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Colonial America and the Character of Colonial Charters. Teaching American History Asbury Park, New Jersey. Alan Gibson’s Email . Why Study the Puritans and Pilgrims Today? .

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colonial america and the character of colonial charters

Colonial America and the Character of Colonial Charters

Teaching American History

Asbury Park, New Jersey

alan gibson s email
Alan Gibson’s Email

why study the puritans and pilgrims today
Why Study the Puritans and Pilgrims Today?
  • Illuminates the American Character and our National Identity– We have traditionally turned to the Puritans and Pilgrims to explain ourselves as a people and our national character or what we often call “American Exceptionalism.”
  • The Puritan Work Ethic: Contrast contemporary Americans’ conception of a job with the Puritans’ conception of “a Calling.”
  • The Dark Side of the Puritans and Pilgrims – Intolerance, Superstition, and Repression
why study the puritans continued
Why Study the Puritans? (continued)
  • The Settlement of America is also a source of a number of concepts and metaphors that constitute a dimension of our collective memory. We say that we are a “Chosen People,” a “City on the Hill,”and “A Redeemer Nation.” But contrast this with Malcolm X’s famous statement: “We didn’t land on Plymouth Rock. Plymouth Rock landed on us”
  • Provides an avenue for discussing the claim that “America as a Christian Nation Founded on Christian Principles.” Is this True? What Does This Mean? What Are its Political Implications?
  • Provides an Avenue for Discussing the Origins of Religious Freedom in America and for Debating the Proper Relationship of Church and State
  • Provides an avenue for discussing the character of groups who separate from society to seek purity. Under persecution and surrounded by others who are different, common bonds are more easily forged and maintained. But once separation takes place, it is necessary for authority, hierarchy, and discipline to be introduced. Compare and contrast the Puritans and the Beat Generation.
why study the puritans continued5
Why Study the Puritans? (continued)
  • Provides an Avenue for Discussing the Origins of Religious Freedom in America and for Debating the Proper Relationship of Church and State
  • Provides an avenue for discussing the character of groups who separate from society to seek purity. Under persecution and surrounded by others who are different, common bonds are more easily forged and maintained. But once separation takes place, it is necessary for authority, hierarchy, and discipline to be introduced. Compare and contrast the Puritans and the Beat Generation.
  • Provides a challenge to the idea that American society is based only on the liberal principles of John Locke. Much of the political thought of early America is communitarian, not individualistic.
the transformation of the story of the settlement of north america
The Transformation of the Story of the Settlement of North America
  • In the past, the story of “American Exceptionalism” has often been told as a celebratory and narrowly confined narrative of the creation of a new people in a new land. The settlement of North America, according to this story, was the upbeat story of English colonists who fled religious persecution and came to new land seeking and securing prosperity and liberty, planting the seeds of democracy, and gaining the character traits that we associate with Americans (individualism, equalitarianism, and acquisitiveness) when confronted with this new continent.
partial truths in the old story
Partial Truths in the Old Story
  • By 1640, the great majority of free colonists were better fed, clothed, and housed than their contemporaries in England where about half of the people lived in destitution.
  • Colonial America did not have nobles and aristocrats in comparison with Europe. More people participated in politics in the colonies, especially those without wealth. In a sense, the seeds of democracy were sewn in the colonies.
  • Many of the colonists did flee Europe to avoid religious persecution, especially the Puritans.
the new story
The New Story

Beginning in the 1960s and accelerating (though not without resistance), a new story of the settlement of North America has been told. Now scholars emphasize the diversity of the peoples engaged in settlement, the multiplicity of nations acting, the disease and difficulty of the endeavor, and the exploitation and cruelty of these people to each other. Finally, scholars have emphasized the paradoxical and ambiguous character of the development of democracy and liberty (especially religious liberty) in colonial America.

the diversity of settlement red white and black
The Diversity of Settlement (Red, White, and Black)
  • Native Americans included literally hundreds of linguistically distinct people.
  • The Africans who were brought to America in the slave trade were from many different tribes including Ashanti, Fulani, Ibo, Malagasy, Mandingo, and Yoruba.
the diversity of english colonists who came
The Diversity of “English” Colonists: Who Came?
  • There were many varieties even of “English” colonists (including Finns, Dutch, Welsh, Scots, Scots-Irish, Germans, Swedes, and French Huguenots).
  • Who voluntarily came to North America in the 17th century?
  • Religious Dissenters
  • Second, third, and fourth sons of Aristocrats
  • Indentured Servants
  • Adventurers and Entrepreneurs (John Smith, Sir Walter Raleigh)
  • Criminals – many facing death penalties.
  • “We’re Americans. We have been kicked out of the Best Countries in the World.”
the diversity of english colonists why did they come
The Diversity of English Colonists: Why Did They Come?
  • Freedom to create their own religious communities
  • Opportunity
  • Profit
  • A place to be more significant that in Europe
  • The British Government and Joint Stock Companies supported settlement of the North American continent because they sought a) a short route to the Pacific and to India b) extensive mineral wealth c) to quell discontent and enhance the status quo in England by exporting portions of the society that were outcasts or supported change.
diversity summarized
Diversity (summarized)
  • Most broadly, the American colonies presented an example of an “unprecedented mixing of radically diverse peoples - African, European, and Indian - under conditions stressful for all. The colonial intermingling of peoples – and of microbes, plants, and animals from different continents – was unparalleled in speed and volume in global history.”[1]
  • [1] Alan Taylor, American Colonies, xi.
the multiplicity of nations with territorial ambitions in north america
The Multiplicity of Nationswith Territorial Ambitions in North America

