10 Unfortunate Realities of Life in Colonial America

Most history classes on America cover the
discovery of the continent, the founding of early colonies likes like Jamestown and Plymouth
Rock, then seem to skip to immediate lead-up to the American Revolution. That’s a pity, because the colonial centuries
were some of the most fascinating in the history of the United States of America. As is the case so often in history, “fascinating”
actually means “hellish.” Even beyond the unrefined technology and the
roughness of the untamed country, there were many challenges to life across the pond, some
unique to the place and time. Perhaps this list will make some people slightly
happier to be an American. More likely it will make them happier to not
be an American back then. 10. Captive Market While it’s common to look at Colonial Americans
as a self-sufficient bunch, a collection of surviving documents from George Washington
himself paints a very different picture. In 1757 he was writing letters requesting
everything from raisins to furniture to sponge toothbrushes. The fact was that American industry was woefully
unable to process or manufacture a huge array of basic commodities, and were required to
purchase all such goods from Great Britain. Many British manufacturers were well aware
of the fact their clients were effectively at their mercy, so many shipments either lacked
some of the products that had been ordered or contained spoiled or broken wares. Not to mention all the goods that were dumped
on the colonists because they were unfashionable to the point of unsaleable in Britain. “It’s good enough for America” became
a popular saying on the island for shoddy products. For all the talk of taxation and representation,
this was likely a powerful motivating factor for the revolution. 9. Numerous Surprising and Frustrating Currencies The most obvious choice for 13 colonies under
the control of a single empire would be to simply use the mother country’s currency,
yet little British currency was available in the colonies before the Revolution due
to a massive trade deficit, which is hardly surprising for colonies that are effectively
a captive market. So for internal transactions, alternatives
were vital, and further complicated by just how united the colonies really weren’t much
of the time. Throughout the colonies, the golden Spanish
coin known as the “piece of eight” was the most popular, since Spanish colonies in
the West Indies, Mexico, and Florida meant a much steadier cash flow. On the basis of specific colonies, Virginia
and North Carolina used tobacco leaves for currency. Since those were hardly convenient or durable,
receipts for tobacco transactions began being used like checks. Massachusetts used wampum, which were basically
beads made out of shells. While on paper the official currencies were
supposed to be counted out in pounds, the amount of uncertainty over exchange rates
must have meant it was likely essentially haggling. 8. Many, Many Wars with Natives Although many popular portrayals of the early
interactions with Native tribes try to emphasize uplifting aspects of interactions with individuals
like Squanto or Pocahontas, from practically the beginning the colonists faced enemies
that were willing to drive them back to the sea. Each conflict seemed to be labelled a different
war despite their widely varying degrees of scale. For example, in 1715 the Yamasee War began
with an alliance of native tribes attacking colonists that were encroaching on their land
in South Carolina, dispatching 90 of them at the outset. It took two years of raids before the colonists
were able to reinforce themselves sufficiently to break up the alliance. The largest conflict was known as King Philip’s
War in New England from 1675 to 1676, which cost 600 colonists and 3,000 Native Americans. Neither side spared their enemy’s civilians
or children Enthusiasm for war among some of the colonials
that it could prove disastrous for their own leaders. For example, in 1676, Nathaniel Bacon in Virginia
was so determined to attack local tribes that when Governor William Berkeley forbade it,
Bacon’s rebellion would result in him sacking and burning down Jamestown. Berkeley ultimately won the conflict and had
all leaders in Bacon’s Rebellion hanged, but the damage had already been done, including
relations to previously friendly tribes. 7. The Prolonged Witch Hunts The 1692 Salem Witch Trials dominate historical
memory of witch hunts in America, but they were by no means the beginning or the end. The first colonial witchcraft trial began
in 1647 in Hartford, Connecticut and resulted in Alice Young being sent to the gallows. In 1662 Hartford would have a real wave of
witch trials which saw seven people tried and four people hanged. Coincidentally, Hartford had a witch hunt
wave of its own the same time Salem did, though without such a large body count. It was hardly a daily occurence or equally
likely in all colonies. North Carolina, for example, only had one
witch trial. Considering the flimsy pretexts that could
be used for accusations, it was a risk that hung over every personal grudge, since that
seemed to be the primary motivation for accusing someone of witchcraft. As it happened, Salem’s Witch Trials seemed
to inoculate much of the rest of the country to the practice, as the massive loss of life
left other communities wary of the potential consequences and increased the standards of
evidence. The aforementioned trial in North Carolina
took place in 1703 and was thrown out of court for being baseless. The last colonial witch trial occurred in
Virginia in 1730, the same year that Benjamin Franklin himself wrote an essay mocking the
whole notion. By 1735, Parliament wrote a new Witchcraft
Act which decriminalized being a witch. 6. Poorly Fought Epidemics It’s no secret that the Native Americans
fell victim to the diseases brought by Europeans by the millions, and there’s some debate
if the one deliberate attempt at this in 1763 at Fort Pitt worked. Given how well attempts to combat epidemics
afflicting colonists tended to go, it’s possible that a sincere, concerted effort
by the colonial powers to save natives could have made the situation even worse. When one of the dozens of major epidemics
that struck the colonial cities over the centuries occurred, the relatively isolated communities
that were scattered throughout the colonies were often safe. Unfortunately for them, it was quite common
for city folk to flee cities when an epidemic struck, sending out many unwitting carriers. For example, in 1721, a Boston smallpox epidemic
