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Colonial America

A History in Documents

Second Edition

Edward G. Gray

Publication Date - March 2011

ISBN: 9780199765959

224 pages
8 x 10 inches

In Stock


By examining the lives of the colonists through their own words--in diaries, letters, sermons, newspaper columns, and poems--Colonial America: A History in Documents, Second Edition reveals how immigrants, despite their vast differences, laid the foundations for a new nation: the United States.

One of the earliest documents is Sir Walter Ralegh's account of the failed colony at Roanoke, the first British settlement. The harrowing experiences of the first colonists are recorded in Captain John Smith's tale of Indian attack and starvation at Jamestown and in a young Massachusetts colonist's letter to his English parents pleading for supplies. A Catawba Indian's letter to the governor of South Carolina describing a devastating smallpox epidemic is evidence of the even greater toll that war and illness had on the Native Americans. From these difficult beginnings, the colonies developed into vibrant communities. A poem by a young Englishman sentenced to be deported is the story of one laborer who helped build the colonies. An exchange of letters between friends about choosing a husband provides insight into colonial family life. The title page of a book about evil spirits and a Mohawk Indian's telling of the creation myth demonstrate the diversity of colonial religious beliefs.

American colonists were also guided by secular codes of behavior. Young George Washington's exercise book filled with rigid rules of conduct exemplifies the manners and mores of the colonies' future leaders. A picture essay about the material world gathers objects ranging from military artifacts to fine furnishings to reveal how the colonies evolved from rough outposts to near-independent states. Using such historical evidence, Colonial America provides a captivating look at the textured lives of the people who founded the United States.

The second edition includes a new chapter, "The Tumult of Empire," on the imperial tensions that erupted during this period and the internal strife within the colonies, as demonstrated in the violence of Bacon's Rebellion, Governor Andros's harsh ruling over the Dominion of New England, the overturning of provincial regimes in response to William and Mary's Glorious Revolution, and the golden age of piracy. Twenty-eight new visual documents enrich this edition, including a map of Native American villages, a proclamation on the destruction of forests, and Hippopotamus hide whips used on slaves. Ten new sidebars provide shorter documents, such as John Winthrop's journal entry on the effects of the English Civil War in Massachusetts, a 1730 poem about growing Philadelphia, and a 1743 newspaper advertisement aimed at German-speaking colonists. There is a new note on sources and interpretation and there are updates to the further reading and websites recommendations.

New to this Edition

  • a new chapter, "The Tumult of Empire"
  • twenty-eight new images
  • ten new sidebars
  • updated introduction, including a note on sources and interpretation
  • updated and expanded further reading and recommended websites


  • a mixture of textual and visual documents, including diaries, letters, sermons, newspaper columns, and poems, build a textured history of colonial America
  • lucid narrative ties the documents together
  • documents are ideal length for classroom discussion
  • inviting to visually-oriented students
  • picture essay, "A World of Things"

About the Author(s)

Professor of History, Florida State University

Previous Publication Date(s)

January 2003


"[Editors Gray and Kamensky] bring us essays that go international, 'institutional,' and 'cultural' while bridging patrician-plebeian divides. ... [A] very useful entry in the Oxford Handbook series." --Reviews in American History

"...[T]he worldwide reach of the revolution is the overarching theme. Most entries link the lives of participants - and victims - in surprising ways to the larger picture. ... This is a comprehensive introduction to current trends in the historiography of the American Revolution. Recommended." --CHOICE

"[A] once-in-a-generation reassessment of scholarship on [the American Revolution and the Founding Fathers." --Verso: Blog of the Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens

Table of Contents

    What is a Document?
    How to Read a Document

    Note on Sources and Interpretation

    Chapter 1: England Expands
    England and Europe Look West
    The Push for Colonies

    Chapter 2: New Lands, New Lives
    The Trials of Settlement
    The Great Migration

    Chapter 3: Colonists Confront First Nations
    Captured by the Indians
    Costs of Colonization

    Chapter 4: The Tumult of Empire
    The Construction of Empire
    The Quest for Continuity

    Chapter 5: Who Built the Colonies?
    Bound for America
    When People Became Property

    Chapter 6: Ties that Bind
    The Struggle for Family
    Women's Trials
    Parents and Children

    Chapter 7: A Spiritual People
    Building a Church
    A Diversity of Beliefs
    The Awakening Comes

    Chapter 8: Gentlewomen and Gentlemen
    How to Be a Gentleman
    A Gentlewoman's Burden

    Chapter 9: A World of Things

    Further Reading
    Text Credits
    Picture Credits

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