franklin was over 80, but played a big role in keeping the delegates working and compromising.  His arguments in favor of the document helped swing support toward the new plan.

French and Indian War - the last of a series of wars between England and France for control of North America.  It lasted from 1754 to 1763, and ended with the British winning almost all of the French territory in North America.  It was triggered by disputes over land claims as American (British) colonists moved over the Appalachian mountains in search of good land for farms.  The French claimed that area, and in 1754 built Fort Duquesne on the Ohio River.  When the young George Washington was sent to check the situation, fighting erupted that led to full-scale war. 
    Many Indian groups supported the French, who were more interested in the fur trade than land.  After years of fighting, a key victory was achieved when Quebec fell to the British in 1759.  In the peace treaty, the British gained control of Canada and all land east of the Mississippi River.
    The war cost the British vast sums of money, which they tried to raise after the war by taxing the American colonists.  Resentment over these taxes was a key factor leading to the American break with England in the 1760s and 1770s.
    The war is also known in Europe as the Seven Years’ War.

gentry - the upper class in colonies like Virginia and South Carolina.  The wealth of the gentry class was based on great plantations that used slave labor.  The gentry formed the educated leadership in the southern colonies.  Their status and power led them to resent attempts by England to tighten control over the colonies after 1760.

Great Awakening - a revival of religious faith and preaching that spread in the colonies in the 1740s.  A new religious style, focused more on a direct appeal to the emotions than Biblical learning, was part of the movement.  It created and spread new denominations and congregations in the colonies, and this growing diversity promoted the idea of religious tolerance.
    Some historians believe that the challenge of the new churches to the traditional churches also served as a “practice run” for the political challenge colonists would later mount against the British government.

House of Burgesses - the colonial assembly that was created by settlers in Virginia in 1619.  It was started as a forum to discuss and solve common problems as settlers spread out from Jamestown to form other towns up and down the James River.  Because its delegates were elected, it takes the honor as the first representative governmental body in America.  As Virginia grew, a royal governor was sent from England, but the House of Burgesses remained as the elected part of the colonial government.

indentured servant - a person bound by a legal contract to work for a set number of years in payment of a debt.  Typically, these were Europeans who agreed to trade years of labor in return for the cost of passage to the colonies on a ship.  Five to seven years was common.  Many did not live long enough to see their day of freedom.

Jamestown - the settlement in Virginia in 1607 that was the first successful colony of the English in North America.  The colony was financed by the Virginia Company of London as a profit-making venture.  Many of the first 104 settlers expected to find gold or other easy riches, and were unprepared for the hard work of surviving in a new and distant land.  The death rate was extremely high, and it took help from the Indians and the harsh leadership of John Smith to keep the colony from collapsing completely.

joint-stock company - a business that issues stock to investors to raise money, then divides the profits among the investors.  Money for the Jamestown settlement was raised by a joint-stock company.  In modern business terminology, a joint-stock company is similar to a corporation.
    The development of this kind of business is historically important, because it made it possible to raise money for large and risky business ventures from many investors.

King George III - king of England during the American Revolution.  He came to the throne in 1760, and began taking steps to tighten control over the American colonies.  These steps, coming after many decades of “salutary neglect,” caused a great deal of resentment in the colonies.  (Salutary neglect is the term historians use to describe the relatively loose control England exercised over the colonies before 1760.)
    As the colonies moved closer to a break, King George appeared to have little interest in a compromise.  His determination to force the colonies into submission pushed colonial leaders further toward the final break in 1776.

Mayflower Compact - a written statement signed by the Pilgrims in 1620 when their ship, the Mayflower, landed in Massachusetts.  The settlers wrote the compact, or agreement, because strong winds had pushed them outside the territory controlled by the company that sponsored their expedition.  The short document is famous because it states  that the colonists “combine ourselves into a Civill body politick.” in order to “frame such just & equal Laws . . .  as shall be thought most meete & convenient for ye general good of ye colonie.”
    Such language, of course, is an early expression of the concept of a democratic government based on the consent or agreement of the governed. 

mercantilism - an economic theory widely held in colonial times which states that colonies are valuable to the extent that they make the mother country wealthier.  Countries like England and Spain, therefore, set trade policies and other restrictions that generally favored the flow of wealth - especially gold and silver - from the colonies to the mother country.  As the American colonies grew, resentment of these trade restrictions was a big factor in the independence movement.

militia - a group of citizens who organize and drill for military duty during an emergency.  In colonial America, most men were expected to turn out for regular practice with their muskets, in the event of an attack by Indians.  As the break with Britain widened after 1770, the purpose of the militias shifted to protection from British attack.  In Massachusetts, the most active members of the militia opposed to the British were called “minutemen” because they pledged to be ready to fight on a minute’s notice.  Some of the militia members later became the core of the regular Continental Army under George Washington during the Revolution.

open/closed society - An open society is one which allows people with different views to speak and write freely.  The open discussions that result are thought to be vital to the lives of individuals and to society itself, as well as to the proper operation of the government.  America today is a good example. 
    A closed society is one that is suspicious or intolerant of different views.  It sees dissent as dangerous, and seeks to control or suppress it.  Communist China is a good example. 
    The American colonies, with their English heritage, were generally far more open than almost any other societies of the time.  In the early years, however, the Puritan communities of Massachusetts were closed societies, at least on religious matters.  By the late colonial era, however, they had changed to the more tolerant views of an open society.

