Chapter 2
THE FORT AT JAMESTOWN The Jamestown settlement was beset with difficulties from its first days, and it was many decades
before it became a stable and successful town. In its early years, the colonists suffered from the climate, the lack of food, and
the spread of disease. They also struggled with the growing hostility of the neighboring Indians, illustrated in this map by the
figure of their cheif, Powhatan, in the upper right-hand corner. (Art Resource, NY)
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THE FIRST PERMANENT ENGLISH SETTLEMENTS were mostly business enterprises—
small, fragile communities, generally unprepared for the hardships they
were to face. As in Ireland, there were few efforts to blend English society
with the society of the natives. The Europeans attempted, as best they could,
to isolate themselves from the Indians and create enclosed societies that would be
wholly their own—“transplantations” of the English world they had left behind.
This proved an impossible task. The English immigrants to America found a
world populated by Native American tribes; by colonists, explorers, and traders
from Spain, France, and the Netherlands; and by immigrants from other parts of
Europe and, soon, Africa. American society was from the beginning a fusion of
many cultures—what historians have come to call a “middle ground,” in which
disparate people and cultures coexist.
All of British North America was, in effect, a borderland, or “middle ground,”
during the early years of colonization. Through much of the seventeenth century,
European colonies both relied upon and did battle with the Indian tribes and
struggled with challenges from other Europeans in their midst. Eventually, however,
some areas of English settlement—especially the growing communities along the
eastern seaboard—managed to dominate their own regions, marginalizing or
expelling Indians and other challengers. In these eastern colonies, the English
created signifi cant towns and cities; built political, religious, and educational
institutions; and created agricultural systems of great productivity. They also
developed substantial differences from one another—perhaps most notably in
the growth of a slave-driven agricultural economy in the South, which had few
counterparts in the North.
“Middle grounds” survived well into the nineteenth century in much of
North America, but increasingly in the borderland in the interior of the continent.
These were communities in which Europeans had not yet established full control,
in which both Indians and Europeans exercised infl uence and power and lived
intimately, if often uneasily, with one another.
1607 â—— Jamestown founded
1608 â—— Pilgrims fl ee to Holland from England
1612 â—— Tobacco production established in Virginia
1619 â—— First African workers arrive in Virginia
â—— Virginia House of Burgesses meets for fi rst time
1620 â—— Pilgrims found Plymouth colony
1620s â—— English colonization accelerates in the Caribbean
1622 â—— Powhatan Indians attack English colony in Virginia
1624 â—— Dutch establish settlement on Manhattan Island
1629 â—— New Hampshire and Maine established
1630 â—— Puritans establish Massachusetts Bay colony at
1634 â—— First English settlements founded in Maryland
1635 â—— Hartford settled in Connecticut
1636 â—— Roger Williams founds settlement in Rhode Island
1637 â—— Anne Hutchinson expelled from Massachusetts Bay
â—— Pequot War fought
1638 â—— Swedes and Finns establish New Sweden on the
Delaware River
1642–1649 ◗ English Civil War
1644 â—— Last major Powhatan uprisings against English
settlers in Virginia
1649 â—— Charles I executed
1655 â—— Civil war in Maryland temporarily unseats Catholic
1660 â—— English Restoration: Charles II becomes king
â—— First Navigation Act passed
1663 â—— Carolina colony chartered
â—— Second Navigation Act passed
1664 â—— English capture New Netherland
â—— New Jersey chartered
1673 â—— Third Navigation Act passed
1675 – 1676 ◗ King Philip’s War in New England
1676 ◗ Bacon’s Rebellion in Virginia
1681 â—— William Penn receives charter for Pennsylvania
1685 â—— James II becomes king
1686 â—— Dominion of New England established
1688 â—— Glorious Revolution in England: William and Mary
ascend throne
1689 â—— Glorious Revolution in America: rebellion breaks
out against Andros in New England
â—— Leisler leads rebellion in New York
1732 â—— Georgia chartered
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women, although some native women are thought to
have lived in the settlements with the English men. With
so few women, settlers could not establish real households, could not order their domestic lives, and had diffi –
culty feeling any sense of a permanent stake in the
Greed and rootlessness contributed to the failure to
grow suffi cient food; inadequate diets contributed to the
colonists’ vulnerability to disease; the ravages of disease
made it diffi cult for the settlers to recover from their early
mistakes. The result was a community without the means
to sustain itself. By January 1608, when ships appeared
with additional men and supplies, all but 38 of the fi rst
104 colonists were dead. Jamestown, now facing extinction, survived the crisis largely because of the efforts of
twenty-seven-year-old Captain
John Smith. He was already a
famous world traveler, the hero of implausible travel narratives he had written and published. But he was also a
capable organizer. Leadership in the colony had been
divided among the several members of a council who
quarreled continually. In the fall of 1608, however, Smith
became council president and asserted his will. He
imposed work and order on the community. He also organized raids on neighboring Indian villages to steal food.
During the colony’s second winter, fewer than a dozen (in
a population of about 200) died. By the summer of 1609,
when Smith was deposed from the council and returned
to England to receive treatment for a serious powder
burn, the colony was showing promise of survival.
The London Company (now calling itself the Virginia
Company) was, in the meantime, dreaming of bigger
things. In 1609 it obtained a new charter from the king,
which increased its power over the colony and enlarged
the area of land to which it had title. The company raised
additional capital by selling stock to “adventurers” who
would remain in England but share in future profi ts. It
attracted new settlers by offering additional stock to
“planters” who were willing to migrate at their own
expense. And it provided free passage to Virginia for
poorer people who would agree to serve the company
for seven years. In the spring of 1609, confi dent that it
was now poised to transform Jamestown into a vibrant,
successful venture, the company launched a “great fl eet”
of nine vessels with about 600 people (including some
women and children) aboard—headed for Virginia.
More disaster followed. One of the Virginia-bound ships
was lost at sea in a hurricane. Another ran aground on one
of the Bermuda islands and was unable to free itself for
months. Many of those who
reached Jamestown, still weak
from their long and stormy voyage, succumbed to fevers
before the cold weather came. The winter of 1609–1610
After James I issued his 1606 charters to the London and
Plymouth Companies, the principal obstacle to founding
new American colonies was, as usual, money. The
Plymouth group made an early, unsuccessful attempt to
establish a colony at Sagadoahoc, on the coast of Maine; but
in the aftermath of that failure, it largely abandoned its colonizing efforts. The London Company, by contrast, moved
quickly and decisively. Only a few months after receiving
its charter, it launched a colonizing expedition headed for
Virginia—a party of 144 men aboard three ships: the Godspeed, the Discovery, and the Susan Constant.
The Founding of Jamestown
Only 104 men survived the journey. They reached the
American coast in the spring of 1607, sailed into the Chesapeake Bay and up a river they named the James, and
established their colony on a peninsula extending from
the river’s northern bank. They called it Jamestown. The
colonists had chosen their site poorly. In an effort to avoid
the mistakes of Roanoke (whose residents were assumed
to have been killed by Indians), they selected what they
believed to be an easily defended location—an inland setting that they believed would offer them security. But the
site was low and swampy, hot and humid in the summer,
and prey to outbreaks of malaria. It was surrounded by
thick woods, which were diffi cult to clear for cultivation.
And it lay within the territories of powerful local Indians,
a confederation led by the imperial chief Powhatan. The
result could hardly have been more disastrous.
The initial colonists, too many of whom were adventurous gentlemen and too few of whom were willing
laborers, ran into serious diffi culties from the moment they
landed. Much like the Indians to the south who had succumbed quickly to European diseases when fi rst exposed
to them, these English settlers had had no prior exposure, and thus no immunity, to the infections of the new
land. Malaria, in particular, debilitated the colony, killing
some and weakening others so they could do virtually no
work. Because the promoters in London demanded a
quick return on their investment, the colonists spent
much of their limited and dwindling energy on futile
searches for gold. They made only slightly more successful efforts to pile up lumber, tar, pitch, and iron for export.
Agriculture was a low priority, in part because they
wrongly assumed that they could rely on the Indians to
provide them with food.
The London Company promoters had little interest in
creating a family-centered community, and at fi rst they
sent no women to Jamestown. The absence of English
women made it diffi cult for the settlers to establish any
semblance of a “society.” The colonists were seldom able
(and also seldom willing) to intermarry with native
Early Problems
John Smith
The Starving Time
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became known as the “starving time,” a period worse than
anything before. The local Indians, antagonized by John
Smith’s raids and other hostile actions by the early English
settlers, killed off the livestock in the woods and kept the
colonists barricaded within their palisade. The Europeans
lived on what they could fi nd: “dogs, cats, rats, snakes, toadstools, horsehides,” and even the “corpses of dead men,” as
one survivor recalled. The following May, the migrants who
had run aground and been stranded on Bermuda fi nally
arrived in Jamestown. They found only about 60 people
(out of 500 residents the previous summer) still alive—and
those so weakened by the ordeal that they seemed scarcely
human. There seemed no point in staying on. The new
arrivals took the survivors onto their ship, abandoned the
settlement, and sailed downriver for home.
That might have been the end of Jamestown had it not
been for an extraordinary twist of fate. As the refugees
proceeded down the James toward the Chesapeake Bay,
they met an English ship coming up the river—part of a
fl eet bringing supplies and the colony’s fi rst governor,
Lord De La Warr. The departing settlers agreed to turn
around and return to Jamestown. New relief expeditions
with hundreds of colonists soon began to arrive, and the
effort to turn a profi t in Jamestown resumed.
De La Warr and his successors (Sir Thomas Dale and Sir
Thomas Gates) imposed a harsh and rigid discipline on
the colony. They organized settlers into work gangs. They sentenced offenders to be fl ogged,
hanged, or broken on the wheel. But this communal system of labor did not function effectively for long. Settlers
often evaded work, “presuming that howsoever the harvest prospered, the general store must maintain them.”
Governor Dale soon concluded that the colony would
fare better if the colonists had personal incentives to
work. He began to permit the private ownership and cultivation of land. Landowners would repay the company
with part-time work and contributions of grain to its
Under the leadership of these fi rst, harsh governors,
Virginia was not always a happy place. But it survived and
even expanded. New settlements began lining the river
above and below Jamestown. The expansion was partly a
result of the order and discipline the governors at times
managed to impose. It was partly a product of increased
military assaults on the local Indian tribes, which provided protection for the new settlements. But it also
occurred because the colonists had at last discovered a
marketable crop: tobacco.
Europeans had become aware of tobacco soon after
Columbus’s fi rst return from the West Indies, where he had
seen the Cuban natives smoking small cigars (tabacos),
which they inserted in the nostril. By the early seventeenth
century, tobacco from the Spanish colonies was already in
wide use in Europe. Some critics denounced it as a poisonous weed, the cause of many diseases. King James I himself
led the attack with “A Counterblaste to Tobacco” (1604), in
which he urged his people not to imitate “the barbarous
and beastly manners of the wild, godless, and slavish Indians, especially in so vile and stinking a custom.” Other critics
were concerned because England’s tobacco purchases from
the Spanish colonies meant a drain of English gold to the
Spanish importers. Still, the demand for tobacco soared.
Then in 1612, the Jamestown planter John Rolfe began
to experiment in Virginia with a harsh strain of tobacco
that local Indians had been growing for years. He produced crops of high quality and found ready buyers in
England. Tobacco cultivation
quickly spread up and down the
James. The character of this
De La Warr’s Harsh
Virginia colony
Fairfax proprietary
To Lord Baltimore, 1632
Granville proprietary
(1682) Date settlement founded
0 50 mi
0 50 100 km
Boundary claimed by Lord Baltimore, 1632
Boundary settlement, 1750
Potomac R. Chesapeake Bay
Albemarle Sound
Rappahannock R.
(c. 1648)
St. Mary’s (1634)
Fort Royal
Fort Charles
Fort Henry
(Middle Plantation)
Jamestown (1607)
Elizabeth City
Newport News
(Fort Christina)
THE GROWTH OF THE CHESAPEAKE, 1607–1750 This map shows
the political forms of European settlement in the region of the
Chesapeake Bay in the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries.
Note the several different kinds of colonial enterprises: the royal
colony of Virginia, controlled directly by the English crown after the
failure of the early commercial enterprises there; and the proprietary
regions of Maryland, northern Virginia, and North Carolina, which
were under the control of powerful English aristocrats. â—† Did these
political differences have any signifi cant effect on the economic
activities of the various Chesapeake colonies?
Emergence of the
Tobacco Economy
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tobacco economy—its profi tability, its uncertainty, its land
and labor demands—transformed Chesapeake society in
fundamental ways.
Of most immediate importance, perhaps, was the pressure tobacco cultivation created for territorial expansion.
Tobacco growers needed large areas of farmland to grow
their crops; and because tobacco exhausted the soil after
only a few years, the demand for land increased even more.
English farmers began establishing plantations deeper and
deeper in the interior, isolating themselves from the center of European settlement at Jamestown and encroaching
on territory the natives considered their own.
Even the discovery of tobacco cultivation was not enough
to help the Virginia Company. By 1616, there were still no
profi ts, only land and debts. Nevertheless, the promoters
continued to hope that the tobacco trade would allow
them fi nally to turn the corner. In 1618, they launched a
last great campaign to attract settlers and make the colony
profi table.
Part of that campaign was an effort to recruit new settlers and workers to the colony. The company established
what they called the “headright”
system. Headrights were fi fty-acre
grants of land, which new settlers could acquire in a variety of ways. Those who already lived in the colony received
100 acres apiece. Each new settler received a single headright for himself or herself. This system encouraged family
groups to migrate together, since the more family members traveled to America, the larger the landholding the
family would receive. In addition, anyone (new settler or
old) who paid for the passage of other immigrants to
Virginia would receive an additional headright for each
new arrival—thus, it was hoped, inducing the prosperous
to import new laborers to America. Some colonists were
able to assemble sizable plantations with the combined
headrights they received for their families and their servants. In return, they contributed a small quitrent (one
shilling a year for each headright) to the company.
