UNITED STATES HISTORY
*Although England was mostly Protestant by the 1600s, there were
disagreements among Protestants. The Church of England was
split between those who preferred traditional, conservative,
seemingly-Catholic rituals, vestments, hierarchy, and traditions
(and who believed in Free Will as part of Salvation)—known as
Arminians—and those who wanted to purify the Church of such things
and allow greater local control (and who also believed in
Calvinist Predestination)—sometimes known as Puritans. Among
the ways they wanted to purify the church was by reducing or
removing the church hierarchy of bishops and replacing them with
local, or congregational, control.
*James I was known to favour the Arminians, and some Protestants
who disagreed with the King came to think the Church of England
could not be purified, and wanted to completely separate from
it. These Separatists angered King James I who felt that
religious unity in a hierarchical church was vital to political
unity—he famously said ‘No bishop, no king.’ Disgusted by a
sinful society and harassed by the English government, some of
these Separatists fled to the Netherlands in 1608, and by making
this journey for religious purposes, came to be known as Pilgrims.
*The Pilgrims went to the Protestant and tolerant Netherlands
seeking religious freedom for themselves, but were not happy
there. They had not been rich in England and they did not
prosper in the Netherlands. Furthermore, the tolerance of
the Dutch meant that they saw an even more permissive and sinful
society around themselves than they had in England, and they
worried that their children would become culturally Dutch and
religiously lax. They wanted a separate community of their
*The Pilgrims reached an agreement with the Virginia Company
whereby they would settle in Virginia, and in 1620 they set out
from Plymouth, England in the Mayflower along with some
additional farmers, hired hands, and other emigrants to
Virginia. Along the way, their ship was blown off course and
they ended up off the coast of what is now Massachusetts, where
they had no legal right to settle.
*The Pilgrims created a settlement named Plymouth, but before
leaving the Mayflower drew up the Mayflower Compact as a
framework to govern themselves since they were outside any
official boundaries and in order to lay the groundwork for a Godly
society in which the majority of the colonists would create rules
for everyone through discussions in town meetings. Almost
all the men aboard signed it, making it the first framework of
government created in English America.
*Under their own government, the people of the Plymouth Colony
elected William Bradford governor thirty times in annual elections
and Plymouth remained a separate colony until it was merged with
Massachusetts in 1691.
*The Pilgrims believed that the hand of God preserved them,
because everything else seemed to be against them. In their
first winter, only 44 of the 102 passengers from the Mayflower
survived. However, such was their faith in their new
endeavour that not a single one sailed back to England when the Mayflower
returned in the Spring of 1621.
*In that year they prospered, partly with the help of a local
Indian who had earlier met John Smith and even been to England
twice (and once to Spain). Speaking fluent English, he (and
other local, but unrelated, Indians) taught the Pilgrims how to
grow native crops and hunt local game, and in the fall they
celebrated with what is often called the First Thanksgiving,
although the Pilgrims did not declare an official day of
Thanksgiving until the summer of 1623.
*Over time, more Separatists as well as other English settlers
came to Plymouth, but it never grew large or wealthy.
However, it did in some ways set an example for a much larger and
more successful group of religious colonists, the Puritans.
*Although the Puritans in England believed that the Church of
England needed to be purified, by the end of the 1620s, many
believed England was too corrupt and immoral and the members of
the Church of England who followed their beliefs were marginalised
and often persecuted by the dominant Arminian church leaders and
*In 1629, some Puritans managed to get a Royal Charter to form the
Massachusetts Bay Company. When they departed for the New
World in 1630, they took their charter with them, and used it as a
form of government outside the direct control of the King.
Under its guidance, all adult male members of the Puritan church
(about 40% of the population—much more than in England) could
vote, although non-Puritans also had to follow its rules and pay
*The Puritans were more prosperous and better-organised than the
Pilgrims, and sailed with eleven ships, many supplies, and nearly
a thousand colonists. This was the beginning of a Great
Migration of English Puritans to the New World in the 1600s.
