British Colonial America: People and Perspectives

British Colonial America: People and Perspectives

British Colonial America: People and Perspectives

British Colonial America: People and Perspectives

Synopsis

This insightful set of essays reveals the day-to-day lives of the British colonists who laid the foundation for what became the United States.

Excerpt

Unlike most periods of American history, the story of colonial America has rarely been told from the perspective of the “great men” of history. In large part, this is because the colonial period has few, if any, individuals who have entered into the national consciousness as have George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, or Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Nonetheless, for many years, the story of the early period of American history was recounted through a limited narrative structure. In such accounts, colonial history began in 1607 with the settlement of Jamestown, followed, in subsequent years, by the founding of a number of other colonies. All of these colonies gradually offered political and economic liberty to growing numbers of English settlers, fought a series of conflicts with Indians, and finally vanquished the French in a series of wars that ended in 1763. This, in turn, laid the foundations for the colonists’ struggle with the English government beginning in 1765.

Although there is more than an element of truth in such an account, recounting the story of colonial America in such a way conceals more than it reveals and frequently provides a distorted explanation and interpretation of what happened and why. To write of colonial America only as the account of several specific English colonies is to miss the incredible richness and detail of the lives of hundreds of thousands of people for more than 200 years. And, to interpret the colonial period as little more than a prelude to the Revolution is to read its history in reverse, by assuming that those who lived in the period knew they were preparing for a revolution. This, of course, often leads to a fundamental misunderstanding of the attitudes, motivations, and goals of those same people.

Perhaps the biggest problem with the aforementioned approach is the underlying assumption that all 13 of the mainland British colonies fit easily into a single narrative. In reality, the expression “colonial America” is a collective term anxiously searching for a situation to which it can attach itself. The term implies a unity of purpose and a single identity that simply did not exist among the British North American colonies at any time before 1789. In the language of the period, the British settlements were either referred to by their individual names, or as “the American colonies,” in clear recognition of . . .

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