What region became known as New England? Identify the five New England colonies established in the first half of the seventeenth century. Outline their similarities and their differences.
First English Settlements
The first successful English colonies in the present United States began as business enterprises. While Queen Elizabeth granted land to favored noblemen, her successor, King James I, offered land to “Chartered Companies,” corporations given royal charters to explore the land and establish colonies with strictly “English” societies.
One such company, the London Company, received a charter to renew the settlement of “Virginia.” In 1607, the company sent three ships with 144 men to accomplish this goal. Forty of this initial group died on the way. The remainder landed on a peninsula north of Raleigh’s old “Lost Colony,” and named their settlement Jamestown after King James.
Although they felt their location was ideal, offering flat terrain and a relatively warm climate along the river they named the James, which allowed access to both the sea and the interior, it soon proved unhealthy, due to malaria and other diseases. The settlers’ greed for gold, encouraged by the company’s demands to make a quick profit, meant that they spent most of their time prospecting at the expense of planting. With no women to encourage planting, family life or other trappings of civilization, this proved a recipe for disaster. Sixty-six of the 104 settlers died from disease and starvation that first winter.
The survival of the colony owed much to someone most of you are familiar with–Captain John Smith, a commanding presence and remarkable personality. Smith had a fascinating background as an adventurer and soldier of fortune, having fought the Turks in eastern Europe, and at one point being captured and held in slavery in Turkey. But he also gained a reputation as a braggart and self-promoter. In fact, on the voyage to Virginia he was regarded as a troublemaker and arrived in the New World under arrest. When the expedition arrived and the sealed orders from the London Company were opened, they revealed that Smith was appointed to a position on the colony’s governing council. Elected president of the council in 1608, he set about organizing the colony, imposing military discipline and insisting that the settlers plant crops to avoid a repeat of the first winter’s disaster.
Part of his strategy involved building the colonists’ spirits and military skills by leading attacks on the surrounding Indian villages. During one of these forays, he was captured, and, according to his own account, would have been executed except for the intervention of Chief Powhatan’s daughter–Pocahontas. How many of you have heard tales of Smith’s and Pocahontas’s subsequent romance and marriage? There is no truth to these stories–as we will see.
In 1609, the London Company was reorganized and renamed the Virginia Company. John Smith returned to England, in part to seek medical assistance after being injured in a gunpowder explosion. Nine more ships with 600 additional settlers were also sent to Virginia.
With Smith gone, the settlers returned to their old ways, and the harsh winter of 1609-10 became known as the “Starving Time.” By the time it was over, starvation and disease had killed all but sixty of the more than 600 colonists. Imagine how you would feel if you had survived the “starving time”–weak, hungry and sick and after watching most of your companions die, one by one, around you. The survivors decided to abandon Jamestown for good, packed their few belongings and began to sail down the river. Jamestown came very close to being yet another failed English attempt at settlement.
As the survivors sailed down the James, they were surprised to see ships sailing toward them. The new reinforcements consisted of hundreds of settlers led by Sir Thomas West. West was a strict and able leader. Today a number of locations in the United States bear his name (maybe West Virginia, West Palm Beach, or Key West?) No, Sir Thomas West’s title was Lord De La Warre. Delaware Bay (which he discovered and explored), the Delaware River, and the colony and later State of Delaware all derive from the name De La Warre.
Lord De La Warre “Out-John-Smithed John Smith.” He and his successors imposed strict discipline and military training, renewed expansion at the expense of the Indians and oversaw the cultivation of tobacco as a cash crop. The colonist who is credited with first growing tobacco commercially in Virginia was John Rolfe in 1612.
Virginia tobacco soon became highly profitable, freeing England from dependence on Spanish tobacco from the Caribbean. Another boost to the colony was the introduction of the “Headright System,” which awarded fifty acres for each family member, encouraging married settlers to bring their families with them, and single settlers to marry and father children. Thus a more settled family life took root.
With a cash crop and a growing population, the colony continued to expand, and continued to battle the Natives. In 1614, Pocahontas was captured in a raid. She soon converted to Christianity and married, not John Smith, who was still in England, but John Rolfe, the tobacco pioneer. Unfortunately the story doesn’t have a happy ending. Rolfe brought Pocahontas back to England, where she was received as visiting royalty, but soon sickened and died, perhaps of tuberculosis.
