Describe the challenges, heartbreaks, and pitfalls of life in colonial North America.  

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rrteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

This question covers such an enormous amount of time, space, and diverse peoples that it is impossible to answer without generalizing in the extreme. So this answer must be understood in those terms. Even given this caveat, restricting the answer to the English colonies in North America only conveys a very limited range of experiences.

Initial colonization almost always involved a period of starvation and disease in almost every case, followed by hostility against Native peoples. People who came to the New World seeking instant wealth were initially disappointed, though colonies in every region of British North America quickly became profitable. But this profit came at the cost of scores of lives, largely people who, with the exception of New England settlers, mostly came to America against their will or as servants indentured to wealthier colonists. 

For Native Americans, the setbacks and pitfalls of colonial life were obvious. They initially attempted to integrate Europeans into their diplomatic, economic, political, and religious systems, but as more and more whites came, they were increasingly unable to do so on their terms. Aside from the holocaust that resulted from the introduction of European diseases, Native peoples lost lands and had their traditional ways of living, including war, diplomacy, and agriculture disrupted. The rapidity with which this happened varied by region, but by the end of the American Revolution, Native peoples in British North America were in many ways unable to control their own fates. 

For Africans, colonial life meant labor as a slave. In the Chesapeake and Carolina, slave labor was absolutely essential to colonial development, and the black populations of these regions increased apace as they grew. Similarly, thousands of slaves lived in Northern cities, where they worked as manservants, dockworkers, and other menial tasks as well as in skilled trades. By the mid-seventeenth century, slaves comprised a majority of the lowcountry, and a near majority in Virginia and Maryland. They represented just under a fifth of the population of colonial New York. 

In short, the struggles and pitfalls of colonial life were many. While white colonists had more economic opportunities, and probably more political freedoms, than any people on earth at the time, it is important to remember that they often struggled for survival in the New World. Even once the colonies became more established, common people suffered significant inequalities, as frequent and well-documented urban riots and agrarian uprisings demonstrate. But to the extent we choose to emphasize the freedoms and opportunities available to white colonists, we must also remember that these opportunities were largely made possible by the expropriation of black labor and Indian lands.