During the colonization of New England from the 1600s to the American Revolution, four major cities emerged as the primary centers for industry -- Boston, New York, Philadelphia and Charleston. Even though only 5 percent of colonists lived in metropolitan areas, these four cities imported and exported with England to help sustain the settlers, according to the National Humanities Center. These four cities developed separately from one another and had their own individual characteristics and culture that influenced colonial life.
Boston was the most northern city during the growth and development of colonial America and was known as an economic center for business and trade. It was founded in 1630 by the English Puritans of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Many Bostonians were involved in shipbuilding and worked in industries related to timber, logging, manufacturing and fishing. Boston was the largest and wealthiest of the colonial cities and was known as the spiritual capital. Boston's nickname "Beantown" comes from colonial days when Boston traded with the West Indies and received molasses for industrial products -- beneficial for the popular Boston baked beans dish.
Resourceful New York City
New York City, originally named New Amsterdam, was established in 1624 by Peter Minuit as a Dutch trading post and was known for its production of wheat and corn. New Yorkers also exported lumber to England and the West Indies, due to its plush surrounding forests. In 1626, Minuit purchased Manhattan Island from the native Americans with goods, such as tools, cloth, farming equipment and beads made from shells. Fewer than 300 people lived in New Amsterdam when the settlement relocated to the larger Manhattan Island. Holland and England engaged in war over the fishing, agriculture and tobacco industries in New York City.
Philadelphia was established in 1682 by William Penn and was known for exporting goods to other colonies, including flour, meat and timber. It was the most diverse of the four major New England colonies because Penn strongly supported religious tolerance. Early settlers in Philadelphia followed strict religious guidelines and forbade theatrical productions and gambling. Many Philadelphians practiced slavery, even though the Pennsylvania Quakers eventually developed the first anti-slavery society. Philadelphia was the first capital and played a vital role in development of the U.S. government -- home of the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution.
Charleston was the most southern of the fast-growing cities in colonial America and was established in 1670. The city produced many food products, due to its warm and agriculturally friendly climate, and exported meat, timber, rice and indigo. Charleston was known as the Holy City because immigrants from Scotland, France, Ireland, Spain, Portugal and Germany moved there, making it a religiously and culturally diverse community. A big portion of the population included slaves and freed slaves. Colonial Charleston also grew into a center for the elite, with the construction of theaters, libraries and colleges.
- National Humanities Center: Cities and Towns
- U.S. History: City of Brotherly Love -- Philadelphia
- Texas Digital Library: Colonial Cities
- Premiere Charleston: The Colonial Period of Charleston, 1670-1776: Cultural Center
- City of New York: Colonial New York City
- Encyclopaedia Britannica: Boston
- History: New York City
- Photos.com/Photos.com/Getty Images