Social Studies - 2018-19

VUS.3b - Social and Political Factors of the Colonies

The student will apply social science skills to understand early European colonization by

b) analyzing how social and political factors impacted the culture of the colonies;

Adopted: 2015


Unit Themes

Unit Essential Questions


How does the environment and geography impact our lives?

Economic Systems 

To what extent does the American economy shape the American experience? 


How does democracy shape the American experience?


Social and political institutions in the colonies developed as a result of regional migration patterns, geography, and climate.

Although the emerging democracy was limited to European, property-owning men and women, colonization led to ideas of representative government and religious tolerance. Over several centuries, these ideas would inspire similar transformations in other parts of the world.


Social characteristics of the colonies 

 New England’s colonial society was based on religious standing. The Puritans grew increasingly intolerant of dissenters who challenged their belief in the connection between religion and government. Rhode Island was founded by dissenters fleeing persecution by Puritans in Massachusetts. 

 The middle colonies were home to multiple religious groups who generally believed in religious tolerance, including Quakers in Pennsylvania, Huguenots and Jews in New York, and Presbyterians in New Jersey. These colonies had more flexible social structures and began to develop a middle class of skilled artisans, entrepreneurs (business owners), and small farmers. 

 Virginia and the other Southern colonies had a social structure based on family status and the ownership of land. Large landowners in the eastern lowlands dominated colonial government and society and maintained an allegiance to the Church of England and closer social ties to Britain than did those in the other colonies. In the mountains and valleys further inland, however, society was characterized by small subsistence farmers, hunters, and traders of Scots-Irish, German, and English descent. Maryland was established with the intent of being a haven for Catholics. 

 While the cultural foundations in the North American colonies were British, American Indian and African cultures influenced every aspect of colonial society. 

 The Great Awakening was a religious movement that swept through Europe and the colonies during the mid-1700s. It led to the rapid growth of evangelical denominations, such as the Methodist and Baptist denominations, and challenged the established religious and governmental orders. It laid one of the social foundations for the American Revolution.

Political life in the colonies 

 The first meeting of a representative government in Virginia occurred at Jamestown in 1619. 

 New England colonies used town meetings (an Athenian direct democracy model) in the operation of government. 

 Middle colonies incorporated a number of democratic principles that reflected the basic rights of Englishmen. 

 Southern colonies maintained stronger ties with Britain, with planters playing leading roles in representative colonial legislatures.


Terms & EventsPeoplePlaces

Covenant Community

Town Meetings

Direct Democracy

Mayflower Compact

House of Burgesses

General Assembly

Virginia Company of London


Athenian Model of Direct Democracy

Middle Passage

Great Awakening

Church of England 

Representative Legislature



Indentured Servants









Shenandoah Valley

Caribbean, Central and South America settlements

Location of 13 Colonies and colonial regions

Appalachian foothills

Updated: May 18, 2018