What Are Some Examples of Primary Sources From the Colonial Era of American History?

The colonial era of American history is a fascinating period marked by significant events and the emergence of a new nation. Historians rely heavily on primary sources to gain insights into the past, and these sources provide firsthand accounts of the events that shaped America. In this article, we will explore some examples of primary sources from the colonial era of American history.

What are primary sources?

Before diving into examples, let’s understand what primary sources are. Primary sources are original documents or artifacts that were created at the time under study.

These include letters, diaries, government documents, newspapers, maps, and photographs among others. Primary sources give us direct access to the past and allow us to get as close as possible to understanding what happened in a particular period.

Examples of primary sources from the colonial era

1. Letters and journals

Letters and journals written by colonists or people who lived during the colonial era provide valuable insights into their daily lives, challenges they faced, and their experiences. For instance, John Winthrop’s journal provides a detailed account of his journey to America aboard the Arbella in 1630.

2. Government documents

Government documents such as charters, laws, and official records provide insights into how colonies were governed during this period. They also reveal how early settlers interacted with Native Americans and other European powers such as France and Spain.

3. Newspapers

Newspapers published during this period provide essential information about political developments, social issues, trade activities, and cultural events that shaped colonial life. The Boston News-Letter was the first continuously published newspaper in America starting in 1704.

4. Maps

Maps from this period offer a glimpse into how people understood geography during this time. They also reveal how early explorers and settlers navigated and used the land. For example, John Smith’s map of Virginia shows the region where Jamestown was established.

5. Artifacts

Artifacts such as clothing, tools, weapons, and pottery provide valuable insights into daily life during this period. They offer a glimpse into the material culture of early settlers and how they interacted with their environment.


In conclusion, primary sources from the colonial era of American history offer unique insights into a fascinating period. By studying these sources, historians can get a better understanding of how early settlers lived and interacted with their environment. Whether it is letters, journals, government documents, newspapers, maps or artifacts, primary sources are crucial to understanding America’s past.