British Colonization in the Seventeenth Century

Motives of commerce and trade, Eric Robson suggests, carried just as much weight in the founding of the 13 American colonies as the desire of Puritan emigrants for liberty of conscience and a life of independence.

Many were the motives for the establishment of British settlements overseas in the seventeenth century, but the basic factors were two. First, emigrants went out as a result of individual and private effort, rather than according to any government plan: as Mr. Carrington has observed, “much hard thinking and bold planning went into the making of the Empire, but it was done by men at the circumference, not by men at the centre. The impetus rarely came from Whitehall.” Second, the movement was an escape rather than a natural expansion—an escape from political, religious, economic, and social conditions in Great Britain. The germ of eventual separation was therefore present from the start: as James Adams later commented, the American Revolution began in 1620 (the date of the establishment of the Pilgrim Fathers’ settlement at Plymouth); it was in the minds and hearts of the people from the beginning.

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