sent 900 out of a city of roughly 11,000 fleeing for the countryside. With that in mind, any village’s distrust
of outsiders is much more understandable. For the wealthy, there was a procedure that
was dangerously ahead of its time called “variolation.” Variolation was a variation on vaccination
where in the early stages of an epidemic a small amount of tissue (e.g. pus) from a confirmed
patient would be introduced to the bloodstream of a healthy person so that they could build
up an immunity. Because medical procedures and treatments
were not as fully developed back then, the client would make the mistake of not socially
isolating themselves after treatment, and so variolation would actually exacerbate the
very epidemics they were supposed to fight against. 5. Egalitarian Bathing, Or Lack Thereof Bathing as a habit seemed to go in and out
of fashion, and for Colonial America it was in a fairly unfashionable position. It was believed that bathing excessively would
remove the natural oil in a person’s skin, which would weaken the immune system. So the correct amount was believed to be once
every few months, at least as far as full body bathing went. Surprisingly, this seemed to be the case for
the wealthy and the poor alike. Also, many colonists didn’t bother with
or have the materials for soap. The preferred method of freshening up and
becoming less pungent was to simply change washed clothes, a pretty difficult practice
for those who were only wealthy enough for one set. Flowers and herbs were about the best that
could be done for deodorants. It’s hard to believe those would be up to
the task of covers months worth of accumulated body odor. 4. Anti-Conservation Campaigns For those who feel climate change is a new
notion, it actually predates the independent United States by a few decades. The mindset about it was vastly different,
however. It was thought that by clearing forests, the
colonists were actually improving the environment. As John Adams wrote in 1756, “the whole
Continent was one continued dismall Wilderness… Now, the Forests are removed.” Thomas Jefferson wrote in his 1782 work Notes
on Virginia, “A change in our climate… is taking place very sensibly.” Ben Franklin also wrote about the issue in
1763, stating it was claimed that the snow melted faster on cleared land, although he
felt that it hadn’t been proven conclusively. It should be said that contrary to Adams’s
claims, the Native Americans hadn’t exactly left the land untouched. For example, Mohicans had been using fire
to clear the Hudson Valley in present day New York since at least 1000 AD. Though as far as we know, that was only to
clear the land for farming, not to intentionally shift the climate. 3. Indentured Servitude: Promises Unfulfilled Other TopTenz articles have described the
fundamental differences between an indentured servant and a slave, but it’s not this site’s
intention to downplay the hardships of an indentured servant. Although they were supposed to have complete
freedom after five to seven year’s labor, a huge amount of them did not live to see
the end of their terms. For example, among the indentured servants
that arrived in Virginia from 1609 to 1616, three quarters of them were dead within a
year of arriving. As if that wasn’t bad enough, consider the
companionship of those indentured servants. Between 1630 and 1680, there were 50,000 servants
that arrived through Chesapeake Bay, 75% of the immigrants. Of those, somewhere between six in seven and
four in five of all arrivals were men — meaning there were countless servants without spouses,
children, or families during their final days. That was likely a significant contributing
factor to the next entry… 2. Lax Prostitution Laws For millions of Americans Nathaniel Hawthorne’s
The Scarlet Letter was required reading. Since the novel portrayed the crime of adultery
worth having a shameful symbol on your clothing for life, it would be understandable for readers
to assume punishments for arguably more debauched sexual sins of prostitution and pimping to
be much worse. Legal records show that was not the case at
all. There are a relatively small number of cases
of brothels (referred to as “disorderly houses”) being busted, but the worst the
brothel owner faced was a small fine or being whipped a few times. In 1753, Bostonian Hannah Dilley was convicted
of letting whores work in her home and the extent of her punishment was having to stand
on a stool and hold a sign saying what she had done. Sometimes the police couldn’t even be compelled
to properly raid a brothel, since they were easily bribed by food, money, and so on. If anything, it was civilians that brothel
owners had to worry about. While Minister Cotton Mather tried to launch
a public campaign against them and found little support, working class people were more willing
to go outside the law against brothels. There were a few incidents where mobs attacked
and even burned down brothels. Even without the threat of arrest the prostitution
is almost certain to be an arduous life. 1. Devastating Weather The colonies were founded during the latter
half of a time called the “Little Ice Age,” which is generally stated to have run from
1300 AD to 1750 AD. As such, the colonists were in for both frigid
winters and summers which were unusually dry and hot at a time when they were particularly
vulnerable. For example, in the winter of 1607 the famous
and brand new colony Jamestown endured the James River, which was as large as the Thames,
freezing solid, no doubt contributing to the aforementioned high mortality rate among indentured
servants. There were numerous winters in the 1630s and
1640s that were just as severe, and even many of the milder winters were marked by immense
snowfalls. Bear in mind that many travelers to the colonies
at the time were sold on the idea that because the longitude of New England was roughly that
of Spain and Southern France the climate would be very mild, so imagine how unprepared they
were. As if that wasn’t enough, Colonial New England
and Virginia were unusually prone to hurricanes. In 1635, one left hundreds of homes were destroyed
in and around poor Jamestown, Boston, and Plymouth, Massachusetts, leaving 46 dead in
its wake. In 1667 Virginia was hit again by what became
known as the Dreadful Hurricane. It destroyed roughly 10,000 homes, and ruined
farms and fleets of ships. To exacerbate the situation for anyone trying
to cope with the disaster, it was followed by 12 straight days of rain. Little surprise that the society which survived
ordeals like that thought it could take on the Brtish Empire.

