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Life in Colonial America (13 Colonies)


Life in colonial America (thirteen colonies) involves studying how life was conducted in the age and day of colonial America. As a result, one has to consider the views of every party involved with settling and colonization. The perspectives involved range from slaves to merchants. When the colonists first entered America, there were minimal things available for them. Life was difficult and almost impossible when compared to today’s life. The Discovery of a ‘New World’ was like a spark that lit the establishment of the United States of America. The Thirteen colonies were established in the late 17th to early 18th centuries and formed part of the United States on the eastern side. The colonies expanded geographically along the westward and Atlantic coast.

The colonists were inventive as they ventured into economic opportunities to make use of the readily available land, which encouraged large families and early marriages. The unwed women and bachelor men were relatively few and were most uncomfortable with their status. Widowers and widows required partners in maintaining their homes and bringing up children hence quickly remarried. Accordingly, the highest percentage of adults were married with numerous children. Irrespective of heavy losses encountered from hardship and disease, the population of the colonists multiplied. Continental Europe and Britain viewed the colonies as a land of promise. The colonies moreover encouraged immigration by offering various inducements to individuals willing to venture into the land. However, many individuals were sent to the nation against their opinions, including political prisoners, enslaved Africans, and convicts. The population of Americans kept on doubling with all generations. Through the affairs and efforts of the English Colonists, Colonial America emerged through hardship and war for economic flourishment and religious freedom. This paper seeks to address the life of colonial America in the thirteen colonies and its impact on religion, economy, traditional practices, education, and social life and how the colonies were able to thrive.

Social and Cultural Practices

Role of Women

The woman in colonial America was responsible for running the household and attending to the domestic duties that included animal husbandry, preserving food, cooking, sewing, cleaning, raising children, and spinning. The families were large, and the childbearing process was dangerous from the lack of advanced healthcare services and medicine. The wife was expected to be resourceful with the family budget, where manufacturing goods was viewed as a crucial contribution to the household’s success (Cummings, 2015). The women often created products that were home manufactured, such as textiles and dairy products. However, the husband to the woman was the owner of services and goods sold and would receive the money selling products. Whenever necessary, the colonial housewife had the responsibility of aiding there in artisanal and agricultural endeavors.

On the other hand, mothers were responsible for the civic and spiritual well-being of the children to become upstanding people in the community. The woman, as a wife, was to be faithful, dutiful, subservient, and obedient to the husband. The societal norms and legal statutes permitted husbands to use power over their wives, resulting in violent situations. Despite these, some women could file for divorce, although these instances were not considered norms.

Role of Children

Children in colonial America had various responsibilities. Mostly, they were taught by their parents to read so that they could usually study the Bible. The boys attained additional skills to enable them to venture into trade, farming, or business. On the other hand, the girls acquired household skills varying according to their social status. For instance, those girls from a highly privileged class or socioeconomic background learned manners and etiquette, dancing, and hosting guests (Novembrino, 2011). Girls from the lower class, mainly from a poor background, were taught practical skills such as soap-making (Cummings, 2015). Children from high-class backgrounds had a lot of time in middling and playing, where they used cards, board game puzzles, and carried activities such as early bowling, vision, and rolling hoops. Overall, the parents in colonial America had the goal of preparing children for adulthood.


Slavery in colonial America spread fast within the colonies, where the first form of enslaved labor was encountered in the British West Indies. Many of the Africans enslaved worked in sugar plantations. Slavery was evident mainly in the Middle colonies and New England. The labor system within the colonies was referred to as indentured servitude. The servants were working for the landowners in exchange for access to passage to America. However, the indentured servants worked over short periods and could fight over land access soon after their terms. As a result, the landowners adopted using labor from enslaved Africans, which became the primary source. The enslaved Africans later became significant in tobacco cultivation and made about 50% of the Southern and Chesapeake colonies’ population.


Dressing or clothing in the thirteen colonies differed among the colonies and individuals. The Puritans and Quakers believed that they were to put on plain garments. The colonists never wanted frill or fancy clothing as it reminded them of customs, rules, and beliefs they had escaped from England. Also, people wore simple, sturdy, and warm clothes as they had to make their clothes. The men’s items of clothing were mainly made of linen, leather, and wool. They wore linen loose shirts with pants reaching to the knee and socks that were woolen and long. The women wore long dresses with socks being long and woolen. The kids below seven years put on simple shifts or gowns, and when they become above seven, their clothes are designed like those of their parents. The servants were always recognized for their cheap and available deep blue dye. The girls wore full red skirts in the middle colonies while the boys put on long baggy pants, beaver caps, and red stockings. In the southern colonies, clothes were made simpler as ever (Novembrino, 2011). The women wore petticoats and dresses, girls wore cotton dresses, and men had breeches reaching the knee, shoes, boots, and hats.


