Literacy in the American colonies was a constant preoccupation of European settlers. Geographical location influenced access to instruction, but in most colonies, by the 1770s, White men had achieved nearly 90 percent signing rates, and White women's signatures on deeds ranged from 50 to 85 percent. This entry looks at the development of literacy during this period, its methodology, and its missionary links.

Early Immigrants

The first English immigrants brought with them their own literacy, schoolbooks, and a printing press. In 1642, the Massachusetts colony passed a “Poor Law” decreeing that all heads of families and masters of apprentices should have the children under their roof taught to read as well as acquire a practical skill. Later, laws legislated that boys (but not girls) must also ...

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