At least 25,000 came to New England, but many more went elsewhere
in the English colonies, especially to the wealthy sugar colonies
of the Caribbean.
*In Massachusetts Bay, under the leadership of the wealthy lawyer
John Winthrop (who was governor or deputy governor for nineteen
years), the Puritans sought to create a Godly Commonwealth.
In his 1630 sermon, ‘A Model of Christian Charity,’ Winthrop said
The Lord will be our God, and
delight to dwell among us, as his oune people, and will
command a blessing upon us in all our wayes. Soe that wee
shall see much more of his wisdome, power, goodness and
truthe, than formerly wee haue been acquainted with. Wee shall
finde that the God of Israell is among us, when ten of us
shall be able to resist a thousand of our enemies; when hee
shall make us a prayse and glory that men shall say of
succeeding plantations, "the Lord make it like that of New
England." For wee must consider that wee shall be as a citty
upon a hill.
*The Puritans believed they were called to
create a society that would be an example to the rest of the
world, that they might be the last, best hope for the pure
Christian faith, and that if they failed, Christian civilisation
might collapse under the weight of sin and corruption.
*This led the Puritans to create tight-knit communities based
around the family and the congregation. Everyone, of all
classes, depended on each other, and individualism was an offence
against God. This did not support ideas of equality, as
everyone had his or her place, and ought to do the tasks that God
had set for him or her. In fact, anyone who did not follow
Puritan standards could be ‘warned out’ or expelled from the
community into the wilderness, or at least into the company of
non-Puritans, of whom there were a fair number. Rules
against drunkenness, bad language, and wasting time in games or
sports were strict, and church members were expected to attend
church meetings almost all day on Sunday.
*Still, with 40% of the population able to vote, Massachusetts Bay
was more democratic than anywhere else in the known world.
Even the church was democratic in some ways, in that local
congregations hired and fired and determined the salaries of their
own ministers, without having to listen to a bishop or other
higher authority. There were even disputes between different
leaders of this Congregationalist system, and while the laws of
men were supposed to be based on the laws of God, the Puritans, at
least to some extent, tried to separate political and religious
leadership because they had seen how political leaders could
meddle with the church back in England.
*The Puritans created one of the most literate societies on Earth
at the time, too. Because everyone was supposed to be able
to read and consider the Bible on his own, literacy rates were
very high. Towns of any size were required to provide public
education both to boys and girls, and in small settlements, women
often ran small schools of their own—in fact, education was
encouraged among women so that they could raise children to be
good citizens and good Christians. To train ministers,
Harvard was founded in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1636.
*Although their eyes were on God, the Puritans did not neglect
their earthly lives, either. They followed the Protestant work
ethic that remembered the advice of Saint Paul (Colossians
3:23-24): And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the
Lord, and not unto men; Knowing that of the Lord ye shall
receive the reward of the inheritance: for ye serve the Lord
Christ. Working hard was a service to the Lord.
*Furthermore, as Calvinists who believed in predestination rather
than in free will or in salvation through Church membership,
individual Puritans could never be absolutely sure that they were
among the elect who were going to heaven. On the one hand,
believing that they were among the saints gave them great
confidence in their beliefs, but it also gave them a gnawing sense
of self-doubt, unsure of their own personal salvation. Many
felt that worldly success could be a sign of God’s favour, and so
even though they did not believe that wealth or any good works
could earn salvation, they hoped that by doing good and doing well
they could discern some sign of their election.
*Many families were farmers, but fishing, shipbuilding, and trade
were also very important. Each family, in turn, was a little
society, with the man of the household as the ruler of a little
kingdom and the woman as the mother and the instructor of children
in a Christian upbringing. Furthermore, far from the
malarial swamps of Virginia, these Puritans could expect to enjoy
long lives, contributing to social stability. Indeed, unlike
in Virginia, where most people immigrated as individuals, most
Puritans came to new England as complete families and this helped
to create a more stable and cohesive society.
