Western Life

English Colonial Settlements that began the American Frontier

Europeans arrived in the Americas in the hopes of expanding their empires, and creating more international dominion. Although different European nations settled in North America, each country’s expansion took a different route. The American Frontier was the continual movement of the English colonial settlers westward. The first attempt made by the English to create a settlement along the North American coast, proved to be a mysterious failure. A group of pioneers, led by Walter Raleigh, were offloaded in Roanoke, present-day Virginia. Two years later, when their ship returned, there was no trace of the colonists, and the reason for their disappearance is still unknown.

The English returned to the Americas to try again, and created their first successful colony in 1607, Jamestown, Virginia. The settlement was a commercial venture, funded by a group of merchants and aristocrats, The London Virginia Company. The company planned to find gold and silver in the area, which was an unsuccessful venture. Many of the original 500 colonists died from disease, or starvation, within a short period. In 1611, Jamestown was appointed a new governor, and the colony became more successful. By 1614, their main source of income was the planting and reaping of tobacco. This became the beginning of the American plantation, as the product required large fields farmed by many people to thrive. Jamestown continued to grow and was divided into counties, based on the English government system, by 1634.

Another colony that was significant to westward migration was The Massachusetts Bay Colony, which had been formed in 1628. It was funded by The Massachusetts Bay Company, and consisted mainly of Puritans who desired an escape from the segregation of a predominantly Anglican English society. The colony was one of strict religious beliefs, and the government was selected from the male members of the society. Massachusetts Bay Colony began to flourish by the 1630s, and in excess of 20,000 new settlers arrived. Most of the new colonists survived by running family farms, rather than the larger plantation farming that was taking place in Jamestown, Virginia. The British established other small colonies, such as Boston and Salem, and each one began to grow resulting in a need for expansion.

The priority for most of these coastal towns was the landowning farmers, and expansion to the west where land was relatively cheap and readily available continued. Land ownership came with a sense of independence and security, and most people quickly took advantage of the opportunity. The expansion took place towards the Appalachians into what is now West Virginia, Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee, and ensued despite wars and difficulties with the Native Americans. The American Frontier continued until the last midland territories were recognised as states in 1912, welcoming a new era in The United States of America and life for its people.

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