93 thoughts on “10 Unfortunate Realities of Life in Colonial America

  • And there are still dumb asses that look back on that time period. As if it's some kind of golden age. Newsflash there's never been a golden age in history. Unless you were the royalty or nobility of your said society aka the 1%. You were born poor in less than desirable conditions. You lived your life that way and you died that way. Nothing historically significant about that. Billions of people have and still is passing through this Vale of Tears.

  • There were also restrictions imposed on the Colonies by Parliment and the King that required much of the Colonial's raw materials to be shipped to England, refined and manufactured into useful products, then returned to the Colonies to be sold. Another pressure for revolution.

  • Great video as always. Really shows just how crazy colonial life was.

    RIP to all the people who died in the wars between the colonists and natives.

  • Massive loss of life from a witch hunts???? Seriously? Even counting the other incidents you mentioned, the entire series of witch hunts in the Colonies amounts to less than 30 deaths where at the same time Europe was killing THOUSANDS! your somewhat left leanings are starting to show more and more, you are better than this Simon

  • Reminds me of that FG colonial episode where Peter finds out he was Griffin Peterson in the 1700s and he gets a splinter in his finger, time to say Goodbye to all his friends lol

  • Simon, trust me, it's not called Plymouth Rock. Just Plymouth. The rock was a tourist attraction and public curio added to the main tour of the town around 1911. I'm the native of Massachusetts who suggested Crane and Company for your business channel.