The company added other incentives as well. To diversify the colonial economy, it transported ironworkers and
other skilled craftsmen to Virginia. In 1619, it sent 100
Englishwomen to the colony (which was still overwhelmingly male) to become the wives of male colonists. (The
women could be purchased for 120 pounds of tobacco
and enjoyed a status somewhere between indentured
servants and free people, depending on the goodwill—or
lack of it—of their husbands.) It promised the colonists
the full rights of Englishmen (as provided in the original
charter of 1606), an end to the strict and arbitrary rule of
the communal years, and even a share in self-government.
On July 30, 1619, in the Jamestown church, delegates
from the various communities met as the House of Burgesses. It was the fi rst meeting of an elected legislature, a
representative assembly, within what was to become the
United States.
A month later, another event in Virginia established a
very different but no less momentous precedent. As John
Rolfe recorded, “about the latter end of August” a Dutch
ship brought in “20 and odd Negroes.” The status and fate
of these fi rst Africans in the English colonies remains
obscure. There is some reason to believe that the colonists did not consider them slaves, that they thought of
them as servants to be held for a term of years and then
freed, like the white servants with whom the planters
were already familiar. For a time, moreover, the use of
black labor remained limited. Although Africans continued to trickle steadily into the colony, planters continued
to prefer European indentured servants until at least the
1670s, when such servants began to become scarce and
expensive. But whether or not anyone realized it at the
time, the small group of black people who arrived in 1619
marked a fi rst step toward the enslavement of Africans
within what was to be the American republic.
The expansion of the colony was able to proceed only
because of effective suppression of the local Indians, who
resisted the expanding English
presence. For two years, Sir
Thomas Dale led unrelenting
assaults against the Powhatan Indians and in the process
TOBACCO PLANT This 1622 woodcut, later hand-colored, represents
the tobacco plant cultivated by English settlers in Virginia in the early
seventeenth century after John Rolfe introduced it to the colonists. On
the right is an image of a man smoking the plant through a very large
pipe. (Getty Images)
The Headright System
Suppression of the
Powhatan Indians
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kidnapped the great chief Powhatan’s daughter Pocahontas.
When Powhatan refused to ransom her, she converted to
Christianity and in 1614 married John Rolfe. (Pocahontas
accompanied her husband back to England, where, as a
Christian convert and a gracious woman, she stirred interest in projects to “civilize” the Indians. She died while
abroad.) At that point, Powhatan ceased his attacks on the
English in the face of overwhelming odds. But after his
death several years later, his brother, Opechancanough,
became head of the native confederacy. Recognizing that
the position of his tribe was rapidly deteriorating, he
resumed the effort to defend tribal lands from European
encroachments. On a March morning in 1622, tribesmen
called on the white settlements as if to offer goods for sale,
then suddenly attacked. Not until 347 whites of both sexes
and all ages lay dead or dying were the Indian warriors
fi nally forced to retreat. The surviving English struck back
mercilessly at the Indians and turned back the threat for a
time. Only after Opechancanough led another unsuccessful uprising in 1644 did the Powhatans fi nally cease to
challenge the eastern regions of the colony.
By then the Virginia Company in London was defunct.
The company had poured virtually all its funds into its
profi tless Jamestown venture and
in the aftermath of the 1622
Indian uprising faced imminent
bankruptcy. In 1624, James I revoked the company’s charter, and the colony came under the control of the crown.
It would remain so until 1776.
Exchanges of Agricultural Technology
The hostility the early English settlers expressed toward
their Indian neighbors was in part a result of their conviction that their own civilization was greatly superior to
that of the natives—and perhaps above all that they were
more technologically advanced. The English, after all, had
great oceangoing vessels, muskets and other advanced
implements of weaponry, and many other tools that the
Indians had not developed. Indeed, when John Smith and
other early Jamestown residents grew frustrated at their
inability to fi nd gold and other precious commodities,
they often blamed the backwardness of the natives. The
Spanish in South America, Smith once wrote, had grown
rich because the natives there had built advanced civilizations and mined much gold and silver. If Mexico and Peru
had been as “ill peopled, as little planted, laboured and
manured as Virginia,” he added, the Spanish would have
found no more wealth than the English did.
Yet the survival of Jamestown was, in the end, largely a
result of agricultural technologies developed by Indians
and borrowed by the English.
Native agriculture was far better
adapted to the soil and climate of
Virginia than were the agricultural traditions the English
settlers brought with them. The Indians of Virginia had
Demise of the
Virginia Company
Population (thousands)
1607 1620 1630 1640 1650 1660 1670 1680 1690 1700
4.5 3.0 1.7 .70
2.5 Insufficient
White population
Black population
graph shows the very rapid growth of the population of the Chesapeake
during its fi rst century of European settlement. Note the very dramatic
increases in the fi rst half of the century, and the somewhat slower
increase in the later decades. If the forcibly imported slave population
were not counted in the last two decades of the century, the nonIndian population would have grown virtually not at all. â—† What
impact would the growth of African slavery have had on the rate of
immigration by Europeans?
built successful farms with neatly ordered fi elds in which
grew a variety of crops, some of which had been previously unknown to the English. Some of the Indian farmlands stretched over hundreds of acres and supported
substantial populations.
The English settlers did not adopt all the Indian agricultural techniques. Natives cleared fi elds not, as the English
did, by cutting down and uprooting all the trees. Instead,
they killed trees in place by “girdling” them (that is, making
deep incisions around the base) in the areas in which they
planted or by setting fi re to their roots; and they planted
crops not in long, straight rows, but in curving patterns
around the dead tree trunks. But in other respects, the
English learned a great deal from the Indians about how to
grow food in the New World. In particular, they quickly recognized the great value of corn, which proved to be easier
to cultivate and to produce much greater yields than any of
the European grains the English had known at home. Corn
was also attractive to the settlers because its stalks could be
a source of sugar and it spoiled less easily than other grains.
Indian Agricultural
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The English also learned the advantages of growing beans
alongside corn to enrich the soil.
Maryland and the Calverts
Maryland was founded under circumstances very different from those of Virginia, but it nonetheless developed in
ways markedly similar to those of its neighbor to the
south. The new colony was the dream of George Calvert,
the fi rst Lord Baltimore, a recent convert to Catholicism
and a shrewd businessman. Calvert envisioned establishing a colony both as a great speculative venture in real
estate and as a retreat for English Catholics, many of
whom felt oppressed by the Anglican establishment at
home. He died before he could receive a charter from the
king. But in 1632, his son Cecilius, the second Lord Baltimore, received a charter remarkable not only for the
extent of the territory it granted him—an area that encompassed parts of what are now Pennsylvania, Delaware, and
Virginia, in addition to presentday Maryland—but also for the
powers it bestowed on him. He and his heirs were to hold
their province as “true and absolute lords and proprietaries,” and were to acknowledge the ultimate sovereignty of
the king only by paying an annual fee to the crown.
Lord Baltimore named his brother, Leonard Calvert, governor and sent him with another brother to oversee the
settlement of the province. In March 1634, two ships—the
Ark and the Dove—bearing 200 to 300 passengers entered
the Potomac River and turned into one of its eastern tributaries. On a high and dry bluff, these fi rst arrivals laid out
the village of St. Mary’s (named, diplomatically, for the
queen). The neighboring Indians, who were more worried
about rival tribes in the region than they were about the
new arrivals, befriended the settlers, provided them with
temporary shelter, sold them land, and supplied them with
corn. Unlike the Virginians, the early Marylanders experienced no Indian assaults, no plagues, no starving time.
The Calverts had invested heavily in their American possessions, and they needed to attract many settlers to make
the effort profi table. As a result, they had to encourage the
immigration of Protestants as well as their fellow English
Catholics, who were both relatively few in number (about
2 percent of the population of England) and generally reluctant to emigrate. The Protestant settlers (mostly Anglicans)
outnumbered the Catholics from the start, and the Calverts
quickly realized that Catholics would always be a minority in the colony. They prudently adopted a policy of
religious toleration. To appease
the non-Catholic majority, Calvert
appointed a Protestant as governor in 1648. A year later, he
sent from England the draft of an “Act Concerning Religion,” which assured freedom of worship to all Christians.
Nevertheless, politics in Maryland remained plagued for
years by tensions between the Catholic minority (which
included the proprietor) and the Protestant majority.
Zealous Jesuits and crusading Puritans frightened and antagonized their opponents with their efforts to establish the
dominance of their own religion. At one point, the Protestant majority barred Catholics from voting and repealed the
Toleration Act. There was frequent violence, and in 1655 a
civil war temporarily unseated the proprietary government
and replaced it with one dominated by Protestants.
By 1640, a severe labor shortage in the colony had forced
a change in the land grant procedure; and Maryland, like
Virginia, adopted a “headright” system—a grant of 100 acres
to each male settler, another 100 for his wife and each servant, and 50 for each of his children. Like Virginia, Maryland
became a center of tobacco cultivation; and as in Virginia,
planters worked their land with the aid, fi rst, of indentured
servants imported from England and then, beginning late in
the seventeenth century, with slaves imported from Africa.
Proprietary Rule
THE MARYLAND PROPRIETOR, C. 1670 In a detail of a portrait by the
court painter to King Charles II, the young Cecilius Calvert reaches
for a map of Maryland. His grandfather and namesake, the second
Lord Baltimore (1606–1675), holds it out to him. George Calvert, the
father of the elder Cecilius, began negotiations to win a royal charter
for Maryland; his son completed them in 1632 and became the fi rst
proprietor of the colony. He published the map shown here in 1635
as part of an effort to attract settlers to the colony. By the time this
portrait was painted, Lord Baltimore’s son, Charles, was governor of
Maryland. The boy Cecilius, the heir apparent, died in 1681 before he
could assume his title. (Enoch Pratt Free Library, Baltimore)
Religious Toleration
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Turbulent Virginia
By the mid-seventeenth century, the Virginia colony had survived its early disasters, and both its population and the
complexity and profi tability of its economy were increasing.
It was also growing more politically contentious, as emerging factions within the province began to compete for the
favor of the government. Perhaps the most important dispute involved policy toward the
natives. As settlement moved west,
farther into Indian lands, border
confl icts grew increasingly frequent. Much of the tension
within English Virginia in the late seventeenth century
revolved around how to respond to those confl icts.
Sir William Berkeley arrived in Virginia in 1642 at the
age of thirty-six, appointed governor by King Charles I.
With but one interruption, he remained in control of the
government until the 1670s. Berkeley was popular at fi rst
as he sent explorers across the Blue Ridge Mountains to
open up the western interior of Virginia. He organized the
force that put down the 1644 Indian uprising. The
defeated Indians ceded a large area of land to the English,
but Berkeley agreed to prohibit white settlement west of
a line he negotiated with the tribes.
This attempt to protect Indian territory—like many such
attempts later in American history—was a failure from the
start, largely because of the rapid growth of the Virginia population. Oliver Cromwell’s victory in 1649 in the English
Civil War (see p. 52) and the fl ight of many of his defeated
opponents to the colony contributed to what was already a
substantial population increase. Between 1640 and 1650,
Virginia’s population doubled from 8,000 to 16,000. By 1660,
it had more than doubled again, to 40,000. As the choice
lands along the tidewater became scarce, new arrivals and
indentured servants completing their terms or escaping
from their masters pressed westward into the piedmont. By
1652, English settlers had established three counties in the
territory promised to the Indians. Unsurprisingly, there were
frequent clashes between natives and whites.
By the 1660s, Berkeley had become a virtual autocrat in
the colony. When the first burgesses were elected in 1619, all
men aged seventeen or older were
entitled to vote. By 1670, the vote was restricted to landowners, and elections were rare. The same burgesses, loyal
and subservient to the governor, remained in offi ce year
after year. Each county continued to have only two representatives, even though some of the new counties of the interior contained many more people than the older ones of the
tidewater area. Thus the more recent settlers in the “backcountry” were underrepresented or (if living in areas not yet
formally organized as counties) not represented at all.
Bacon’s Rebellion
In 1676, backcountry unrest and political rivalries combined
to create a major confl ict. Nathaniel Bacon, a wealthy young
graduate of Cambridge University, arrived in Virginia in 1673.
He purchased a substantial farm in the west and won a seat
on the governor’s council. He established himself, in other
words, as a member of the backcountry gentry.
But the new and infl uential western landowners were
soon squabbling with the leaders of the tidewater region
in the east. They disagreed on
many issues, but above all on policies toward the natives. The backcountry settlements were
in constant danger of attack from Indians, because many of
these settlements were being established on lands reserved
for the tribes by treaty. White settlers in western Virginia
had long resented the governor’s attempts to hold the line
of settlement steady so as to avoid antagonizing the natives.
That policy was, they believed, an effort by the eastern
aristocracy to protect its dominance by holding down the
white population in the west. (In reality, the policy was at
least as much an effort by Berkeley to protect his own
lucrative fur trade with the Indians.)
Bacon, an aristocratic man with great political ambitions,
had additional reasons for unhappiness with Berkeley. He
resented his exclusion from the inner circle of the governor’s council (the so-called Green Spring group, whose
members enjoyed special access to patronage). Bacon also
fumed about Berkeley’s refusal to allow him a piece of the
Indian fur trade. He was developing grievances that made
him a natural leader of an opposing faction.
Bloody events thrust him into that role. In 1675, some
Doeg Indians—angry about the European intrusions into
their lands—raided a western plantation and killed a
white servant. Bands of local whites struck back angrily
and haphazardly, attacking not only the small Doeg tribe
but the powerful Susquehannock as well. The Indians
responded with more raids on plantations and killed many
more white settlers. As the fi ghting escalated, Bacon and
other concerned landholders—unhappy with the governor’s cautious response to their demand for help—defi ed
Berkeley and struck out on their own against the Indians.