In addition to the British, the Spanish, the Russians, and the French were also empire builders in North America. Russians colonized Alaska; the French colonized in the Great Lakes and Quebec; the English colonized not only on the east coast but also in Hawaii; the Spanish colonized Florida and migrated from settlements in what is now Mexico north into what is now the United States. Obviously, when all of these nations and nationalities are considered, settlement did not take place only from Europe to the east coast of North America or even only east to the west, but west to east across the Bering Strait, north from Latin America, and south from the Canadian territory. The contest between foreign powers for control over the North American territory is of course integral to the study of American history.

the impact of disease on the settlement and demographic transformation of north america
The Impact of Disease on the Settlement and Demographic Transformation of North America

European settlers brought diseases into North America which the Indians’ immune system was unable to fight and thus they died in the thousands. This precipitated a huge demographic transformation. In 1770, there were about 1.6 million Native Americans on the North American continent and about 330,000 Europeans and Africans. By 1800, there were about 1.1 million Natives Americans, many of whom now lived west of the Mississippi and 5.5 million Europeans and Africans. Disease also killed thousands of “English” colonists. The North American continent was settled literally in a race to replace dead colonists and Indians with living colonists. As a result of these massive deaths, “between 1492 and 1776, North America lost population, as diseases and wars killed Indians faster than colonists could settle.” (Alan Taylor, American Colonies)

the difficulty of settlement
The Difficulty of Settlement
  • Many Native American tribes were nomadic and lived by foraging, farming, hunting, and fishing. Unlike the English colonists, they knew how to survive on the North American continent. Furthermore, many of the early attempts at settlement were entrepreneurial ventures by men who did not plan on farming and foraging. Many colonists relied on the generosity and help of Native Americans for food and starved in times of shortage. E.g. “The Lost Colony of Roanoke.”
cruelty between the diverse groups and within them
Cruelty Between the Diverse Groups and Within Them
  • Brutality between Native peoples and colonizers was the rule, not the exception. Periods of cooperation and shared “thanksgiving” celebrated in our national myths were unfortunately not common. Indians and colonists were also brutal to members of their own group. Punishments for violations of laws were extremely harsh and meant to set an example. One man who was convicted of stealing two pints of oatmeal to allay his hunger was punished by having a long needle thrust into his tongue to prevent him from ever eating again. He was then chained to a tree and starved to death as a lesson to other colonists. Some English colonizers went off to live with the Indians and were welcomed by them if they brought guns or tools. If recaptured by the colonists, the colonists who had abandoned the settlement were often tortured before being put to death.
systems of exploitation slavery and indentured servitude
Systems of Exploitation (Slavery and Indentured Servitude)

The relative prosperity of the English colonists in comparison to their English contemporaries resulted primarily from the shortage of labor and shortage of land on the North American continent. With labor scarce and land plentiful, free colonists were not forced to work for others and were eventually able to secure relative prosperity. But the colonists prosperity was achieved, in part, by taking lands from Native Americans. Furthermore, the very conditions that made for the relative prosperity of the colonists – the scarcity of labor – led to the importation of unfree laborers by the thousands.

indentured servitude
Indentured Servitude
  • More than half the European immigrants to the colonies prior to the American Revolution were indentured servants. Many were criminals. Others were poor, orphans, or debtors. Indentured servants signed contracts for right of passage to North America for four to seven years labor. Skilled laborers might be able to negotiate a better contract. Indentured servants were under the control of a master who could discipline them with force. They were usually not allowed to marry or have children. Many indentured servants fled their masters. Indentured servitude was a system of labor, not of apprenticeship.
  • Slavery was first introduced into American in 1619 at Jamestown. A black labor force was introduced gradually into the colonies and with the increase came the development of raced based justifications for slavery. In 1640, there were 150 blacks reported in Virginia. In 1650, about 300. In 1680, 3000 and in 1704 about 10,000 at the time that the white population was 80,000.
slavery continued
Slavery (continued)
  • Black slavery became the colonists’ answer to the labor shortage and chattel slavery evolved out of the limits established for indentured servants and concerns about the foreignness of African Americans. Initially, the differences between indentured servitude and slavery were not clear cut, but sometime in the 17th century this changed. At first, the slave was thought of as a laborer of the lowest denomination. Nevertheless, at some point, unlike European settlers, blacks became expected to labor for life. Then slave codes -governing the conduct of slaves - were introduced. As the institution evolved, the offspring of slaves were also automatically bond for life for service. Conversion to Christianity was once a path to freedom, but this was eliminated. Racially mixed marriages were forbidden. The slave was not by the beginning of the 18th century simply the servant of the lowest denomination but something qualitatively different.
the foreignness of colonial society church and state
The Foreignness of Colonial Society (Church and State)