*The first major Puritan settlement outside the Boston area was
founded in 1635 on the Connecticut River, and the next year,
Reverend Thomas Hooker led a large band of settlers into the wild
west of Connecticut to the frontier town of Hartford, where in
1639 they wrote the Fundamental Orders of Connecticut in which
wealthy citizens all had a voice in a democratic government
(albeit one with a Puritan culture and a franchise still limited
to the well-to-do). This is sometimes considered the first
written constitution in America, and it made Connecticut
essentially self-governing, since it was autochthonous rather than
being granted by Massachusetts, the King, or a proprietor.
*Further west, the colony of New Haven was founded on stricter
Puritan lines than Massachusetts or Connecticut, both of which
reluctantly tolerated some non-Puritan Protestant sects. It
was financially unsuccessful, and when the king recognised
Connecticut's charter in 1662, he included the New Haven area
within Connecticut's borders, which officially stretched all the
way to the South Sea.
*To the north of Massachusetts, two colonies were founded
primarily by fishermen: New Hampshire under the ownership of
John Mason and Maine under Sir Ferdinando Gorges. The towns
there largely governed themselves and engaged in fishing, trading,
and supplying large trees to shipbuilders for use as masts.
*New Hampshire was temporarily absorbed by Massachusetts Bay, but
finally got a governor of their own, who immediately claimed land
west of the Connecticut River that was also claimed by New York,
leading to dispute between the two and with the local people, who
eventually declared independence from both during the American
Revolution and named their own state of Vermont.
*After Sir Ferdinando Gorges's death in 1647, Massachusetts Bay
absorbed his former lands; to make their claim secure they
officially purchased Maine from his heirs in 1677. It would
remain part of Massachusetts until 1820.
*Despite these many successes for the Puritans, they also faced
many challenges from within and without.
*One influential early minister in Massachusetts Bay was Roger
Williams, who had been an Anglican, and then a Puritan, and then a
Separatist, and eventually even a Baptist. Although a very
devout man himself, he came to feel that the Puritan leadership
was corrupt. He blamed much of this on the intrusion of
politics into the life of the Church. He believed that this
perverted the Church's spiritual mission by making it a vehicle
for political advancement and that this endangered the true
religious experience of Church members. He also felt that
the Puritan leadership treated American Indians unfairly.
*Because he feared that the intermingling of political and
religious authority was corrupting the Church, he began to call
for complete separation of Church and State. He believed
that Church membership should not be a requirement for voting,
that taxes should not support any particular church, and that all
religions should be tolerated.
*All this was very threatening to the political and religious
leaders of Massachusetts Bay, and in October 1635, the General
Court tried Williams and ordered him banished from the
colony. However, because he was sick, he was allowed to
postpone his exile. To avoid being shipped back to England,
he sneaked out of the colony in the dead of winter, and in
January, 1636, fled to the wilderness. He purchased land
from local Indians and founded a settlement he called Providence,
which eventually became the capital of the colony of Rhode Island
and Providence Plantation, which Massachusetts Bay claimed, but
which the English government allowed to remain separate and
finally named a Royal colony in 1663, although it was allowed to
continue electing its own governor and legislature.
*Rhode Island had no state-supported Church and allowed complete
toleration of all religions, and many Quakers and Jews found
refuge there. This was partly why King Charles II granted
them a royal charter, in order to spite Puritan Massachusetts and
to be another possible haven for the Catholics he sympathised with
who still faced persecution.
*Another threat to the leaders of Massachusetts Bay came from an
unlikely source, Anne Hutchinson. She seemed the perfect
Puritan woman: she had fifteen children, served as a midwife
in Boston, was widely respected, deeply religious, and even held
Bible studies for women at her house.
*Hutchinson's Bible studies were so popular that men began to
attend too, yet she continued to lead the studies, creating the
unnatural situation of a woman having dominion over men,
potentially threatening social stability.
