Puritans and Planters: The American Colonial Experience

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Course Length:
15 weeks

Course Description:

This seminar-style course will focus on the cultural, religious, and intellectual sources of American identity in its colonial history. It develops in detail the foundations of this identity in the Puritan, Planter, Quaker, African, and Backcountry migrations to British America. Major themes include the migrants competing concepts of liberty, power, and community, colonial conflicts with the indigenous population, the challenges of social maturation, and the inadvertent creation of an “American” identity as they sought to assert their status as Britons against rising imperial power.



This course is thematic, rather than comprehensive. It primarily seeks to provide students a conceptual understanding of the major issues of early American social and intellectual development. In particular, the readings will encourage students to grapple with the historical foundations of American civic and social identity. In its method, the course emphasizes the close reading of academic historical prose and the cultivation of student’s own writing and argument styles. As students engage the persistent questions that surround America identity, they will learn to engage their written and oral work with diligence, imagination, and humility. Finally, the course will argue that American colonial history deserves to be treated as a significant branch of American history in its own right, not simply as a prelude to “real” U.S. history. Students will be encouraged to wrestle with this argument and to formulate their own perspective on the significance of early American history.



  1. Active Participation: 20%
  2. Four Papers: 10% each
  3. Midterm Exam: 15%
  4. Final Exam: 25%



  • Each student will submit four essays (5-7 pages) that offer a comprehensive answer to the question. They should draw upon most of the readings, and ideally outside articles. This class has no formal research paper, so it is expected that students will treat these essays as miniature research assignments. Thus, they will be written in polished, academic prose, preferably using Chicago Style. (I will make exceptions for students whose primary discipline accepts APA or MLA style).
  • All papers should be handed to the instructor in class and on time. Late assignments will be accepted at stiff penalty. For each class the assignment is late, I will reduce your grade by a full letter grade. If a paper is due on Tuesday, and I receive it on Thursday, for instance, the highest grade you could receive is a B. Papers will not be accepted by e-mail.
    • Paper #1 Why did the Puritans come to America? What ends did they hope to accomplish? Were they successful? What were the social and political consequences? (Due—September 18)
    • Paper #2 What factors played a decisive role in the formation of culture among the Chesapeake Colonies? By what measure were these colonies successful? (Due—October 4)
    • Paper #3 How was the settlement of the Middle Colonies distinct from previous models of colonization? What impact did the Middle colonies have on American social and political development? (Due—November 1)
    • Paper #4 To what extent did the disparate colonial cultures begin to develop an “American” identity by 1763? How? Why? (Due – December 6)



Plagiarism is intolerable. If plagiarism is detected, your advisor, your dean, and the academic affairs office will be notified. At a minimum, the student will fail the assignment. Students should familiarize themselves with the University’s plagiarism policy and ask the instructor if they have any questions about the way that the primary and secondary sources should be used. Quotations should always be cited in an accepted bibliographic format.



A seminar style class invariably depends upon the participation and excitement of its members. I understand that active participation in the University community will occasionally take you away from class. We meet twenty nine times before the final exam. I will allow two unexcused absences over the semester for non-university sanctioned events. Each additional absence will result in a 4% reduction in your final grade. If, for any reason, you are unable to make the exam, I strongly advise you to notify the instructor in advance.


Schedule of Readings:

  • August 28 – Introduction:
    • Initial Assessment. (In class writing exercise)
    • Christopher Columbus, “Discovery of the New World,” (Handout).
  • August 30 – Two Worlds Discover One Another
    • Daniel Richter, “Imagining a Distant New World,” Facing East from Indian Country. (Blackboard)
  • September 4 – Colonizing Impulse
    • Martin Quitt, “Trade and Acculturation at Jamestown” WMQ (1995) 227-258. (JSTOR)
    • Humphrey Gilbert and Richard Hakluyt (Blackboard)
  • September 6 – Puritans: Origins
    • Albion’s Seed (4-68)
    • John Winthrop, “Model of Christian Charity” (online)
  • September 11 – Puritans: Culture
    • Albion’s Seed (68-166)
  • September 13 – Puritans: Religion
    • Perry Miller, “Errand into the Wilderness” (Blackboard)
    • Phillip Gura, “Glimpse of Sion’s Glory (Blackboard)
    • Thomas Morton, “On Puritan Intolerance,” (Blackboard)
    • John Winthrop, “The Exclusion of Heretics” (Blackboard)
  • September 18 – Puritans: Social Order:
    • Albion’s Seed (166-205)
    • “Oath of Freemen” (Blackboard)
    • Fundamental Orders of Connecticut (Blackboard)
  • September 20 – Planters: Origins
    • Albion’s Seed (207-274)
    • September 25 – Planter’s Culture
    • Albion’s Seed (274-360)
  • September 27 – Planter’s Power
    • Albion’s Seed (360-418)
  • October 2 – Case Study: Eastern Shore Chesapeake.
    • Myne Own Ground (entire)
  • October 4 – Origins of Atlantic Slavery
    • A. Leon Higgenbotham, “Ancestry of Inferiority” in Billias, ed. (Blackboard)
    • Virginia Slave Laws (Blackboard)
    • Indentured Servant Documents (Blackboard)
  • October 9 – Native Encounters
    • Richter, “Living with Europeans,” Facing East from Indian Country, (69-109) (Blackboard)
  • October 11 – Captivity Narratives
    • Mary Rowlandson (Entire)
  • October 16 – Crisis in the Colonies (1676)
    • Bernard Bailyn & Edmund Morgan on Virginia (Blackboard)
    • Webb, 1676 (221-244) (Blackboard)
  • October 23 – Midterm Exam
  • October 25 – Quakers
    • Albion’s Seed (419-502)
    • William Penn’s Maxims (online).
  • October 30 – Quakers
    • Albion’s Seed (502-603)
    • John Wolman on Slavery (Handout)
  • November 1 –Diversity and the Restoration Colonies
    • Roeber, “The Origins of whatever is not English” (Blackboard)
    • Butler, “The Huguenot Immigration” (Blackboard)
  • November 6 – Transformation of the Planter Economy
    • T.H. Breen, “Tobacco Culture” (Blackboard)
  • November 8 – Atlantic Slavery
    • Equiano (Entire)
  • November 13: Great Awakening
    • Patricia Bonami, “Great Awakening in America” Under the Cope of Heaven, Ch. 5, (Blackboard)
    • Rhys Isaac, on Virginia Baptists, WMQ (1974) 345-66. (Online)
    • Edwin Gaustad, ed. “Schism or Order,” (Blackboard)
  • November 15 Backcountry
    • Albion’s Seed 605-690
  • November 20 – – Backcountry
    • Albion’s Seed, 691-782
  • November 27 Becoming American
    • Jack Greene, “Convergence and Creation of a Colonial Culture” (Blackboard)
    • Gary Nash, Transformation of Urban Politics WMQ (1973) 605-632. (Online)
  • November 29 – The Importance of being Stylish.
    • Karin Calvert, “The Function of Fashion in 18th Century America” (Blackboard)
    • Jon Butler, “The Courtesy Book World” from The Refinement of America. (Blackboard)
    • Washington’s School Exercises (Blackboard)
  • December 4 – Inventing Benjamin Franklin
    • Benjamin Franklin, Autobiography
  • December 6 – British North America on the Eve of Revolution
    • Albion’s Seed. 783-898. (skim over 19th & 20th century history).