Wikiquote:Transwiki/American History Primary Sources Life in the 13 Colonies




“Whereas some doubts have arisen whether children that are slaves by birth, and by the charity and piety of their owners made partakers of the blessed sacrament of baptism, should by virtue of their baptism be made free, it is enacted and declared... that the condition of baptism does not alter the condition of the person as to his bondage or freedom...”

Virginia Slave Law.


“The first object which saluted my eyes when I arrived on the coast, was the sea, and a slave ship... waiting for its cargo. These filled me with astonishment, which was soon converted into terror, when I was carried on board....

“[Below decks] I received such a salutation in my nostrils as I had never experienced in my life: so that with the loathsomeness of the stench, and crying together, I became so sick and low that I was not able to eat, nor had I the least desire to taste any thing. I now wished for the last friend, death, to relieve me; but soon, to my grief, two of the white men offered me eatables; and, on my refusing to eat, one of them held me fast by the hands... and tied my feet, while the other flogged me severely....

“One day... two of my wearied countrymen who were chained together... jumped into the sea; immediately another... followed their example... Two of the wretches were drowned, but [the ship’s crew got the other, and afterwards flogged him unmercifully for thus attempting to prefer death to slavery.”

Account of the Middle Passage in The Interesting Narrative of Olaudah Equiano (1789), a slave brought to Virginia, and bought by a British naval officer. In 1766, he bought his freedom, and moved to England in 1777, becoming a leader in the antislavery movement.


“You are taxed without your consent, because you are not represented in Parliament. I grant that [is] a grievance.... [But] pray, sir,.... are your hearts also hard, when you hold [us] in slavery who are entitled to liberty by the law of nature, equal as yourselves?”

Letter of a slave to a Boston newspaper.


“Anytime while I was a slave, if one minute’s freedom had been offered to me, and I had been told I must die at the end of that minute, I would have taken it — just to stand one minute on God’s earth as a free woman.”

Elizabeth Freeman, a former slave, after her successful law suit in a Massachusetts winning her freedom, and which led to the ending of slavery in Massachusetts.

Indentured Servants

c. 1700

“Soul drivers... are men who make it their business to go on board all ships whjo have in either Servants or Convicts and buy sometimes the whole and sometimes a parcell of them,... and they drive them through the Country like a parcell of them until they can sell them to advantage.”

John Harrower, an indentured servant, describing the purchase and sale of servants arriving by ship from England.


“Children from 1 to 7 rarely survive the voyage; and many a time parents are compelled to see their children miserably suffer and die from hunger, thirst and sickness, and then to see them cast into the sea. I witnessed such misery in no less than 32 children in our ship, all of whom were thrown into the sea....

“When the ships have landed at Philadelphia after their long voyage, no one is permitted to leave them except those who pay for their passage or can give good security; the others, who cannot pay, must remain on board the ships till they are purchased and are released form the ships by their purchasers. The sick always fare the worst for the healthy are naturally preferred, and so the sick and the wretched must often remain on board in front of the city for 2 or 3 weeks, and frequently die, whereas many a one, if he could pay his debt and were permitted to leave the ship immediately, might recover and remain alive.

“The sale of human beings in the market on board the ship is carried on thus: Every day Englishmen, Dutchmen and High-German people come from the city of Philadelphia and other places... and go on board the newly-arrived ship that has brought and offers for sale passengers from Europe, and select from among the healthy persons such as they deem suitable for their business, and bargain with them how long they will serve for their passage-money, which most of them are still in debt for. When they have come to an agreement, it happens that adult persons bind themselves in writing to serve 3, 4, 5, or 6 years for the amount due by them, according to their age and strength. But very young people, from 10 to 15 years, must serve till they are 21 years old.

“Many parents must sell and trade away their children like so many head of cattle; fit if their children take the debt upon themselves, the parents can leave the ship free and unrestrained; but as the parents often do not know where and to what people their children are going, it often happens that [they]... do not see each other for many years, perhaps no more in all their lives....

“It often happens that whole families, husband, wife, and children, are separated by being sold to different purchasers, especially when they have not paid and part of their passage money.”

German immigrant Gottlieb Mittelberger, in Gottlieb Mittelberger’s Journey to Pennsylvania in the Year 1750.