In 1622, the Indians attacked, devastating the colony, but the settlers retaliated with even more deadly attacks. By this time two institutions had been established which would shape Virginia’s history–and that of the future United States–for generations.
The first was the House of Burgesses, which began meeting in 1619. This legislative assembly was the first elected representative body in the present U.S.
The second was the arrival, also in 1619, of the first African slaves in a mainland English colony. Historians still debate whether they arrived as permanent slaves or as indentured servants, as did many poor white settlers. Both slaves and indentured servants proved invaluable as laborers in the expanding tobacco fields.
In spite of its lucrative tobacco crops, economic difficulties and the results of the 1622 Indian attack caused the Virginia Company to go bankrupt in 1624. King James revoked the charter, but the colony was too well-established to disappear. Instead it became a royal or crown colony, controlled directly by the King.
The second permanent English mainland colony had a much different history. Its origins lay in Calvinist religious dissent. Calvinists believed that God foreordained everything that happened, including the destination of human souls. Thus a person’s behavior or faith could not save or damn them–God had already made that decision–it was only evidence of what their eternal destination might be. Calvinists also believed in very simple methods of worship and detested religious pomp and ceremony, which they associated with the Catholic Church.
In England, Calvinists were divided into two groups, who agreed theologically, but differed on how to achieve their goals. One group, the Puritans, wished to “purify” the Church of England by introducing simpler worship styles and Calvinist teachings. The other group, the Separatists, believed the Anglican Church was beyond redemption, and sought to break away entirely.
A group of Separatists who called themselves “Saints” (we know them as “Pilgrims”) looked to the New World for religious refuge. After a good deal of negotiation, they joined with a group of merchants to form the Plymouth Company (named after Plymouth, England), obtained permission from the Virginia Company to settle in North America, and permission from the King to leave England.
One hundred and four passengers, including a number of “Saints,” set sail from Plymouth, England on September 1620, aboard the Mayflower. Most of us are familiar with the story after that. The Mayflower arrived off Cape Cod, north of their intended destination, in November. They drew up the Mayflower Compact, establishing a government for the colony, and came ashore at Plymouth Rock in December.
With no time to plant crops, half of the colony died from starvation and disease that first winter. The next year, with help from friendly Natives, they raised a prosperous crop and celebrated a harvest gathering, which has been memorialized by later Thanksgiving Day celebrations.
Unfortunately, a smallpox epidemic, probably introduced by Plymouth settlers, decimated the local Indian population in 1634. And the initially friendly relations between the “Pilgrims” and their Native American neighbors eventually turned hostile. Nonetheless, Plymouth survived, remaining a relatively small, poor colony.
MASSACHUSETTS BAY COLONY
For a new, nearby colony, the story was much different. Puritans, who included many merchants, were growing wealthier and stronger in England. King James and his son and successor, King Charles I, grew increasingly antagonistic toward them.
A group of Puritan merchants organized the Massachusetts Bay Company and received a charter from the King and a grant to a large area of present Massachusetts and New Hampshire, where they envisioned a Puritan haven in America.
In 1630 the first contingent of 1,000 people set sail in seventeen ships–the beginning of the “Great Migration” of Puritans to New England. One third of the group died that first winter, but many more settlers followed. They brought their charter with them and set up a colonial self-government with John Winthrop as their longtime governor.
The Massachusetts Bay colonists came for religious freedom, but that freedom only applied to those who shared their faith. In the colony, only church members could vote or hold office, and all colonists, regardless of faith or membership, were taxed to support the Puritan church and required to attend services.
The fourth mainland English colony, Maryland, was granted to George Calvert, 1st Lord Baltimore, who saw it as a speculative venture and a refuge for English Catholics. Originally, the Maryland colony also included parts of present-day Pennsylvania, Delaware, and Virginia. The first settlers arrived in 1634 and were welcomed by the Indians.
Although established as a Catholic colony, Maryland tolerated all Christians, a practice made official by the Act Concerning Religion in 1649. Still Catholic-Protestant hostilities continued to plague the colony.
