The New England Colonies

King James I had chartered two companies in 1606 for exploration and settlement of English interests in America, the Plymouth Company and the London Company.  The London Company had been responsible for the founding and settlement of  Jamestown, which with a few bumps and starts, had become a thriving Colony.  The Plymouth Company had floundered and essentially accomplished nothing, which could not have made its investors happy. Attempts at settlement in the area of present day Maine had all failed.      

In the meantime, Captain John Smith of Jamestown had explored the area known as Northern Virginia, and called it New England.    In 1620, the old Plymouth Company reorganized itself into the Council of New England and received a charter for the area between the fortieth and fortieth parallels.  The area was renamed New England.    The leading member of the Council was Sir Fernandino Gorges, for whom the famous Gorges Fishing Banks are named. A number of land grants were made by the company over the next several years.

     Plymouth: Among those who wished to leave England at the time were a group of so-called Nonconformists who did not agree with or follow the practices of the Church of England.  One such group was a congregation in Scrooby, England, who moved to first to Amsterdam and then Leyden, Holland, in 1607, [the same year that the settlement at Jamestown was founded] to escape persecution from King James.   The group from Scrooby were not interested in reforming the Church, which they considered so tainted and contaminated by "popery" as to be beyond redemption.  They therefore resolved to separate themselves from it and were accordingly known as Separatists. .

    James I could be called many things, including narrow minded; but religious was hardly one of them.  He had been raised a Scottish Presbyterian, but despised Presbyterianism because it did not agree with his ideas of monarchy.  He likewise despised anyone who did not agree with him, particularly on matters of religion, and had said of the Puritans who were active in England at this time,    "I will make them conform, or harry them out of the land."

    The Separatists lived in Holland for eleven years, but were singularly unhappy.  Despite their best efforts, their children adopted the Dutch language and Dutch cultural habits, and the Dutch restricted them to unskilled labor.  They feared the loss of their identity as Englishmen. As a result, the congregation voted to emigrate to America. King James did not promise them outright toleration if they emigrated, but he did agree that he would not "connive at them."  One Separatist family had close relations with Sir Edwin Sandys, treasurer of the London Company, and secured a patent authorizing them to settle in the northern portion of the company's jurisdiction.  [NOTE:  the Company's jurisdiction was in Virginia, NOT in New England.] They returned to England to join with another group of Separatists and departed Southampton, England on September 16, 1620 aboard the Mayflower, a 180 ton vessel. Among those traveling with them were William Bradford, who later became Governor of the Colony, and was the first to call the group Pilgrims; and Myles Standish, a soldier who was sympathetic to their cause, but not a member of the congregation. One person died en route (total number making the trip was 102) and one was born.  

     The Separatists were strict Calvinists and believers in predestination.  They considered those among them who were members of the Elect (chosen by God for salvation) to be "Saints."  Others, who had not yet received the gift of grace, were called "strangers."   

    For reasons yet unknown, the Mayflower hundreds of miles far north of its intended Virginia destination.  The standard explanation is that the ship was blown off course.  There is some argument that once en route, the good Pilgrims had prevailed upon the Mayflower's captain, possibly by force, to travel North.  It seems implausible that an accomplished sea captain would miss the mark by several hundred miles.  They arrived at the area near present Plymouth, Massachusetts.  Here, they were outside the area chartered by the London Company, and also outside the jurisdiction of any recognized government, literally in an area without laws.  Since some form of government was necessary, all forty one males onboard signed an agreement known as the Mayflower Compact in which they "solemnly and mutually, in the Presence of God and one another,
covenant and combine ourselves together into a civil Body Politick, for our better Ordering and Preservation"  The Mayflower Compact was not a constitution, nor a precedent for one; it was instead an agreement by those who had previously formed a church, and felt that civil government should flow naturally from the church.

     The Mayflower landed on December 26, 1620, at a time when the climate was particularly forbidding.  The ship stayed until spring to provide shelter until dwellings could be constructed.  Over half the Pilgrims died during the first winter; but the remainder were saved by friendly relations with the Wampanoag Indians.  Among them was an Indian warrior whom the Pilgrims called Squanto.  Squanto had been kidnapped by fisherman several years before and had lived in England for several years, and become fluent in English.  He had escaped, and managed to get back to America, probably aboard another fishing vessel.  He showed the colonists how to grow maize (corn) and in 1621, they produced a bumper crop. They also developed a fur and lumber trade for shipment back to England.  That same year, they held a harvest feast with the Wampanoags, and their chief, Massasoit, a festival which was the origins of the American Thanksgiving holiday.

     In 1621, the Plymouth group received a land grant from the Council for New England.  However, its population never grew over 7,000.  