Berkeley dismissed Bacon from the governor’s council
and proclaimed him and his men rebels. At that point,
what had started as an unauthorized assault on the Indians became a military challenge to the colonial government, a confl ict known as Bacon’s Rebellion. It was the
largest and most powerful insurrection against established
authority in the history of the colonies, one that would
not be surpassed until the Revolution.
Twice, Bacon led his army east to Jamestown. The fi rst
time he won a temporary pardon from the governor; the
second time, after the governor reneged on the agreement, he burned the city and drove the governor into
exile. In the midst of widespread social turmoil throughout the colony, Bacon stood on the verge of taking command of Virginia. Instead, he died suddenly of dysentery;
and Berkeley, his position bolstered by the arrival of
British troops, soon managed to regain control. In 1677,
the Indians (aware of their inability to defeat the white
Backcountry Grievances
Virginia’s Westward
Autocratic Rule
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forces militarily) reluctantly signed a new treaty that
opened additional lands to white settlement.
Bacon’s Rebellion was signifi cant for several reasons. It
was part of the continuing struggle to defi ne the boundary between Indian and white lands in Virginia; it showed
how unwilling the English settlers were to abide by earlier agreements with the natives,
and how unwilling the Indians
were to tolerate further white
movement into their territory. It revealed the bitterness of
the competition between eastern and western landowners. But it also revealed something that Bacon himself had
never intended to unleash: the potential for instability in
the colony’s large population of free, landless men. These
men—most of them former indentured servants, propertyless, unemployed, with no real prospects—had formed
the bulk of Bacon’s constituency during the rebellion.
They had become a large, unstable, fl oating population
eager above all for access to land. Bacon had for a time
maintained his popularity among them by exploiting their
hatred of Indians. Gradually, however, he found himself
unintentionally leading a movement that refl ected the animosity of these landless men toward the landed gentry of
which Bacon himself was a part.
One result was that landed people in both eastern and
western Virginia began to recognize a common interest in
preventing social unrest from below. That was one of several reasons that they turned increasingly to the African
slave trade to fulfi ll their need for labor. Enslaved blacks
might pose dangers too, but the events of 1676 persuaded
many colonists that the perils of importing a large white
subordinate class were even greater.
The fi rst enduring settlement in New England—the second in English America—resulted from the discontent of
a congregation of Puritan Separatists in England. For years, Separatists had been periodically imprisoned and even
executed for defying the government and the Church of
England; some of them, as a result, began to contemplate
leaving England altogether in search of freedom to worship as they wished—even though Puritans did not
believe in religious freedom for all others.
Plymouth Plantation
It was illegal to leave England without the consent of the
king. In 1608, however, a congregation of Separatists from
the hamlet of Scrooby began emigrating quietly, a few at a
time, to Leyden, Holland, where they could worship without interference. They were, however, barred from the
Dutch craft guilds and had to work at unskilled and poorly
paid jobs. They were also troubled by the effects of the
tolerant atmosphere of Dutch society, which threatened
their dream of a close-knit Christian community, as had
the repression in England. As a result, some of the Separatists decided to move again, this time across the Atlantic,
where they hoped to create the kind of community they
wanted and where they could spread “the gospel of the
Kingdom of Christ in those remote parts of the world.”
Leaders of the Scrooby group obtained permission
from the Virginia Company to settle in Virginia. From the
king, they received informal assurances that he would
“not molest them, provided they carried themselves
peaceably.” (This was a historic concession by the crown,
for it opened English America to settlement not only by
the Scrooby group but by other dissenting Protestants as
well.) Several English merchants agreed to advance the
necessary funds in exchange for a share in the profi ts of
the settlement at the end of seven years.
The migrating Puritans “knew they were pilgrims”
even before they left Holland, their leader and historian,
William Bradford, later wrote. In September 1620 they
left the port of Plymouth, on the English coast, in the
Mayfl ower with thirty-fi ve “saints” (Puritan Separatists)
and sixty-seven “strangers” (people who were not full
members of the leaders’ church) aboard. By the time they
sighted land in November, it was too late in the year to go
on. Their original destination was probably the mouth of
the Hudson River, in what is now New York. But they
found themselves instead on Cape Cod. After exploring
the region for a while, they chose a site for their settlement in the area just north of the cape, an area Captain
John Smith had named “Plymouth” (after the English port
from which the Puritans had sailed) during an exploratory journey some years before. Plymouth lay outside
the London Company’s territory, and the settlers realized
they had no legal basis for settling there. As a result, fortyone male passengers signed a
document, the Mayfl ower Compact, which established a civil
government and proclaimed their allegiance to the king.
Then, on December 21, 1620, the Pilgrims stepped ashore
at Plymouth Rock.
They settled on cleared land that had once been an
Indian village until, three years earlier, a mysterious
epidemic—known as “the plague” and probably brought
to the region by earlier European explorers—had swept
through the region and substantially depopulated it. The
Pilgrims’ fi rst winter was a diffi cult one; half the colonists
perished from malnutrition, disease, and exposure. But
the colony survived.
Like the Spanish and Portuguese colonists in the southern regions of the Americas, the Pilgrims (and other future
English colonists) brought more to the New World than
people and ideas. They also made profound changes in the
natural landscape of New England. A smallpox epidemic
caused by English carriers almost eliminated the Indian
population in the areas around Plymouth in the early 1630s,
which transformed the social landscape of the region. The
Signifi cance of
Bacon’s Rebellion
Religious Repression
The Mayfl ower
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English demand for furs, animal skins, and meat greatly
depleted the number of wild animals in the areas around
Plymouth, one reason colonists worked so hard to develop
stocks of domestic animals—many of them (such as horses,
cattle, sheep, and hogs) imported from Europe and never
before seen in America. The Pilgrims and later English settlers also introduced new crops (wheat, barley, oats, and
others), while incorporating many native foods (among
them corn, potatoes, and peas) into their own diets—and
eventually exporting them back to England and the rest of
Europe. Gradually, colonial society imposed a European
pattern onto the American landscape, as the settlers fenced
in pastures, meadows, orchards, and fi elds for cultivation.
The Pilgrims’ experience with the Indians was, for a
time at least, very different from the experiences of the
early English settlers farther south. That was in part
because the remaining natives in the region—their numbers thinned by disease—were signifi cantly weaker than
their southern neighbors and realized they had to get
along with the Europeans. In the end, the survival and
growth of the colony depended crucially on the assistance they received from natives. Important Indian
friends—Squanto and Samoset, among others—showed
them how to gather seafood, cultivate corn, and hunt local
animals. Squanto, a Pawtuxet who
had earlier been captured by an
English explorer and taken to
Europe, spoke English and was of particular help to the
settlers in forming an alliance with the local Wampanoags,
under Chief Massasoit. After the fi rst harvest, in 1621, the
settlers marked the alliance by inviting the Indians to join
them in an October festival, the fi rst Thanksgiving.
But the relationship between the settlers and the local
Indians was not happy for long. Thirteen years after the
Pilgrims’ arrival, a devastating smallpox epidemic—a
result of contact with English settlers—wiped out much
of the Indian population around Plymouth.
The Pilgrims could not hope to create rich farms on
the sandy, marshy soil, and their early fi shing efforts produced no profits. In 1622, the military officer Miles
Standish, one of the leaders of the colony, established a
semi-military regime to impose discipline on the settlers.
Eventually the Pilgrims began to grow enough corn and
other crops to provide them with a modest trading surplus. They also developed a small fur trade with the Abenaki Indians of Maine. From time to time new colonists
arrived from England, and in a decade the population
reached 300.
The people of “Plymouth Plantation,” as they called their
settlement, chose William Bradford again and again to be
their governor. As early as 1621,
he persuaded the Council for New
England (the successor to the old Plymouth Company,
which had charter rights to the territory) to give them legal
permission to live there. He ended the communal labor
plan Standish had helped create, distributed land among
the families, and thus, as he explained it, made “all hands
very industrious.” He and a group of fellow “undertakers”
took over the colony’s debt to its original fi nanciers in
England and, with earnings from the fur trade, fi nally paid it
off—even though the fi nanciers had repeatedly cheated
them and had failed to send them promised supplies.
The Pilgrims were always a poor community. As late as
the 1640s, they had only one plow among them. But they
clung to the belief that God had put them in the New
World to live as a truly Christian community; and they
were, on the whole, content to live their lives in what
they considered godly ways.
At times, they spoke of serving as a model for other
Christians. Governor Bradford wrote in retrospect: “As
one small candle may light a thousand, so the light here
kindled hath shone to many, yea in some sort to our whole
nation.” But the Pilgrims were less committed to grand
designs, less concerned about how they were viewed by
others, than the Puritans who settled the larger and more
ambitious English colonies to their north.
The Massachusetts Bay Experiment
Turbulent events in England in the 1620s (combined with
the example of the Plymouth colony) created strong interest in colonization among other groups of Puritans.
James I had been creating serious tensions for years
between himself and Parliament through his effort to
claim the divine right of kings and by his harsh, repressive
policies toward the Puritans. The situation worsened after
his death in 1625, when he was succeeded by his son,
Charles I. By favoring Roman Catholicism and trying to
destroy religious nonconformity, he started the nation
down the road that in the 1640s would lead to civil war.
The Puritans were particular targets of Charles’s policies.
Some were imprisoned for their beliefs, and many began
to consider the climate of England intolerable. The king’s
disbanding of Parliament in 1629 (it was not to be recalled
until 1640) ensured that there would be no political solution to the Puritans’ problems.
In the midst of this political and social turmoil, a group
of Puritan merchants began organizing a new enterprise
designed to take advantage of
opportunities in America. At fi rst
their interest was largely an economic one. They obtained a grant of land in New England
for most of the area now comprising Massachusetts and
New Hampshire; they acquired a charter from the king
(who was evidently unaware that they were Puritans)
allowing them to create the Massachusetts Bay Company
and to establish a colony in the New World; and they
bought equipment and supplies from a defunct fi shing
and trading company that had attempted (and failed) to
establish a profi table enterprise in North America. In 1629,
they were ready to dispatch a substantial group of settlers
to New England.
Relations with
the Indians
William Bradford
Massachusetts Bay
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Among the members of the Massachusetts Bay Company,
however, were a number of Puritans who saw the enterprise
as something more than a business venture. They began to
consider emigrating themselves and creating a haven for
Puritans in New England. Members of this faction met
secretly in Cambridge in the summer of 1629 and agreed to
buy out the other investors and move en masse to America.
As governor, the new owners of the company chose
John Winthrop, an affluent,
university-educated gentleman
with a deep piety and a forceful character. Winthrop had
been instrumental in organizing the migration, and he
commanded the expedition that sailed for New England
in 1630: seventeen ships and 1,000 people (who were,
unlike the earlier migrants to Virginia, mostly family
groups). It was the largest single migration of its kind in
the seventeenth century. Winthrop carried with him the
charter of the Massachusetts Bay Company, which meant
that the colonists would be responsible to no company
offi cials in England, only to themselves.
The Massachusetts migration quickly produced several
different new settlements. The port of Boston, at the
mouth of the Charles River, became the company’s headquarters and the colony’s capital. But in the course of the
next decade colonists moved into a number of other new
towns in eastern Massachusetts: Charlestown, Newtown
(later renamed Cambridge), Roxbury, Dorchester, Watertown, Ipswich, Concord, Sudbury, and others.
The Massachusetts Bay Company soon transformed
itself into a colonial government. According to the original company charter, the eight stockholders (or “freemen”) were to meet as a general court to choose offi cers
and adopt rules for the corporation. But eventually the
defi nition of “freemen” changed to include all male citizens, not just the stockholders. John Winthrop dominated
colonial politics just as he had dominated the original corporation, but after 1634 he and most other offi cers of the
colony had to face election each year.
Unlike the Separatist founders of Plymouth, the founders of Massachusetts had no intention of breaking from
COLONIAL CURRENCY This seal was created in 1690 by the
Massachusetts Bay Company to validate the paper “bills of credit”
with which colonists conducted many fi nancial transactions. Paper
money met considerable resistance at fi rst. Many people doubted its
value and would not accept it, preferring instead the Spanish silver
coins that were in wide circulation at the time. Gradually, however,
a shortage of silver required increasing reliance on this and other
paper devices. The seal shows an Indian saying “Come over and help
us,” which represents an English belief in the superiority of white
European society. (Courtesy of the Massachusetts Historical Society)
John Winthrop
PORTRAIT OF A BOSTON WOMAN Anne Pollard, a member of the
original Winthrop expedition to Boston, was 100 years old when this
portrait was painted in 1721. In 1643, thirteen years after her arrival
in Massachusetts, she married a Boston innkeeper with whom she
had 13 children. After her husband’s death in 1679, she continued to
manage the tavern on her own. When she died in 1725, at the age of
104, she left 130 direct descendants. The artist who painted this early
portrait is unknown, but is assumed to be an American working in the
relatively primitive style common in New England before the arrival
in 1729 of the fi rst academically trained portraitists from England.
(Courtesy of the Massachusetts Historical Society)
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the Church of England. Yet, if they continued to feel any
real attachment to the Anglican establishment, they gave
little sign of it. In every town, the community church had
(in the words of the prominent
minister John Cotton) “complete
liberty to stand alone,” unlike
churches in the highly centralized Anglican structure in
England. Each congregation chose its own minister and
regulated its own affairs. In both Plymouth and Massachusetts, this form of parish organization eventually became
known as the Congregational Church.
The Massachusetts Puritans were not grim or joyless,
as many observers would later portray them. They were,
however, serious and pious people. They strove to lead
useful, conscientious lives of thrift and hard work, and
they honored material success as evidence of God’s favor.
“We here enjoy God and Jesus Christ,” Winthrop wrote to
his wife soon after his arrival; “is this not enough?” He and
the other Massachusetts founders believed they were
founding a holy commonwealth—a “city upon a hill”—
that could serve as a model for the rest of the world.
