“Was Colonial Culture Uniquely American?” “There were never, since the creation of the world, two cases exactly parallel.” Lord Chesterfield, in a letter to his son, February 22nd, 1748. Colonial culture was uniquely American simply because of the unique factors associated with the development of the colonies. Never before had the conditions that tempered the colonists been seen. The unique blend of diverse environmental factors and peoples caused the development of a variety of cultures that were mostly English, part European, and altogether original. The unique conditions, both cultural and environmental, of each colony produced a unique culture for that colony.
And while each colony had it’s share of groups, the mix of people and their cultures in each colony was not evenly distributed. In some colonies there was a high mix of people, while in others one group dominated. These regional differences caused the colonies not to develop one unique culture, but instead a group of distinctive cultures, each unique, and each regional. The regional differences and cultures among the colonies can be divided into four basic groups. These groups each dominated a different region, but they weren’t the only group in their respective region.
There were the Puritans of New England, the Quakers of the middle colonies, the Anglicans of the southern colonies, and the Scots-Irish of the Appalachian backcountry (Madaras & Sorelle, 1995). The culture of New England was one unique to New England. The northern colonies of New England were dominated by the Puritans, and settled primarily for religious reasons. The environment of New England consisted of rocky soil, dense forests, and large numbers of fish (Sarcelle, 1965). The culture that developed in New England was appropriate to such conditions. The soil, being rocky, had to be worked constantly and patiently (Sarcelle, 1965).
Patience and persistence were trademarks of Puritan ethics. The lush forests provided for a shipbuilding industry , while the fish provided a source of food (Brinkley, 1995). The New Englanders became fishermen, farmers, lumbermen, shipbuilders, and traders (Sarcelle, 1965). To the south of New England were the middle colonies. There the soil was fertile, and the weather more acclimated to farming (Sarcelle, 1965).
Rivers flowed west toward the frontier, enabling transportation. The middle colonies, as opposed to the relatively Puritan dominated New England, were very diverse in people. A mixture of Dutch, German, Swedes, English and other smaller groups were present in middle colonial cities such as New York (Higginbotham, 1996). The culture of the middle colonies was suited for life there and differed from New England. The good soil and climate produced many farmers (Sarcelle, 1965).
The rivers were used for trading with the Indians (Sarcelle, 1965). The diversity of the people led the middle colonies to being the most liberal in law and views (Madaras & Sorelle, 1995). Religious groups were mainly Quakers, Catholics, and Puritans, along with some other groups. A little further south were the southern colonies. The soil was fertile, but not equal to that of the middle colonies (Sarcelle, 1965).
The weather permitted both long growing seasons and tropical diseases (Brinkley, 1995). The people of the southern colonies were the most loyal to England during the Revolution. The dominant religious group of the South was the Anglican establishment. The culture of the southern colonies developed accordingly. The people took advantage of the long growing season and tobacco became the number one crop (Brinkley, 1995). Society of the southern colonies most closely resembled that of aristocratic England.
Plantations contained a virtual monarchy, each with school, a church, and servants (Brinkley, 1995). Many Virginians sent there children to be schooled in England (Brinkley, 1995). To the west was the frontier and a wholly different set of conditions. The environment consisted of fertile, well watered soil and the temperature was cool (Sarcelle, 1965). The people were diverse, not English dominated, but rather a mixture of Europeans.
Settlers in the area included Germans, Scottish, Irish, and English (Sarcelle, 1965). The culture of the middle colonies formed from the diversity of it’s people. The people believed in small government, with individual freedoms (Madaras & Sorelle, 1995). The settlers of the frontier region established their own culture and institutions. The Bar-B-Que, quilt making, and other American pastimes developed here (Brinkley, 1995). Bacon’s rebellion was an early indicator of the differences between the cultures of the East and West (Madaras & Sorelle, 1995). Patterns of English culture could be seen in many aspects of colonial culture, but with slight variations.
For example, while the laws and court proceedings of the colonies closely resembled the English system, the political views of colonists differed from their English counterparts on a number of points (Brinkley, 1995). The language used in both was English and there were many other similarities. Even though the colonial culture was like that of England, it was not a copy of English culture. Likewise, Englishmen weren’t the only colonists. The culture of the colonies was also influenced by other European cultures.
After 1680 large numbers of immigrants came from Europe (Welling, 1996). Throughout the colonies Dutch, Swedes, and Germans could be found (Welling, 1996). French Huguenots lived in South Carolina and other scattered places, as did the Spanish, Italians, and Portuguese (Welling, 1996). The English ceased to be the chief source of immigration as early as 1680 (Welling, 1996), although they still held a large majority in the population from previous settlers and their offspring (Brinkley, 1995). Just like the English, when other European settlers brought their families and possessions, they also brought aspects of their culture.
One group, although forced to adopt the ways of the New World, was still able to keep parts of their own culture and have influence on mainstream cultures. That group was the African slaves. Africans made up a large part of the colonial population. In fact, by the time of the Revolution, colonists of African descent made up 20% of the overall population (“Colonial Williamsburg Home Page”, 1996). Since the Africans usually brought no possessions, had been taken from their families, and came from many diverse tribes, Like other cultures of the colonies, African culture in general developed regionally (Madaras & Sorelle, 1995).
The cultures of colonial America were unlike any other in the world. In no other place could such an abundance of varied people, conditions, and customs. The culture and views of the people were broad, stemming from large cultural groups. The conditions were also highly diverse, ranging from tropical climates, to snowy mountainous forests. The combined effect of all these variables, in both environment and people, contributed to the making of not one unique cultural group, but a variety of them. BIBLIOGRAPHY Higginbotham, D. (1996) .
American Revolution. http://www.uwm.edu/People/jpipes/amrevwar.html A source of facts about colonial life before and during the Revolution. No Author given. (1996) . Colonial Williamsburg Home Page. http://www.history.org Contains facts about life in the southern colonies. Sarcelle, M. (1965) . Seeds of liberty, The genesis of the American mind.
Seattle: PUBLISHER HERE This book contains a number of facts about the different political views and environmental conditions of each colony. Welling, G.M. (1996) . From Revolution to Reconstuction and what happened afterwards. http://grid.let.rug.nl/~welling/usa/revolution.htm l Breaks down conditions of life in the colonies, also compares different colonies. Brinkley, A. (1995) . American History: A survey Vol.
1. CITYHERE: McGraw-Hill, Inc. Source of information on colonists life in general. Fischer, D.A. (1995) . Taking sides: Clashing views on controversial issues in American history Vol.
1. CITYHERE: Dushkin Publishing Group, Inc. Contains information on colonists politcial views and differing cultural heritages.