3-2 New England Colonies

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3-2 New England Colonies

  • Religion influenced the settlement and government of the New England colonies.

  • The Puritan work ethic and religious beliefs influence American culture today.


In 1605, English fishermen captured and enslaved a Native American named Squanto and took him to England. While there, he learned to speak English. After a series of misadventures, including serving as a slave in Spain, Squanto returned to America in 1619. There he discovered that his Pawtuxet tribe had been wiped out by disease in the years 1616–1618. In 1621, Squanto set about helping the English plant corn, beans, and pumpkins on tribal lands. Colonist William Bradford made the following comment about Squanto.
Squanto . . . was a special instrument sent of God for their [the colonists’] good beyond their expectation. . . . He directed them how to set their corn, where to take fish, and to procure other commodities, and was also their pilot to bring them to unknown places.
William Bradford, quoted in The Pilgrim Reader
Thanks to Squanto, the first settlers in New England prospered and lived in peace with the Native Americans. In this section, you will learn about the Pilgrims and Puritans, their relations with the Native Americans, and their settlement of the New England colonies.
The Voyage of the Mayflower
In the early 1500s, King Henry VIII of England broke that country’s ties with the Catholic Church and established the Church of England, an official state church under his control. In the early 1600s, a religious group called the Separatists called for a total break with the Church of England. They thought it was too much like the Catholic Church.
The Pilgrims were a Separatist group. King James attacked them for rejecting England’s official church. To escape this harsh treatment, the Pilgrims fled to Holland, a country known for its acceptance of different opinions. Eventually, the Pilgrims became dissatisfied with life in Holland. They approached the Virginia Company and asked if they could settle in America “as a distinct body by themselves.” The Virginia Company arranged for them to settle on land within its boundaries on the eastern coast of North America.

On a cold, raw November day in 1620, a ship called the Mayflower arrived off Cape Cod on the Massachusetts coast. Blown north of its course, the Mayflower landed in an area that John Smith had mapped and called New England. They landed at a site that had been named Plymouth.

Because the Pilgrims landed outside the limits of the Virginia Company, their charter did not apply. For the sake of order, the men aboard the Mayflower signed an agreement called the Mayflower Compact. In it, they vowed to obey laws agreed upon for the good of the colony. The Mayflower Compact helped establish the idea of self-government and majority rule.
The Pilgrims Found Plymouth
Like the early settlers at Jamestown, the Pilgrims at Plymouth endured a starving time. That first winter, disease and death struck with such fury that “the living were scarce able to bury the dead.” Half the group had died by spring.
However, energy, hope, and help returned. One day a Native American walked up to a group of colonists. To their astonishment, he called out, “Welcome, Englishmen.” This was Samoset, a Pemaquid who had learned to speak English from European fishermen. Samoset introduced the settlers to another Native American named Squanto, a Pawtuxet, who also spoke English.
The Pilgrims had angered the Native Americans by taking their corn. Squanto acted as an interpreter between the Pilgrims and Chief Massasoit. He helped them to negotiate a peace treaty and showed them how to plant, hunt, and fish. While their crops grew, the colonists began trading with the Native Americans for furs and preparing lumber to ship back to England in order to make a profit.
Sometime in the fall—no one knows exactly when—the Plymouth settlement celebrated the blessings of a good harvest by holding a three-day feast. It was the first Thanksgiving. This Thanksgiving came to represent the peace that existed at that time between the Native Americans and Pilgrims. Thanks to the help of Squanto and other Native Americans, the Pilgrims learned to survive in their new environment. Soon more people would sail to New England seeking religious freedom.
The Puritans Come to Massachusetts Bay
Between about 1630 and 1640, a religious group called the Puritans left England to escape bad treatment by King James I. Unlike the Separatists, who wanted to break away from the Church of England, the Puritans wanted to reform, or “purify,” its practices. By the thousands, Puritan families left for the Americas. Their leaving is known as the Great Migration. Many thousands of Puritans left their homeland to found new settlements around the world. Of these settlers, about 20,000 crossed the Atlantic Ocean to New England.
Many Puritan merchants had invested in the Massachusetts Bay Company. In 1629, the company received a royal charter to settle land in New England. In 1630, 11 well-supplied ships carried about 1,000 passengers to the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Unlike earlier colonists, the Puritans were well prepared and did not suffer through a starving time. John Winthrop was the colony’s Puritan governor. He stated that the new colony would be a commonwealth, a community in which people work together for the good of the whole.
So shall we keep the unity of the spirit, in the bond of peace. . . . Ten of us will be able to resist a thousand of our enemies. . . . For we must consider that we shall be as a City upon a Hill, the eyes of all people are on us.
John Winthrop, “Model of Christian Charity”
The New England Way
The basic unit of the commonwealth was the congregation—a group of people who belong to the same church. Each Puritan congregation set up its own town. The meetinghouse was the most important building in each town. There people gathered for town meetings, a form of self-government in which people made laws and other decisions for the community. In the Massachusetts Bay Colony, only male church members could vote or hold office. They elected representatives to a lawmaking body called the General Court, which in turn chose the governor.
By law, everyone in town had to attend church services held in the meetinghouse. The sermon, the most important part of the church service, provided instruction in the “New England Way.” This was a term used by the Puritans to describe both their beliefs and their society, which emphasized duty, godliness, hard work, and honesty. The Puritans thought that amusements such as dancing and playing games would lead to laziness. They believed that God required them to work long and hard at their vocation.
The Puritan work ethic helped contribute to the rapid growth and success of the New England colonies. The New England Way also depended on education. Because the Puritans wanted everyone to be able to read the Bible, laws required that all children learn to read.
Some Puritan congregations set up new colonies. In 1636, Thomas Hooker moved his congregation to the Connecticut Valley. There they wrote and adopted the Fundamental Orders of Connecticut in 1639. In effect, these laws were a constitution. The Fundamental Orders extended voting rights to non church members and limited the power of the governor. They expanded the idea of representative government.
The first European settlement in New Hampshire was a village near Portsmouth in 1623. In 1638, John Wheelwright established the town of Exeter. The town’s founders drew up the Exeter Compact, which was based on the Mayflower Compact.
Challenges to Puritan Leaders

