The strip of land along the eastern seacoast was settled primarily by English colonists in the 17th century.By a British policy of benign neglect that permitted the development of an American spirit distinct from that of its European founders. Over half of all European immigrants to Colonial America arrived as indentured servants.
The first successful English colony wasestablishedin 1607, on the James River at Jamestownwhich began the American Fontanier. It languished for decades until a new wave of settlers arrived in the late 17th century and established commercial agriculture based on tobacco. Between the late 1610s and the Revolution, the British shipped an estimated 50,000 convicts to their American colonies. A severe instance of conflict was the 1622 uprising in Virginia, in which Native Americans killed hundreds of English settlers.
The colonies were characterized by religious diversity, with many Congregationalists in New England, German and Dutch Reformed in the Middle Colonies, Catholics in Maryland, and Scotch Irish Presbyterians on the frontier. Many royal officials and merchants were Anglicans.
Each of the 13 American colonies had a slightly different governmental structure. Typically a colony was ruled by a governor appointed from London who controlled the executive administration and relied upon a locally elected legislature to vote taxes and make laws. By the 18th century, the American colonies were growing very rapidly because of ample supplies of land and food, and low death rates. They were richer than most parts of Britain, and attracted a steady flow of immigrants, especially teenagers who came as indentured servants. The tobacco and rice plantations imported black slaves from the British colonies in the West Indies, and by the 1770s they comprised a fifth of the American population. The question of independence from Britain did not arise as long as the colonies needed British military support against French and Spanish power; those threats were gone by 1765. London regarded the American colonies as existing merely for the benefit of the mother country, a policy known as mercantilism.
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