New England Colonies

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New England Colonies

In addition to wealth, there were other reasons people came to North America. Religious dissent (disagreement with the Anglican Church) was one of the most common. Since Europeans strongly identified religion with nationality, English leaders viewed any protest or refusal to follow Anglican church teachings as a betrayal. As a result, those with different religious views saw North America as a place to escape persecution. One such group was the Puritans. They wanted to establish a community built solely on "pure biblical teaching" rather than Anglican traditions. In 1620, a group of Puritans established a colony at Plymouth, Massachusetts. These Puritans became known as the "Pilgrims" and celebrated the first Thanksgiving in 1621. Later, another group of Puritans settled further north and established the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Eventually, Roger Williams and Anne Hutchinson helped to form Rhode Island after they left Massachusetts over disagreements with Puritan leaders. Other Puritan settlers founded Connecticut and New Hampshire as well. Thus, New England was a region founded on religion and strongly influenced by the Puritan faith.
New England's Colonial Economy

Rather than raising cash crops, the New England colonies relied heavily on the Atlantic Ocean. Shipbuilding, trade, and fishing became leading industries in the region. New Englanders transported goods from England to other regions, like the West Indies. From these regions, they acquired products like sugarcane, molasses, and rum that they could then trade for African slaves, etc. As a result, Boston, Massachusetts became a booming urban center for shipping and New England commerce. Although New Englanders farmed as well, their farms tended to be smaller and for the primary purpose of allowing families to be self-sufficient.

New England Education

The Puritans had a strong sense of faith, family, and community and were the first British colonists to promote public education. Puritans believed that everyone should be able to read the Bible. Therefore, they put a high priority on literacy. This emphasis on education eventually spread to other fields as well. In 1647, Massachusetts passed laws requiring public schools for towns of 50 families or more. In addition, towns of 100 or more families were required to establish grammar schools for the purpose of preparing young boys for college. Generally, only boys attended these schools, while girls were trained for "womanly duties" at home (although there were some exceptions). New Englanders also founded two of the nation's earliest colleges: Harvard and Yale. Initially, the primary purpose of these colleges was to train ministers.

The Mayflower Compact”

Jean Leon Gerome Ferris
New England Government

In New England, the first efforts at self-government were defined in the Mayflower Compact. The Puritan settlers at Plymouth drafted this document while still on board the Mayflower (the ship that transported them to North America). It established an elected legislature and asserted that the government derived its power from the people of the colony. It also implied the colonists' desire to be ruled by a local government, rather than England. This belief in representative government often took the form of town meetings, in which local, tax-paying citizens (usually property owners) met together to discuss and vote on issues. Once again, it gave citizens a say in their government and helped to firmly establish a belief in democratic ideals. However, despite advocating representative government in principle, the Puritans still believed firmly that government should seek to enforce the will of God rather than satisfy the will of the people. For this reason, power tended to rest in the hands of church leaders and could often be very authoritative (dictating to colonists what the rules of their society would be). As a result, tensions sometimes arose between church/government leaders and the people.


Signing of the Fundamental Orders 1638-1639” by Albert Herter
Religion and Dissent

The Puritan church was a central part of life in New England. In Massachusetts, for instance, every settler had to attend and support the Puritan church. Dissenters (those who disagreed with church leaders) were often banished from the colony. Eventually, Roger Williams and Anne Hutchinson both left Massachusetts because they disagreed with teaching of the Puritan church in the colony. Each played key roles in the founding of Rhode Island as a new colony. In addition, Thomas Hooker also disagreed with the church and left Massachusetts in 1636 to found Connecticut. He and his followers wrote a new body of laws for their settlement known as the Fundamental Orders of Connecticut. It stated that the government's power came only from the "free consent of the people" and set limits on what the government could do. Such principles eventually provided a foundation for the government of the United States following the American Revolution. Eventually, unrest in Massachusetts took its toll. The colony lost its charter in 1684. In 1691, despite the Puritans' best attempts to resist the Crown, Massachusetts became a royal colony under the leadership of the king's appointed governor. The Crown also established a new, representative legislature and abolished the requirement that every member must be a member of the church.

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