  • "It's little surprise that a society that could survive all that (disastrous weather) could take on the British!"

    Gold Star line of the video.

  • I've noticed that many people don't realize that the colonies were not one homogeneous thing, at least not to the people living there.

  • How about the constitution? We the people! I have a copy of it somewhere? 📝📃📜 hope it's not the real one I found in a dumpster! 😲 🇺🇸….. Lol 😆… Cool 😎 video 📹… 💒⛪⛪⛪🌈

  • Of course there was "conflict". This was their land! Native Americans are the ONLY people who have a RIGHT to DEPORT and to build WALLS! European Americans don't like to hear that little tidbit, smh

  • Wyatt Earp was a Pimp in Boston before he moved West. It didn't have the social stigma it does today. Does that mean Kevin Costner was a Pimp before he got into acting?

  • In Salem the man walked in on his daughter diddling herself and panicked she blamed a "witch" look into it, very interesting.

  • I have an ancestor on my dad's side that came to this country from Germany as indentured servants. Once free from his obligations he married into the Pamunkey Native American Tribe and started a large family in the Shenandoah Valley.

  • While most of what us americans are taught in school is to glorify our nations birth and so on at first, they do teach more as you get older. Its just mostly described in such a way that puts everything in a lighter tone. Its sad because a lot of ignorance is born from this practice.

  • Thanks for this video. When I mention things like this to others, they disbelieve me. So I generally try to keep my mouth shut around those peers. It's too bad, the more you know, the more balanced of a decision you can make. But me, I just find it fascinating. Some of my family came to America in around 1650 thru Virginia. Unfortunately, we were not elites. Don't know if they were indentured.

  • Simon your videos are really great but I think you could really appreciate some feminist insight into your tone in a lot of videos. I notice you (what appears to be) unintentionally tend to misogynistic language and concepts in your video that really do a disservice to your educational message. In this video, instead of saying ‘whores’ it would make sense to say ‘sex workers’ instead since you used the term outside of a quote of any kind it serves no purpose to use the slur rather than the modern term of sex worker instead

  • 9:10 Prostitution should be legal anyway. Practically pointless to have a law that most ignore and have done so for several millenia and probably will continue to do so until the end of time, aside from the fact that what people do with or put in their own bodies should be their own business.

  • to put the freezing of the james river into context: I live here and have NEVER heard of it freezing that much going back to my grandmother so at least 1907. it takes some pretty insane temps to cause even a small amount of ice…maybe 1/4 inch at most. BTW simon…if you ever need a hand pronouncing all the strange names in the area let me know.

  • Prostitution not being regulated is more of an unfortunate reality than the law being lax about it if you ask me.

  • LOL. A war due to pissed off customers getting scammed by British businesses…. 😛 Give me a refund or give me death! RARRRRRRRGH!

  • American society, like most societies have sordid pasts, but America has managed to correct most of these terrible acts in it's past, unlike most of the planet where their sordid histories only become even more horribly sordid. Indeed, modern Iran still hangs people for witchcraft as do many African states, and most Asian states do as well.

  • Very true. It was an extremely different time that to our 20/20 hindsight of modern society makes us go from cringing in horror to boiling in anger.

    I HIGHLY recommend anyone that wants a true insight into the psyche of those times to read the 1st hand accounts of the christian clergy, the many decision makers from all sides, the everyday impoverished colonists & ecspecially the few direct indigenous accounts for a greater understanding.

    As strange is it sounds, I hope we always look back on our deep past w/ disdain. This means that we as an ethical society are truly evolving .

    But as has occurred previously, we know that those who forget (or even worse erase) history will eventually be doomed to repeat the worst of it in due time.

  • Of course the Native Americans were pissed. The colonies stole lands, spread diseases, and just like today most whites of European heritage thought they were superior.

