During the 17th century in North America there existed several classes of people. Each class had their own varying of freedom. During this period North America rapidly evolved from an experiment of sorts to a powerful colony with a multicultural immigrant base. As the colony evolved so did the social structures of its people. Whether it was with women, Indians, indentured servants, slaves, puritans or property owners each class had their own distinct version of freedom. The backbone behind the growth of the American Colony was the labor force, which was necessary to harvest such rich and large farms and plantations.
During the 17th century this labor force primarily composed of indentured servants and slaves. Many Englishmen came to the new world as indentured servants on seven-year deals where they worked to gain their place and freedom. While under contract they were treated similar to slaves of the time. Like slaves they could be acquired or sold as well as punished corporally. It wasn’t until the latter 17th century when laws were put into place to differentiate between indentured servants and slaves. These distinctions were largely based on race.
Though slavery wasn’t nearly as widespread as the next two centuries it still had no bearing on a slave’s life. Slaves of in North America lived with absolutely no freedom whatsoever. Indian and women were two of the other restricted classes within 17th century Indian society. This timeframe was absolutely catastrophic for Indians across the board. The introduction of disease by the European influx of settlers had an apocalyptic effect on the population of the Indians. Many tribes sustained losses as heavy as 90% of their populace.
While most Indians have individual freedoms within their specific tribes, as a whole their lands were being stolen and their very survival was at stake. While women in the colony certainly did suffer as badly from disease, that doesn’t mean life was rosy either. Based on the English common law of coverture, women couldn’t even individually own property if married. Essentially anything women owned was actually owned by their husbands by right. Along with not having the right to property they also did not have a right to vote, and were expected to be obedient in a male driven society.
On the other end of the freedom spectrum from the aforementioned lie the Puritans and Landowners. While women in puritan society had a similar role as describe above, the men were closer to actual freedom. The men in good standing with their society could do what he practically wanted within the bounds of the puritan norm. However they rather took to persecution within the ranks. The most famous example being the Salem Witch Trials and the circumstances that led to one of the earliest women’s religious leaders Anne Hutchinson. Landowners, when it comes to freedom in the 17th century had the direct opposite experience of slaves.
They could vote, earn, and own property at will. Many of our nations forefathers are descendants of these early landowners. Contrary to popular belief even the wealthy ones were more likely to be a hard worker with long hours than British gentlemen that most would imagine. The melting pot that is now modern North America had its roots sown in the 17th century. There were a great many classes of people seeking a new beginning either by choice or need. Whether they were indentured servants, slaves, women, Indians, puritans, or landowners each class had different grades of freedom in their life.