     Massachusetts Bay:  In the meantime, another group of Nonconformists in England were subject to persecution.  This group wished to "purify" the Anglican church of any "Romish" influence.  It is important to note that they did NOT consider themselves separatists.  They had no intention of leaving the established Church of England.  After the death of James I, they were singularly abused by James son, Charles I. (of course, in the eventual course of history, the Puritans took control of the English Parliament, had Charles arrested, tried for Treason, and beheaded.)

     In March, 1629, Charles I issued a new charter, basically confirming an earlier land grant, to a group known as the Massachusetts Bay Company.  The company's charter was very similar to the several charters to the Virginia Company, with one notable exception that proved important:  there was no provision that the company headquarters must remain in England. Although it was intended to be a business endeavor, a majority group, led by John Winthrop, a Puritan lawyer, determined to make the new colony a "wilderness Zion" in America and refuge for persecuted Puritans. 

     Winthrop took advantage of the fact that no provision was made for a London headquarters, and took the charter of the company with him to Massachusetts.  This effectively transferred the entire control of the company to Massachusetts Bay; where he hoped to maintain Puritan control. Seven ships departed in 1630, with Winthrop aboard the lead ship, the Arabella. While en route, Winthrop delivered a sermon onboard ship entitled A Model of Christian Charity.  In it, he admonished the Puritans that they should set an example to the world of what a Christian community should be:

{W}e shall be as a city upon a hill: The eyes of all people are upon us, so that if we shall deal falsely with our God in this work we have undertaken, and so cause him to withdraw his present help from us, we shall be made a story and a by-word through the world: we shall open the mouths of enemies to speak evil of the ways of God and all professors for God's sake. We shall shame the faces of many of God's worthy servants, and cause their prayers to be turned into curses upon us, till we be consumed out of the good land whither we are going. 

    Although their original landing at Salem, Mass. did not prove fruitful, within a year, 1,000 Puritans emigrated to America on seventeen different ships.  Boston soon became the capital and leading city of the colony.  Many more followed.  Within ten years, 80,000 left England for various places of refuge in the world; although the majority to the Western Hemisphere, either to New England or to islands in the West Indies.

    By carrying the company charter with him to New England, Winthrop had set in motion the machinery for the company to resolve itself into a colonial government.  The charter provided for power to lie with a General Court.  The General Court would elect a Governor and assistants.  Only shareholders (called "freemen") were allowed to sit on the General Court. (The phrase used was that they had the "freedom of the company.").  Only Winthrop and a few others had this status, which suited him just fine, as he could control things.  Later, however, a group of about 100 settlers asked to be designated freemen.  Winthrop admitted them, but stipulated that only Church members could participate in the government.  The new freedmen were allowed only to choose assistants, who chose a governor. This violated some provisions of the company charter, but Winthrop conveniently kept it hidden (a REAL model of "Christian charity.")  In 1634, delegates to Boston met and forced Winthrop to produce the Charter.  When they saw its true terms, they set up a representative assembly to represent the colony.  Later, in 1644, the assembly split into two houses, a true bicameral legislature.

    Massachusetts Bay Company thus became the government of the colony:  Church membership, rather than ownership of company stock, was a prerequisite for becoming a freeman (that is, a voter).  The General Court was divided into two houses:

bulletThe House of Assistants (similar to the House of Lords)
bulletThe House of Deputies (similar to the House of Commons)

Rhode Island:  Roger Williams arrived in Massachusetts in 1631.  He was the purest of the Puritans, and not happy that the good folk at Massachusetts had not repudiated the Church of England entirely.  He traveled to Plymouth (where the true Separatists lived) where he was well received for a time as a charismatic preacher; however, Gov. Bradford noted that Williams "fell into strange opinions."  In particular, Williams questioned the right of the King to confiscate Indian lands.

    When Williams ultimately returned to Salem, he held that the true church must separate itself entirely from the "unregenerate."  He therefore concluded that no true church was possible, except for possibly his wife and himself, and at times, he wasn't sure his wife qualified.

    Among Williams' beliefs

bulletChurch purity could only be achieved if church and state were completely separated from one another.
bulletWorship must be free and uncoerced.  "Forced worship stinks in God's nostrils."
bulletThe New Testament nullified the Old, therefore the Puritans should not call themselves the "New Israel."
bulletThe King had no right to refer to Europe as "Christendom."  This was blasphemy.
bulletThe Government had no authority to force an oath of allegiance and to insist on religious conformity.

