New England Colonies

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The New England Colonies of British America included Connecticut Colony, Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, Massachusetts Bay Colony, and Province of New Hampshire. They were part of the Thirteen Colonies. These were early settlements of what became the states in New England.[1] Captain John Smith was the author of the 1616 work A Description of New England and first applied the term "New England"[2] to coastal lands of North America from Long Island Sound to Newfoundland.[3]

17th century[edit]

The English royal charters granted land to the north to Queen Elizabeth, land to the south to the London Company.

There were several attempts early in the 17th century to colonize New England by France, England, and other countries who were often in contention for lands in the New World. French nobleman Pierre Dugua de Monts (Sieur de Monts) established a settlement on Saint Croix Island, Maine in June 1604 under the authority of the King of France. The small St. Croix River Island is located on the northern boundary of present-day Maine. Nearly half the settlers perished due to the harsh winter and scurvy, and the survivors moved out of New England north to Port-Royal of Nova Scotia (see symbol "R" on map to the right) in the spring of 1605.[4]

King James I of England recognized the need for a permanent settlement in New England, and he granted competing royal charters to the Plymouth Company and the London Company. The Plymouth Company ships arrived at the mouth of the Kennebec River (then called the Sagadahoc River) in August 1607 where they established a settlement named Sagadahoc Colony or more well known as Popham Colony (see symbol "Po" on map to right) to honor financial backer Sir John Popham. The colonists faced a harsh winter, the loss of supplies following a storehouse fire, and mixed relations with the indigenous tribes.

Colony leader Captain George Popham died, and Raleigh Gilbert, a second leader, decided to return to England to take up an inheritance left by the death of an older brother—at which point, all of the colonists decided to return to England. It was around August 1608 when they left on the ship Mary and John and a new ship built by the colony named Virginia of Sagadahoc. The 30-ton Virginia was the first English-built ship in North America.[5]

Conflict over land rights continued through the early 17th century, with the French constructing Fort Pentagouet near present-day Castine, Maine in 1613. The fort protected a trading post and a fishing station and was considered the first longer-term settlement in New England. The fort traded hands multiple times throughout the 17th century between the English, French, and Dutch colonists.[6]

In 1614, Dutch explorer Adriaen Block traveled along the coast of Long Island Sound and then up the Connecticut River to present-day Hartford, Connecticut. By 1623, the new Dutch West India Company regularly traded for furs there and, ten years later, they fortified it for protection from the Pequot Indians as well as from the expanding English colonies. They fortified the site which was named "House of Hope" (also identified as "Fort Hoop," "Good Hope," and "Hope"),[7] but encroaching English colonization made them agree to the Treaty of Hartford and they were gone by 1645.[citation needed]

Pilgrims and Puritans (1622)[edit]

A group of Puritans known as the Pilgrims arrived on the Mayflower from England and the NetheColonial America, following Jamestown, Virginia. About half of the one hundred-plus passengers on the Mayflower died that first winter, mostly because of diseases contracted on the voyage and a harsh winter.[8] In 1621, a Native American named Squanto taught the colonists how to grow corn and where to catch eel and fish. His assistance was invaluable and allowed many Pilgrims the ability to survive the early years of the colonization. The Pilgrims lived on the same site where Squanto's Patuxet tribe had established a village before they were wiped out from diseases.[9]

The Plymouth settlement faced great hardships and earned few profits, but it enjoyed a positive reputation in England and may have sown the seeds for further immigration. Edward Winslow and William Bradford published an account of their adventures in 1622 called Mourt's Relation.[10] This book was only a small glimpse of the hardships and adventures encountered by the Pilgrims, but it may have served to encourage other Puritans to emigrate during the Great Migration.

Major boundaries of Massachusetts Bay and neighboring colonial claims in the 17th century and 18th century. Modern state boundaries are partially overlaid for context.

