Way back in 1492, Christopher Columbus sailed the ocean blue.
Christopher Columbus, the founder of America.
Christopher Columbus, the first explorer to reach the New World.
Christopher Columbus was trying to find a quicker route to India, and he didn’t even end up on the continent of North America. He ended up on an island in the Bahamas, and, in his ignorance, dubbed the natives “Indians”. His discovery was completely accidental, and, like other explorers, set out over uncharted seas for gold, God, and glory. Once a year, we get a day off of school in celebration of Christopher Columbus, the explorer who accidentally discovered this country. I use the term “discovered” rather loosely, because, by far, he wasn’t the first to reach the “New World.” He wasn’t even the first European.
Anyway, Columbus is given credit for discovering the New World, and he did it for selfish reasons. He wanted to be rich and famous, like all the other explorers of that time.
Over 100 years later, England founded its first New World colony in Jamestown, Virginia in 1607, after two previous attempts, both of which failed.
Over the course of the next 150 years or so, twelve more colonies were born under the British flag.
The voyage took several weeks, during which passengers ran out of food, water, and patience.
Why then, did so many British citizens risk the voyage to the New World?
How did we find enough people to populate an entire country?
Why were these people willing to risk their lives for a change in scenery?
Countless different types of people ventured to the New World, so it makes sense that there would be a variety of reasons for their departure. One relatively universal reason was for freedom, in the vaguest sense. Exactly what kind of freedom, be it religious, economic, or political, depended on the general area of the colonies, and the specific type of person asked. Almost everyone left England for religious or economic reasons, if not for both.
In modern America, we have complete religious freedom. Of course we do; it’s in the Constitution!
However, in colonial America, and in England for that matter, religious freedom was not guaranteed. For Catholics, England was no longer home. Catholics, Protestants, Quakers, Jews, and members of countless other religions fled to the New World in hopes of religious tolerance and freedom. Quakers gathered in Pennsylvania, while Catholics were drawn to Maryland. Rhode Island, often looked down upon by the other colonies, granted complete tolerance to all religions.
Although religion was very important in the period of colonial America, it wasn’t enough to populate 13 colonies, and eventually an entire country.
Economic freedom was another leading factor in the population growth of the New World. America, right from its beginning, is a land of opportunity. America is huge, and has tons of land to offer any potential residents. The Middle Colonies, along with the Southern Colonies, wanted farmland. If you had big dreams of growing tobacco or corn or almost any other crop, the New World was the place to be. Often, land was literally given away to anyone who came to the colonies. Furthermore, the laws of primogeniture in England declared that only the firstborn son inherited land from his parents. Any other children after that had to fend for themselves and make a living, or if you were a girl, find a husband, preferably a rich one. With that kind of law, it’s no wonder so many second born (and so on) sons ventured across the ocean to the New World. After all, they had nothing left to lose. (except their lives. oh well.)
People like hats. They’re pretty cool,as far as articles of clothing go. Even in the 1600s, people liked hats, particularly fur hats, perhaps with a nice fur coat. Fur trapping was a pretty big industry, big enough to attract people all the way from “across the pond.”
Also, the “New World” sounds pretty cool and mysterious, doesn’t it? People like things that are new, and where would we be without a world? Plenty of people probably came to America out of sheer curiosity, despite the well-known fact that curiosity killed the cat.
An extended reason as to why so many people came to America was the opportunity for greatness. However, many people who came to America literally had nothing to lose but their lives, and maybe the clothes on their backs. They were poor, and boats don’t just carry people over dangerous waters for voyages that take several weeks to complete for fun. Like so many other people and businesses, boat pilots and companies want money. Poor people, believe it or not, don’t have money. How did so many of them get to colonial America? The answer could be found in the headright system.
The headright system declared that anyone who paid for the passage of one or more people from England to the colonies would get free land, and the labor of that poor person for a set amount of time, usually 7-10 years. People like free land, and England really wanted those poor people out of her way, so the Southern colonies were soon populated by poor white Brits, known as indentured servants. These servants worked for their “master” for a set amount of time and were provided with food, living space, and plenty of work. After their time was up, nice masters gave the servants small farms and some money, while not-so-nice masters kicked the indentured servants off their property with no means of providing for themselves. For these people, their voyage was pretty pointless, because they’re just poor people in a new place.
In conclusion, colonists came to America for a variety of reasons, most of which involved religious freedom, economic freedom, and opportunity.
A.P. U.S. History Textbook
APUSH Stuff for Students 2013-2014 Folder