1692 – 1783 Settler Colonialism and the Revolution Settler Colonialism

Key Ideas

1. The eighteenth century was a period of growth and change for the American colonies.

2. The experiences of women in the American colonies varied widely based on race, class, age, and geographic region.

3. Women played active and integrated roles in colonial societies across the Americas. The history of this time period cannot be properly understood without including their contributions.

Introduction

Detail from Jean-Charles Baquoy, Frontspiece, Atlas Universel, 1757. Gilles and Didier. Robert de Vaugondy, cartographers. New-York Historical Society Library.

Settler Colonialism, 1692-1783

In the eighteenth century, life in the American colonies evolved from the conquest and struggle for survival that characterized the earliest period of colonization into a phase that scholars call settler colonialism.

In this period, European settlers from all the major imperial powers expanded colonial territories beyond their original borders, and women of all races and classes were critical to these efforts. The Spanish stretched into Alta California, the French down the Mississippi River into Louisiana. The British took control of the Dutch colony of New Netherland, renamed it New York, and diligently secured their new territory. New powers even appeared on the fringes of the continent.

This expansion did not occur peacefully. Native populations across the continent actively resisted the encroachment of European settlers, and settlers from different countries inevitably clashed with one another. Women were leaders and victims of this constant warfare, which in the East culminated in the outbreak of the French and Indian War.

For more information about women’s societal roles in the 17th and 18th centuries, watch the video below.

This video is from “Women Have Always Worked,” a free massive open online course produced in collaboration with Columbia University.

Section Essential Questions

1. Why were women critical to the efforts of settler colonialism?

2. How were women’s activities in this era circumscribed by social and legal limitations?

3. What effect did a woman’s race, class, or social differences have on her life in this era?

4. Why is it important to learn about the experiences of a diverse group of people when studying the past?

Resources

Young Lenni-Lenape women sign a treaty selling Staten Island to the government of colonial New York.
CURRICULUM CONNECTIONS:
Native history, Lenni-Lenape, Native Response to European Colonization, differences in social and cultural practices between Native communities and European colonizers, English Colonies, New York, New York City
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A legal principle dating back to the Middle Ages that had significant impact on women’s lives.
CURRICULUM CONNECTIONS:
legal rights, common law, the Enlightenment, married women
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Puritan leader Cotton Mather gives young women advice on appropriate dress and behavior.
CURRICULUM CONNECTIONS:
Puritan society, fashion, development of colonial identity, social expectations for women and girls, Massachusetts, English Colonies
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Two works by artist Henrietta Johnston, the first professional female portraitist in the English colonies, illustrate the fashions and values of the eighteenth-century colonies.
CURRICULUM CONNECTIONS:
artists, fashion, art history, colonial portraits, development of colonial identity, colonial culture, English Colonies, South Carolina, New York
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The indenture contract of nine-year-old Elizabeth Fortune reveals the opportunities available to young free black women in colonial New York.
CURRICULUM CONNECTIONS:
free Black colonials, apprenticeship, indenture, education, girlhood, women’s work, English Colonies, New York
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This skillfully painted hide demonstrates the craft and artistry of Quapaw women, and provides clues about the Quapaw’s relationship with French settlers and neighboring tribes.
CURRICULUM CONNECTIONS:
Quapaw, Native art, Native history, Native responses to colonization, differences in social and cultural practices between Native communities and European colonizers, women’s labor, French Colonies, Arkansas
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These excerpts from Milcah Martha Moore’s textbook reveal the tenets of an eighteenth-century Quaker education.
CURRICULUM CONNECTIONS:
Quakers, education, childhood, colonial values, religion, literature, Benjamin Franklin, development of colonial identity, English Colonies, Pennsylvania, Philadelphia
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These court cases reveal how enslaved black people in Virginia sought freedom in the courts after the colonial government made manumitting enslaved people the responsibility of the government.
CURRICULUM CONNECTIONS:
slavery, manumission, resistance to slavery, codification of slavery, free black colonials, legal status of black people, experiences of enslaved women, history of race in America, General Assembly of Virginia, English Colonies, Virginia
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These pages from the log book of the Sloop Rhode Island starkly demonstrate the treatment of enslaved people during the Middle Passage.
CURRICULUM CONNECTIONS:
slavery, the Middle Passage, the Triangle Trade, enslaved women and children, experiences of enslaved women, English Colonies
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This engraving illustrates George Washington’s meeting with Seneca leader Queen Aliquippa, an important ally of the British during the French and Indian War.
CURRICULUM CONNECTIONS:
French and Indian War, Seneca, frontier life, Native response to colonization, Native women leaders, English Colonies, Ohio, Pennsylvania
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This kind of trunk was provided to the poor, orphaned, and imprisoned French women who were shipped to colonial Louisiana to marry French settlers.
CURRICULUM CONNECTIONS:
reasons for immigration, society in French Louisiana, status of women in French Louisiana, daily life, marriage, history of sexual exploitation, French Colonies, Louisiana, Alabama, New Orleans, Biloxi, Mobile
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This letter from Mary Alexander illuminates women’s roles in the thriving trade of British New York.
CURRICULUM CONNECTIONS:
trade, legal status of men and women, women’s work, marriage and inheritance rights, English Colonies, New York, New York City
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This advertisement about a runaway enslaved woman contains fascinating clues about her life.
CURRICULUM CONNECTIONS:
slavery, resistance to slavery, experiences of enslaved women, daily life, English Colonies, New York, New York City
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This portrait of an affluent colonial family illustrates the different expectations of boys and girls in the eighteenth century.
CURRICULUM CONNECTIONS:
childhood, fashion, art history, colonial portraits, colonial culture, English Colonies, New York, New York City
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This sampler and chatelaine reveal the skills and responsibilities of upper-class eighteenth-century women.
CURRICULUM CONNECTIONS:
childhood, labor, daily life, women’s labor, English Colonies
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Margueritte Wiltz’s petition to marry a Spanish soldier captures the early expressions of white supremacy in Spanish Louisiana.
CURRICULUM CONNECTIONS:
Spanish Louisiana, colonial society, development of colonial identity, marriage, white supremacy, Spanish Colonies, Louisiana, New Orleans
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This portrait shows how free black women in Spanish Louisiana turned an oppressive law into a celebration of individuality and culture.
CURRICULUM CONNECTIONS:
free black colonials, biracial colonials, fashion, Spanish Louisiana, colonial society, development of colonial identity, white supremacy, Spanish Colonies, Louisiana, New Orleans
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This drawing of the Mission San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo shows the setting of Spanish efforts to convert and Europeanize Native populations in Alta California.
CURRICULUM CONNECTIONS:
mission system, Native history, Esselen, Ohlone, European Conquest of the Americas, Native responses to colonization, religion in the American colonies, Spanish Colonies, California
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This letter demonstrates that Russian colonial efforts relied on intermarriage between Russian traders and Native women.
CURRICULUM CONNECTIONS:
European Conquest of the Americas, Russian colonization, Native history, intermarriage, Catharine the Great, Russian Colonies, Alaska
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Life Stories