Not everyone agreed with the New England Way. Roger Williams was a minister in Salem, Massachusetts, who founded the first Baptist church in America. He opposed forced attendance at church. He also opposed the English colonists’ taking of Native American lands by force. Because of his beliefs, the General Court forced Williams to leave the colony. In 1636, he fled southward and founded the colony of Rhode Island, which guaranteed religious freedom and the separation of church and state.

Anne Hutchinson believed that a person could worship God without the help of a church, minister, or Bible. She conducted discussions in her home that challenged church authority. Hutchinson was brought to trial and forced to leave Massachusetts. In 1638, she fled to Rhode Island.

Another religious group was the Quakers. Their name came from an early leader’s statement that they should “tremble [quake] at the word of the Lord.” Opponents coined the name as an insult. Quakers challenged the Massachusetts commonwealth. They believed that each person could know God directly through “an inner light.” Neither ministers nor the Bible was needed. Quakers also believed in treating Native Americans fairly, which set them apart from other colonists. For such beliefs, Quakers were whipped, imprisoned, and hanged. Many left for Rhode Island.

King Philip’s War

The growing population of colonists began to force the Native Americans from their land. Europeans and Native Americans defined land ownership differently. To Europeans, land could be owned by individuals. To Native Americans, land belonged to everyone. Conflict over land resulted in warfare.
In 1675–1676, the Puritan colonies fought a brutal war with the Native Americans. This was known as King Philip’s War. “King Philip” was the English name of Metacom, leader of the Wampanoag. To help fight the war, Metacom organized an alliance of tribes.

The Wampanoag lost the war. Many were killed, while others were sold into slavery in the West Indies. Those who remained lost their land and were forced to become laborers. English settlers expanded even farther into Native American land.

The Salem Witchcraft Trials

Puritan New England was originally a society centered on the church. By the late 1600s, however, this had begun to change. The younger generations did not share the strict religious views of their parents. Several Salem village girls were told frightening stories about witches by Tituba, a slave from the West Indies. Pretending to be bewitched, the girls falsely accused others of witchcraft. The witch-hunts began in 1692. The clergy viewed the Salem witch-hunts and trials as a sign from God for the village to return to a strict Puritan lifestyle.

Hysteria spread through Salem. Those accused were forced to name others as witches. More than 100 people were arrested and tried. Of those, 20 were found guilty and put to death. Nineteen persons were hanged, and another was pressed to death by heavy stones when he refused to enter a plea in response to the charge of witchcraft. The panic was short-lived, and Salem came to its senses. The experience showed, however, how a society can create scapegoats for its problems.

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