The colonial Americans had a variety of great foods that mainly depended on where and when they lived. The colonists mostly indulged in hunted games and fished for food. Many of these home gardens especially grew vegetables and herbs (Saenger, 2013). One major crop and most significant crop which was grown is corn that was used in making cornmeal. As times changed, they grew barley, rice, beans, squash, and wheat. Also, they were engaged in fishing, livestock rearing, and hunting. Mostly, they drank cider which was made from peaches or apples, tea, and beer.


The colonists introduced European sports and games for entertainment such as cards, crickets, football, quoits, and bowling. Fishing and hunting became recreational activities for their rights. A different form of entertainment, such as dancing, was common as exercise and social activity. However, the dances were held according to the social classes where the wealthier colonists attended the formal affairs (Forecast, 2016). People with little or lesser status also enjoyed their form of dance. Although colonial life involved working most of the time, it was never boring or hard. The Early Americans had a way of turning their work into a fun activity through storytelling and singing, working together in quilting bees or spinning. Weddings or marriage were considered mainly as a matter of reproduction and property. When a woman got married in colonial America, they entirely gave up their legal rights. She was bound legally to obey their husbands.

Religious Practices

Christianity highly dominated religion within Colonial American despite other religions, Judaism being practiced in few communities. Christianity denominations involved Quakers, Methodists, Lutherans, German Pietists, Congregationalists, Catholics, Baptists, and the Anglicans. Religion was integrated fully into the colonists’ lives and mainly informed the world view (Purvis, 2014). The new Colonies were founded by the separatists, the Anglicans advocating for separation against the Anglican Church, and the Puritans seeking to purify the Anglicanism of practices and influences of Catholics. On the other hand, the southern and Middle colonies were mainly founded by the Anglicans, non-conformists protestants, Catholics, and Quakers.

Despite having unity among the communities and congregations, Bible interpretation and practices differed from one colony or settlement. For instance, Boston Puritans were dissimilar from Puritan separatists in Plymouth Colony and Salem Puritans, who differently conducted their services from those of the Connecticut or Virginia Anglicans. Catholics and Jews were the smallest group and were prosecuted periodically over their faith where they were accused of practicing witchcraft. They were mainly associated with bad lucks and bad harvests. Some of the religious practices were deemed satanic and mainly observed in secret. Atheism was never tolerated, while belief systems like deism failed to develop until the early 18th century. Protestant Christianity, also referred to as the ‘revealed religion,’ which was majorly associated with the scripture, was the only dominant force of religion that shaped the colonial culture.

The church services often lasted throughout the day, with shorter breaks for lunch available at Sabba-day houses, which were inbuilt or taverns nearby. People had no permission to return to their houses until the conclusion of the Sunday service. Sermons often lasted three to five hours and were preceded by readings in Hymns and Bible (Reichley, 2010). The hymns were primarily sung in the absence of a musical instrument or organ. People being illiterate, the deacon would conduct hymns while the congregation repeats the hymns within a considerable time. The congregants throughout wore clothes that were brightly colored but wore somber or black clothing to signify sanctified and repentance thoughts.

The services were mandatory, where all individuals were to take themselves to the house meetings and sit in their assigned places. The seats were given according to their social class as the citizens with high levels sat upfront while others were behind. Women and men in some churches were to sit separately while girls and boys were in many cases separated. The boys who were observed to be unruly were to sit at the front for easy monitoring. During church, boys who acted up were disciplined in public or afterward.

The lack of Bishops among the American Anglicans highly impeded the growth of this religion. The bishop should have ordained men in the laying hand’s ceremony to become a priest. The ritual symbolized priests’ connection through Bishops, where they formed an unbroken chain to Christ and his disciples. The lack of Bishops in Colonial America forced those willing to join the priesthood to travel to England for ordination and training. However, the people declined the concept of an Anglican bishop as they thought it was a sign of a decadent society produced by Anglicans. Also, they feared the Anglicans were seeking religious and political power, which later grew to great apprehension concerning British oppression and imperialism.

