The New England Colonies of British America included the colonies of Connecticut, Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, Massachusetts, and Province of New Hampshire. They were part of the Thirteen Colonies, along with the Middle Colonies and the Southern Colonies. These were early colonies of what would later be the states in New England. Captain John Smith, of Pocahontas fame, was the author of "A Description of New England" published in 1616, first applying the term "New England" to coastal lands of North America from the Long Island Sound to Newfoundland.
In 1614 the Dutch explorer Adriaen Block sailed through Long Island Sound and explored the Connecticut River. The Dutch built a small fort in 1633 on the site of present-day Hartford, but they abandoned it in 1654 as English settlers moved into the area in increasing numbers.
Edward Winslow of Plymouth Colony was apparently the first English colonist to visit (1632) Connecticut, and in 1633 members of the Plymouth Colony established a trading post on the site of Windsor . This small Pilgrim enterprise was soon absorbed by Puritan settlers from the Massachusetts Bay Company. These settlers had been attracted to the area by the excellent reports brought back by one of their members, John Oldham, in 1633. Oldham returned to the Connecticut area in 1634 and established still another trading post, which became Wethersfield . The following year Puritans flocked in great numbers to the Connecticut River Valley.
In 1636, Thomas Hooker and his congregation left Newtown and settled near the Dutch trading post that had been established on the site of Hartford. The Pequot people resisted white settlement, but they were defeated by the English in the short Pequot War of 1637. Relations remained relatively peaceful until King Philip's War in 1675-76. In 1638-39 representatives of the three Connecticut River towns-Hartford, Windsor, and Wethersfield-met at Hartford and formed the colony of Connecticut. They also adopted the Fundamental Orders , which established a government for the colony.
A second colony, Saybrook, had been established at the mouth of the Connecticut River in 1635 by an English group. The colony's founders (who included Viscount Saye and Sile and Baron Brooke, for whom the colony was named) sold the Saybrook settlement to Connecticut colony in 1644. Connecticut's population expanded gradually, and by 1662 the colony included over a dozen towns, including Saybrook, New London , Fairfield , and Norwalk , as well as East Hampton and Southampton on Long Island. Another Puritan settlement, New Haven, was established in 1638. It was not connected with Connecticut colony.
In 1643, New Haven and Connecticut colonies joined with Massachusetts Bay colony and Plymouth colony to form the New England Confederation , a loose union for mutual defense. In 1662, Connecticut sent its governor, John Winthrop (1606-76), to London to secure a royal charter for the colony. He obtained the charter, by which Connecticut won its legal right to exist as a corporate colony and also acquired New Haven.
The coast of what is now Massachusetts was probably skirted by Norsemen in the 11th cent., and Europeans of various nationalities (but mostly English) sailed offshore in the late 16th and early 17th cent. Settlement began when the Pilgrims arrived on the Mayflower and landed (1620) at a point they named Plymouth (for their port of embarkation in England). Their first governor, John Carver, died the next year, but under his successor, William Bradford, the Plymouth Colony took firm hold. Weathering early difficulties, the colony eventually prospered.
Other Englishmen soon established fishing and trading posts nearby-Andrew Weston (1622) at Wessagusset (now Weymouth) and Thomas Wollaston (1625) at Mt. Wollaston, which was renamed Merry Mount (now Quincy ) when Thomas Morton took charge. The fishing post established (1623) on Cape Ann by Roger Conant failed, but in 1626 he founded Naumkeag ( Salem ), which in 1628 became the nucleus of a Puritan colony led by John Endecott of the New England Company and chartered by the private Council for New England.
In 1629 the New England Company was reorganized as the Massachusetts Bay Company after receiving a more secure patent from the crown. In 1630 John Winthrop led the first large Puritan migration from England (900 settlers on 11 ships). Boston supplanted Salem as capital of the colony, and Winthrop replaced Endecott as governor. After some initial adjustments to allow greater popular participation and the representation of outlying settlements in the General Court (consisting of a governor, deputy governor, assistants, and deputies), the "Bay Colony" continued to be governed as a private company for the next 50 years. It was also a thoroughgoing Puritan theocracy (see Puritanism ), in which clergymen such as John Cotton enjoyed great political influence. The status of freeman was restricted (until 1664) to church members, and the state was regarded as an agency of God's will on earth. Due to a steady stream of newcomers from England, the South Shore (i.e., S of Boston), the North Shore, and the interior were soon dotted with firmly rooted communities.
The early Puritans were primarily agricultural people, although a merchant class soon formed. Most of the inhabitants lived in villages, beyond which lay their privately owned fields. The typical village was composed of houses (also individually owned) grouped around the common-a plot of land held in common by the community. The dominant structure on the common was the meetinghouse, where the pastor, the most important figure in the community, held long Sabbath services. The meetinghouse of the chief village of a town (in New England a town corresponds to what is usually called a township elsewhere in the United States) was also the site of the town meeting, traditionally regarded as a foundation of American democracy. In practice the town meeting served less to advance democracy than to enforce unanimity and conformity, and participation was as a rule restricted to male property holders who were also church members.
Because they were eager for everyone to have the ability to study scripture and always insisted on a learned ministry, the Puritans zealously promoted the development of educational facilities. The Boston Latin School was founded in 1635, one year before Harvard was established, and in 1647 a law was passed requiring elementary schools in towns of 50 or more families. These were not free schools, but they were open to all and are considered the beginning of popular education in the United States.
Native American resentment of the Puritan presence resulted in the Pequot War (see Pequot ) of 1637, after which the four Puritan colonies (Massachusetts Bay, Plymouth, Connecticut, and New Haven) formed the New England Confederation , the first voluntary union of American colonies. In 1675-76, the confederation broke the power of the Native Americans of southern New England in King Philip's War . In the course of the French and Indian Wars , however, frontier settlements such as Deerfield were devastated.
The population of the Massachusetts Bay Colony naturally rejoiced at the triumph of the Puritan Revolution in England, but with the restoration of Charles II in 1660 the colony's happy prospects faded. Its recently extended jurisdiction over Maine was for a time discounted by royal authority, and, worse still, its charter was revoked in 1684. The withdrawal of the charter of the Massachusetts Bay Colony had long been expected because the colony had consistently violated the terms of the charter and repeatedly evaded or ignored royal orders by operating an illegal mint, establishing religious rather than property qualifications for suffrage, and discriminating against Anglicans.
In 1691 a new charter united Massachusetts Bay, Plymouth, and Maine into the single royal colony of Massachusetts. This charter abolished church membership as a test for voting, although Congregationalism remained the established religion. Widespread anxiety over loss of the original charter contributed to the witchcraft panic that reached its climax in Salem in the summer of 1692. Nineteen persons were hanged and one crushed to death for refusing to confess to the practice of witchcraft. The Salem trials ended abruptly when colonial authorities, led by Cotton Mather , became alarmed at their excesses.
By the mid-18th cent. the Massachusetts colony had come a long way from its humble agricultural beginnings. Fish, lumber, and farm products were exported in a lively trade carried by ships built in Massachusetts and manned by local seamen. That the menace of French Canada was removed by 1763 was due in no small measure to the unstinting efforts of England, but the increasing British tendency to regulate colonial affairs, especially trade (see Navigation Acts ), without colonial advice, was most unwelcome. Because of the colony's extensive shipping interests, e.g., the traffic in molasses, rum, and slaves (the "triangular trade" ), it sorely felt these restrictions.
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