Colonial society was foundationally different than the world that we live. It contained a different understanding of the relationship of church and state. There was, as Michael Zuckerman has put it, “totalitarianism of true believers.“ The “Peaceable Kingdoms” of the colonial period were not theocracies (priests did not rule), but rather communities of religious uniformity in which taxation was used to support the Christian religion, there was compulsory church attendance, the criminalization of sin, political control of doctrine and clergy, and exclusion of political participation for non- believers.  

foreignness continued the individual and society
Foreignness continued (the Individual and Society)

Colonial society contained a different understanding of the relationship of the individual to society. In these colonial societies, rights were not conceived of spheres of autonomy and liberties carried duties with them. The needs of the few and the one were subordinated to the needs of the many.  

foreignness continued law and government
Foreignness continued (Law and Government)

Colonial society contained a different understanding of the purpose of law and the ends or goals of government. Laws and constitutions were designed to enforce belief and to prohibit behavior that is deemed to be unworthy of God. Puritans believed that if they did not punish sinners, God would punish them. In assessing the ends and character of government, many colonists reasoned that government was a gift from God and was his creation. It must therefore be view as an instrument to serve God.

the ambiguity and paradoxical quality of colonial america
The Ambiguity and Paradoxical Quality of Colonial America
  • “Democracy” grew up alongside slavery and in context of religious authority (particularly in the form of the New England town meeting and the congregational organization of churches).
  • The conditions that allowed for prosperity for the free colonists – the abundance of land and the need for laborers – eventually led to the importation of thousands and thousands of slaves.
  • Religious toleration grew from the splintering of biblical commonwealths. Many colonists had come in search of religious liberty, but did not intend to grant it. They came to promote their religious orthodoxy and avoid the imposition of someone else’s religious orthodoxy. Religious toleration expanded only as dissenters fled and created their own colonies and (later) as diversity (at least among Protestant groups) expanded and made religious orthodoxy difficult to impose.
  • Finally, the colonists had unprecedented freedom in the New World. Who was to regulate them? But this freedom came at the expense of terror, insecurity, and insularity.
The Settlement of the

North American Continent

st augustine the first permanent settlement in north america
St. Augustine: The First Permanent Settlement in North America
  • The Spanish colonized St. Augustine, Florida in 1565 and Sante Fe, New Mexico in 1607. In colonizing what is now Florida, the Spanish sought to establish forts to lodge attacks against French pirates who had cut the revenues of the Spain in half. In Florida, Pedro Menendez de Aviles, a Spanish naval officer, formed the colony of St. Augustine. This was really the earliest permanent settlement in what would become the territory of the future United States. Spain eventually turned to Spanish missions manned by Christianized Native Americans to fortify their holdings in the New World.

the United States evolved out of British American settlements. "The importance of Jamestown,” James Horn has stated, “is understated. The United States evolves out of British America--they are 13 British Colonies, and if you trace back that line of development, it takes you back to Jamestown. Without British America you don't get a United States as it emerges in 1776, a polity based on British institutions, religion, commerce, language. None of that happens.“

James Horn, historian and Jamestown scholar


We are still celebrating the 400th anniversary of Jamestown. Led by William Kelso, archeologists have discovered the original triangular fort and settlement which is now a site of excavation. They have also discovered Werewocomoco – the home of Powhatan and probably the place of the dramatic act in which Pocahontas saved John Smith’s life.

chronology of jamestown
Chronology of Jamestown
  • 1606 – The Virginia Company – a government chartered private company which sold stock in its exploration venture – was formed to settle a colony in North America.
  • December, 1606: Three vessels left England for Virginia. They were the Susan Constant, the Godspeed, and the Discovery.
  • They landed at Chesapeake Bay on April 26, 1607.
  • 1607-1609 - John Smith in charge
  • 1609 - John Smith returns to England and the next winter (1609-1610) is the “starving time.”
  • 1610 – After the winter of 1609-1610, the remaining colonists decided to return to England. As they began the voyage back, however, they encounter other ships heading toward the colonies. These ships contained the new governor of the colony, Lord De La Ware, who order the original colonists to return to the settlement.
chronology of jamestown31
Chronology of Jamestown
  • 1610 – After the winter of 1609-1610, the remaining colonists decided to return to England. As they began the voyage back, however, they encounter other ships heading toward the colonies. These ships contained the new governor of the colony, Lord De La Ware, who order the original colonists to return to the settlement.
  • 1613 – Pocahontas captured by the colonists. She converts to Christianity. A period of relative peace between the colonists and the Native Americans begins.
  • 1614 – Pocahontas weds John Rolfe
  • 1617 – Pocahontas died in England
  • 1617-1624 – Violence between the tribes of the Powhatan Confederacy and the colonists is intense.
  • 1624 - The colonial charter is revoked by the King.
  • 1646 - In 1646, the first treaty between the Native Americans and the English colonists is signed.
jamestown who were the colonists and what did they seek
Jamestown (Who were the colonists and what did they seek?)