The Puritans in England first sent smaller groups in the mid-1620s to establish colonies, buildings, and food supplies, learning from the Pilgrims' harsh experiences of winter in the Plymouth Colony. In 1623, the Plymouth Council for New England (successor to the Plymouth Company) established a small fishing village at Cape Ann under the supervision of the Dorchester Company. The first group of Puritans moved to a new town at nearby Naumkeag after the Dorchester Company dropped support and fresh financial support was found by Rev. John White. Other settlements were started in nearby areas; however, the overall Puritan population remained small through the 1620s.[11]

A larger group of Puritans arrived in 1630, leaving England because they desired to worship in a manner that differed from the Church of England. Their views were in accord with those of the Pilgrims who arrived on the Mayflower, except that the Pilgrims were known as "separatists" because they felt that they needed to separate themselves from the Church of England, whereas the later Puritans were content to remain under the umbrella of the Church of England. The separate colonies were governed independent of each other until the Massachusetts Bay Colony was reorganized in 1691, combining both colonies as the Province of Massachusetts Bay.

Early dissenters of the Puritan laws were often banished from the Massachusetts Bay Colony. The Connecticut Colony was started after Puritan minister Thomas Hooker left Massachusetts Bay with around 100 followers in search of greater religious and political freedom. Puritan minister Roger Williams left Massachusetts Bay to found the Rhode Island Colony, while John Wheelwright left with his followers to a colony in present-day New Hampshire and shortly thereafter on to present day Maine. The Puritans also established the American public school system for the express purpose of ensuring that future generations would be able to read the Bible for themselves, which was a central tenet of Puritan worship.[12]

Founding (1636)[edit]

It was the dead of winter in January 1636 when Salem minister Roger Williams had been banished from the Massachusetts Bay Colony because of theological differences. In Salem, he preached that government and religion should be separate; he also believed that the Wampanoag and Narragansett tribes had been treated unfairly. That winter, the tribes helped Williams to survive and sold him land for a new colony in present-day Providence, Rhode Island which he named Providence Plantation in recognition of the intervention of Divine Providence in establishing the new colony. It was unique in its day in expressly providing for religious freedom and a separation of church from state.

Roger Williams returned to England two times to prevent the attempt of other colonies to take over Providence and to charter or incorporate Providence and other nearby communities into the Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations.[13]

A map of the Connecticut, New Haven, and Saybrook colonies

Later in 1636, Thomas Hooker left Massachusetts with one hundred followers and founded a new English settlement just north of the Dutch Fort Hoop that became Connecticut Colony. The community was first named Newtown then renamed Hartford shortly afterwards to honor the English town of Hertford. One of the reasons why Hooker left was that only members of the church could vote and participate in the government in Massachusetts Bay, which he believed should include any adult male owning property. The Connecticut Colony was not the first settlement in Connecticut (the Dutch were first) or even the first English settlement (Windsor was first in 1633). Thomas Hooker obtained a royal charter and established Fundamental Orders, considered to be one of the first constitutions in North America. Other colonies later merged into the royal charter for the Connecticut Colony, including New Haven and Saybrook.


Whaling in small wooden boats with hand harpoons was a hazardous enterprise, even when hunting the "right" whale.

The earliest colonies in New England were usually fishing villages or farming communities on the more fertile land along the rivers. The rocky soil in the New England Colonies was not as fertile as the Middle or Southern Colonies, but the land provided rich resources, including lumber that was valued for building homes and ships. Lumber was also a resource that could be exported back to England, where there was a shortage of wood. In addition, the hunting of wildlife provided furs to be traded and food for the table.

The New England Colonies were located near the ocean where there was an abundance of whales, fish, and other marketable sea life. Excellent harbors and some inland waterways offered protection for ships and were also valuable for fresh water fishing. By the end of the 17th century, New England colonists had created an Atlantic trade network that connected them to the English homeland as well as the West African slave coast, the Caribbean's plantation islands, and the Iberian Peninsula. Colonists relied upon British and European imports for glass, linens, hardware, machinery, and other items for the colonial household.

