Chronicles of America 

Colonial Folkways

The restless and courageous Englishmen who fared across the sea in the seventeenth century, facing danger and death in their search for free homes in the wilderness, little dreamed that out of their adventure and toil there would rise in time a great republic and a new order of human society. There was nothing to indicate that the settlements along the seaboard, occupying the narrow strip of land between the ocean and the mountain ranges, would eventually grow into a mighty union of states that would be called "the melting-pot of the world." The elements of that great amalgam of peoples, it is true, began to be gathered before the close of the colonial era; but the process of fusion made little progress during the years of dependence under the British Crown. The settlements of the seventeenth century were widely scattered, separated by dense forests and broad rivers; and the colonists were busy with their task of overcoming the obstacles that confronted them in a primeval land. Even by the beginning of the eighteenth century there was little inter colonial communication to make the colonies acquainted with one another; and the thousands of immigrants, arriving yearly from the Old World and adding new varieties to the race types already present, rendered assimilation more difficult.

The entire colonial period was marked by shifting and unsettled conditions. The older colonies — Virginia, New England, Maryland, and New York — were undergoing changes in ideas and institutions. The Jerseys and the Carolinas were long under the control of absent and inefficient proprietors before they finally passed under the rule of the Crown. Pennsylvania, the last to be founded except Georgia, and the seat of a religious experiment in a City of Brotherly Love, was wrestling with the difficult task of combining high ideals with the ordinary frailties of human nature. In all these colonies the details of political organization and the available means of making a living were developed but slowly. England, too, the sovereign power across the sea, whose influence affected at every important point the course of colonial history, was late in defining and putting into practice her policy toward her American possessions. Not until after the turmoil of the war which ended with the Treaty of Utrecht (1713) do we begin to find a state of colonial society sufficiently at rest to admit of a satisfactory review. The half century from 1713 to 1763 is the period during which the life of the colonists attained its highest level of stability and regularity, and to this period, the training time of those who were to make the Revolution, we shall chiefly direct our attention. It will be an advantage, however, to preface a consideration of colonial life with a reference to the topography of the country and a review of the racial elements which made up its composite population.