The colonists, at least according to John Smith, included a large proportion of “gentlemen.” This has traditionally been used to suggest that they would not work and to thus explain the difficulties encountered in the settlement, including starvation and political conflict. Recently, however, historians have concluded that the Virginia Company had heard from the members of the Roanoke colony before they were lost that the Indians would trade food for copper. Thus, few men were sent to the colony who had either the training or inclination to farm. Instead, the Virginia Company sent men who were specialists in finding and exploiting the minerals and natural resources of the new world. These men apparently worked diligently to preserve the colony, but lacked the necessary expertise. The colonists were sent to find gold, silver, and mineral wealth, the lost colony of Roanoke, a quick route to the Orient, and a cash crop of some sort (experiments were made with creating perfumes but tobacco became the colonies’ cash crop quickly after it was introduced into the colony by John Rolfe in 1612). Incidentally, women did not come to Jamestown until 1619 (17 years after the settlement of this colony). They were sold to their husbands for the cost of transportation.

jamestown disease and famine
Jamestown (Disease and Famine)

One hundred and four people began the journey from England, but only 38 were alive nine months later. In December 1609, replacements brought the number back to 220 colonists, but after the winter only 60 remained alive. Between 1607 and 1622, the Virginia Company transported some 10,000 people to the colony but only 20 percent of them remained alive. In the second year, 440 of the 500 settlers died. In the three year period from 1619 to 1622, 3000 of 3600 of the settlers sent died. Disease, famine, and violence with Indians accounted for the early deaths. Recent studies have suggested that biological evidence suggests that the period surrounding 1607 was the period of the worst drought in 800 years in this area. The winter of 1609-1610 is known by historians as the “starving time.” Jamestown was settled on the banks of the James River on a pennisula 60 miles from the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay. This was done to shield the colonists from Spanish warships, but it placed the fort and settlement near a swamp and millions of mosquitoes that gave the colonists malaria. Many colonists also died from drinking brackish water which seeped into the wells that they dug.

jamestown captain john smith
Jamestown (Captain John Smith)
  • As the famous story suggests, John Smith was integral to the survival of the colony. Smith was a great adventurer even before he came to America. He had fought and been captured in Turkey and had walked over 2000 miles in Russia. Smith was the “strategist, drill master, interpreter, provisioner, mapmaker, naturalist, and negotiator with the Indians” for the colony[1] From shortly after the arrival in 1607 to 1609, Smith commanded the colony and made the colonists work six hours a day in the fields. Some of the colonists hated Smith for making them work. He stayed in America only three years and was wounded in a gunpowder accident and returned to England to heal.
  • [1] Edmund S. Morgon and Marie Morgan, “Our Shaky Beginnings,” New York Review of Books, April 26, 2007. 21-25.

Pocahontas act of saving John Smith’s life was probably an act in which his life was spared so that he could become a member of the Powhatan tribe and the English settlers could be integrated into the Powhatan empire. Powhatan seems to have had designs for the English and to have seen a purpose in establishing them as members of the tribe. In this ceremony, Pocahontas (whose name means something like “brat,” “little wanton,” or “favorite daughter” in the Powhatan language) was given the power to admit Smith to the tribe or to allow him to be killed. Her intervention established him as her brother in the tribe. We do not know if they truly had a love relationship, but she was probably only between 10 and 14 years old. Smith incidentally did not write about this event until seventeen years after it had taken place. In 1613, the colonists captured Pocahontas. She accepted Christian conversion, took the name Rebecca, and married a colonist named John Rolfe in 1614. She was eventually taken to England to serve as a symbol of peace and cooperation and as an advertisement for the Virginia Company and a symbol that the Natives could be civilized. She died of disease at 21 while in England.

jamestown relationship of the colonists and the indians
Jamestown (Relationship of the colonists and the Indians)
  • Intermittent violence characterized the relationship of the colonists with the Algonquian Native Americans they found in Virginia. Many of the colonists expected the Indians to feed them or at least to trade iron and copper for food. They viewed themselves as civilized, Christian, and superior in arms and armor. Sometimes the Indians traded colonists food for copper and iron tools, but the problem with expecting to be feed by the Indians was that they often had little excessive food and if pressured for food they sometimes reacted violently. In one incident, colonists came to the Indians for food and seventeen were slaughtered and maize was symbolically stuffed in their mouths.
  • The colonists tried to capture the Indian chief Powhatan (his real name was Wahunsonacock) by luring him into their settlement but he declined their invitations. John Smith was of course captured once by the Indians.
  • The English at times lashed out against the Indians in violence. In 1610, Captain George Percy surprised an Indian village and killed sixty five inhabitants. He took the wife and children of the chief prisoner, then headed back to Jamestown by boat. In the course of their return, they threw the children overboard and shot them as they tried to escape. When they returned to Jamestown, the chief’s wife was also executed.
jamestown and the evolution of democracy
Jamestown and the Evolution of Democracy

Jamestown convened the first legislative assembly in British North America in 1619 (the same year as slavery was introduced into the colony). The General Assembly was formed following orders from the Virginia Company to establish a uniform government over the colony.