    The members of the Puritan community were remarkably tolerant of Roger Williams.  It was he, not they, who was the picture of intolerance.  He declared at one point that there were no true churches in Massachusetts, and later said there were no true churches in the world, and he would only take communion with his wife. The Puritans tried to reason with him, but he refused, and was banished to England.  John Winthrop allowed him to secretly escape to live among the Narragansett Indians, to "seek his own Providence."   About 100 people followed him, not necessarily those persecuted for conscience's sake, but reprobates and other misfits, so much so that Williams later commented,  "Rhode Island had long drunk of the cup of as great liberties as any people that we hear of under the whole heaven . . . But, the sweet cup hath rendered many of us wanton and too active."

    In 1636, Williams founded the town of Providence.  The colony, Rhode Island (named from the corruption of a Dutch phrase meaning "red earth") became the first colony to practice religious tolerance.

    Anne Hutchinson was another problem for the New England authorities.  She held meetings in her Boston home to discuss sermons, but the sermons soon turned into her own commentaries on religious matters.  She said that she had received direct revelation from the Holy Spirit, and that there were only a few ministers in the community who preached the appropriate "covenant of grace."  Others, she said, promoted a "covenant of works," thereby implying that good works would lead to salvation.  

    Her remarks were highly inflammatory.  The Puritans were strict Calvinists who believed that only God's grace could save one, not works.  They also believed that only ministers could appropriately interpret the will of God for the people and prepare them for the possibility of salvation.  Hutchinson's remarks were similar to Antinomian doctrine, a heresy to the Puritans, which held that faith and God's grace freed one from obeying the moral law. Her greatest sin, of course, was that she was a woman making such comments in a male-oriented society.  This was disruptive and threatened the fabric of the entire community.

    In 1637, Hutchinson was summoned before the General Court.  At the time, she was pregnant with her fourteenth child. She held her own before the authorities, citing chapter and verse of scripture to support her position.  She handled it so well that at one point John Winthrop (at this time Governor of the General Court) exploded: "We do not mean to discourse with those of your sex."  Winthrop later said of her, " if she had attended to household affairs, and such things as belong to women, and not gone out of her way and calling to meddle in such things as are proper for men, whose minds are stronger, etc., she had kept her wits, and might have improved them usefully and honorably in the place God had set her."  

    Eventually, Hutchinson commented that she received divine inspiration personally.  This was blasphemy, and she was banished in 1638.  She and her family settled near Rhode Island, where she also quarreled with Roger Williams.  The strain of the ordeal caused the child to be stillborn, which the authorities at Massachusetts Bay said was God's punishment for her sins.  Later, after her husband died in 1643, she moved to New York, but she and five of her children were massacred in an Indian attack on an area known as Hell Gate, Rhode Island.  The Puritans felt no remorse at the death of Hutchinson or her children, rather Winthrop remarked, "God's hand is apparently seen herein, to pick out this woful [sic] woman, to make unheard-of heavy example...Appropriate that the massacre took place at this `Hell Gate.' Proud Jezebel has at last been cast down." {Apparently another example of Winthrop's "Christian Charity."}

    In 1640, Rhode Island and Providence Plantation formed a confederation, and in 1643, secured a charter.  

    Connecticut:  A group of Plymouth Puritans settled in the valley of the Connecticut River in 1633.  Although at first governed by the Massachusetts General Court, the colony became self-governing in 1637.  In 1639, the Connecticut General Court adopted the Fundamental Orders of Connecticut providing for a government similar to Massachusetts government; however in Connecticut, voting was not limited to church members.

    In 122, the Council of New England made a land grant to Sir Ferdinando Gorges and Captain John Mason.  In 1629, the two divided the territory.  Mason's territory was named New Hampshire, and Gorges became Maine.  A series of legal and political maneuvers led to Maine's incorporation into Massachusetts in 1691.


Indians of New England

     Approximately 100,000 Indians lived in the New England area at the time of settlement by Europeans.  The Europeans considered the Indians an alien race who were a problem for their settlements.  The Dutch and French were primarily concerned with the fur trade, and set up settlements for trading with the Indians, and as a result, their relationship with the Indians was reasonably amicable.  The English settlers were more concerned with fishing and farming, and considered the Indians a nuisance to be gotten out of the way.

    New England Indians had practiced "slash and burn" agriculture.  A forest area was cleared by burning and the ashes turned under to fertilize the soil.  When the soil appeared exhausted, new areas were burned, and the older area allowed to grow.  The low growing brush and trees of the previous area provided ideal habitat for turkeys and deer, as well as for nuts and berries.

    The Indians initially helped the Europeans by showing them how to raise corn; and traded with them for manufactured goods, particularly metal tools.  Problems arose when the Europeans insisted on more and more land, infringing on Indian farmland.  Rather than clear the land themselves, they often confiscated lands previously cleared by the Indians under the pretext that the Indians were not making suitable use of the land.  If the Indians resisted, they were forced off the land.

