Life in the Thirteen Colonies

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What values did the pre-American colonists hold?

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By pre-American, I assume you mean colonists prior to the founding of the United States of America. There was not one value held by all the colonists, but there are generalizations that we can make by region. Keep in mind that the following is just a brief and incomplete overview of the general values of the colonists as each colonist held his or her own values.

The New England colonies were largely settled by the Puritans. These religious dissenters from England hoped to make a religious utopia for themselves in the New World. For them, strict adherence to religious precepts and authority was paramount. Even though they came to North America to freely practice their own religion, the Puritans were not tolerant of other religious practices. The community was also an important aspect of Puritan values. Individualism was shunned and priority was given to the needs of the community overall with all working towards the common good. Doing work was seen as a way of glorifying God. Many leisure activities were typically forbidden, idleness was considered sinful, and attendance at church services was mandatory.

By contrast, the Middle Colonies were much more diverse than Puritan New England. Most of these colonists came to the region as individuals or as smaller family units. Many colonists there made a living carving small farms out of the wilderness or as fur trappers. As such, self-sufficiency became a common value. Pennsylvania was largely settled by Quakers, who founded the colony with religious freedom and tolerance as one of its main values. This was a value in the other Middle Colonies as well since they were settled by Europeans from many different backgrounds and religions.

The Southern Colonies remained largely rural and more sparsely settled than the colonies to the north and their values reflect this. There were often conflicting values between independent yeoman farmers from the backcountry and wealthier slave-owning plantation owners. The former championed populist values while the latter emphasized the role of the oligarchy.

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