Explain how the English colonies developed the idea of self-government and individual liberties.

Expert Answers
pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

This seems weird because we are always told that the colonies broke away from English tyranny... but the truth is that the English colonies developed these ideas largely because these were ideas that were very important in the English system of government.

Ever since Magna Carta in 1215, England's governmental system had been moving towards reducing the king's power and (eventually) giving more power to Parliament.  Ever since Magna Carta, ideas like habeas corpus were present in English political thought.  Together, these meant that the British system allowed for some degree (more than just about anywhere else in the world) of democratic government and personal rights.

When you combine this with the fact that the British government pretty much left the colonies alone for long periods of time, you can see where the colonists got their ideas.  They got the ideas from England and then expanded those ideas as they were left alone to do as they pleased (more or less) during the period of "benign neglect."

joannamarie17 | Student

English Colonies

While the French were building the fur trade in New France, the English were beginning new colonies along the Atlantic Coast. Known as New England, this region included land that became the states of Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine.

The first successful colony in New England was the result of religious conflicts in England. In 1620, a group of roughly 100 Pilgrims sailed to New England on the Mayflower. Afraid the group would separate, the Mayflower Compact was created. The Pilgrims settled and named their colony Plymouth. This colony survived on the harvest of corn.

In 1630, a thousand English settlers voyaged across the Atlantic to found the Massachusetts Bay Colony, just north of Plymouth. These were the first of a flood of colonists who came to New England in a movement called the Great Migration. The colony was successful. This colony is where the Salem witch trials took place. The year before the trials, England’s new monarchs, William and Mary, had joined the Massachusetts Bay Colony and the Plymouth Colony into one. They were now a single royal colony, known as Massachusetts.

New Hampshire became a separate colony in 1679. Maine was part of Massachusetts until it became a separate state in 1820. In 1636, Roger Williams started a settlement called Providence, which later became Rhode Island.  

Middle Colonies

The colonies to the south of New England, called the Middle Colonies, included New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Delaware. They developed differently from the colonies in New England, in part because their settlers came from a variety of countries.

New York began in 1624 as the Dutch colony of New Netherland. The settlers built up a prosperous fur trade with Europe, and sold crops to other colonies. This colony was a proprietary colony. The other Middle Colonies were also proprietary.

New Jersey was originally part of Duke of York’s charted. He transferred certain lands over to two English noblemen, and these lands were divided into East Jersey and West Jersey. In 1702, they became a single royal colony called New Jersey. Delaware began as a Swedish colony in 1638, but it was much later turned over to Englishman William Penn, who allowed Delaware to become a separate colony in 1704.

Southern Colonies

In addition to Virginia, the Southern Colonies included Maryland, the Carolinas and Georgia. All but Virginia began as proprietary colonies.

Maryland was first settled in 1634. They grew prosperous during the 1600’s by growing tobacco, and like the Virginians, they began to use enslaved Africans to work in their fields.

King Charles II gave ownership of a region known as Carolina to a group of English noblemen in 1663. It was first split into North and South Carolina in 1712. In 1719, South Carolina became a royal colony. North Carolina became a royal colony in 1729. Both thrived on tobacco profits and trade with Native Americans.

Although Georgia was set up like a proprietary colony in 1732, it was managed by trustees. After 20 years, the trustees gave their charter back to the king, and Georgia became a royal colony.