If Massachusetts was to become a beacon to others, it
had fi rst to maintain its own “holiness.” Ministers had no
formal political power, but they
exerted great infl uence on church
members, who were the only people who could vote or
hold offi ce. The government in turn protected the ministers, taxed the people (members and nonmembers alike)
to support the church, and enforced the law requiring
attendance at services. Dissidents had no more freedom
of worship in America than the Puritans themselves had
had in England. Colonial Massachusetts was, in effect, a
“theocracy,” a society in which the line between the
church and the state was hard to see.
Like other new settlements, the Massachusetts Bay colony had early diffi culties. During their fi rst winter, an
unusually severe one, nearly a third of the colonists died;
others left in the spring. But more rapidly than Jamestown
or Plymouth, the colony grew and prospered. The Pilgrims
and neighboring Indians helped with food and advice.
Affl uent incoming settlers brought needed tools and other
goods, which they exchanged for the cattle, corn, and
other produce of the established colonists and the natives.
The large number of family groups in the colony (in sharp
contrast to the early years at Jamestown) helped ensure a
feeling of commitment to the community and a sense of
order among the settlers. It also allowed the population to
reproduce itself more rapidly. The strong religious and
political hierarchy ensured a measure of social stability.
The Expansion of New England
As the population grew, more and more people arrived in
Massachusetts who did not accept all the religious tenets of
the colony’s leaders or who were
not Puritan “saints” and hence
could not vote. Newcomers had a
choice of conforming to the religious practices of the colony or leaving. Many left, helping to begin a process that
would spread settlement throughout present-day New
England and beyond.
The Connecticut Valley, about 100 miles west of the
edge of European settlement around Boston, began attracting English families as early as the 1630s. The valley
appealed in particular to Thomas Hooker, a minister of
Newtown (Cambridge), who defi ed the Massachusetts
government in 1635 and led his congregation through the
wilds to establish the town of Hartford. Four years later,
the people of Hartford and of two other towns established a colonial government of their own and adopted a
constitution known as the Fundamental Orders of
Another Connecticut colony, the project of a Puritan
minister and a wealthy merchant from England, grew up
around New Haven on the Connecticut coast. It refl ected
impatience with what its founders considered increasing religious laxity in Massachusetts. The Fundamental
Articles of New Haven (1639) established a religious
government even stricter than that in Boston. New
Haven remained independent until 1662, when a royal
charter combined it with Hartford to create the colony
of Connecticut.
Rhode Island had its origins in the religious and political dissent of Roger Williams, an engaging but controversial young minister who lived for a time in Salem,
Massachusetts. Even John Winthrop, who considered
Williams a heretic, called him a “sweet and amiable” man,
and William Bradford described
him as “a man godly and zealous.”
But he was, Bradford added, “very unsettled in judgment.”
Williams, a confi rmed Separatist, argued that the Massachusetts church should abandon all allegiance to the
Church of England. More disturbing to the clergy, he
called for a complete separation of church and state—to
protect the church from the corruption of the secular
world. The colonial government, alarmed at this challenge
to its spiritual authority, banished him. During the bitter
winter of 1635–1636, he took refuge with Narragansett
tribesmen; the following spring he bought a tract of land
from them and, with a few followers, created the town of
Providence on it. Other communities of dissidents followed him to what became Rhode Island, and in 1644
Williams obtained a charter from Parliament permitting
him to establish a government. Rhode Island’s government gave no support to the church and allowed “liberty
in religious concernments.” For a time, it was the only
colony in which members of all faiths (including Jews)
could worship without interference.
An even greater challenge to the established order in
Massachusetts Bay emerged in the person of Anne
Hutchinson, an intelligent and charismatic woman from a
substantial Boston family. Hutchinson had come to
Massachusetts with her husband in 1634. She antagonized
The Congregational
A Theocratic Society
Growing Religious
Roger Williams
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Merrimac R.
Kennebec R.
Androscoggin R.
Thames R.
Hudson R.
Greenwich Southampton
New Haven
Worcester Northampton
Long Island
Settled by Conn. and
New Haven colonies;
to New York, 1664
To Mason,
To duke of York,
To Massachusetts Bay,
1629 To Massachusetts
To Rhode Island,
To Hartford colony,
To Mason and
Gorges, 1622
European settlement of New England, as this map reveals,
traces its origins primarily to two small settlements on
the Atlantic coast. The fi rst was the Pilgrim settlement
at Plymouth, which began in 1620 and spread out
through Cape Cod, southern Massachusetts, and the
islands of Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket. The
second, much larger settlement began in Boston in 1630
and spread rapidly through western Massachusetts,
north into New Hampshire and Maine, and south into
Connecticut. â—† Why would the settlers of Massachusetts
Bay have expanded so much more rapidly and
expansively than those of Plymouth?
For an interactive version of this map, go to
the leaders of the colony by arguing vehemently that the
members of the Massachusetts clergy who were not
among the “elect”—that is, had not undergone a conversion experience—had no right to spiritual offi ce. Over
time, she claimed that many clergy—among them her
own uninspiring minister—were among the nonelect and
had no right to exercise authority over their congregations. She eventually charged that all the ministers in Massachusetts—save community leader John Cotton and her
own bother-in-law—were not
among the elect. Alongside such
teachings (which her critics called “Antinomianism,” from
the Greek meaning “hostile to the law”), Hutchinson also
created alarm by affronting prevailing assumptions about
the proper role of women in Puritan society. She was not
a retiring, deferential wife and mother, but a powerful religious fi gure in her own right.
Hutchinson developed a large following among
women, to whom she offered an active role in religious
affairs. She also attracted support from others (merchants, young men, and dissidents of many sorts) who
resented the oppressive character of the colonial government. As her infl uence grew, the Massachusetts leadership mobilized to stop her. Hutchinson’s followers
were numerous and influential enough to prevent
Winthrop’s reelection as governor in 1636, but the next
year he returned to offi ce and put her on trial for heresy. Hutchinson embarrassed her accusers by displaying
a remarkable knowledge of theology; but because she
continued to defy clerical authority (and because she
claimed she had herself communicated directly with
the Holy Spirit—a violation of the Puritan belief that
the age of such revelations had passed), she was convicted of sedition and banished as “a woman not fi t for
our society.” Her unorthodox views had challenged both
religious belief and social order in Puritan Massachusetts.
With her family and some of her followers, she moved
to Rhode Island, and then into New Netherland (later
Anne Hutchinson
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New York), where in 1643 she died during an Indian
Alarmed by Hutchinson’s heresy, male clergy began to
restrict further the already limited public activities of
women within congregations. As a result, many of Hutchinson’s followers began to migrate out of Massachusetts Bay,
especially to New Hampshire and Maine.
Colonies had been established there in 1629 when
two English proprietors, Captain John Mason and Sir
Ferdinando Gorges, had received a grant from the Council for New England and divided
it along the Piscataqua River to
create two separate provinces.
But despite their lavish promotional efforts, few settlers
had moved into these northern regions until the religious disruptions in Massachusetts Bay. In 1639, John
Wheelwright, a disciple of Anne Hutchinson, led some of
his fellow dissenters to Exeter, New Hampshire. Other
groups—of both dissenting and orthodox Puritans—
soon followed. New Hampshire became a separate colony in 1679. Maine remained a part of Massachusetts
until 1820.
Settlers and Natives
Indians were less powerful rivals to the early New England
immigrants than natives were to the English settlers
farther south. By the mid-1630s, the native population,
small to begin with, had been almost extinguished by the
epidemics. The surviving Indians sold much of their land
to the English (a great boost to settlement, since much of
it had already been cleared). Some natives—known as
“praying Indians”—even converted to Christianity and
joined Puritan communities.
Indians provided crucial assistance to the early settlers
as they tried to adapt to the new land. Whites learned from
the natives about vital local food
crops: corn, beans, pumpkins, and
potatoes. They also learned such
crucial agricultural techniques as annual burning for fertilization and planting beans to replenish exhausted soil.
Natives also served as important trading partners to European immigrants, particularly in the creation of the thriving North American fur trade. They were an important
market for such manufactured goods as iron pots, blankets,
metal-tipped arrows, eventually guns and rifl es, and (often
Population (thousands)
1620 1630 1640 1650 1660 1670 1680 1690 1700
the Chesapeake colonies, the European population of New England
grew very rapidly after settlement began in 1620. The most rapid rate
of growth, unsurprisingly, came in the fi rst thirty years, when even a
modest wave of immigraton could double or triple the small existing
population. But the largest numbers of new immigrants arrived
between 1650 and 1680. â—† What events in England in those years
might have led to increased emigration to America in that period?
Hutchinson was alarming to many of Boston’s religious leaders not
only because she openly challenged the authority of the clergy, but
also because she implicitly challenged norms of female behavior in
Puritan society. (Bettmann/Corbis)
New Hampshire
and Maine
Importance of Indian
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tragically) alcohol. Indeed, commerce with the Indians
was responsible for the creation of some of the fi rst great
fortunes in British North America and for the emergence
of wealthy families who would exercise infl uence in the
colonies (and later the nation) for many generations.
But as in other areas of white settlement, there were
also confl icts; and the early peaceful relations between
whites and Indians did not last. Tensions soon developed
as a result of the white colonists’ insatiable appetite for
land. The expanding white demand for land was also a
result of a change in the colonists’ agrarian economy. As
wild animals began to disappear from overhunting, colonists began to concentrate more and more on raising
domesticated animals: cattle, sheep, hogs, horses, and others. As the herds expanded, so did the colonists’ need for
new land. As a result, they moved steadily into territories
such as the Connecticut Valley where they came into confl ict with natives who were more numerous and more
powerful than those along the Massachusetts coast.
The character of those confl icts—and the brutality with
which whites assaulted their Indian foes—emerged in part
out of changing Puritan attitudes
toward the natives. At fi rst, many
white New Englanders had looked at the Indians with a
slightly condescending admiration. Before long, however,
they came to view them primarily as “heathens” and “savages,” and hence as a constant threat to the existence of a
godly community in the New World. Some Puritans believed
the solution to the Indian “problem” was to “civilize” the
natives by converting them to Christianity and European
ways, and some English missionaries had modest success in
producing converts. One such missionary, John Eliot, even
translated the Bible into an Algonquian language. Other
Puritans, however, envisioned a harsher “solution”: displacing or, if that failed, exterminating the natives.
To the natives, the threat from the English was very direct.
European settlers were penetrating deeper and deeper into
the interior, seizing land, clearing forests, driving away much
of the wild game on which the tribes depended for food.
English farmers often let their livestock run wild, and the
animals often destroyed natives’ crops. Now land and food
shortages exacerbated the drastic Indian population decline
that had begun as a result of epidemic diseases. There had
been more than 100,000 Indians in New England at the
beginning of the seventeenth century; by 1675, only 10,000
remained. This decline created despair among New England
natives. It drove some Indians to alcoholism and others to
conversion to Christianity. But it drove others to war.
The Pequot War, King Philip’s War,
and the Technology of Battle
The fi rst major confl ict came in 1637, when hostilities
broke out between English settlers in the Connecticut Valley and the Pequot Indians of the
region as a result of competition
over trade with the Dutch in New Netherland and friction
over land. In what became known as the Pequot War, English settlers allied with the Mohegan and Narragansett
Indians (rivals of the Pequots). The greatest savagery in the
confl ict was the work of the English. In the bloodiest act
of the war, white raiders under Captain John Mason
Shifting Attitudes
artist drew this view of a fortifi ed Pequot village
in Connecticut surrounded by English soldiers
and their allies from other tribes during the
Pequot War in 1637. The invaders massacred
more than 600 residents of the settlement. (Rare
Books Division, New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox
and Tilden Foundations)
The Pequot War
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marched against a palisaded Pequot stronghold and set it
afi re. Hundreds of Indians either burned to death in the
fl aming stockade or were killed as they attempted to
escape. Those who survived were hunted down, captured,
and sold as slaves. The Pequot tribe was almost wiped out.
The most prolonged and deadly encounter between
whites and Indians in the seventeenth century began in
1675, a confl ict that the English would remember for generations as King Philip’s War. As in the earlier Pequot
War in Connecticut, an Indian tribe—in this case the
Wampanoags, under the leadership of a chieftain known
to the white settlers as King Philip and among his own
people as Metacomet—rose up to resist the English. The
Wampanoags had not always been hostile to the settlers;
indeed, Metacomet’s grandfather had once forged an alliance with the English, and Metacomet himself was well
acquainted with the colonists. It was perhaps his knowledge of the English that led him to distrust them and to
begin building alliances with neighboring tribes. By the
1670s, he had become convinced that only armed resistance could protect them from English incursions into
their lands and, more immediately, from the efforts by the
colonial governments to impose English law on the
natives. (A court in Plymouth had recently tried and
hanged several Wampanoags for murdering a member of
their own tribe.)
For three years, the natives—well organized and armed
with guns—terrorized a string of
Massachusetts towns, destroying
twenty of them and causing the deaths of as many as a
thousand people (including at least one-sixteenth of the
white males in the colony). The war greatly weakened both
the society and economy of Massachusetts. But, in 1676,
the white settlers fought back and gradually prevailed.
They received critical aid from the Mohawks, longtime
rivals of the Wampanoags, and guides, spies, and soldiers
recruited from among the so-called praying Indians
(Christian converts) of the region. While white militiamen
attacked Indian villages and destroyed native food supplies,
a group of Mohawks ambushed, shot, and killed Metacomet,
then bore his severed head to Boston to present to the
colonial leaders. After that, the fragile alliance that Metacomet had managed to forge among local tribes collapsed.
Europeans were soon able to crush the uprising. Some
Wampanoag leaders were executed; others were sold into
slavery in the West Indies. The Wampanoags and their allies,
their populations depleted and their natural resources
reduced, were now powerless to resist the English.