*Worse, in her growing role as a religious leader, in 1636 Anne
Hutchinson began to say that Massachusetts Bay had moved away from
belief in Calvinist predestination and salvation by grace, and was
too focused on worldly success as a sign of election, which she
condemned as a 'covenant of works.' In fact, since there was
no way to know who was saved, and humanity had no choice in the
matter, worrying about the laws of God (and perhaps even the laws
of Man) was pointless, a belief known as Antinomianism that was
also being spread by some ministers. Only a personal,
spiritual, mystical relationship with God could have any meaning
in a 'covenant of grace.' Hutchinson claimed to have had
personal revelations of this directly from God.
*This challenge to traditional Puritan beliefs of religious
authority, political authority, and gender roles was too much, and
Anne Hutchinson was put on trial in both civil court in 1637,
which ordered her exiled from the colony, and church court in
1638, which expelled her from the Puritan Church. She fled
to Rhode Island with her family, and later moved to New
Netherland, where she and six of her children were killed by
Indians in what the minister of Concord, Massachusetts called 'the
just vengeance of God.' One of her descendents, Thomas
Hutchinson, would later be Royal governor of Massachusetts.
*Besides internal dissent, New Englanders faced Indian
warfare. Although at some points the people of New England
worked well with the Indians (and made efforts, sometimes
successful, to convert them to Christianity), they also fought
with them over land and resources.
*The first large-scale conflict between colonists and Indians in
New England was the Pequot War. The Pequot were already
fighting with other Indian tribes to expand their territory in the
Connecticut River Valley. After some English traders were
killed in 1636 and the Pequots were blamed, Massachusettsmen burnt
down a Pequot village. The Pequot besieged Fort Saybrook in
Connecticut over the course of the winter, killing anyone who
*In 1637, more New England settlements were attacked and about 30
colonists killed. More New England forces were gathered and,
along with allied Indians, they surrounded and burnt down the
Pequot walled village of Mystic, trapping its people--many of them
women and children--inside and shooting any that tried to
escape. Afterwards, most surviving Pequots fled the
Connecticut River Valley, and their leader was eventually killed
by Mohawk Indians who sent his scalp to New England as a token of
*Many people, even then, criticised the Mystic Massacre for its
wanton destruction of women and children, but it did bring an
uneasy peace to New England for four decades.
*In 1643, Massachusetts Bay, Plymouth, Connecticut, and New Haven
formed the New England Confederation so these Puritan colonies
could work together against future threats from Indians, the
Dutch, and the French, and help each other enforce laws against
criminals who fled across colonial lines. The confederation
lasted until 1654, but never amounted to much, and finally
collapsed when Massachusetts refused to attack the Dutch when they
went to war with England in 1652-1654. However, it was an attempt,
however weak and brief, at inter-colonial unity.
*In 1675, the Indian chief Metacom, known to the English as King
Philip, formed an alliance of many New England Indian tribes with
the goal of driving the colonists out of New England before they
became even more numerous and turned even more woodland into farms
and pastures. This alliance went to war when the Plymouth
Colony hanged three Indians of Metacom's Wampanoag tribe after
they killed a Christian Indian in 1675.
*In King Philip's War, which lasted until 1676, Indians killed
colonists, praying Indians, and even livestock. Settlements
across the frontier were ravaged--52 were attacked including
twelve that were completely destroyed--and one tenth of
fighting-age New England men were killed, and many colonists fled
to Boston to avoid death, mutilation, and enslavement by the
*The most famous captive taken during the war was Mary Rowlandson,
whose book The Sovereignty and Goodness of God: Being a
Narrative of the Captivity and Restoration of Mrs. Mary
Rowlandson became the most famous captivity narrative of
the 17th Century. She was captured in Lancaster,
Massachusetts on 10 February, 1676 along with her three children,
and forced to march through the New England winter, moving often
to avoid discovery. Her six-year-old daughter, who was
wounded in the attack, died a week into their ordeal. Mary
and her other children were sold to other Indians, but eventually
ransomed and re-united with her husband after the war.