dissolution of jamestown
Dissolution of Jamestown
  • From 1610 to 1622 the colony became marginally self -sustaining. A generous policy of land inducements gave anyone who came or sponsored someone who did 50 acres. By 1624, the company’s charter was finally revoked and it became a dependency of the crown. The Virginia company went bankrupt, the colony was attacked by the Powhatan tribe, and James I became feed up with the company and the colony. By 1624, 8500 people have tried to settle in Jamestown and only 1275 still survived.
jamestown the laws divine moral and martial
Jamestown (“The Laws: Divine, Moral, and Martial”
  • These codes organized the community into quasi-military corps committed to compulsory service on common projects and subject to severe penalties for failure to work or share military obligations. The sets of codes in this body of law mandate Christianity and provide severe penalties for dissent and non-compliance. They require mandatory church attendance. Blasphemy is punishable on the first offense by whipping, second offence (having a dagger thrust through your tongue), and third offense (death). And you thought contemporary three strikes laws were tough. The number of capital crimes and the severity of the punishments are shocking to modern sensibilities. The laws regulate trade (they forbid trade by individuals, not the colony with Indians), hygiene, the use of tools, care for homes, the manner in which bakers can make bread. Many of these laws have to do with preserving scarce equipment and resources. Publicly “doing the necessities of nature.” Sodomy and adultery were punishable by death. Fornication was punishable by whipping on the first offense and on the third offense by whipping three times a week.
The Plymouth

(Plimoth) Colony

early chronology of plymouth colony
Early Chronology of Plymouth Colony
  • November, 1620 – The Mayflower anchors at Provincetown.
  • December, 1620: Explorers encounter the Native Americans (the Wampanoag) on Cape Cod.
  • October, 1621 (?): Harvest celebration after a particularly difficult winter leads the colonists to create a harvest celebration. Ninety Wampanoag men hear the celebration and join it.
the pilgrims
The Pilgrims
  • The Pilgrims were one of a series of “separatist” groupswho first appeared in England in the 1570s. They were determined to break with the Anglican church and to form a pure and primitive church. They believed that the Latin finery of the ceremonies of the Anglican church prevented the lay person from a real communion with Christ. They wanted the Bible published in English, for hymns to come directly from scripture, and in general opposed church hierarchy and grandeur. As a result of these positions, they lived on the fringe of English society and were often persecuted. Under a 1559 Act of Uniformity in Britain, everyone was required to attend official Church of England services. Conducting unofficial services, which they did, was punishable by imprisonment, fines, and even death. Pilgrims were also followed and watched by government officials.
the pilgrims first moved to leiden to avoid religious persecution
The Pilgrims first moved to Leiden to avoid Religious Persecution

The Pilgrims first moved to the famously tolerant nation of Holland to worship as they pleased. This move, in itself, proved to be harrowing. Pilgrims were arrested trying to leave England. In one dramatic escape to Holland, the women and children of the group were literally left on the dock because English officials arrived at the time that the men had boarded but the women had not. Moving to Holland worked in a sense, but the Pilgrims faced a number of problems there. Some had difficulty finding adequate work; others found the language and culture too foreign. William Brewster became embroiled in a religious debate that led James I to ask government officials in Holland to call for his arrest. He had to go into hiding. Furthermore, there was concern of impending war between the Netherlands and Spain. Mostly, however, the Pilgrims worried about their future as a people if they stayed. Their young, they feared, would not maintain their religious identity unless they could grow up free from influences that were not so much corrupting as erosive of their cultural identity.

the decision to come to north america
The Decision to come to North America

Various hardship, fears of war, and concern with cultural extinction led the Pilgrims to plan to come to North America. This is also a long, dramatic story. James I would not grant them a charter because he would not recognize their religion. Still, he allowed them to obtain a patent for land north of the Jamestown settlement from a group of “Adventures” who sought to make money from their trip. This group thought that the Pilgrims might provide cod to England. The Pilgrims needed supplies and a boat to get to North America. The Pilgrims thus indentured themselves to an investment group. Still, the details of this indenture changed and there was no clear cut agreement when they left.

  • In July 1620, 102 individuals and about 20 to 30 crew members– about half Pilgrims (Leiden separatists), others “strangers” - set sail for North America from Southampton, England on the Speedwell and the Mayflower. The group included three pregnant women (one gave birth at sea and named her daughter “Oceanus”). The Mayflower had been rented for them by the investment group that was financing their voyage. It was a large merchant vessel listed as having a capacity or rating of 180 tons or, in other words, capable of holding 180 cast barrels of whine called “tuns.” The Pilgrims bought the Speedwell but had to abandon it when it proved to be unseaworthy. It was probably deliberately sabotaged to induce its resale at a bargain price. Only one passenger died on the voyage. The Mayflower traveled some 2700 miles at 2 miles per hour for 66 days. They spotted Cape Cod on November 9, 1620 and debarked off at Providencetown on November 11. By the spring of 1620, half of them had died.
  • (For a vivid depiction of a transatlantic journey see Richard Hofstadter, America At 1750: A Social Portrait.)
first encounter
“First Encounter”

The colonists saw Native Americans during their early days, but their first substantial encounter was a surprise attack by the Indians, perhaps precipitated by colonists’ thefts of Indian corn bins and plundering of their grave sites. The place where this first encounter took place is still called “First Encounter” Beach.

relationship of the pilgrims to the native americans of the region
Relationship of the Pilgrims to the Native Americans of the Region

The colonists and the Indians did not, however, have a simple relationship of hatred. The colonists grew to love and respect Massasoit and never forgot the aid that he provided in the first year of their efforts to create a colony.