A religious revival occurred in the 1730s and 1740s that began after a sermon by Jonathan Edwards about ‘sinners in the hand of an Angry God’ (Purvis, 2014). The sermon stirred a wave in religious fervor and acted as a beginning to the Awakening. The movement greatly challenged the colonial and clerical elite by focusing on individual sin and salvation in emotional and personal conversion. This movement, however, mainly appealed to the uneducated and poor, including Indians and slaves. Irrespective of the evangelism, the emotional challenges had reasons underlying this Awakening where the rationalism of the Protestants remained dominant. Besides, the similarity of these beliefs within the educated within the colonies was notable. Various forms of rationalism involving deist or Unitarian was present within religion within the late periods of the colonists. Rationalism, whether deist, Unitarian or congregational, focused on religious, ethical aspects. However, these arguments’ logic resulted in dismissing of divine authority.

Economic Practices


People who occupied the towns in Colonial America worked for a specific trade. The apothecaries within the colonial periods could be associated with pharmacists today. Medicine was made from different herbs, plants, and minerals and sold within the stores. They performed as doctors where they prescribed the sick with medicine and performed some minor surgeries. Besides this, they sold other times apart from medicine like cooking spices and tobacco. The blacksmith was a significant tradesman within the colonial American settlement (Veracini, 2013). Often, they applied forge in fixing and making various iron items like ax heads, tools, horseshoes, plowshares, and nails. Another occupation was the cabinetmakers who made their furniture at the beginning of the colonies. As the colonies expanded and got wealthier, cabinetmaking was viewed as a specialized trade attaining furniture of high quality. Items made most popular were desks, chairs, and tables. The cooper experts designed various containers like casks, barrels, or buckets, which were significant and used to store different items. The gunsmith repaired and made the town’s firearms. They were skilled in working with metal and wood to repair and fix the guns that existed. Milliner was the local store in clothing owner selling thread and cloth sewing items. Additionally, the printer was used in printing various items such as books, newspapers, pamphlets, and proclamations. Other occupations practiced included the tailor, wheelwright, and wigmaker.


Commerce in colonial America in the settlements involved colonial commerce within the diverse settlers groups. Early in 1621, the triangular trade famed and underpinned commerce, laying the groundwork for attaining colonial America’s prosperity (Pacheco, 2012). The merchants in North America did not sell directly to England to pay for required English goods. As a result, they traded for foodstuffs, tobacco, and slaves to obtain molasses, rum, and sugar. The English merchants longed for manufacturer’s weapons, textiles, and tools required by the colonies in America. The British settlers dominated commerce in colonial America. The Navigation acts made in 1663 reminded the artisans, tradespeople, and merchants concerning the squelching restrictions under which the Colonial trade operated. These ties, however, strained the colonies, mostly the puritan merchants who failed in the colonial commerce.

Natural/human-made Disasters

The American colonists encountered not only a new climate, but they had indulged in a world of various disasters. Some of the calamities were natural, like the hurricanes that spread beyond the colonies, creating violence supreme to the worst storm in West Africa or Europe. The increasing storms named ‘hurukan’ were the defining symbol of everything dangerous and different in the physical environment within the colonies such as South Carolina, Jamaica, and Barbados (Mulcahy, 2018). Other disasters such as floods, earthquakes, insect infections, blizzards, fires, and drought became familiar to the colonists, but they seemed more frequent and intense in the New world compared to the Old World. Natural disasters had a great role in the fortune and lives of the societies and people during the colonial period. The disasters caused enormous economic consequences for individuals who survived, raising questions on destruction and death. Al the colonists underwent great hardships amidst major calamities where the economic and social factors impacted the disasters in various ways. The wealthy planters and merchants, in most cases, suffered high financial losses but could access credit that helped in their efforts of rebuilding and recovering. At the same time, the poor colonists struggled indefinitely to hold on to their property. For instance, the hurricane in 1675 forced Barbados, who had no access to credit, to sell to the wealthier planters (Mulcahy, 2006). Those within the bottom social class suffered great effects from the large-scale calamities severely, especially when insect infections, hurricanes, and draught damaged the fields. However, most colonists viewed the natural disasters from the providentialism lens where the natural events were acts from God as a punishment to the sinful beings or warning of severe predestination if they failed to reform their old ways.