The story of a Dutch woman who traveled the world before opening a shop in British New York.
CURRICULUM CONNECTIONS:
international trade, women’s work, Dutch influences in the English colonies, Leisler’s Rebellion, English Colonies, New York, New York City
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The story of an enslaved black woman caught up in the hysteria of the 1741 slave uprising.
CURRICULUM CONNECTIONS:
slavery, resistance to slavery, experiences of enslaved women, 1741 slave uprising, English Colonies, New York, New York City
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The story of a woman for sale in colonial New York.
CURRICULUM CONNECTIONS:
slavery, slave trade, women’s labor, experiences of enslaved women, English Colonies, New York, New York City
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The story of a nonbinary and nonconforming preacher in colonial New England.
CURRICULUM CONNECTIONS:
First Great Awakening, Quakers, queer history, non-binary figures, Universal Friends, English Colonies, Rhode Island, New York
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The story of a métis fur trader of the Great Lakes region.
CURRICULUM CONNECTIONS:
Métis history, biracial colonials, Native history, Algonquin history, New France, fur trade, trade networks, marriage and inheritance rights, differences in social and cultural practices between Native communities and European colonizers, French Colonies, Michigan, Detroit
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The story of a founding mother of St. Louis.
CURRICULUM CONNECTIONS:
frontier life, marriage and inheritance rights, French Louisiana, trade, trade networks, French Colonies, Missouri, St. Louis, New Orleans
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The story of a Quaker scientist, poet, and innovator.
CURRICULUM CONNECTIONS:
frontier life, marriage and inheritance rights, science and agricultural development, silk worms, development of colonial identity, poetry, proto-feminism, Quakers, English Colonies, Pennsylvania
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The story of an enslaved Native woman caught up in the Salem witch hysteria.
CURRICULUM CONNECTIONS:
Salem witch hysteria, witchcraft, slavery, native history, enslavement of Native People, experiences of enslaved women, American myths and legends, criminal trials, Puritans, English Colonies, Massachusetts
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The story of a black woman who rose from plantation slave to plantation mistress in colonial Florida.
CURRICULUM CONNECTIONS:
slavery, free black colonials, biracial colonials, experiences of enslaved women, trade, history of sexual exploitation, slave trade, development of colonial identity, Spanish Colonies, Florida
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The story of a Tongva wise woman who led a rebellion against a Spanish mission in Alta California.
CURRICULUM CONNECTIONS:
Native history, mission system, Native responses to colonization, Catholicism and the Spanish conquest, native resistance to European oppression, Spanish Colonies, California
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The story of a Puritan girl taken captive in a war with the French and Wabanaki.
CURRICULUM CONNECTIONS:
Puritans, nuns, Catholicism, Queen Anne’s War, French and Indian War, native history, Wabanaki, native resistance to European oppression, war captives, New France, English Colonies, Maine, French Colonies, Quebec
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