Colonial Economic Life: Learning


“[There are] no free schools nor printing, and I hope we shall not have these [for a] hundred years.”

Report of Governor William Berkeley of Virginia.


“Haste makes waste.”

“Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.”

Benjamin Franklin, from Poor Richard’s Almanac.


“Remember, that time is money.... In short, the way to wealth... depends chiefly on two words, ‘industry’ and ‘frugality’; that is, neither waste neither time nor money, but make the best use of both.... He that gets all he can honestly and saves all he gets (necessary expenses excepted) will certainly become rich, if that Being who governs the world... does not, in His wise providence, otherwise determine.”

From Benjamin Franklin, Advice to a Young Tradesman.

c. 1750

“As we enjoy great advantages from the inventions of others, we should be glad of an opportunity to serve others by an invention of ours.”

Benjamin Franklin, inventor of the Franklin stove.

Colonial Economic Life: Farm Life


“Quite tight and warm,... [made of] entire trees, split through the middle, or squared out of the rough, and placed in the form of a square.”

Traveler’s account of Swedish-style log houses built by frontier farmers.

c. 1700

“Nothing to wear, eat, or drink was purchased, as my farm provided all.”

Anonymous farmer, speaking about prosperous subsistence agriculture in the colonies.

c. 1700

“Breadbasket of the colonies”

Name given to the Middle Colonies, which produced and exported grains, and well as other crops for the export trade.


“In America there are enough fertile lands to feed all the poor of England.”

James Oglethorpe, founder of Georgia, on how England should send its poor people to the colonies. 1755

“[Farmers] drive up their Herds [of cattle] on Horseback... for their Cattle are near as wild as Deer... [and] run as they please in the Great Woods, where there are no Inclosures to stop them.”

British seaman, describing a cattle drive to a colonial seaport.

Colonial Economic Life: Trade


“[Boston] is so conveniently situated for trade and the genius of the people are so inclined to merchandise, that they seek no other education for their children than writing and arithmetic.”

An observer’s account of Boston.

Religion in Colonial Life


“Hearing him preach gave me a heart wound.”

Georgia farmer Nathan Cole, after hearing English revivalist preacher George Whitefield.


“There was such a gust of the power of God, that it appeared to me the very gates of hell would give way.”

Fanny Lewis of Baltimore, after a revival.


“[Jesus] died and shed his blood as much for you as for your master, or any of the white people.... [He] opened the door to heaven... and invites you all to enter.”

Presbyterian minister Cary Allen, preaching to slaves in Virginia 1741

“The God that holds you over the pit of hell, much as one holds a spider or some loathsome insect over the fire, abhors you, and is dreadfully provoked. His wrath toward you burns like fire; He looks upon you as worthy of nothing else but to be cast into the fire.... You are ten thousand times more abominable in His eyes as the most hateful serpent is in ours. You have offended Him infinitely more than ever a stubborn rebel did his prince; And yet it is nothing but His hand that holds you from falling into the fire every moment....

“And now you have an excellent opportunity, a day wherein Christ has thrown the door of mercy wide open, and stands in calling and crying with a loud voice to poor sinners.... How awful it is to be left behind at such a day!”

From “Sinners in the Hand of an Angry God,” sermon by Jonathan Edwards, founder of the Great Awakening revival in his church in Northampton, Massachusetts in the 1730s.

Colonial Politics

1676 “For having upon specious pretenses of public works raised unjust taxes upon the commonality for the advancement of private favorites and other sinister ends.... “For having wronged His Majesty’s prerogative and interest by assuming the monopoly of the beaver trade.... “By having... sold his Majesty’s country and the lives of his loyal subjects to the barbarous heathen [Indians].... “Of these aforesaid articles we accuse Sir William Berkeley, as guilty of each and every one of the same, and as one, who has traitorously attempted, violated and injured his Majesty’s interest here.” Nathaniel Bacon, “Declaration of the People,” the manifesto written to support “Bacon’s Rebellion.” 1790

This was a fine year for the 13 colonies there was a huge massacure by John Forthdraw. He went to every colonie and killed three people in each trip he made to the colonie. He made about 6 trips to each colonie. He was greatly feared and was untalked about. He is not commonly known but, he was one of the most frightening people in the world.