Yet these victories by the white colonists did not end
the danger to their settlements. Other Indians in other
tribes survived and were still capable of attacking
English settlements. The New England settlers also faced
competition not only from the natives but also from the
Dutch and the French, who claimed the territory on
which some of the outlying settlements were established. The French, in particular, would pose a constant
threat to the English through
their alliance with the Algonquians. In later years, they would join forces with Indians in
their attacks on the New England frontier.
The character of the Pequot War, King Philip’s War, and
many other confl icts between natives and settlers in the
years that followed was crucially affected by earlier
exchanges of technology between the English and the
tribes. In particular, the Indians made effective use of a
relatively new weapon introduced to New England by
Miles Standish and others: the fl intlock rifl e. It replaced
the earlier staple of colonial musketry, the matchlock rifl e,
which proved too heavy, cumbersome, and inaccurate to
be useful in the kind of combat characteristic of AngloIndian struggles. The matchlock had to be steadied on a
fi xed object and ignited with a match before fi ring; the
fl intlock could be held up without support and fi red without a match. (Indians using bows and arrows often outmatched settlers using the clumsy matchlocks.)
Many English settlers were slow to give up their cumbersome matchlocks for the lighter fl intlocks. But the
Indians recognized the advantages of the newer rifl es
right away and began purchasing them in large quantities
as part of their regular trade with the colonists. Despite
rules forbidding colonists to instruct natives on how to
use and repair the weapons, the natives learned to handle
the rifl es, and even to repair them, very effectively on
their own. They even built a substantial forge for shaping
and repairing rifl e parts. In King Philip’s War, the very high
casualties on both sides were a result of the use of these
more advanced rifl es.
Indians also used more traditional military technologies in their confl icts with the English—especially the
construction of forts. The Narragansetts, allies of the Wampanoags in King Philip’s War, built an enormous fort in the
Great Swamp of Rhode Island in 1675, which became the
site of one of the bloodiest battles of the war before
English attackers burned it down. After that, a band of
Narragansetts set out to build a large stone fort, with the
help of a member of the tribe who had learned masonry
while working with the English. When English soldiers
discovered the stone fort in 1676, after the end of King
Philip’s War, they killed most of its occupants and destroyed it. In the end, the technological skills of the Indians (both those they borrowed from the English and
those they drew from their own traditions) proved no
match for the overwhelming advantages of the English
settlers in both numbers and fi repower.
By the end of the 1630s, English settlers had established six
significant colonies in the New World: Virginia,
Massachusetts, Maryland, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and
New Hampshire. (Maine remained officially part of
King Philip’s War
Flintlock Musket
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Massachusetts until after the American Revolution.) But for
nearly thirty years after Lord Baltimore received the charter
for Maryland in 1632, the English government launched no
additional colonial ventures. It was preoccupied with troubles of its own at home.
The English Civil War
England’s problems had begun during the rule of James I,
who attracted widespread opposition before he died in 1625 but
never openly challenged Parliament. His son, Charles I,
was not so prudent. After he dissolved Parliament in 1629
and began ruling as an absolute monarch, he steadily alienated a growing number of his subjects—and the members
of the powerful Puritan community above all. Finally, desperately in need of money, Charles called Parliament back
into session and asked it to levy new taxes. But he antagonized the members by dismissing them twice in two years.
In 1642, some of them organized a military challenge to
the king, thus launching the English Civil War.
The confl ict between the Cavaliers (the supporters of
the king) and the Roundheads (the forces of Parliament,
who were mostly Puritans) lasted seven years. Finally, in
1649, the Roundheads defeated the king’s forces, captured
Charles himself, and—in an action that horrifi ed not only
much of continental Europe at the time but also future
generations of English men and women—beheaded the
monarch. To replace him, they elevated the stern Roundhead leader Oliver Cromwell to the position of “protector,” from which he ruled for the next nine years. When
Cromwell died in 1658, his son and heir proved unable to
maintain his authority. Two years later, King Charles II,
son of the beheaded monarch, returned from exile and
claimed the throne.
Among the many results of the Stuart Restoration was
the resumption of colonization in
America. Charles II quickly began
to reward faithful courtiers with
grants of land in the New World; and in the twenty-fi ve
years of his reign, he issued charters for four additional
colonies: Carolina, New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania.
The new colonies were all proprietary ventures (modeled
on Maryland rather than on Virginia and Massachusetts),
thus exposing an important change in the nature of
American settlement. No longer were private companies
interested in launching colonies, realizing at last that there
were no quick profi ts to be had in the New World. The
goal of the new colonies was not so much quick commercial success as permanent settlements that would provide
proprietors with land and power.
The Carolinas
Carolina (a name derived from the Latinate form of
“Charles”) was, like Maryland, carved in part from the
original Virginia grant. Charles II awarded the territory
to a group of eight court favorites, all prominent politicians already active in colonial affairs. In successive charters issued in 1663 and 1665, the eight proprietors
received joint title to a vast territory stretching south to
the Florida peninsula and west to the Pacifi c Ocean. Like
Lord Baltimore, they received almost kingly powers over
their grant.
Also like Lord Baltimore, they expected to profi t as landlords and land speculators. They reserved large estates for
themselves, and they proposed to sell or give away the rest
in smaller tracts (using a headright system similar to those
in Virginia and Maryland) and to collect annual payments
(“quitrents”) from the settlers.
Although committed Anglicans
themselves, they welcomed any
settlers they could get. The charter of the colony guaranteed religious freedom to everyone who would worship as
a Christian. The proprietors also promised a measure of
political freedom; laws were to be made by a representative assembly. With these incentives, they hoped to attract
settlers from the existing American colonies and thus to
avoid the expense of fi nancing expeditions from England.
Their initial efforts failed dismally, and some of the
original proprietors gave up. But one man—Anthony Ashley Cooper, soon to become the earl of Shaftesbury—
persisted. Cooper convinced his partners to finance
migrations to Carolina from England. In the spring of
1670, the fi rst of these expeditions—a party of 300—set
out from England. Only 100 people survived the diffi cult
voyage; those who did established a settlement in the Port
Royal area of the Carolina coast. Ten years later they
founded a city at the junction of the Ashley and Cooper
Rivers, which in 1690 became the colonial capital. They
called it Charles Town. (It was later renamed Charleston.)
The earl of Shaftesbury, troubled by the instability in
England, wanted a planned and well-ordered community.
With the aid of the English philosopher John Locke, he drew up
the Fundamental Constitution for
Carolina in 1669, which created an elaborate system of
land distribution and an elaborately designed social order.
In fact, however, Carolina developed along lines quite different from the almost utopian vision of Shaftesbury and
Locke. For one thing, the colony was never really united
in anything more than name. The northern and southern
regions remained both widely separated and socially and
economically distinct from one another. The northern
settlers were mainly backwoods farmers, isolated from
the outside world, scratching out a meager existence
through subsistence agriculture. They developed no
important aristocracy and for many years imported virtually no African slaves. In the south, fertile lands and the
good harbor at Charles Town promoted a more prosperous economy and a more aristocratic society. Settlements
grew up rapidly along the Ashley and Cooper Rivers, and
colonists established a fl ourishing trade in corn, lumber,
Incentives for
New Proprietary
Colonies Fundamental Constitution
for Carolina
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cattle, pork, and (beginning in the 1690s) rice—which
was to become the colony’s principal commercial crop.
Traders from the interior used Charles Town to market
furs and hides they had acquired from Indian trading partners; some also marketed Indian slaves, generally natives
captured by rival tribes and sold to the white traders.
Southern Carolina very early developed close ties to
the large (and now overpopulated) English colony on the
island of Barbados. For many years, Barbados was Carolina’s most important trading partner. During the fi rst ten
years of settlement, most of the new settlers in Carolina
were Barbadians, some of whom arrived with large groups
of African workers and established themselves quickly as
substantial landlords. African slavery had taken root on
Barbados earlier than in any of the mainland colonies (see
pp. 56–57); and the white Caribbean migrants—tough,
uncompromising profi t seekers—established a similar
slave-based plantation society in Carolina. (The proprietors, four of whom had a fi nancial interest in the African
slave trade, also encouraged the importation of Africans.)
For several decades, Carolina remained one of the most
unstable English colonies in
America. There were tensions
between the small farmers of the
Albemarle region in the north and the wealthy planters in
the south. There were conflicts between the rich
Barbadians in southern Carolina and the smaller landowners around them. After Lord Shaftesbury’s death, the proprietors proved unable to establish order, and in 1719 the
colonists seized control of the colony from them. Ten
years later, the king divided the region into two royal colonies, North and South Carolina.
New Netherland, New York,
and New Jersey
In 1664, one year after he issued the Carolina charter,
Charles II granted to his brother James, the duke of York,
all the territory lying between the Connecticut and
Delaware Rivers. But much of the territory included in
CHARLESTON, SOUTH CAROLINA This map, drawn on deerskin by an Indian chief around 1730, illustrates the close juxtaposition of the ordered
English settlement in Charleston, South Carolina, seen on the left, and the more fl uid Indian settlements near the town, on the right. It also
illustrates the way in which southeastern Indians understood political relations as a series of linked circles. (Getty Images)
North and South
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NEW AMSTERDAM The small Dutch settlement on Manhattan Island, known before 1664 as New Amsterdam, fell to the English in 1664.
This painting shows buildings clustered at the southern tip of the island, which remained the center of what became New York City until the
nineteenth century. (Bettmann/Corbis)
the grant was already claimed by the Dutch, who had
established substantial settlements at New Amsterdam
and other strategic points beginning in 1624.
The emerging confl ict between the English and the
Dutch in America was part of a larger commercial rivalry
between the two nations throughout the world. But the
English particularly resented the Dutch presence in America,
because it served as a wedge
between the northern and southern English colonies and because
it provided bases for Dutch smugglers evading English customs laws. And so in 1664, an English fl eet under the command of Richard Nicolls sailed into the lightly defended
port of New Amsterdam and extracted a surrender from its
unpopular Dutch governor, Peter Stuyvesant, who had failed
to mobilize resistance to the invasion. Under the Articles of
Capitulation, the Dutch colony surrendered to the British in
return for assurances that the Dutch settlers would not be
displaced. In 1673, the Dutch briefl y reconquered New
Amsterdam. But they lost it for good in 1674.
James, the duke of York, his title to New Netherland
now clear, renamed the colony New York and prepared to
govern a colony of extraordinary diversity. New York contained not only Dutch and English, but Scandinavians,
Germans, French, Africans (imported as slaves by the
Dutch West India Company), and members of several different Indian tribes. There were, of course, many different
religious faiths among these groups. James made no effort
to impose his own Roman Catholicism on the colony. Like
other proprietors before him, he remained in England and
delegated powers to a governor and a council. But he provided for no representative assembly, perhaps because a
parliament had executed his own father, Charles I. The
laws did, however, establish local governments and guarantee religious toleration. Nevertheless, there were immediate tensions over the distribution of power in the
colony. The great Dutch “patroons” (large landowners)
survived with their economic and political power largely
intact. James granted large estates as well to some of his
own political supporters in an effort to create a class of
infl uential landowners loyal to him. Power in the colony
thus remained widely and unequally dispersed—among
wealthy English landlords, Dutch patroons, fur traders
(who forged important alliances with the Iroquois), and
the duke’s political appointees. Like Carolina, New York
would for many years be a highly factious society.
It was also a growing and generally prosperous colony.
By 1685, when the duke of York ascended the English
Capture of New
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throne as James II, New York contained approximately
30,000 people, about four times as many as when James
had received his grant twenty years before. Most of them
still lived within the Hudson Valley, close to the river itself,
with the largest settlement at its mouth, in the town of
New York (formerly New Amsterdam).
Originally, James’s claims in America extended south of
the Hudson to the Delaware Valley and beyond. But
shortly after receiving his charter, he gave a large portion
of that land to a pair of political allies, Sir John Berkeley
and Sir George Carteret, both of
whom were also Carolina proprietors. Carteret named the territory New Jersey, after the island in the English Channel on
which he had been born. In 1702, after nearly a decade of
political squabbling and economic profi tlessness, the proprietors ceded control of the territory back to the crown
and New Jersey became a royal colony.
Like New York (from which much of the population
had come), New Jersey was a place of enormous ethnic
and religious diversity. But unlike New York, New Jersey
developed no important class of large landowners; most
of its residents remained small farmers. Nor did New
Jersey (which, unlike New York, had no natural harbor)
produce any single important city.
The Quaker Colonies
Pennsylvania, like Massachusetts, was born out of the
efforts of dissenting English Protestants to fi nd a home for
their own religion and their own distinctive social order.
The Society of Friends originated in mid-seventeenthcentury England and grew into an important force as a
result of the preachings of George
Fox, a Nottingham shoemaker,
and Margaret Fell. Their followers came to be known as
Quakers because Fox urged them to “tremble at the name
of the Lord.” Unlike the Puritans, Quakers rejected the
concepts of predestination and original sin. All people had
divinity within themselves (an “Inner Light,” which could
guide them along the path of righteousness), and all who
cultivated that divinity could attain salvation. Also unlike
the Puritans, Quakers granted women a position within
the church generally equal to that of men. Women and
men alike could become preachers and defi ne church
doctrine, an equality symbolized by the longtime partnership between Fox and Fell.
Of all the Protestant sectarians of the time, the Quakers
were the most anarchistic and democratic. They had no
church government, only periodic meetings of representatives from congregations. They had no paid clergy, and
in their worship they spoke up one by one as the spirit
moved them. Disregarding distinctions of gender and
class, they addressed one another with the terms “thee”
and “thou,” words then commonly used in other parts of
English society only in speaking to servants and social
inferiors. And as confi rmed pacifi sts, they refused to fi ght
in wars. The Quakers were unpopular enough in England
as a result of these beliefs and practices. They increased
their unpopularity by occasionally breaking up other religious groups at worship. Many were jailed.
As a result, like the Puritans before them, the Quakers
looked to America for asylum. A few went to New England.