Parliament - the law-making body of the British government.  It  developed in the 13th century out of the king’s council, a group of leading barons.  The struggle for power between the monarchs and Parliament over the next few centuries helped advance the ideas of representative government.
    Parliament includes the House of Lords, where seats are held by hereditary right, and the House of Commons, whose members are elected.  The fact that the American colonists were not allowed to elect a representative led to the argument that tax laws like the Stamp Act passed by Parliament amounted to “taxation without representation.”

Pilgrims - the English settlers who sailed on the Mayflower to Massachusetts, landing in November of 1620 at Plymouth Rock.  The trip was organized by a group of Separatists who had left England for Holland.  (In England, their criticism of the Church of England landed some in jail.)  Concerned that their children were losing their English language and culture, they decided to sail for America.  Almost half were dead by spring, and more would have died except for help from Indians.  The good harvest the following year led to a feast of Thanksgiving.

pluralistic society - a society that accepts people with different ethnic origins, religious views, and political opinions.  In colonial times, Pennsylvania and New York were good examples.  In modern times, America is an example of a pluralistic society.

Pocahontas - the young daughter of the chief of the Powhatan Indians of eastern Virginia at the time the Jamestown colony began in 1607.  According to a story told by John Smith, she saved his life when he was captured by the tribe.  Whether that story is true or not, Pocahontas certainly was vital to the survival of the colonists during those early years.  She brought food supplies to the colony, and helped keep peace between her tribe and the settlers.  She adopted Christianity and later married one of the colonists, John Rolf.  She died during a visit to England in 1617, but a son survived.  Descendants of Pocahontas and Rolf can be found in Virginia and elsewhere in America today.

Proclamation of 1763 - an order issued by the British government that declared the area west of the Appalachian mountain range off-limits to settlement by American colonists.  The area was reserved instead for use by Indians.  The order, issued at the end of the French and Indian War, was designed to eliminate conflicts with the Indians and keep colonists where the British government could keep tighter control.  The Proclamation of 1763 angered American colonists, who were eager to expand across the Appalachians.  The order was widely ignored, as Great Britain did not have enough manpower in the colonies to easily enforce it.

Puritans - members of the Protestant Church of England who objected to some of its practices and beliefs, especially those that seemed similar to the Catholic Church.  They sought to make the Church of England more “pure” by excluding all practices and beliefs that could not be found in the Bible.  Among the most extreme of the Puritans were the Separatists who organized the famous voyage to America on the Mayflower in 1620.  Other Puritans hoped to work to change the church from within.
    In the decades after 1620, thousands of these more moderate Puritans also decided to also come to the Massachusetts area.  In the colonies, the Puritans became known as Congregationalists, because each congregation had the final say on church matters. 
    Because the Puritans held the Bible to be the ultimate authority, schools to teach reading became common in New England.  Another belief made work a kind of worship, and prosperity a sign of God’s blessing.  The early Puritan settlers in  Massachusetts generally did not, however, tolerate people with different religious views.

William PennQuakers - the common name for members of a religious group that began in England in the mid-1600s called the Society of Friends.  Quakers held views that were quite radical for the times.  They opposed all war, and believed in social equality.  They believed each person could know God through his or her own “inner light.”  Their preaching often got them in trouble at home, and many began emigrating to America.
    Pennsylvania was founded by the Quaker William Penn in 1682.  In later years, Quakers were involved in many reform movements, such as the abolition of slavery.

royal governor - a governor appointed by the king to be his representative in a colony.  Most of the British colonies in America were headed by a royal governor.  But their power was not absolute.  The colonial assemblies, not the governor, controlled most spending decisions and all taxation. 

Salem witch trials - the trials  in 1692 that led to the hanging of 19 accused “witches” in the town of Salem, Massachusetts.  The accusations were first made by several young girls who had been listening to “voodoo” tales from a West Indian slave woman named Tituba.  The girls claimed to be possessed and accused three women, including Tituba, of being witches.  More hysterical accusations followed through the spring and summer, and a special court was set up to hear the cases.  As the accusations reached wider and wider circles, public opinion turned against the trials, which were finally stopped in the fall.
    Massachusetts officials a few years later voted for a special day of repentance for the injustices done by the trials.  The trials are often cited as an example of how easily public hysteria can build up over accusations that have no real substance.