Still, although desperately difficult, life in Plymouth was not as difficult as in Jamestown. The population of the colony rose steadily. To 390 by 1630 to 549 by 1637 and then to 1360 by 1657. By 1657, divisions became to occur in the people. Unlike the original generation, they were not bound entirely by the same beliefs. A government structure arose, but it was very primitive.

the mayflower compact
The Mayflower Compact
  • The Mayflower Compact was signed in the saloon on the Mayflower by 41 of the 101 passengers. Only nine of the adult men aboard did not sign. On one level, it is simply an arrangement to obey the laws by these voyagers. Some of those who signed it were Separatists and some Separatists did not sign it. It is the oldest surviving compact based on popular consent. It was established a government based on civil consent, not divine decree.
mayflower compact versus the united states constitution
Mayflower Compact versus the United States Constitution
  • The Mayflower Compact lists four purposes for government:
  • a) honor God b) Advance the Christian Religion c) honor the King d) better ordering of the people. Stability or order.
  • Compare these to the purposes listed in the United States Constitution of 1787:
  • “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”
plymouth william bradford
Plymouth (William Bradford)
  • William Bradford was the governor of the colony for some 30 years. His book, Of Plymouth Plantation is our central source of information on Plymouth colony.
plymouth life in the colony
Plymouth (Life in the Colony)
  • The church was obviously the center of life of the community and having it unfettered by the regulations of the English government was monumentally important to the Pilgrims. Overall, the colony was a modest success, but it was a financial disaster for the investment company. The Pilgrims tried to send fish, fur and other commodities home to pay off their original debt, but the company went bankrupt. The Pilgrims nevertheless paid off their debts. The freemen came together to elect a governor (Again, Bradford served thirty terms.) and a group of assistants.
the puritan experiment massachusetts bay
The Puritan Experiment: Massachusetts Bay
  • In the 1530s, Henry VIII rejected the Catholic Pope to become the head of an independent Church of England. Henry VIII wanted famously to be granted an annulment to wed Anne Boulen, but the pope refused to grant it. After waiting seven years, Henry VIII simply formed his own church the Church of England and became its head. When Henry VIII formed the church of England, all Englishmen became members of the Church of England. “Because the monarch led the official church, religious dissent smacked of treason as well as heresy.” (Taylor, p. 160) Dissenters were subject to intense scrutiny, condemnation, and punishment.
the puritan experiment continued
The Puritan Experiment (continued)
  • But a number of dissenting religions existed that believed that the break with the Catholic church had not been drastic enough in England, that the Protestant Reformation remained incomplete in England, and that the Anglican church was really only a revised Catholic church. Unlike the “Separatists” who settled Plymouth colony, Puritans sought the sought the purification of the Anglican church through the elimination of much of its doctrine and ceremony. Puritans sought to elevate the local congregation over the distant, hierarchical church and they sought to establish “the spiritual equality of all godly men.” (Taylor, p. 164) The ultimate goal of the Puritans was to form a church in the colonies that would eventually transform the Church of England in England.
puritan doctrine
Puritan Doctrine
  • Specifically, Puritans took issue with two aspects of Anglican doctrine
  • 1) They believed that grace was given by God not through the church but rather by an unmediated experience between God and an individual. They therefore wanted to seek God by reading the Bible directly, forming prayer groups, and heeding learned and zealous ministers. They did not believe that they need a church as a mediator with God.
  • 2) Anglican doctrine held that on Earth it was impossible to separate those on who Grace was bestowed from those who were not destined for heaven. Puritans disagreed. They believed that signs and tests could be devised to separate the elect from unredeemed humanity and that it was best to confine church membership to the elect. Mostly, this involved a story of conversion - a story of transformation from sinner to grace. But eventually fewer and fewer individuals - in Massachusetts Bay at least - felt comfortable engaging in this ritual.
puritan doctrine continued
Puritan Doctrine (continued)
  • The Puritans (and the Pilgrims) believed in an elect that was predestined. This belief, however, did not lead them to believe that they should do nothing to secure salvation. It motivated them instead to obsessively search for signs that they were among the elect. They were an intensely self –reflected and absorbed people.
the chronology of the settlement of massachusetts bay
The Chronology of the Settlement of Massachusetts Bay

1628 – English Puritans send out an advanced party to build a settlement on Cape Ann, north of Boston.

1629 – Group of Puritans obtain a charter that became the Massachusetts Bay Company. Unlike other charters that stipulated that a Board of Directors and a Chairman stay in England and answer to King’s authorities in London in an annual board meeting, this charter neglected to mention where the board of governors would meet. The Puritans were thus free to create their own autonomous government without monarchial oversight.

