Q73: Why did colonists come to America?

A. To escape persecution
B. To seek economic opportunity
C.  To seek freedom
D. All of the above

Question Background Information


British colonists came to America for a variety of reasons—often more than one. 
Not only did the Church of England persecute members who had different religious beliefs, including different Christian beliefs, but the political situation in 17th century Britain was unstable. There would be both a civil war and a revolution by 1700. Land was also far scarcer than in America, and the distance from Britain meant the colonists experienced the benefits of local control and self-government. Thus, moving to the British colonies in America offered colonists a variety of benefits, especially religious freedom and economic opportunity. As such, many colonists were willing to make the risky journey, even though doing so often required selling oneself into temporary servitude to afford transportation across the ocean.

Building a society was no easy feat. Starvation and conflict (both with other Europeans such as the French as well as with indigenous nations) were both real risks even if one was willing to accept the austerity and hard work required to be a successful settler. 

British settlers were soon joined by immigrants from elsewhere, such as French and Germans (the latter of whom heavily settled in Pennsylvania). Eventually, peoples from all over the world would join them as well.  

Additional Content

Offline Activity


Imagine the conversation, if you will: “Hey, get on a ship, sail for two months, hope we reach land, and then start a whole new life… from scratch. Although that is not necessarily a ringing endorsement, many did choose to undergo that hardship. But the owners of the ships did not just give away passage to anyone interested in going to the colonies—one had to pay a lot to afford transportation. For this activity, students will create advertisements encouraging people to sail to the New World, to better understand the various motivations of those who did. 


  • Provide each group with Why Leave England for the New World
  • Provide each group with Reports from the New World 
  • Provide each group with Mayflower Compact
  • A rubric is available if this is a graded activity. 
  • Gather materials to create posters (poster board, colored pencils, markers, old magazines, scissors, glue, etc.).  

Required Materials

The Teaching Materials for this exercise includes a rubric.

Teaching Materials.


  1. Divide the class into groups of 3-4 based on the students’ individual levels. Group A is the group that needs some extra support. Group B is the core group that has the core knowledge to complete the activity. Group C is the enrichment group that has mastered the material; Group C students are prepared to extend their knowledge. Each group should have at least one student from Group A, one from Group B, and one from Group C. 
    • If students are in pairs rather than groups, then divide them based on ability as well, pairing those who need support (Group A) with those who have core knowledge and/or have mastered the material (Groups B and C). 
  2. Explain to the students that getting people to sail to the New World is not always that easy, so a shipping company has hired them to create advertisements encouraging people to leave England and travel to the New World.
  3. Provide the students with the necessary handouts and materials to create the posters.
    • Have the students read the handouts. Tell the students that they need to include at least one reason for people to leave England, and that the ad must make that reason clear.  
      • For example, they can’t draw a boat and write, “Have an Adventure!” They need to create an ad that will explain the need to leave England (e.g., poverty, war, religious persecution, etc.,) or for the upsides of the New World (“Find Boundless Land Across the Ocean!”  There are multiple reasons provided in the readings, as well as an idea of what might actually deter people so that they can address it from that angle. 
    • Encourage the students to be creative and have some fun. 
  4. Circulate throughout the room as the groups complete the posters to check for understanding.
  5. Upon completion, invite the groups to present their posters to the class. You can use this as an opportunity to have a discussion on the conditions in England and how they affected the decisions that people made.  

Discussion Prompts

Those moving to the British colonies in North America considered themselves English (or eventually British) subjects and took British political liberty seriously. They also wanted their colonies to be able to do things differently than in England. Some wanted to live out their Christian beliefs by serving God differently than the Church of England called for. In other cases, America just meant a greater availability of land that offered more economic opportunities.

Prompt 1

Colonization of the British colonies in North America that became the United States was not a single event. It actually began in the 1500s and continued for the next 200 years, arguably ending with the American Revolution. During that time, why did the majority of the colonists come to America? What reasons did they have?

Prompt 2

Although most Americans today are not descended from the original English or British settlers, their influence is still felt. What are some things that we still do similarly, or values that we still hold, that can be traced back to them? What are things we do or believe differently now? Use recent and historical events to support your answer.