The Southern Colonies could produce tobacco, rice, and indigo in exchange for imports, whereas New England's colonies could not offer much to England beyond fish, furs, and lumber. Inflation was a major issue in the economy. During the 18th century, shipbuilding drew upon the abundant lumber and revived the economy, often under the direction of the British Crown.[14]

Wartime Enslavement of Enemy Combatants in New England[edit]

Enslavement of enemies defeated in war was a common practice in European nations at this time. This was a policy that had been going on for decades in Ireland, particularly since the time of Elizabeth I and during the mid-17th century Cromwell wars in Britain and Ireland, where large numbers of Irish, Welsh, and Scots prisoners of war were sent as slaves to plantations in the West Indies, especially to Barbados and Jamaica.[15]

The practice of selling enemy combatants into slavery was begun in the American colonies during the Pequot War and King Philip's War. Military leader Benjamin Church spoke out at that time against enslavement of Indians. (Church's militia company was responsible for killing King Philip in August 1676.) In the summer of 1675, he described the enslavement of Indian combatants as "an action so hateful…that (I) opposed it to the loss of the good will and respect of some that before were (my) good friends." This said, Church was an owner of African slaves himself, like many Englishmen in the colony.[16]

Ships carrying captured war combatants began to leave New England ports during King Philip's War (1675-78) for places far away late in 1675 and, by the next summer, the shipping out of slaves had turned into a regular process which continued for the three years of the war. The policy concerning war enemies was that "no male captive above the age of fourteen years should reside in the colony."[17]

It is estimated that at least a thousand New England Indian warriors were sold as slaves during King Philip's War, with over half of those coming from Plymouth. By the end of the war, villages that were once crowded Indian population centers were empty of inhabitants, due to the fact that the male Indian population had risen in armed war against their English neighbors.[18]


In the New England Colonies, the first settlements of Pilgrims and the other Puritans who came later taught their children how to read and write in order that they might read and study the Bible for themselves. Depending upon social and financial status, education was taught by the parents home-schooling their children, public grammar schools, and private governesses, which included subjects from reading and writing to Latin and Greek and more.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Gipson
  2. ^ Bisceglia
  3. ^ Smith
  4. ^ St. Croix Celebration. "St. Croix Island History". Retrieved 2008-12-21. [dead link]
  5. ^ "Maine's First Ship: Historic Overview". Maine's First Ship. Retrieved 22 July 2013. 
  6. ^ "New France Forts". New France New Horizons. Retrieved 2009-01-10. 
  7. ^ New York Historical Society, p. 260
  8. ^ Deetz, Patricia Scot; James F. Deetz A. "Passengers on the Mayflower: Ages & Occupations, Origins & Connections". The Plymouth Colony Archive Project. Retrieved 2008-11-10. 
  9. ^ "Squanto (The History of Tisquantum)". Archived from the original on June 5, 2007. Retrieved September 20, 2014. 
  10. ^ Bradford, William (1865). Mourt’s Relation, or Journal of the Plantation at Plymouth. Boston: J. K. Wiggin. Retrieved 2008-12-23. 
  11. ^ Young, Alexander (1846). Chronicles of the First Planters of the Colony of Massachusetts Bay, 1623-1636. Boston: C. C. Little and J. Brown. p. 26. Retrieved 2008-12-23. 
  12. ^ The Library of Congress Web Site. "America as a Religious Refuge: The Seventeenth Century". Retrieved 2008-11-11. 
  13. ^ Roger Williams, Family Association. "Biography of Roger Williams". Retrieved 2009-02-07. 
  14. ^ . N.p.. Web. 20 Aug 2013. <>.
  15. ^ Nathaniel Philbrick. Mayflower: A story of Courage, Community and War (Viking 2006) p. 253
  16. ^ Nathaniel Philbrick. Mayflower: A story of Courage, Community and War (Viking 2006) pp 253, 345
  17. ^ Nathaniel Philbrick. Mayflower: A story of Courage, Community and War (Viking 2006) p. 345
  18. ^ Nathaniel Philbrick. Mayflower: A story of Courage, Community and War (Viking 2006) p. 332