But except in Rhode Island, they were greeted there with
fi nes, whippings, and banishment; three men and a woman
of New Jersey
A QUAKER MEETING An anonymous artist painted
this view of a Quaker meeting in approximately
1790. Because the Society of Friends (or Quakers)
believed that all people were equal in the eyes of
God, they appointed no ministers and imposed
no formal structure on their religious services.
Members of the congregation stood up to speak
at will. (©Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Gift of Maxim
Karolik, 64.456. Photograph © 2007 Museum of Fine Arts,
The Society of Friends
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who refused to leave were actually put to death. Others
migrated to northern Carolina, and there became the
fastest-growing religious community in the region. They
were soon influential in colonial politics. But many
Quakers wanted a colony of their own. As a despised sect,
they had little chance of getting the necessary royal grant
without the aid of someone infl uential at court. But fortunately for Fox and his followers, a number of wealthy and
prominent men had become attracted to the faith. One of
them was William Penn—the son
of an admiral in the Royal Navy
who was a landlord of valuable Irish estates. He had
received the gentleman’s education expected of a person
of his standing, but he resisted his father in being attracted
to untraditional religions. Converted to the doctrine of
the Inner Light, the younger Penn became an evangelist
for Quakerism. With George Fox, he visited the European
continent and found Quakers there who, like Quakers in
England, longed to emigrate to the New World. He set out
to fi nd a place for them to go.
Penn turned his attention fi rst to New Jersey and soon
became an owner and proprietor of part of the colony.
But in 1681, after the death of his father, Penn inherited
his father’s Irish lands and also his father’s claim to a large
debt from the king. Charles II, short of cash, paid the debt
with a grant of territory between New York and Maryland—
an area larger than England and Wales combined and
which (unknown to him) contained more valuable soil
and minerals than any other province of English America.
Penn would have virtually total
authority within the province. At
the king’s insistence, the territory was named Pennsylvania,
after Penn’s late father.
Like most proprietors, Penn wanted Pennsylvania to be
profi table for him and his family. And so he set out to
attract settlers from throughout Europe through informative and honest advertising in several languages. Pennsylvania soon became the best known of all the colonies
among ordinary people in England and on the European
continent, and also the most cosmopolitan. Settlers
fl ocked to the province from throughout Europe, joining
several hundred Swedes and Finns who had been living in
a small trading colony—New Sweden—established in
1638 at the mouth of the Delaware River. But the colony
was never profi table for Penn and his descendants. Indeed,
Penn himself, near the end of his life, was imprisoned in
England for debt and died in poverty in 1718.
Penn was more than a mere real estate promoter, however, and he sought to create in Pennsylvania what he
called a holy experiment. In 1682, he sailed to America
and personally supervised the laying out of a city between
the Delaware and the Schuylkill Rivers, which he named
Philadelphia (“Brotherly Love”). With its rectangular
streets, like those of Charles Town, Philadelphia helped
set the pattern for most later cities in America. Penn
believed, as had Roger Williams, that the land belonged to
the Indians, and he was careful to see that they were reimbursed for it, as well as to see that they were not
debauched by the fur traders’ alcohol. Indians respected
Penn as an honest white man, and during his lifetime the
colony had no major confl icts with the natives. More than
any other English colony, Pennsylvania prospered from
the outset (even if its proprietor did not), because of
Penn’s successful recruitment of emigrants, his thoughtful
planning, and the region’s mild climate and fertile soil.
But the colony was not without confl ict. By the late
1690s, some residents of Pennsylvania were beginning to
resist the nearly absolute power of the proprietor.
Southern residents in particular complained that the government in Philadelphia was unresponsive to their needs.
As a result, a substantial opposition emerged to challenge Penn.
Pressure from these groups grew to the point that in 1701,
shortly before he departed for England for the last time,
Penn agreed to a Charter of Liberties for the colony. The
charter established a representative assembly (consisting,
alone among the English colonies, of only one house),
which greatly limited the authority of the proprietor. The
charter also permitted “the lower counties” of the colony
to establish their own representative assembly. The three
counties did so in 1703 and as a result became, in effect, a
separate colony: Delaware—although until the American
Revolution, it had the same governor as Pennsylvania.
The English colonies along the Atlantic seaboard of North
America eventually united, expanded, and became the
beginnings of a great nation. But in the seventeenth and
early eighteenth centuries, they were small, frail settlements surrounded by other, competing societies. The
British Empire in North America was, in fact, a much
smaller and weaker one than the great Spanish Empire to
the south, and not, on the surface at least, clearly stronger
than the enormous French Empire to the north.
The continuing contest for control of North America,
and the complex interactions among the diverse peoples
populating the continent, were most clearly visible in
areas around the borders of English settlement—the
Caribbean and along the northern, southern, and western
borders of the coastal colonies.
The Caribbean Islands
Throughout the fi rst half of the seventeenth century, the
most important destination for English immigrants was
not the mainland, but rather the
islands of the Caribbean and the
northern way station of Bermuda. More than half the
William Penn
The English Caribbean
Pennsylvania Founded
Charter of Liberties
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English migrants to the New World in those years settled
on these islands. The island societies had close ties to
English North America from the beginning and infl uenced
the development of the mainland colonies in several ways.
But they were also surrounded by, and sometimes imperiled by, outposts of the Spanish Empire.
Before the arrival of Europeans, most of the Caribbean
islands had substantial native populations—the Arawaks,
the Caribs, and the Ciboney. But
beginning with Christopher
Columbus’s fi rst visit in 1492, and accelerating after the
Spanish established their fi rst colony on Hispaniola in
1496, the native population was all but wiped out by
European epidemics. Indians were never a signifi cant factor in European settlement of the Caribbean. Indeed, by
the time signifi cant European settlement of the islands
began, many were almost entirely deserted.
The Spanish Empire claimed title to all the islands in
the Caribbean, but there was substantial Spanish settlement only on the largest of them: Cuba, Hispaniola, and
Puerto Rico. English, French, and Dutch traders began settling on some of the smaller islands early in the sixteenth
century, although these weak colonies were always vulnerable to Spanish attack. After Spain and the Netherlands
went to war in 1621 (distracting the Spanish navy and
leaving the English in the Caribbean relatively unmolested), the pace of English colonization increased. By
midcentury, there were several substantial English settlements on the islands, the most important of them on Antigua, St. Kitts, Jamaica, and Barbados. Even so, through the
seventeenth century, the English settlements in the Caribbean were the targets of almost constant attacks and invasions by the Spanish, the Portuguese, the French, the
Dutch, and the remaining Indians of the region. The world
of the Caribbean was a violent and turbulent place.
The Caribbean colonies built their economies on raising crops for export. In the early years, English settlers
experimented unsuccessfully with tobacco and cotton.
But they soon discovered that the most lucrative crop
was sugar, for which there was a substantial and growing
market in Europe. Sugarcane could also be distilled into
rum, for which there was also a booming market abroad.
Within a decade of the introduction of sugar cultivation
to the West Indies, planters were devoting almost all of
their land to sugarcane. In their appetite for more land for
sugarcane, they cut down forests and destroyed the natural
Imperial Confl ict
MAKING MOLASSES IN BARBADOS African slaves, who constituted the vast majority of the population of the fl ourishing sugar-producing island
of Barbados, work here in a sugar mill grinding sugarcane and then boiling it to produce refi ned sugar, molasses, and—after a later distillation
process not pictured here—rum. (Arents Collections, Rare Books Division, New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations)
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habitats of many animals, and greatly reduced the amount
of land available for growing food.
Because sugar was a labor-intensive crop, and because
the remnant of the native population was too small to
provide a work force, English planters quickly found it
necessary to import laborers. As in the Chesapeake, they
began by bringing indentured servants from England. But
the arduous work discouraged white laborers; many
found it impossible to adapt to the harsh tropical climate
so different from that of England. By midcentury, therefore, the English planters in the Caribbean (like the
Spanish colonists who preceded
them) were relying more and
more heavily on an enslaved African work force, which
soon substantially outnumbered them.
On Barbados and other islands where a fl ourishing
sugar economy developed, the English planters were a
tough, aggressive, and ambitious breed. Some of them
grew enormously wealthy; and since their livelihoods
depended on their work forces, they expanded and solidifi ed the system of African slavery there remarkably quickly.
By the late seventeenth century, there were four times as
many African slaves as there were white settlers. By then
the West Indies had ceased to be an attractive destination
for ordinary English immigrants; most now went to the
colonies on the North American mainland instead.
Masters and Slaves in the Caribbean
A small, mostly wealthy white population, and a large
African population held in bondage made for a potentially
explosive combination. As in other English colonies in
the New World in which Africans came to outnumber
Europeans, whites in the Caribbean grew fearful of slave
revolts. They had good reason, for
there were at least seven major
slave revolts in the islands, more than the English colonies
of North America experienced in their entire history as
slave societies. As a result, white planters monitored their
labor forces closely and often harshly. Beginning in the
1660s, all the islands enacted legal codes to regulate relations between masters and slaves and to give white people
Havana SanctiSpíritus Puerto
10°N 60°W
Bonaire Aruba
St. Kitts
& Nevis
St. Eustatius
St. Croix
St. Vincent
St. Lucia
Leeward Islands
Windward Islands
Netherlands Antilles
Gulf of
Caribbean Sea
English-held areas
Dutch settlements
French settlements
Spanish settlements
Territorial and Political
Changes in the Caribbean
0 250
0 500 1,000 km
500 mi
THE SEVENTEETH-CENTURY CARIBBEAN At the same time that European powers were expanding their colonial presence on the mainland of the
American continents, they were also establishing colonies in the islands of the Caribbean. In some cases, these islands were even more important
to the Atlantic economy than many of the mainland possessions, particularly the large, heavily populated sugar-growing islands (among them
Jamaica and Barbados), in which the majority of the population consisted of African slaves â—† What role did the Caribbean islands play in the
spread of slavery in North America?
Sugar and Slavery
Slave Revolts
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virtually absolute authority over Africans. A master could
even murder a slave with virtual impunity.
There was little in either the law or in the character of
the economy to compel planters to pay much attention to
the welfare of their workers. Many white slaveowners
concluded that it was cheaper to buy new slaves periodically than to protect the well-being of those they already
owned, and it was not uncommon for masters to work
their slaves to death. Few African workers survived
more than a decade in the brutal Caribbean working
environment—they were either sold to planters in North
America or died. Even whites, who worked far less hard
than did the slaves, often succumbed to the harsh climate;
most died before the age of forty—often from tropical diseases to which they had no immunity.
Establishing a stable society and culture was extremely
diffi cult for people living in such harsh and even deadly
conditions. Many of the whites were principally interested in getting rich and had no long-term commitment
to the islands. Those who could
returned to England with their
fortunes and left their estates in the hands of overseers. A
large proportion of the European settlers were single
men, many of whom either died or left at a young age.
Those who remained, many of them common white
farmers and laborers living in desperate poverty, were
too poor to contribute to the development of the society.
With few white women on the islands and little intermarriage between blacks and whites, Europeans in the Caribbean lacked many of the institutions that gave stability
to the North American settlements: church, family,
Africans in the Caribbean faced even greater diffi culties, of course, but they managed to create a world of their
own despite the hardships. They started families (although
many of them were broken up by death or the slave
trade); they sustained African religious and social traditions (and showed little interest in Christianity); and
within the rigidly controlled world of the sugar plantations, they established patterns of resistance.
The Caribbean settlements were connected to the
North American colonies in many ways. They were an
important part of the Atlantic
trading world in which many
Americans became involved—a
source of sugar and rum and a market for goods made in
the mainland colonies and in England. They were the
principal source of African slaves for the mainland colonies; well over half the slaves in North America came
from the islands, not directly from Africa. And because
Caribbean planters established an elaborate plantation
system earlier than planters in North America, they provided models that many mainland people consciously or
unconsciously copied. In the American South, too, planters grew wealthy at the expense of poor whites and,
above all, of African slaves.
The Southwestern Borderlands
By the end of the seventeenth century, the Spanish Empire
had established only a small presence in the regions that
became the United States. In Mexico and regions farther
south, the Spanish had established a sophisticated and
impressive empire. Their capital, Mexico City, was the
most dazzling metropolis in the Americas. The Spanish
residents, well over a million of them, enjoyed much
greater prosperity than all but a few English settlers in
North America.
But the principal Spanish colonies north of Mexico—
Florida, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California—
although attracting religious minorities, Catholic missionaries, independent ranchers fl eeing the heavy hand of
imperial authority, and Spanish troops defending the northern fl ank of the empire, remained
weak and peripheral parts of the
great empire to their south.
New Mexico was the most prosperous and populous of
these Spanish outposts. Once the Spanish quelled the Pueblo
revolt there in 1680 (see p. 19), they worked effectively with
the natives of the region to develop a fl ourishing agriculture.
By the early nineteenth century, New Mexico had a nonIndian population of over 10,000—the largest European settlement west of the Mississippi and north of Mexico—and it
was steadily expanding through the region. But New Mexico
was prosperous only when compared to other borderlands.
Its residents were far less successful than the Spanish in
Mexico and other more densely settled regions.
The Spanish began to colonize California once they
realized that other Europeans—among them English
merchants and French and Russian trappers—were
beginning to establish a presence in the region. Formal
Spanish settlement of California
began in the 1760s, when the
governor of Baja California was ordered to create outposts of the empire farther north. Soon a string of missions, forts (or presidios), and trading communities were
springing up along the Pacifi c coast, beginning with San
Diego and Monterey in 1769 and eventually San
Francisco (1776), Los Angeles (1781), and Santa Barbara
(1786). As in other areas of European settlement, the
arrival of the Spanish in California (and the diseases they
imported) had a devastating effect on the native population. Approximately 65,000 at the time of the fi rst Spanish settlements, by 1820 it had declined by two-thirds. As
the new settlements spread, however, the Spanish
insisted that the remaining natives convert to Catholicism. That explains the centrality of missions in almost all
the major Spanish outposts in California. But the Spanish
colonists were also intent on creating a prosperous agricultural economy, and they enlisted Indian laborers to help
them do so. California’s Indians had no choice but to
accede to the demands of the Spanish, although there were
frequent revolts by natives against the harsh conditions
Connection to British
North America
Unstable Societies
Spain’s Northern
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imposed upon them. Already decimated by disease, the
tribes now declined further as a result of malnutrition and
overwork at the hands of the Spanish missions.