Educations and Learning Concepts

Learning concepts

Education for the colonists highly depended on the family’s social class. The colonists who immigrated to the European sides used the education standards as those applied in their mother countries and depended on class and wealth. Some institutions supporting colonial education were funded by tax, and others were operated privately (Rabushka, 2010). Girls rarely had the opportunity to receive an education. Boys within the upper-class family status received education through private tutors at home and were later sent to university or college. Many upper-class families sent their children abroad to the English institution facilities to attain college or university education.

On the other hand, the middle-class boys, sons of lawyers, ministers, merchants, lawyers, and doctors joined the dame schools, elementary and grammar institutions but attended college occasionally. Some of the boys from the lower class had access to limited education where they were taught skills such as apprenticeships. However, the slaves received no education, and in some colonies, such as the Southern, the slaves were held by law against learning how to write or read.


Law was very different within the American colonies. The greater the money you had, the more excellent protection you received from the law. However, life was difficult for everyone, and following the law in some cases made the difference in death and life. The thirteen colonies were ruled by England, where people made the local laws within the settlements. For instance, the Virginia Company ruled settlements such as Jamestown that funded colonists to attain natural resources (Hoffer, 2019). Many of the decisions made in such settlements aimed to make the colony profitable for the England people.

Additionally, colonies such as Plymouth were based on religious ideals where laws were not only based on survival but moral codes. The wealthy were often the first to make the new rules and had the most significant opinion in local decisions and debates. However, some of the American snot represented in lawmaking gatherings or meetings started to consider revolution. The wealthy allowed for laws permitting indentured slavery and servitude. Indentured servants were individuals willing to sign a contract to a wealthy landowner to provide free labor without freedom or rights. In exchange, they were to receive transportation within the colonies, clothing, food, and shelter.

Living Standards

House Designs

The American colonists used the materials locally available to build what they could while meeting the problems posed by the landscape and climate of the new country. Their homes were constructed from ideas from previous countries, such as the use of rock and wood, but also innovated other designs and techniques from the Native Americans (Craven, 2019). The growth of the century resulted in the settlers developing various American unique styles. Later on, the builders used ideas from the early architectures in creating Neocolonial and Colonial revival styles. Those who settled in Pennsylvania used the local limestone, with a tiled red clay roof identical to southern Germany. Like Germans, the Dutch settlers carried along with their building traditions where they built stone and brick houses using rooflines that echoed Netherland architectures.

Hierarchies and level of development

Colonial America formed a hierarchical society where some European colonists became indentured servants, Africans were the slaves, and the Indians were put in forced labor. People were often ranked according to their money, the jobs they had, and land status. Colonial America comprised of three different social classes, the poor, middle class, and the gentry. The gentry formed the highest class (Britannica, 2021). They were allowed to vote, owned their carriages and mansions. They shipped their furniture from England and their clothes from London. The middle class was also allowed to own property but not as wealthy as the gentry. The class mostly worked within skilled jobs such as craftsmen or being a teacher. The women in this class worked in making cheese, candles, and clothes to earn extra income for their families. Also, they were allowed to vote. The lowest class, the poor, were indentured servants, slaves, or unskilled laborers. Very few owned property, and most could not vote, read or write.


The Europeans, Africans, and Native Americans populated the thirteen colonies. Each group encountered challenges that informed its traditions and history. Much of the colonial life involved efforts and hard work, even in completing simple duties such as preparing food. However, the colonists devised ways of mixing play with work as they enjoyed games and sports. Learning about life in colonial America, the thirteen colonies, was significant to our group as it forms a basis by which we connect to different communities. The thirteen colonies formed the basis of the states which make America today. Also, many of the institutions and towns established during those periods, such as schools and churches, are still evident today. Studying this topic has enabled us to broaden our perspectives on our fellow citizens while broadly understanding the American cultural heritage. Also, we were able to discover different events which resulted in shaping our country, such as yielding the constitution. America would not exist if the colonists did not create a spirit of attaining independence. The American government was founded during this era.


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Forecast L (2016). Leisure Activities in the Colonial Era. The Revere House Gazette.

Hoffer, P. C. (2019). Law and people in colonial America. Johns Hopkins University Press.

Novembrino N (2011). A Brief Look at Colonial Attire.

Mulcahy M (2018). Making Sense of Disasters in Early America- and Today.

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Veracini, L. (2013). ‘Settler colonialism’: Career of a concept. The Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History41(2), 313-333.


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