& Terms in
Fasttrack to America's Past
Section 2: Colonial America
|aristocracy - a privileged,
of nobility (dukes, barons, etc.), such as that found in Europe before
modern times. The term is sometimes used in a looser sense to
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
tea to Boston in December 1773. The colonists were angry because
the tea carried a small tax passed by the British Parliament, but not
the colonial assemblies. It appeared to be a direct challenge to
the colonists’ right to vote on their own taxes. A group of
dressed up as Indians went on board the ships, and dumped the tea
into the water.
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
in the writing of the U.S. Constitution.
French and Indian War - the last of a series of
England and France for control of North America. It lasted from
to 1763, and ended with the British winning almost all of the French
in North America. It was triggered by disputes over land claims
American (British) colonists moved over the Appalachian mountains in
of good land for farms. The French claimed that area, and in 1754
built Fort Duquesne on the Ohio River. When the young George
was sent to check the situation, fighting erupted that led to
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
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.
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 raise money, then divides the profits among the investors.
for the Jamestown settlement was raised by a joint-stock company.
In modern business terminology, a joint-stock company is similar to a
George III - king of England during the American Revolution.
He came to the throne in 1760, and began taking steps to tighten
over the American colonies. These steps, coming after many
of “salutary neglect,” caused a great deal of resentment in the
(Salutary neglect is the term historians use to describe the relatively
loose control England exercised over the colonies before 1760.)
Mayflower Compact - a written statement signed by
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
their expedition. The short document is famous because it
that the colonists “combine ourselves into a Civill body politick.” in
order to “frame such just & equal Laws . . . as shall be
most meete & convenient for ye general good of ye colonie.”
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
with different views to speak and write freely. The open
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
America today is a good example.
Parliament - the law-making body of the British
It developed in the 13th century out of the king’s council, a
of leading barons. The struggle for power between the monarchs
Parliament over the next few centuries helped advance the ideas of
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
to some of its practices and beliefs, especially those that seemed
to the Catholic Church. They sought to make the Church of England
more “pure” by excluding all practices and beliefs that could not be
in the Bible. Among the most extreme of the Puritans were the
who organized the famous voyage to America on the Mayflower in
Other Puritans hoped to work to change the church from within.
Quakers - the common name for members of
began in England in the mid-1600s called the Society of Friends.
Quakers held views that were quite radical for the times. They
all war, and believed in social equality. They believed each
could know God through his or her own “inner light.” Their
often got them in trouble at home, and many began emigrating to
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
hanging of 19 accused “witches” in the town of Salem,
The accusations were first made by several young girls who had been
to “voodoo” tales from a West Indian slave woman named Tituba.
girls claimed to be possessed and accused three women, including
of being witches. More hysterical accusations followed through
spring and summer, and a special court was set up to hear the
As the accusations reached wider and wider circles, public opinion
against the trials, which were finally stopped in the fall.
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.
John - the Englishman who became the leader of the Jamestown colony
as it fell into serious problems shortly after it was established in
He was notorious for hard headed and forceful leadership, at one point
telling the colonists that “he who will not work will not eat.”
also helped the colony survive by negotiating with Indian groups for
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
Plymouth during the first years of the colony. Squanto showed the
Pilgrims how to grow corn, and helped form a peace treaty between the
and a nearby tribe of the Wampanoag group.
Act - a law passed by Parliament in 1765 that required all printed
materials sold in the colonies to carry a tax stamp. The stamps
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
the colonies. But colonists were angered because the taxes were placed
on them without the consent of their own colonial assemblies.
Tea Act - a law passed by Parliament in 1773 to
problems in the (British) East India Company. The company was
the exclusive right to sell tea in the American colonies. With
monopoly in the hands of one company, many American merchants would
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
destroyed Jamestown in 1698. It was here that the leading
of Virginia met each year and socialized, and where they discussed
issues at the House of Burgesses. Here, too, was the palace of
royal governor and the College of William and Mary. During the
the capital was moved to Richmond because it was safer from British
John - a leader of the Puritans who settled at Boston in
He delivered a famous sermon on board the ship Arabella in
he spoke of building a new society founded on Christian principles of
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
became Governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony.
Copyright 1999, 2015 by David Burns. All rights reserved.