Economically, Maryland developed along the same lines as Virginia, introducing a Headright System, tobacco cultivation, and African slavery.
Three other early colonies were all located in New England, and were all offshoots of the heavily populated Massachusetts Bay Colony.
In 1635, Puritan minister Thomas Hooker argued with Massachusetts Bay authorities, and led his congregation into the Connecticut Valley, where they established Hartford and other towns. In 1639, they set up a colonial government under a document called the Fundamental Orders of Connecticut.
The colony of New Haven on Long Island Sound was created in 1639 by a group of Puritans who felt Massachusetts Bay was drifting away from the “true faith” and becoming too lenient (hard to believe if you’ve read about life in Massachusetts Bay!)
Rhode Island, chartered in 1644, owed its existence to the merger of two dissenters’ colonies. In 1636 Roger Williams was banished from Massachusetts for several reasons. A Separatist, like the Pilgrims, he advocated a complete break from the Church of England. He also believed in separation of Church and State, and defended the rights of Native Americans, not a popular cause in the rapidly expanding Massachusetts colony. Traveling southward, he purchased land in present Rhode Island from local tribes, and established a settlement which he named Providence, for God’s Will.
Another dissenter, Anne Hutchinson, was banished in 1638 for the heresy of “Antinomianism.” Holding religious meetings in her home, which soon attracted large crowds, Mrs. Hutchinson challenged the authority of ordained Puritan ministers and claimed to be in direct communication with the Holy Spirit. Being a woman further endangered her, since Puritans (and most Christian denominations of the time) did not believe women should preach. Furthermore, her growing following soon embroiled her in a political controversy with Governor Winthrop.
Ejected from Massachusetts, Anne Hutchinson and her followers settled the town of Portsmouth, not far from Roger Williams’s Providence. In 1644, Williams received a charter from Parliament to merge the two settlements into the Colony of Rhode Island.
As Roger Williams’s experience demonstrates, expanding English settlements heightened conflicts with Native Americans. In the Connecticut Valley, the Pequot War of 1637 pitted the English and the allied Narragansett tribe against the Dutch of neighboring New Netherland and their Pequot allies over trade and territory. In the ensuing conflict, the English brutally wiped out the Pequots.
In Virginia, Governor Sir William Berkeley sent explorers westward across the Blue Ridge Mountains as early as 1642. Two years later, his forces put down a final Indian revolt, ending Native power in the eastern part of the colony. In return for the Indians granting the English undisputed title to lands in the east, Berkeley guaranteed them the remaining western lands, a promise which would prove impossible to keep.
Indian hostilities would continue to increase as the seventeenth century progressed, but first the colonists experienced fallout from a major conflict in England.
In 1629, King Charles I dissolved the increasingly Puritan-dominated Parliament and asserted his “divine right” as King. He was eventually forced to reconvene Parliament to ask for taxes to support his on-going war in Scotland, but divisions between the King and Parliament only multiplied, along political, economic, religious, and regional lines. The King tended to draw support from the nobility, the Church of England, and the northern and western portions of the country, while merchants and tradesmen, Puritans, and the eastern and southern portions of England tended to support Parliament.
In 1642, civil war broke out. The followers of the King came to be known as “Cavaliers” (knights or men on horseback) while the Parliamentary forces were labeled “Roundheads” (perhaps for their relatively short haircuts, or from their rounded helmets).
In 1649, King Charles was defeated, captured and imprisoned. Placed on trial for treason, he was beheaded, and rule of England fell to Parliament, and in 1653 to successful general and Puritan Parliamentary leader Oliver Cromwell as “Lord Protector.”
The Puritan victory in the English Civil War ended the “Great Migration” to New England (why leave England when you control the country?), but caused many royalists to flee to America. Avoiding Puritan New England for obvious reasons, they swelled the populations of Virginia and Maryland.
By the mid-1600s, the English had established seven successful colonies on the North American mainland–Virginia, Plymouth, Massachusetts Bay, Maryland, Connecticut, New Haven, and Rhode Island. All bordered the Atlantic coast, split in the middle by the Dutch holdings of New Netherland and by a small 1638 colony of New Sweden on the Delaware River.
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