BBC HomeExplore the BBC
This page has been archived and is no longer updated. Find out more about page archiving.

Accessibility help
Text only
BBC Homepage
BBC Radio

Contact Us

Like this page?
Send it to a friend!


A battle scene from the French and Indian War (1754 - 1763) A new series from Radio 4 charts the development of the United States, exploring three key themes: Empire, Liberty and Faith. (In three series)

Monday to Fridays - 3.45pm
Omnibus - Friday 9pm
Series 1 - 15 September-24 October

Week 2 - Empire & Liberties

Faith and Freedom in New England

The first English settlement in North America was in the south, in Virginia. But in 1620 settlers from the Mayflower established Plymouth in what became New England. In the 1630s new settlers developed the more successful Massachusetts Bay colony around Boston.

The New England colonists were very different from the Virginian settlers. The climate was too harsh to grow really profitable crops for transatlantic trade like tobacco or rice, so there was no wealthy landed elite or an underclass of white labourers and slaves. New Englanders were farming or artisan families whose principal reason for leaving England was not economic but religious. As fervent Protestants, known as 'Puritans', they feared that King Charles I was taking the Church of England back to Roman Catholicism.

The Middle Colonies &amp the Melting Pot

Whilst the English colonised the northern and southern parts of North America, the middle was settled by the Dutch, Swedes and other continental Europeans. In the 1660s, after the restoration of the Stuart Monarchy, Charles II decided to take control of these Middle Colonies. In 1664 the English captured New Netherland from the Dutch, renaming it New York. This opened a new chapter for North America.

Compared with New England and the South, New York and its southern neighbour Pennsylvania - founded by the Quaker, William Penn - had a greater variety of European ethnic groups and much broader religious toleration. These Middle Colonies pioneered the melting pot.

Awakenings and Nightmares

From 1740 a series of religious revivals shook colonial America to its foundations. They challenged the authority of the formal hierarchical churches of Congregational New England and the Anglican South, opening the way for new denominations like the Methodists and Baptists.

Their popularity reflected larger social and economic changes in the colonies. By 1750 the population was 1.2 million - nearly five times the figure in 1700. New English migrants were now outnumbered by Germans and even more so by Scots - Highlanders and Ulster Protestants (known as Scots-Irish). The South was still predominantly rural but the Middle Colonies and New England had many more towns.

Slavery was now vital to the colonial economy. Those Africans who survived the appalling 'Middle Passage' brought their own language and customs but, once in America, they developed new cultures which drew on colonial influences, particularly evangelical religion. Black Christianity would be a potent force in the future.

The Battle for Empire

In 1754, North America became part of a global conflict between Britain and France (known in Britain as the Seven Years War and in America as the French & Indian War). The Indians who inhabited the American interior had traditionally been allies of the French, but as some tribes were drawn into Britain's orbit this vast wilderness became a theatre of war. By 1760 the British had driven out the French and controlled a great arc from Nova Scotia and the Great Lakes down the Ohio Valley to Florida. It also ensured that English language and culture would be the dominant influence in North America.

Taxes, Tea and Rights

Victory over the French increased fivefold the cost of defending and running North America. From 1765 the British tried in various ways to increase taxation of the colonies, determined to make them pay their share. The colonists consistently argued such taxes could be raised only with the consent of their own legislatures. Tension rose until in 1773 colonists threw thousands of pounds of tea into Boston Harbour as a protest against a tea duty. Parliament put Boston under military rule, which succeeded in uniting the colonies against British rule as never before.

Quotes featured on this page were voiced by: Peter Marinker, Sam Dale, Chris Cazenove and Stuart Milligan. Episode summaries by Victoria Kingston.

About the BBC | Help | Terms of Use | Privacy & Cookies Policy