1629 - Charles I dissolved Parliament and placed even greater restrictions on religious dissenters. The Puritans decided to resettled in North America.

April 7, 1630, four ships with four hundred people set out from England across the stormy Atlantic. They arrived two months later. Eventually, one thousand came in the first wave.

john winthrop
John Winthrop
  • From an established family
  • Educated at Trinity College
  • Studied law in his 30s
  • Converted to Puritanism at some point in his youth or early adulthood.
  • Winthrop sold all of his possessions and led “the Great Migration.”
winthrop continued
Winthrop (continued)
  • Right before he set out, Winthrop wrote an essay that laid out the main reasons why sincere Christians should consider moving to the New World. The first four reasons were: 1. To carry the gospel to the New World, to bring the fullness of the Gentiles into the kingdom of God. 2. To escape God's judgement that was coming upon the corrupt churches of Europe. 3. To help solve the problems of overpopulation and poverty in England, where human life was being devalued and people were regarded as less valuable than horses and sheep. 4. To obey the Great Commission and Genesis 1:28, which says, "Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it."
the puritan experiment in massachusetts bay
The Puritan Experiment in Massachusetts Bay
  • Shortly after landing at Salem, Winthrop suggested resettlement to the areas surrounding Boston. The first year was very difficult and approximately a quarter of the initial settlers died. Food was scarce so Winthrop sent his son back to England and used his personal finances to buy food. The resupply ship arrived just as the last reserves from the trip across had run out.
the religion of the puritans
The Religion of the Puritans
  • The historian David Harlan, characterizing the view of the famous American historian Perry Miller, has characterized American Puritanism as:
  • “A severe and even terrifying religion, it offered to the eyes of the faithful a dark and searing vision of the fault that lies within. It was a kind of grim poetry, a somber and elegant mediation on the power of blackness. But it was also a redemptive discipline, a way of thinking about ourselves, even of transcending ourselves. And it was an indispensable guide for sojourners in the wilderness, counseling, as it did, perpetual doubt and the good that may come of a broken heart. If it demanded harsh and unrelenting self-interrogation, it also knew the dangerous deceptions of self-reliance; if it reminded us that we are all “strangers and pilgrims on earth,” it also made us see those around us as fellow suffers.”[1]
  • [1] David Harlan, “A People Blinded From Birth: American History according to Sacvan Bercovitch,” The Journal of American History, 78 (December, 1991), p. 949.
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The Religion of the Puritans
  • Puritans saw the hand of God in every act. If bad happened, then they must have done something to cause it. Immorality had to be punished, lest the colonists provoke God’s wrath. Drawing upon the Old Testament as well as the English common law, the Puritans criminalized immorality, including breaking the Sabbath, worshiping idols, blaspheming the name of God, and practicing magic. The most sensational cases involved bestiality and witchcraft. In 1642, the New Haven authorities suspected George Spencer of bestiality when a sow bore a piglet that carried his resemblance. He confessed and they hanged both Spencer and the unfortunate sow.

Witches were considered Satan’s recruits. They were a product of a belief system that ruled out chance and stressed to a frightening degree the hand of God in the affairs of men. If bad happened, somebody have caused it.

the religion of the puritans the puritan work ethic
The Religion of the Puritans (the Puritan Work Ethic)
  • Puritans were characterized by their simple piousness, literacy, and a zeal for doing. Work was a calling, not a profession whose goal was to earn money. “God sent you onto this world as unto a Workhouse, not a Playhouse.” Doing was given a special place in their philosophy (even though they believed that they could only achieve salvation by Grace). They were an once an entrepreneurial and pious people. Their desire for material success, their belief that it required sacrifice to achieve material success, and their belief that God would reward them for their labor were inseparably linked. “The Puritans worked with a special zeal to honor their God and to seek rewards that offered reassurance that God approved of their efforts.” (Taylor, p. 159) There was a kind of tension within these beliefs. Prosperity was read as a sign of God’s favor, but the accumulation of wealth could never be an end in itself.
the religion of the puritans continued
The Religion of the Puritans (continued)

Dissent was not welcome. Baptists, Quakers, Anglicans, and Catholics need not apply. Puritans emigrated to New England to realize their own ideal of a uniform society - and certainly not to champion religious toleration and pluralism. All dissenters were given, in the words of one Massachusetts Puritan, “free Liberty to Keep Away From Us.”

roger williams
Roger Williams

Dissent, however, arose from within the church in the persons of Roger Williams and Anne Hutchinson. Williams believed that the Puritans had not separated enough from the Anglican and Catholic churches. He was accused of heresy and fled south from Massachusetts Bay to found what would become Providence, Rhode Island. Williams believed that “forced religion stinks in God’s nostrils.” Rhode Island became a haven for religious toleration and diversity. Baptists, Lutherans, Methods - all Protestant sects saw it as a place to settle.