In the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries,
the Spanish considered the greatest threat to the northern borders of their empire to be the growing ambitions
of the French. In the 1680s, French explorers traveled
down the Mississippi Valley to the mouth of the river
and claimed the lands they had traversed for their king,
Louis XIV. They called the territory Louisiana. Fearful of
French incursions farther west, and unsettled by the nomadic
Indians driven into the territory by the French, the Spanish began to fortify their claim to Texas by establishing
new forts, missions, and settlements there, including San
Fernando (later San Antonio) in 1731. The region that is
now Arizona was also becoming increasingly tied to the
Spanish Empire. Northern Arizona was a part of the New
Mexico colony and was governed from Santa Fe. The rest
of Arizona (from Phoenix south) was controlled by the
Mexican region of Sonora. As in California, much of the
impetus for these settlements came from Catholic missionaries (in this case Jesuits), eager to convert the natives.
But the missionary project met with little success. Unlike
the sedentary Pueblos around Santa Fe, the Arizona natives
were nomadic peoples, unlikely to settle down or to
Christianize, frequently at war with rival tribes, and—like
natives elsewhere—tragically vulnerable to smallpox,
measles, and other imported diseases. As in California,
epidemics reduced the native population of Arizona by
two-thirds in the early eighteenth century.
Although peripheral to the great Spanish Empire to the
south, the Spanish colonies in the Southwest nevertheless
helped create enduring societies very unlike those being
established by the English along the Atlantic seaboard.
The Spanish colonies were committed not to displacing
the native populations, but rather to enlisting them. They
sought to convert them to Catholicism, to recruit them
(sometimes forcibly) as agricultural workers, and to cultivate
them as trading partners. The
Spanish did not consider the natives to be their equals,
certainly, and they did not treat them very well. But neither did they consider them merely as obstacles to their
own designs, as many English settlers in the East did.
The Southeastern Borderlands
A more direct challenge to English ambitions in North
America was the Spanish presence in the southeastern
areas of what is now the United States. After the establishment of the Spanish claim to Florida in the 1560s (see
p. 19), missionaries and traders began moving northward
into Georgia and westward into what is now known as
the panhandle, and some ambitious Spaniards began to
dream of expanding their empire still farther north, into
what became the Carolinas, and perhaps beyond. The
founding of Jamestown in 1607 replaced those dreams
with fears. The English colonies, they believed, could
threaten their existing settlements in Florida and Georgia.
As a result, the Spanish built forts in both regions to
defend themselves against the slowly increasing English
presence there. Throughout the eighteenth century, the
area between the Carolinas and Florida was the site of
continuing tension, and frequent confl ict, between the
Spanish and the English—and, to a lesser degree, between
the Spanish and the French, who were threatening their
northwestern borders with settlements in Louisiana and
in what is now Alabama.
There was no formal war between England and Spain
in these years, but that did not dampen the hostilities in
the Southeast. English pirates continually harassed the
Spanish settlements and, in 1668,
actually sacked St. Augustine. Both
sides in this confl ict sought to
make use of the native tribes. The English encouraged
Indians in Florida to rise up against the Spanish missions.
The Spanish, for their part, offered freedom to African
slaves owned by Carolina settlers if they agreed to convert to Catholicism. About 100 Africans accepted the offer,
and the Spanish later organized some of them into a military regiment to defend the northern border of New
Spain. The English correctly viewed the Spanish recruitment of their slaves as an effort to undermine their economy. By the early eighteenth century, the constant fi ghting
in the region had driven almost all the Spanish settlers
out of Florida. The Spanish presence was almost entirely
confined to St. Augustine on the Atlantic coast and
Pensacola on the Gulf Coast, and to the modest colonies
that surrounded the forts there. Because they were so few
and so weak, they came to rely—far more than most
British did—on natives and Africans and intermarried frequently with them.
Eventually, after more than a century of confl ict in the
southeastern borderlands, the English prevailed—acquiring
Florida in the aftermath of the Seven Years’ War (known in
America as the French and Indian War; see pp. 109–111)
and rapidly populating it with settlers from their colonies to
the north. Before that point, however, protecting the southern boundary of the British Empire in North America was a
continual concern to the English and contributed in crucial
ways to the founding of the colony of Georgia.
The Founding of Georgia
Georgia was unique in its origins. Its founders were a
group of unpaid trustees led by General James Oglethorpe,
a member of Parliament and military hero. They were
interested in economic success,
but they were driven primarily
by military and philanthropic
motives. They wanted to erect a military barrier against
the Spanish lands on the southern border of English
Importance of the
Spanish Borderlands
Hostilities in the
James Oglethorpe’s
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America, and they wanted to provide a refuge for the
impoverished, a place where English men and women
without prospects at home could begin anew.
The need for a military buffer between South Carolina
and the Spanish settlements in Florida was particularly
urgent in the fi rst years of the eighteenth century. In a
1676 treaty, Spain had recognized England’s title to lands
already occupied by English settlers. But confl ict between
the two colonizing powers had continued. In 1686, a
force of Indians and Creoles from Florida, directed by
Spanish agents, attacked and destroyed an outlying South
Carolina settlement south of the treaty line. And when
hostilities broke out again between Spain and England in
1701 (known in England as Queen Anne’s War and on the
Continent as the War of the Spanish Succession), the fi ghting renewed in America as well.
Oglethorpe, himself a veteran of Queen Anne’s War,
was keenly aware of the military advantages of an English
colony south of the Carolinas. Yet his interest in settlement rested even more on his philanthropic commitments. As head of a parliamentary committee investigating
English prisons, he had grown appalled by the plight of
honest debtors rotting in confi nement. Such prisoners,
and other poor people in danger of succumbing to a similar fate, could, he believed, become the farmer-soldiers of
the new colony in America.
In 1732, King George II granted Oglethorpe and his fellow trustees control of the land between the Savannah
and Altamaha Rivers. Their colonization policies refl ected
the vital military purposes of the colony. They limited the
size of landholdings to make the settlement compact and
easier to defend against Spanish and Indian attacks. They
excluded Africans, free or slave; Oglethorpe feared slave
labor would produce internal
revolts, and that disaffected slaves
might turn to the Spanish as
allies. The trustees prohibited rum (both because Oglethorpe disapproved of it on moral grounds and because
the trustees feared its effects on the natives). They strictly
regulated trade with the Indians, again to limit the possibility of wartime insurrection. They also excluded Catholics for fear they might collude with their coreligionists in
the Spanish colonies to the south.
Oglethorpe himself led the fi rst colonial expedition to
Georgia, which built a fortifi ed town at the mouth of the
Savannah River in 1733 and later constructed additional
forts south of the Altamaha. In the end, only a few debtors
were released from jail and sent to Georgia. Instead, the
trustees brought hundreds of impoverished tradesmen
and artisans from England and Scotland and many religious refugees from Switzerland and Germany. Among
the immigrants was a small group of Jews. English settlers
made up a lower proportion of the European population
of Georgia than of any other English colony.
The strict rules governing life in the new colony stifl ed its early development and ensured the failure of
Oglethorpe’s vision. Settlers in Georgia—many of whom
were engaged in labor-intensive agriculture—needed a
work force as much as those in other southern colonies.
Almost from the start they began demanding the right to
buy slaves. Some opposed the restrictions on the size of
individual property holdings. Many resented the nearly
absolute political power of Oglethorpe and the trustees.
As a result, newcomers to the region generally preferred
to settle in South Carolina, where there were fewer
restrictive laws.
Oglethorpe (whom some residents of Georgia began
calling “our perpetual dictator”) at fi rst bitterly resisted
the demands of the settlers for social and political reform.
Over time, however, he wearied of the confl ict in the colony and grew frustrated at its failure to grow. He also suffered military disappointments, such as a 1740 assault on
the Spanish outpost at St. Augustine, Florida, which ended
in failure. Oglethorpe, now disillusioned with his American venture, began to loosen his grip.
Even before the 1740 defeat, the trustees had removed
the limitation on individual landholdings. In 1750, they
removed the ban on slavery. A year later they ended the
prohibition of rum and returned control of the colony to
the king, who immediately permitted the summoning of a
representative assembly. Georgia continued to grow more
slowly than the other southern colonies, but in other
ways it now developed along lines roughly similar to
those of South Carolina. By 1770, there were over 20,000
non-Indian residents of the colony, nearly half of them
African slaves.
Middle Grounds
The struggle for the North American continent was, of
course, not just one among competing European empires.
It was also a contest between the new European immigrants and the native populations.
In some parts of the British Empire—Virginia and New
England, for example—English settlers quickly established
their dominance, subjugating and displacing most natives
until they had established societies that were dominated
almost entirely by Europeans. But elsewhere the balance
of power remained far more precarious. Along the western borders of English settlement, in
particular, Europeans and Indians lived together in regions
in which neither side was able to establish clear dominance. In these “middle grounds,” as they have been called,
the two populations—despite frequent confl icts—carved
out ways of living together, with each side making concessions to the other. Here the Europeans found themselves obliged to adapt to tribal expectations at least as
much as the Indians had to adapt to European ones.
To the Indians, the European migrants were both menacing and appealing. They feared the power of these
Georgia’s Military
of Georgia
Confl ict and
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strange people: their guns, their rifl es, their forts. But they
also wanted the French and British settlers to behave like
“fathers”—to help them mediate their own internal disputes, to offer them gifts, to help them moderate their
confl icts. Europeans came from a world in which the formal institutional and military power of a nation or empire
governed relationships between societies. But the natives
had no understanding of the modern notion of a “nation”
and thought much more in terms of ceremony and kinship. Gradually, Europeans learned to fulfi ll at least some
of their expectations.
In the seventeenth century, before many English settlers had entered the interior, the French were particularly
adept at creating mutually benefi cial relationships with
the tribes. They welcomed the
chance to form close relationships with—even to marry
within—the tribes. They also recognized the importance
of treating tribal chiefs with respect and channeling gifts
and tributes through them. But by the mid-eighteenth century, French infl uence in the interior was in decline, and
British settlers gradually became the dominant European
group in the “middle grounds.” It took the British a considerable time to learn the lessons that the French had long
ago absorbed—that simple commands and raw force were
much less effective in creating a workable relationship
For many generations, historians
chronicling the westward movement of European settlement in
North America incorporated Native
Americans into the story largely as
weak and inconvenient obstacles
swept aside by the inevitable progress of “civilization.” Indians were
presented either as murderous savages or as relatively docile allies of
white people, but rarely as important
actors of their own. Francis Parkman,
the great nineteenth-century American
historian, described Indians as a civilization “crushed” and “scorned” by the
march of European powers in the New
World. Many subsequent historians
departed little from his assessment.
In more recent years, historians
have challenged this traditional view
by examining how white civilization
victimized the tribes. Gary Nash’s
Red, White, and Black (1974) was
one of the fi rst important presentations of this approach, and Ramon
Guttierez’s When Jesus Came, the
Corn Mothers Went (1991) was a
more recent contribution. They, and
other scholars, rejected the optimistic, progressive view of white triumph over adversity and presented,
instead, a picture of conquest that
affected both the conqueror and the
conquered and did not bring to an
end their infl uence on one another.
More recently, however, a new
view of the relationship between
the peoples of the Old and New
Worlds has emerged. It sees Native
Americans and Euro-Americans as
uneasy partners in the shaping of a
new society in which, for a time at
least, both were a vital part. Richard
White’s infl uential 1991 book, The
Middle Ground, was among the
fi rst important statements of this
view. White examined the culture of
the Great Lakes Region in the eighteenth century, in which Algonquin
Indians created a series of complex
trading and political relationships
with French, English, and American
settlers and travelers in the region.
In this “borderland” between the
growing European settlements in
the East and the still largely intact
Indian civilizations farther west, a
new kind of hybrid society emerged
in which many cultures intermingled.
James Merrell’s Into the American
Woods (1999) contributed further
to this new view of collaboration
by examining the world of negotiators and go-betweens along the
western Pennsylvania frontier in the
seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Like White, he emphasized the
complicated blend of European and
Native American diplomatic rituals
that allowed both groups to conduct
business, make treaties, and keep the
Daniel Richter extended the idea
of a “middle ground” further in two
important books: The Ordeal of the
Native Americans and “The Middle Ground”
with the tribes than were gifts and ceremonies and mediation. Eventually they did so, and in large western regions—
especially those around the Great Lakes—they established
a precarious peace with the tribes that lasted for several
But as the British and (after 1776) American presence
in the region grew, the balance of power between Europeans and natives shifted. Newer settlers had diffi culty
adapting to the complex rituals
of gift-giving and mediation that
the earlier migrants had developed. The stability of the
relationship between the Indians and whites deteriorated. By the early nineteenth century, the “middle
grounds” had collapsed, replaced by a European world
in which Indians were more ruthlessly subjugated and
eventually removed. Nevertheless, it is important to recognize that for a considerable period of early American
history, the story of the relationship between whites
and Indians was not simply a story of conquest and subjugation, but also—in some regions—a story of a diffi –
cult but stable accommodation and mutual adaptation.
The Indians were not simply victims in the story of the
growth of European settlement in North America. They
were also important actors, sometimes obstructing and
sometimes facilitating the development of the new
Mutually Benefi cial
The Shifting Balance
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British government sought to monopolize trade relations
with its colonies.
