The Transatlantic slave trade involved capturing, transporting, and selling Africans as slaves to buyers in the Americas. Between the 15th and 19th centuries, slaves were taken from Africa to the Americas on what is called the Middle Passage, the middle leg of a three-part voyage. This Triangular Trade began in Europe where ships loaded with rum, cloth and guns sailed to Africa. Once in Africa, these goods were traded for African slaves. These slaves were then transported to the Americas where they were sold as labor for cultivating sugar into molasses and rum. These products were then returned to Europe. Eventually, African slaves became the dominant labor force on Southern plantations in the United States.
The first permanent English colony was in Jamestown, Virginia. In 1607, a group of merchants formed the Virginia Company of London and settled in Jamestown, named after King James I. Many of the settlers spent their time looking for gold and did not prepare for the winter. The first winter was very harsh and many of the settlers faced starvation and disease. This was called “The Starving Time.” Settler John Smith helped colonists survive by establishing a work ethic (“He that shall not work, shall not eat”). Thanks to John Rolfe’s cultivation of tobacco, settlers eventually discovered that Jamestown was ideal for growing tobacco because of the fertile soil. Tobacco became one of the South’s largest cash crops.
The Virginia House of Burgesses was created in 1619 and was the first representative assembly in the American colonies. Made up of free white men who were landowners, the first meeting was held in Jamestown where the House of Burgesses was empowered to enact legislation for the colony. Like the Fundamental Orders of Connecticut, the Virginia House of Burgesses was an early attempt at self-government in the New World. Notable members of the House of Burgesses included George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Patrick Henry.
Mercantilism was an economic theory followed by European nations in the 16th and 17th centuries which argued that nations increased their power and wealth by obtaining gold and by creating a favorable balance of trade where they exported more than they imported. England increased its wealth by establishing colonies in North America which provided raw materials to the mother country (England). In return the mother country (England) used the raw materials to make manufactured goods that were then sold to the colonies. In the 1650’s, the American colonies were forced to trade with England by the Navigation Acts. These acts were not heavily enforced (salutary neglect) until after the French and Indian War which contributed to colonial unrest when the British tried to enforce the policies to pay for the war debt.
Bacon’s Rebellion was a revolt in 1676 led by Nathaniel Bacon against colonial authority in Jamestown. Bacon and his supporters were small farmers and frontier settlers who opposed Governor William Berkeley. They were against high taxes and Governor Berkeley’s favoritism towards large plantation owners (Tidewater gentry) as well as his Indian policy. Bacon and his group marched into Jamestown, took control of the House of Burgesses, and burned much of Jamestown. After Bacon became ill and died, the rebellion ended and Governor Berkeley hanged many of Bacon’s followers. The outcome of Bacon’s Rebellion was that the King appointed a new governor, and the House of Burgesses passed laws to prevent future royal governors from assuming too much power.
The First Great Awakening was a revival of religious feelings and beliefs in the American colonies that began in the 1730’s. To revive peoples’ religious spirit, preachers would travel from town to town delivering sermons about God at outdoor revival meetings. The sermons from preachers such as Jonathan Edwards and others emphasized that people were equal in the eyes of God. The preachers also believed strongly in religious freedom and toleration. In 1791,the importance of religious freedom and toleration became a key idea in the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights.
The French and Indian War (1754-63) was also known as the Seven Years’ War in Europe. The French and some Native Americans fought together against the British and the colonists over control of parts of North America including the Ohio River Valley. While Britain eventually won, the war left Britain with a huge debt. Parliament responded by imposing new laws and taxes on the English colonies, which angered many colonists and eventually led to the American Revolution.