    Many New England settlements and towns with the suffix "field" (Springfield, Deerfield, etc) were actually Indian fields which English settlers confiscated.

        New England Indians were unable to resist the English settlers for two reasons:


The Indians frequently fought among themselves; frequently over hunting rights and territory.


European Diseases, primarily smallpox, devastated them.  The English, convinced that God was on their side, considered the diseases to be "divine harvest," God's way of making the land available to them.  Gov. Bradford said that the Indians died of smallpox "like rotten sheep."

   The Pequot War: Problems erupted in 1636 when the Pequot Indians were accused of murdering a dishonest trader.  The English attacked a Pequot village, and set fire to it. When Indians ran from the flames, the settlers shot them, killing all but seven.  Many of those killed were women and children.

        The Pequot Chief, Sassacus, then attacked the colonists, but the colonists, led by John Mason, burned their villages.  In one particularly horrific event, four hundred Indian men, women, and children were burned to death when Mason's troops set fire to an Indian palisade.  The Puritan English, of course, considered this to be God's judgment upon the Indians and His deliverance of them.  Said Mason:

And indeed such a dreadful Terror did the Almighty let fall upon their Spirits, that they would fly from us and run into the very Flames, where many of them perished. And when the Fort was thoroughly Fired, Command was given, that all should fall off and surround the Fort; which was readily attended by all; only one Arthur Smith being so wounded that he could not move out of the Place, who was happily espied by Lieutenant Bull, and by him rescued. The Fire was kindled on the North East Side to windward; which did swiftly over-run the Fort, to the extream Amazement of the Enemy, and great Rejoycing of our selves. Some of them climbing to the Top of the Palisade; others of them running into the very Flames; many of them gathering to windward, lay pelting at us with their Arrows; and we repayed them with our small shot  

    Later, in writing of the encounter, Cotton Mather, a noted Puritan minister said the slaughter of the Indians was "a sweet sacrifice," and "gave the praise thereof to God."  A detailed account is contained in Mason's Narrative of the Pequot War. By the terms of the Treaty of Hartford (1638) the Pequot nation was declared dissolved.

    After the Pequot War, the English settlers continued encroaching on Indian lands, and at the same time attempted to convert the Indians to Christianity. Large numbers were forced into settlements known as "praying towns," the inhabitants thereof known as "praying Indians."  Additional problems resulted when settler's livestock trampled and ate Indian crops.  Although the settlers were legally responsible, the law was seldom enforced, as the Indians were considered expendable. Violence again erupted in 1673 when the chief of the Wampanoags, Metacomet, whom the Puritans called King Philip, and the son of Massasoit, aligned his tribe with several others.  A praying Indian named Sassamon, who had been to Harvard, was murdered by the Indians, and Plymouth colony officials executed three Wampanoag Indians.  In typical Puritan fashion, the three alleged murderers had been tried by a jury comprised of English settlers and Indians, but the Indians were only allowed to observe, not to participate in deliberations. 

   The resulting war, King Philip's War, was the first in which the Indians used flintlock rifles. It was one of the deadliest wars in history in terms of percentage of casualties.  Over 2,000 people were killed.  The Indians were successful at first, even threatening Boston.  However, Metacomet had not allied with the Mohicans, (Mohegans) who allied with the settlers and attacked the Wampanoags.  Also, because of the war, the Indians had not planted sufficient crops, and their food supplies ran short. Both weakened the Indian front. Philips wife and son were captured, and sold into slavery in the Bahamas.  Indian resistance soon collapsed, and the surviving Indians were forced to resettle in villages under white supervision. Metacomet escaped, but was later hunted down and killed in 1676.  His head was placed on a pike as a reminder to other Indians who might try to revolt.  Sporadic fighting continued for several years, but organized Indian resistance in New England was at an end.  Read an account of King Philip's War

   The English Civil War in America: Colonial settlement slowed dramatically while King Charles I and Parliament challenged each other's authority.  After Charles was beheaded and Oliver Cromwell became Lord Protector, English Puritans saw little need to intervene in Colonial affairs, particularly in Puritan New England, so the Colonies were left largely alone.  In 1643, Massachusetts Bay, Plymouth, Connecticut and New Haven colonies formed the Confederation of New England to defend against the Indians as well as the Dutch and French.  The charter also provided that the colonies would jointly promote Christianity. 

        When Charles II was restored to the throne, settlement resumed.  No retaliation against Puritan New England developed. The only change was that the colony of New Haven was absorbed into the colony of Connecticut.