During her eleven-month captivity, she learnt to gather food and
make clothes, but regarded the wilderness with fear and the
Indians as savages, although she did concede that their own women
had, in some ways, more freedom than Englishwomen, and that
(despite what she had feared) she was never raped. Her book
was a best-seller, and perpetuated Puritans' sense of mission to
overcome the wilderness with their civilisation.
*With superior technology and the assistance of some Indians who
had not joined Metacom, Metacom was eventually defeated.
Many of his followers were sold into slavery in the Caribbean and
some leaders, including himself, were hanged--he was also drawn,
quartered, and beheaded and his head displayed on a pike in
Plymouth for many years.
*New England took years to recover, but it did recover and even
begin to expand its frontier again, although it would also face
more Indian warfare in the 1700s.
*New England was also affected by politics in Old England.
The royal family still distrusted the Puritans of New England
(especially Massachusetts) who had sympathised with the Roundheads
in the English Civil War. After the death of Charles II, his
openly Catholic brother, King James II, united all of New England,
New York, and New Jersey as the Dominion of New England in 1686
under a single royal governor, Sir Edmund Andros. This would
simplify leadership and unite the region in the face of potential
threats from Indians or foreigners.
*Governor Andros was not popular in New England. Having a
tradition of self-government, they resented having a governor
imposed on them, especially one who was not a Puritan, but a
member of the traditional Church of England. He brought
soldiers with him who got drunk, started fights, and used bad
language, even on Sundays.
*Perhaps worst of all, Andros attempted to enforce the Navigation
Acts, which strictly limited any trade by English colonies in the
name of mercantilism--the idea that a country's colonies should
only trade with each other and their mother country in order to
deprive other countries of any wealth that might come from that
trade. However, the English colonists engaged in trade with
anyone they could, including the Dutch and even the French and
Spanish. This had quietly let the colonies prosper, but
deprived the English crown of some tax revenue and undermined its
*Besides enforcing the Navigation Acts, Andros limited the power
of local courts, tried to control local schools, interfered with
local church authority, and revoked land titles held by anyone who
*Back in England, James II also offended Parliament with his
religious beliefs and his attempt to strengthen the Monarchy at
the expense of Parliament.
*Fortunately, James's daughter Mary was married to her cousin
William of Orange, Stadtholder of the Netherlands, both of whom
*On 30 June 1688, seven Protestant nobles invited William to
invade England. When it became clear he would do so, and
finally did, blown in by a Protestant Wind, more and more English
leaders took his side. As this was a largely bloodless
event, it came to be known as the Glorious Revolution.
*It also came at a price for William. He and Mary were
required to rule as co-rulers. Furthermore, William and Mary
had to agree to the Bill of Rights in 1689. It said that the
monarch could not suspend or execute laws without Parliament's
permission, or raise taxes without parliament's permission, or
keep a standing army without parliament's permission.
Subjects could petition the king and seek redress of
grievances. MPs were to be freely elected and could freely
speak and debate and would have to be called on a regular
basis. Excessive bail and cruel and unusual punishment were
outlawed as was the loss of property or liberty without
trial. This codified many traditional rights of Englishmen,
and in the 1700s, many British colonists in America would feel
that those English rights were not being respected by the British.
*When news of the Glorious Revolution reached America, the people
of Boston rioted, captured Sir Edmund Andros as he tried to flee
the colony disguised in women's clothing (but still wearing his
own manly boots), and shipped him back to England.
*The Dominion of New England was divided back into its old
colonies, but in 1691 the formerly self-governing Massachusetts
Bay and Plymouth colonies were united as the royal colony of
Massachusetts, and while the Puritan church remained the official,
state-supported church, its leaders would no longer dominate
politics or society as they once had.
This page last updated 17 August,