A Century of Colonial Expansion to 1775

How did colonies that remained weak outposts before 1700 become strong enough to challenge the power of the British empire in the second half of the 18th century?

There were drastic changes on the North American continent between 1700 and 1775:

Chapter 4. The Terrible Transformation. The aftermath of Bacon’s Rebellion of 1676 marked a shift away from the use of European servants to the use of African slaves as Virginia’s primary labor force. Increasingly laws restricted the rights of slaves as well as the rights of free blacks. South Carolina soon produced rice and a population in which the majority of people were African and African-American slaves. While the colony of Georgia initially refused to permit slavery at its founding in 1731, a 1751 law permitted slavery in Georgia. The population of African and African-American slaves grew rapidly in the colonies, so much so that on the eve of the American Revolution, blacks made up more than 20% of the population of colonies. With the growth of slavery in all of the colonies, there were numerous instances of slave resistance in the colonial period (for example in New York) however the Stono Rebellion was the largest slave revolt of the colonial period.

Chapter 5. An American Babel 1713-1763.
The Horse and the Gun
By 1750, the “horse frontier” had met the “gun frontier” in the west, fundamentally altering the lives of Native Americans. The arrival and spread of horses the from the Spanish in Mexico and New Mexico after 1690 and the arrival and spread of guns from French traders in Canada and down the Mississippi (Louisiana) after 1720 fundamentally changed Indian life the west. “Indian women remembered the arrival of the horse and the gun with ambivalence. These new assets improved food supplies and made travel less burdensome, but the transition brought disadvantages as well. Violent raids became more common, and young men who fought as warriors gained status in the community compared to older men and women.” The Comanches became a highly mobile group dominating the southwest. They raided other Indian nations, like the Apaches, and sold their war captives as slaves. The Sioux emerged as the dominant power in the eastern part of the Great Plains.

Demographic and Economic Development
The British colonies experienced rapid population growth in the 18th century. People from western Africa as well as western Europe arrived in the colonies—many of the latter were not English. Thus the population of the British colonies was becoming ethnically diverse. While most of the people from west Africa arrived as slaves, free African-Americans lived in the colonies as well. In colonial Williamsburg, half of the population was African American. Though slavery was becoming the predominant labor force in the Chesapeake and the Carolinas (see 162) many European indentured servants and redemptioners continued to arrive in the colonies. See 162 for a description of the various regional economies of the colonies. Between 1750 and 1763 more than 400,000 people were added to the British mainland colonies—by 1763 the population of the British colonies on the Atlantic coast was 1.6 million. The Spanish in New Mexico and Texas and the Comanche and Sioux on the Great Plains all controlled wide stretches of territory but their numbers remained only a minute fraction. The French had an even smaller physical presence in North America but by 1740 they had claimed the largest percentage of the North American continent-- however the Seven Years War (the French and Indian War) from 1754 to 1763 would change this.

The Great Awakening: An Evangelical Religious Revival that Swept the Colonies and Created a Rift between the “Old Lights” and the “New Lights”
This was revival of religious piety (devoutness) that began in Europe (England, Scotland, Germany). It placed an emphasis on thinking with the heart rather than the head, the emotional rather than the rational, on preaching rather than ritual. This Age of Faith countered the Enlightenment’s Age of Reason. In America this religious revival began in the Middle Colonies (PA, NJ with the Tennants) and spread north to New England (MA with Jonathon Edwards “Sinners of an Angry God”). Missionaries from the northern and middle colonies headed south and reached out to people who did not have access to traditional churches, especially people in rural Virginia and North Carolina, including women and African Americans. John Whitefied from England began visiting the American colonies and his impassioned outdoor sermons also helped to spread the religious revival known as the Great Awakening throughout the colonies.
See web readings and textbook pages 169 to 175. Pay close attention to the section “The Consequences of the Great Awakening” on pages 174 and 175.

The Seven Years War: The End of France in North America
What started as the French and Indian War—another contest between England and France over North American territory (the first of which was King William’s War) developed into the first global war. Britain’s victory made England the strongest European colonial power in the world and ended France’s hopes for an empire in North America. However, the effects of this war also helped to stimulate the American Revolution, which ultimately meant the end of a British empire in North America as well.
See web readings as well as textbook pages 171 to 185.

Chapter 6: The Limits of Imperial Control 1763-1775

Chapter 4 described the terrible transformation from indentured servitude to institutionalized slavery in Virginia from 1680 to 1715 and the development of slave societies in the colonies of Virginia, South Carolina, North Carolina, and, after 1751, Georgia (20 years after it was founded).

Chapter 5 described major changes between 1713-1763. These changes were
--demographic: population of British colonies grew rapidly, became ethnically, religiously diverse
--political: the Sioux and Comanche gained control of the Great Plains (thanks to the horse and the gun); the French were kicked out of North America (thanks to the Seven Years War)
--economic: the British colonies developed regional economies based on free, servant, and slave labor
--religious: the Great Awakening inspired many colonists and in many cases set them at odds with the religious traditionalists or Old Lights

Chapter 6 describes conflicts and tensions that developed between 1763 and 1775, several which made evident “the limits of imperial control.” In other words, it became evident to many of the colonists in these years that they could and should become independent from Britain’s imperial rule. “For the first time, colonists from separate regions and different countries of origin began to identify themselves as Americans, gradually adopting a term that had previously applied only to Indians” (Jones p. 199).

The British victory over the French in the Seven Years War brought problems to the British colonies on the Atlantic coast after 1763. Native Americans lost a valuable trading partner when the French withdrew (this led to Pontiac’s Rebellion which prompted the Proclamation of 1763). Britain faced an enormous war debt and looked to its growing colonies as a source of much-needed revenue (this led to heavy taxation through measures like the Navigation Acts, the Currency Act, the Sugar Act, the Stamp Act and later the Revenue Act and the Townsend Duties between 1764 and 1767, in 1774 the “Intolerable Acts” were the final insult). Within little more than a decade, Britain’s North American colonists went from resentment (the Stamp Act crisis of 1765 the Boston Massacre of 1770 were particular sore points) and resistance (e.g. the Sons of Liberty’s Boston Tea Party of 1773 in response to the Tea Act that year) to overt rebellion and an anti-colonial war of independence.