Separatists - the most extreme of the Puritans in the early 1600s, they left the Church of England to form their own independent congregations.  They believed the Church of England was corrupt, and beyond saving.  Harassed and sometimes jailed by English officials, one group of Separatists fled to Holland, then organized an expedition to America to establish their own settlement.  Sailing on the Mayflower, these Pilgrims landed in Massachusetts and established their colony at Plymouth.

Smith, John - the Englishman who became the leader of the Jamestown colony as it fell into serious problems shortly after it was established in 1607.  He was notorious for hard headed and forceful leadership, at one point telling the colonists that “he who will not work will not eat.”  He also helped the colony survive by negotiating with Indian groups for food. 
    Smith returned to England several years later, after being injured by a gunpowder explosion, and wrote widely read accounts of his exploits.  His most famous story, about being saved by Pocahontas, is still hotly debated by scholars.

social mobility - the ease with which people in a society can move up the social ladder.  In Europe, social mobility was low and the class structure fairly rigid until modern times.  But in the American colonies, even in the earliest years, there were few restrictions to movement in social status.

Sons/Daughters of Liberty - organizations formed in the American colonies in 1765 to protest the Stamp Act.  The Sons of Liberty called for a boycott of British goods, and threatened tax collectors with tar and feathers.  The Daughters of Liberty had similar aims.  Among other activities, they organized cloth-making bees to prove that America could do without imported British goods.  Both organizations continued their resistance to British rule into the Revolutionary era.

Squanto - the famous Indian who helped the Pilgrims survive at Plymouth during the first years of the colony.  Squanto showed the Pilgrims how to grow corn, and helped form a peace treaty between the colonists and a nearby tribe of the Wampanoag group. 
   Squanto spoke English, which he had learned earlier while serving as a guide on English ships exploring the region for trade.  After many adventures, he had returned to the land of his own people in the Plymouth area in 1619.  Sadly, his entire tribe had been wiped out by disease. 
   The Pilgrims arrived the next year, in 1620.  Squanto lived  in the Plymouth Colony, helping the settlers in many ways.  He died two years later after an illness.

Stamp Act - a law passed by Parliament in 1765 that required all printed materials sold in the colonies to carry a tax stamp.  The stamps had to be put on newspapers, legal documents, and even playing cards.  Money raised by the Stamp Act was to be used to help pay the cost of defending the colonies. But colonists were angered because the taxes were placed on them without the consent of their own colonial assemblies.
    The new tax law led to the first united effort by all 13 colonies in a common cause: the Stamp Act Congress.  Delegates to the meeting helped organize a boycott of British goods.  Parliament, under pressure from British merchants, repealed the Stamp Act in 1766.  But the dispute caused many colonists to see England in a different light than before, and to think of the colonies as sharing a common interest.  Less than a dozen years later, America declared its independence. 

Tea Act - a law passed by Parliament in 1773 to help solve financial problems in the (British) East India Company.  The company was given the exclusive right to sell tea in the American colonies.  With this monopoly in the hands of one company, many American merchants would lose business.
    Actually, the cost of tea would have gone down slightly under the new plan.  But because the tea carried a small tax, colonists suspected that it was aimed at getting them to accept the right of Parliament to put taxes on the colonists. 
    By the time ships carrying the tea arrived, colonists were well organized.  In some colonies, the  ships were forced by the colonists to turn around and sail back.  But in Boston, protesters went on board the ships and threw the tea into the harbor during the Boston Tea Party.

town meetings - a common form of local government in New England towns that began in early colonial times.  At these meetings, townspeople met and discussed local concerns, and voted on various measures.  They are an early form of “direct democracy” in America.

Williamsburg - the capital of colonial Virginia after a fire destroyed Jamestown in 1698.  It was here that the leading families of Virginia met each year and socialized, and where they discussed political issues at the House of Burgesses.  Here, too, was the palace of the royal governor and the College of William and Mary.  During the Revolution, the capital was moved to Richmond because it was safer from British attack.
    Williamsburg faded in importance, but was restored to its colonial appearance in the 1930s, and is famous today as a place for tourists to recapture some of the flavor of 18th century America.

Winthrop, John - a leader of the Puritans who settled at Boston in 1630.  He delivered a famous sermon on board the ship Arabella in which he spoke of building a new society founded on Christian principles of brotherhood and self-sacrifice.  Their attempt to build a “city upon a hill,” he predicted, would be watched by other people around the world.  The speech has inspired generations of Americans with a vision of moral purpose that influences political life to this day.  Winthrop later became Governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony.  

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