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The Germans

Germans were the largest non-English-speaking immigrant group in the colonies. Faced with war and oppression in their homeland, they were delighted to find the rich soil of Pennsylvania . They built sturdy homes and barns, some of which are still used today. German Americans eventually became one-third of the population of the Quaker State (Pennsylvania); some neighborhoods in Philadelphia had German street signs. German Americans brought the Lutheran religion, adding to the Protestant mix of religious toleration. By the time of the Revolution, German Americans were about 6 percent of the population of the colonies as a whole. The Pennsylvania Dutch are so called because English-speaking Americans got confused by Deutsch, the German name for German. Actually, Pennsylvania Dutch are of German heritage.

The French

French Canada had about 1 person for every 20 in the 13 colonies, but it helped form what would become the United States. La Salle (1682) was a French explorer who navigated down the Mississippi, establishing French claims to the Louisiana territory that the French government would eventually sell to the young U.S. French courers de bois (runners of the woods) ranged over North America trading animal pelts with the American Indians. French Acadians resettled by the British from Canada would become the Cajuns of Louisiana. The French founded Detroit, New Orleans, Pittsburgh, and other towns. French settler Crevecoeur observed in his Letters from an American Farmer (1782) that the "strange mixture of blood, which you find in no other country" was an "American, this new man."

Africans and the ongoing issue of slavery

Africans made up 20 percent of the population by the time of the Revolution, mostly in the South but also with at least a few representatives in all the other early colonies. Slaves worked all their lives with no pay, and their children automatically became slaves, too. Slavery grew because slaves made money for their masters, who then could buy more slaves. Because of slavery, the agricultural output and profits of the early South grew rapidly.

When they could get together at the end of long workdays, slaves created their own African American culture that melded African cultural traditions with the realities of their new home. Africans were brought to America in chains, but when they could, they fought for their freedom. Slaves revolted in New York in 1712 and 1741; during the Stono Rebellion (1739) in South Carolina, slaves under a flag of freedom fought a pitched battle with white slaveholders. This rebellion led slave owners to tighten the rules so that slaves found it hard to get together or even learn to read. Slaves who revolted were tortured and/or killed.


Question: Where was slavery legal in the colonies?

Answer: Slavery was legal in all British North American colonies in the 1700s.


Question: What did slaves do besides hard work?

Answer: Slaves in early America maintained some African social customs and even created a hybrid African/American culture.


Question: Why did slavery grow in the colonies?

Answer: Slaves made money for their owners, which increased the owners' social and political power.


Question: How did owners' power over slaves change in the colonies?

Answer: In the 1700s, slave laws became more repressive, and owners expanded their legal power over slaves.


Question: Name some slave rebellions that occurred in the colonies.

Answer: The Stono Rebellion (1739) in South Carolina and the New York slave conflicts (1712 and 1741) are examples of slave rebellions.

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