Foundations of Colonial America: A Documentary History - Vol. 1

Foundations of Colonial America: A Documentary History - Vol. 1

Foundations of Colonial America: A Documentary History - Vol. 1

Foundations of Colonial America: A Documentary History - Vol. 1

Excerpt

The colonial period in the western hemisphere began rather abruptly with the first voyage of Columbus in 1492. Its conclusion was foreshadowed by the success of the American colonies' revolt against British rule in 1783, and, although vestigial remains can still be seen today in the Caribbean regions, its virtual end came in 1826 when the last Spanish troops left South America. Thus Spain, France, and England, the three major colonial powers, had approximately three hundred years in which to establish and perpetuate their customs and traditions. The success of this effort is clearly seen in the fact that the western hemisphere is still sharply divided into areas in which one or the other cultural influence is dominant.

Much of the evidence of the unaltered transmission of old world customs to the New World can be found in the public records of each colony in the form of laws, legislative resolutions, petitions, official letters, deeds, wills, and a variety of other official acts of the provincial or town governments. Therein also can be found illustrations of the alterations and mutations of European habits and traditions in response to the demands of the New World. Although official records do not contain anything like the amount of data necessary to construct a complete narrative of colonial society, they are recognized as essential to an understanding of them. Public records, in fact, comprise a large part of the material for social and economic history, for laws and their appurtenant documents are an expression of social needs and, in large measure, a description of a society. Such documents encompass men's daily existences: the things they possessed, the work they did, their treatment and expectations of each other, their fears, frustrations, and deaths, and their abstract thinking about morals and society.

For years public and private institutions have been collecting this material and publishing it in multivolume collections for the use of both the casually curious and the serious scholar. Today many of these collections are out of print and difficult to obtain, or so dilapidated or cannibalized by thoughtless and careless users that access to major documents or examples of specific legal activity is not easy, and, in the case of new institutions, research centers, and libraries, frequently impossible. For this reason, the present volume on New England and the two succeeding volumes covering the Middle Atlantic and Southern colonies have been produced.

This is an effort to bring together all the charters granted to the British colonies in America as well as other public documents illustrative of the evolution of colonial government at all levels. In bringing a wide variety of documents together, the collection goes somewhat beyond other works of a similar nature. In addition to the charters, examples of the structure of the colonial governments and laws passed by them which regulated ecclesiastical affairs, individual conduct, trade and economic affairs, and the formation of local governments have been included in an attempt to present a more complete documentary picture of the colonies in the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. Selected deeds and wills have been included to illustrate the . . .

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