  • "not the means to make soap"? you need the white ashes of a woodfire and water to make lye and you need some kind of fat. both are easy to get…………

  • You should do the battle of kings mountain. Most people know anything about it yet it's a key battle in the revolutionary war and the cause for corny moving back to the beach. I believe you could do it justice. It also has a bit of scandal around it as shelby claims cambell came after the battle. Still everything else on it is snore boring. You actually give loads of facts in a short interesting way. Would love to see you bring it to life.

  • Before Columbus there were 100 mil Native americans. They deforested the continent so badly it caused a minor ice age in Europe. They had huge earthworks includes pyramids made of earth and could communicate ACROSS HUGE distances. By fires on ridges or mounds.They had huge cities. The Ira1 The Iraquo

  • i've read extensively about this time frame, as i've been fascinated by it since childhood. no doubt about it: those folks had a rough time! i've read first hand accounts of accomodations in the 1600's fashioned out of dugouts that had gaps at the bottom and gaps in the walls in new england. the wind must have just blown through them. just living day to day was so difficult. my heart goes out to them at how hard things were, particularly in the very north.

  • i've read extensively about this time frame, as i've been fascinated by it since childhood. no doubt about it: those folks had a rough time! i've read first hand accounts of accomodations in the 1600's fashioned out of dugouts that had gaps at the bottom and gaps in the walls in new england. the wind must have just blown through them. just living day to day was so difficult. my heart goes out to them at how hard things were, particularly in the very north.

  • i've read extensively about this time frame, as i've been fascinated by it since childhood. no doubt about it: those folks had a rough time! i've read first hand accounts of accomodations in the 1600's fashioned out of dugouts that had gaps at the bottom and gaps in the walls in new england. the wind must have just blown through them. just living day to day was so difficult. my heart goes out to them at how hard things were, particularly in the very north.

  • Plymouth Rock was/is a boulder and nobody knows if the small boulder had anything to do with the Mayflower. It was never a colony. Plimoth Plantation was.

  • The author, Nathaniel Hawthorn’s grandfather was a Salem Witch Trial judge that put a 4yr old child to death. Most of the “witches” owned lucrative property. Throwing in a kid and a handful of vagrants made the proceedings appear less discriminatory and more legitimate. Hawthorn added a “w” in his name to disassociate his readers from his infamous family name.

  • about 99% of the native american population died outright of measles and smallpox. For those of you who think it was deliberate and who think the Euros wanted to enslave everyone, why would anyone want to murder someone whom you want to enslave?

  • The time from colonialism to the revolution is not united states history. It's British rule and all the atrocities are the responsibility of the king. At best you can call it north american history with a footnote that it's a British colonies history.

  • Did anyone notice that small glitch at around 7.53? The Simon seems to be running out of power. His dark handlers are slipping up.

  • ENGLAND: we found a new country!
    Natives: Ummmm there's millions of us here
    ENGLAND:…….its new to us
    Natives: let's come to an understanding
    ENGLAND: sure, we need the Natives to walk to the Mississippi River from Virginia. (Trail of tears)

  • One of my hobbies is studying US history. I realized a long time ago to really understand everything, I needed to learn other countries perspective on us.

  • I can’t imagine packing up your entire life into probably one bag, spending weeks to cross an ocean, and then finding yourself in a land utterly devoid of any and all the conveniences of civilized Britain. No shops, no wares, no services. Just what you could do on your own with the group you lived amongst. I have ancestors who came to Pennsylvania from England in the 1670s, and we’ve found court records showing that there was a trial for some Native Americans who killed several members of the family in the mid-18th Century. All the males in that branch of the family received Revolutionary War pensions after about 1790, too. It all makes my life’s problems seem so insignificant.

  • I still don't understand why the history wanted to sugarcoat everything or white wash it, as for the dislikes yep their brain cleansed

  • You must have meant latitude, not longitude. Jamestown can't be on the same longitude as anywhere in France or Spain.

  • Unfortunate realities of life in colonial america: 1) slavery 2) the extermination of the natives. Just for starters…

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