Chapter five of The American Promise details the realities of life in Colonial America. It deals most principally with the single force that helped to build the colonies – the brutal slave trade. Roark writes of this, “Both groups illustrate the undertow of violence and deceit beneath the surface of the eighteen century Atlantic commerce linking Britain, Africa, the West Indies, and British North America” (Roark 111). While the ugliness of the slave trade is on full display in this chapter, the chapter also deals with the other side of the slave trade – the growing population in North America.
Not only did the population grow because people were brought to the continent through slavery, but the population exploded, at least in part, because the economy offered so many different kinds of opportunities. This was a time when people were fleeing Europe in hopes of finding economic prosperity and freedom from persecution. Because of the powerful agrarian economy built on the backs of slaves, North America became a very attractive landing spot for these individuals.
The chapter details the ways in which the colonies were very different. While there is some temptation to view the colonies as a monolith – “The Colonies” – the truth is more nuanced than that. This is because, on the whole, the colonies tended to be very different from region to region. The Puritans in New England operated a different kind of world than the people in the middle colonies. The same is true for the Southern colonies, which tended to have their own unique economy and their own developing, unique culture, too. This is one of the ways in which this chapter challenges conventional thinking, asking people to view the colonies not as a monolith, but rather, a grouping of distinctive regions.