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America's History in the Making

Colonial Designs

Unit Overview

Dutch Traders at Manhattan, 17th century.

The initial encounters between Europeans, Africans, and Native Americans occurred over three centuries. What began as short-term, tentative encounters soon gave way to prolonged contact as Spain, England, France, the Netherlands, and others established long-term settlements in the Americas. These settlements played important roles in the global battle for economic, political, and religious primacy.

The drive for profit led to complex interactions between these groups. Europeans often relied on Native Americans and Africans to advance their interests. Native Americans found increasing opportunities to deepen trade relationships with Europeans, but were also faced with encroachment on their lands by colonists. In addition, increasing agricultural production led to the institutionalization of slavery and the hardening of roles for enslaved Africans.

After almost 300 years, the English colonies became the most populous and successful during the seventeenth century. This rise was partially due to the influx of non-English arrivals from Africa, Ireland, Scotland, Germany, the Netherlands, and Sweden.

The economies of the British colonies shifted around the turn of the eighteenth century. Slavery expanded in the South along with plantation agriculture. Small cities appeared, as well as iron foundries and other small manufacturing concerns that produced both domestic and exportable goods. People were more likely to purchase some of their household goods and produce goods for broader markets. The thirteen colonies were becoming more prosperous and autonomous.

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