In theory, the mercantile system offered benefi ts to the
colonies as well by providing them with a ready market
for the raw materials they produced and a source for the
manufactured goods they did not. But some colonial
goods were not suitable for export to England, which produced wheat, fl our, and fi sh and had no interest in obtaining them from America. Colonists also found it more
profi table at times to trade with the Spanish, French, or
Dutch even in goods that England did import. Thus, a
considerable trade soon developed between the English
colonies and non-English markets.
For a time, the English government made no serious
efforts to restrict this challenge to the principles of mercantilism, but gradually it began passing laws to regulate
colonial trade. During Oliver Cromwell’s “Protectorate,” in
1650 and 1651, Parliament passed
laws to keep Dutch ships out of
the English colonies. After the Restoration, the government of Charles II adopted three Navigation Acts designed
to regulate colonial commerce even more strictly. The
fi rst of them, in 1660, closed the colonies to all trade
except that carried in English ships. This law also required
the colonists to export certain items, among them tobacco,
only to England or English possessions. The second act, in
Longhouse (1992) and Facing East
from Indian Country (2001). Richter
demonstrates that the Iroquois
Confederacy was an active participant
in the power relationships in the
Hudson River basin; and in his later
book, he tells the story of European
colonization from the Native American
perspective, revealing how western
myths of “fi rst contact” such as the
story of John Smith and Pocahontas
look entirely different when seen
through the eyes of Native Americans,
who remained in many ways the more
powerful of the two societies in the
seventeenth century.
How did these important collaborations collapse? What happened to
the “middle ground”? Over time, the
delicate partnerships along the frontiers of white settlement gave way
to the sheer numbers of Europeans
(and in some places Africans) who
moved westward. Joyce Chaplin’s
Subject Matter (2001) argues as
well that Old World Americans at
fi rst admired the natives as a kind
of natural nobility until European
diseases ravaged the tribes, helping
to strengthen the sense of superiority among Europeans that had been
a part of their view of Indians from
the beginning. Jill Lepore’s The
Name of War (1998) describes how
the violence of King Philip’s War in
seventeenth-century New England
helped transform English views of
the tribes both because of the white
victory over the Indians and because
of their success in turning this victory into a rationale for the moral
superiority of Europeans (who, in
reality, had used as much “savagery”
against the natives as the natives had
used against them) by portraying the
Indians as brutal, uncivilized people.
As the pressures of white settlement
grew, as the Indian populations weakened as a result of disease and war,
and as the relationship between the
tribes and the European settlers grew
more and more unequal, the cultural “middle ground” that for many
decades characterized much of the
contact between the Old and New
Worlds gradually disappeared. By
the time historians began seriously
chronicling this story in the late
nineteenth century, the Indian tribes
had indeed become the defeated,
helpless “obstacles” that they portrayed. But for generations before,
the relationship between white
Americans and Native Americans was
a much less unequal one than it later
(Rare Books Division, New York Public Library,
Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations)
The English colonies in America had originated as quite
separate projects, and for the most part they grew up
independent of one another. But by the mid-seventeenth
century, the growing commercial success of the colonial
ventures was producing pressure in England for a more
rational, uniform structure to the empire.
The Drive for Reorganization
Imperial reorganization, many people in England claimed,
would increase the profi tability of the colonies and the
power of the English government to supervise them.
Above all, it would contribute to the success of the mercantile system, the foundation of the English economy.
Colonies would provide a market for England’s manufactured goods and a source for raw materials it could not
produce at home, thus increasing the total wealth of the
nation. But for the new possessions truly to promote mercantilist goals, England would have to exclude foreigners
(as Spain had done) from its colonial trade. According to mercantilist theory, any wealth fl owing to another nation could
come only at the expense of England itself. Hence the
The Navigation Acts
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SAVANNAH IN 1734 This early view of the English settlement at Savannah by an English artist shows the intensely orderly character of Georgia
in the early moments of European settlement there. As the colony grew, its residents gradually abandoned the rigid plan created by Georgia’s
founders. (I. N. Phelps Stokes Collection of American Historical Prints, New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations)
1663, provided that all goods being shipped from Europe
to the colonies had to pass through England on the way;
that would make it possible for England to tax them. The
third act, in 1673, was a response to the widespread evasion of the fi rst two laws by the colonial shippers, who
frequently left port claiming to be heading for another
English colony but then sailed to a foreign port. It imposed
duties on the coastal trade among the English colonies,
and it provided for the appointment of customs offi cials
to enforce the Navigation Acts. These acts formed the
legal basis of England’s mercantile system in America for a
The system created by the Navigation Acts had obvious
advantages for England. But it had some advantages for
the colonists as well. By restricting all trade to British
ships, the laws encouraged the colonists (who were themselves legally British subjects) to create an important shipbuilding industry of their own. And because the English
wanted to import as many goods as possible from their
own colonies (as opposed to importing them from rival
nations), they encouraged—and at times subsidized—the
development of American production of goods they
needed, among them iron, silk, and lumber. Despite the
bitter complaints the laws provoked in America in the late
seventeenth century, and the more bitter confl icts they
would help to provoke decades later, the system of the
Navigation Acts served the interests of the British and the
Americans alike reasonably well through most of the eighteenth century.
The Dominion of New England
Enforcement of the Navigation Acts required not only the
stationing of customs offi cials in America, but also the
establishment of an agency in England to oversee colonial
affairs. In 1679, Charles II attempted to increase his control over Massachusetts (which behaved at times as if its
leaders considered it an independent nation) by stripping
the colony of its authority over New Hampshire and chartering a separate, royal colony there whose governor he
would himself appoint. Five years later, after the Massachusetts General Court defi ed instructions from Parliament to
enforce the Navigation Acts, Charles revoked the Massachusetts corporate charter and made it a royal colony.
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Charles II’s brother and successor, James II, who came
to the throne in 1685, went much further. In 1686, he created a single Dominion of New England, which combined
the government of Massachusetts with the governments
of the rest of the New England
colonies and, in 1688, with those
of New York and New Jersey as well. He eliminated the
existing assemblies within the new Dominion and
appointed a single governor, Sir Edmund Andros, to supervise the entire region from Boston. Andros was an able
administrator but a stern and tactless man; his rigid enforcement of the Navigation Acts, his brusque dismissal of the
colonists’ claims to the “rights of Englishmen,” and his crude
and arbitrary tactics made him quickly and thoroughly
unpopular. He was particularly despised in Massachusetts,
where he tried to strengthen the Anglican Church.
The “Glorious Revolution”
James II was not only losing friends in America; he was
making powerful enemies in England by attempting to
exercise autocratic control over Parliament and the courts.
He was also appointing his fellow Catholics to high offi ce,
inspiring fears that he would try to reestablish Catholicism as England’s offi cial religion. By 1688, his popular
support had all but vanished.
Until 1688, James’s heirs were two daughters—Mary
and Anne—both of whom were Protestant. But in that
year the king had a son and made clear that the boy would
be raised a Catholic. Some members of Parliament were
so alarmed that they invited the king’s daughter Mary and
her husband, William of Orange, ruler of the Netherlands
and Protestant champion of Europe, to assume the throne
together. When William and Mary arrived in England with
a small army, James II (perhaps remembering what had
happened to his father, Charles I) offered no resistance
and fl ed to France. As a result of this bloodless coup,
which the English called “the Glorious Revolution,” William
and Mary became joint sovereigns.
When Bostonians heard of the overthrow of James II,
they moved quickly to unseat his unpopular viceroy in
New England. Andros managed to escape an angry mob,
but he was arrested and imprisoned as he sought to fl ee
the city dressed as a woman. The
new sovereigns in England chose
not to contest the toppling of Andros and quickly acquiesced in what the colonists had, in effect, already done:
abolishing the Dominion of New England and restoring
separate colonial governments. They did not, however,
accede to all the colonists’ desires. In 1691, they combined
Massachusetts with Plymouth and made it a royal colony.
The new charter restored the General Court, but it gave the
crown the right to appoint the governor. It also replaced
church membership with property ownership as the basis
for voting and offi ceholding and required the Puritan leaders of the colony to tolerate Anglican worship.
Andros had been governing New York through a lieutenant governor, Captain Francis Nicholson, who enjoyed
the support of the wealthy merchants and fur traders of
the province—the same groups who had dominated the
colony for years. Other, less favored colonists—farmers,
mechanics, small traders, and shopkeepers—had a long
accumulation of grievances against both Nicholson and
his allies. The leader of the New York dissidents was Jacob
Leisler, a German immigrant and a prosperous merchant
who had married into a prominent Dutch family but had
never won acceptance as one of the colony’s ruling class.
Much like Nathaniel Bacon in Virginia, the ambitious
Leisler resented his exclusion and eagerly grasped the
opportunity to challenge the colonial elite. In May 1689,
when news of the Glorious Revolution in England and
the fall of Andros in Boston reached New York, Leisler
raised a militia, captured the city fort, drove Nicholson
into exile, and proclaimed himself the new head of government in New York. For two years, he tried in vain to
stabilize his power in the colony amid fi erce factional
rivalry. In 1691, when William and Mary appointed a new
governor, Leisler briefl y resisted this challenge to his
authority. Although he soon yielded, his hesitation allowed
his many political enemies to charge him with treason. He
and one of his sons-in-law were hanged, drawn, and quartered. Fierce rivalry between what became known as the
“Leislerians” and the “anti-Leislerians” dominated the politics of New York for many years thereafter.
In Maryland, many people erroneously assumed when
they heard news of the Glorious Revolution that their
proprietor, the Catholic Lord Baltimore, who was living in
England, had sided with the
Catholic James II and opposed
William and Mary. So in 1689, an
old opponent of the proprietor’s government, John Coode,
started a new revolt, which drove out Lord Baltimore’s
offi cials in the name of Protestantism. Through an elected
convention, his supporters chose a committee to run the
government and petitioned the crown for a charter as a
royal colony. In 1691, William and Mary complied, stripping the proprietor of his authority. The colonial assembly
established the Church of England as the colony’s offi cial
religion and forbade Catholics to hold public offi ce, to
vote, or even to practice their religion in public. Maryland
became a proprietary colony again in 1715, but only after
the fi fth Lord Baltimore joined the Anglican Church.
As a result of the Glorious Revolution, the colonies
revived their representative assemblies and successfully
thwarted the plan for colonial unifi cation. In the process,
they legitimized the idea that the colonists had some rights
within the empire, that the English government needed to
consider their views in making policies that affected them.
But the Glorious Revolution in America was not, as many
Americans later came to believe, a clear demonstration of
American resolve to govern itself or a clear victory for
colonial self-rule. In New York and Maryland, in particular,
Sir Edmund Andros
End of the Dominion
John Coode’s
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the uprisings had more to do with local factional and religious divisions than with any larger vision of the nature of
the empire. And while the insurgencies did succeed in
eliminating the short-lived Dominion of New England,
their ultimate results were governments that increased the
crown’s potential authority in many ways. As the fi rst century of English settlement in America came to its end and
as colonists celebrated their victories over arbitrary British
rule, they were in fact becoming more a part of the imperial system than ever before.
But this growing British Empire coexisted with,
and often found itself in conflict with, the presence
of other Europeans—most notably the Spanish and
the French—in other areas of North America. In these
borderlands, societies did not assume the settled, prosperous form they were taking in the Tidewater and
New England. They were raw, sparsely populated settlements in which Europeans, including over time increasing numbers of English, had to learn to accommodate
not only one another but also the still-substantial Indian
tribes with whom they shared these interior lands.
By the middle of the eighteenth century, there was a
significant European presence across a broad swath of
North America—from Florida to Maine, and from Texas
to Mexico to California—only a relatively small part of
it controlled by the British. But changes were underway within the British Empire that would soon lead
to its dominance through a much larger area of North
The English colonization of North America was part of a
larger effort by several European nations to expand the
reach of their increasingly commercial societies. Indeed,
for many years, the British Empire in America was among
the smallest and weakest of the imperial ventures there,
overshadowed by the French to the north and the
Spanish to the south.
In the British colonies along the Atlantic seaboard,
new agricultural and commercial societies gradually
emerged—in the South, centered on the cultivation of
tobacco and cotton and reliant on slave labor; and in the
northern colonies, centered on traditional food crops and
based mostly on free labor. Substantial trading centers
emerged in such cities as Boston, New York, Philadelphia,
and Charleston, and a growing proportion of the population became prosperous and settled in these increasingly
complex communities. By the early eighteenth century, English settlement had spread from northern New
England (in what is now Maine) south into Georgia.
The Primary Source Investigator CD-ROM offers the following materials related to this chapter:
• Interactive maps: The Atlantic World (M68) and
Growth of Colonies (M3).
• Documents, images, and maps related to the English
colonization of North America, the borderlands, and
the meeting of cultures. Highlights include letters and
documents relating to the peace resulting from the
marriage of Pocahontas to John Rolfe, and the eventual breakdown of that peace; early materials related
to the origins of slavery in America, including a document that presents one of the earliest restrictive slave
codes in the British colonies; and images of an early
slave-trading fort on the coast of west Africa.
Online Learning Center (
For quizzes, Internet resources, references to additional
books and films, and more, consult this book’s Online
Learning Center.
William Cronon, Changes in the Land: Indians, Colonists, and
the Ecology of New England (1983) examines the social and
environmental effects of English settlement in colonial America.
Richard White, The Middle Ground: Indians, Empires, and
Republics in the Great Lakes Region, 1650–1815 (1991) is an
important study of the accommodations that Indians and early
European settlers made in the continental interior. James H.
Merrell, The Indians’ New World (1991) and Into the American
Woods: Negotiators on the Pennsylvania Frontier (1999) are
among the best examinations of the impact of European settlement on eastern tribes. Nathaniel Philbrick, Mayfl ower, A Story
of Community, Courage, and War (2006) is a vivid story of
the Plymouth migration. Perry Miller, The New England Mind:
From Colony to Province (1953) is a classic exposition of the
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