anne hutchinson american jezebel
Anne Hutchinson (American Jezebel)
  • Anne Hutchinson was a fiercely independent woman of Massachusetts Bay who was put on trial for heresy. Hutchinson claimed the power of prophecy and led prayer meetings in her home that attracted hundreds of followers. She suggested that most of the ministers and magistrates of the colony were godless hypocrites dangerous to the souls of their congregants and the survival of the colony. A Puritan minister described her as a “woman of haughty and fierce carriage, of a nimble wit, and active spirit and a very voluble tongue, more bold than a man.” Considering her a threat to social order and especially to the subordination of women to men, Winthrop and his council rebuked her, “You have stepped out of your place, you have rather been a husband than a wife, and a preacher than a hearer, and a magistrate than a subject.”
hutchinson continued
Hutchinson (continued)

Hutchinson challenged Puritan orthodoxy on the relationship of “justification” and “sanctification.” This dispute is quite intricate. Justification was the infusion of divine grace. Sanctification involved moral conduct, including Christian behavior, piety, even prayer. This was a debate about the relative relationship of grace versus works (not faith versus works) to salvation. Hutchinson was put on trial and defended herself - quite successfully - in a dramatic trial. But eventually, she blurted out that her knowledge of God was “an immediate revelation.” She suggested that she had a proximity to God that was unique. This was considered heresy and she was banished from the colony.

the puritans and the development of democracy in america
The Puritans and the Development of Democracy in America
  • Upon arrival in 1630, the town developed political assemblies of the original heads of households. Within four years of settlement, a more elaborate structure developed. There was a governor (for thirty years it was Winthrop), a board of directors (seven or eight) who served as advisors and freemen composed of the adult heads of households. There was also a “General Court” composed of all of the freemen that voted on many matters of importance (essentially giving advice to the governor.) By 1632, the freemen choose the governor and the board of directors, but the governor and the broad of directors had the ultimate right of decision. Still later, the freemen broke off and formed an assembly that was given an independent voice. Eventually, the concurrence of both the assembly and the governor was necessary to enact law. Finally, a court system developed and a system of laws based on the principles of common law was established.
the laws and liberties of massachusetts
“The Laws and Liberties of Massachusetts”
  • The preamble described the theological ideas on which the colony was founded. There were numerous citations to scripture and law was said to come from God, not man. “The Laws and Liberties’ is a constitution in the sense in which we often think of one today: it establishes a government complete with a Bill of Rights.
the laws and liberties of massachusetts74
“The Laws and Liberties of Massachusetts”
  • “The Laws and Liberties” also provided for punishments for crimes and, like “The Laws: Divine, Moral, and Martial” from Jamestown, it criminalized sin. Capital offenses included: Worshiping any God but Christ, being a witch, Blaspheme, murder (except in self-defense), bestiality, homosexuality, adultery, theft, being a false witness against another, sedition, cursing your parents, and rape.
the laws and liberties of massachusetts75
“The Laws and Liberties of Massachusetts”
  • “The Laws and Liberties of Massachusetts” was also a document of Puritan identity and a vehicle for establishing religious orthodoxy. For example, being an Ana - Baptist was punishable by banishment from the colony. Ana - Baptists did not believe in infant baptism. But this body of law precluded preaching against infant Baptism. No Jesuit was allowed into the colony. One of the most famous laws forced parents to educate their children (to teach them to read); and forced everyone to learn the Catechism. One law forbade playing shuffleboard in houses of entertainments to prevent idleness.
the laws and liberties of massachusetts76
“The Laws and Liberties of Massachusetts”
  • It is regressive by our standards, but progressive compared to its time. There are 16 capital crimes listed, though over 200 capital crimes are list in common law. Each of the capital crimes is justified with a passage from Scripture.
  • Capital offenses include: Worshiping any God but Christ, being a witch, Blaspheme, murder (except for self-defense), bestiality, homosexuality, adultery, theft, being a false witness against another, sedition, cursing your parents, and rape.
colonial charters some generalizations
Colonial Charters: Some Generalizations
  • Colonial charters were, in some sense, simultaneously covenants, compacts, “constitutions,” and “bills of rights.” They were covenants and compacts because they were one of the means by which the English defined themselves as a people. They were “a people’s attempt at self-interpretation.” They established shared meanings that allowed them to act as a people and to answer basic political questions about who they were as a people, what qualities they sought in leadership, and what standards they would use to judge themselves.[1] Most broadly, colonial charters used basic symbols in the Judeo- Christian tradition and are statements of sectarian identity (Anglican in Virginia, Pilgrim and Puritan in New England).
  • [1] See the preface and introduction in Donald S. Lutz ed., Colonial Origins of the American Constitution: A Documentary History (Indianapolis, IN.: Liberty Fund, 1998), xv-xl. Quote is from page xv. This handout is based Lutz’s discussion.
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Colonial Charters: Some Generalizations
  • These charters were also “constitutions” or statements of the form and organization of the government and the substance or content of the fundamental law. They were constitutions in the sense that they established a) the organization or form of the government and b) the fundamental laws which both prescribed and proscribed behavior. The most vivid and interesting characteristic of the colonial charters as statements of fundamental law is that they criminalize sin. Colonists sought to legislate morality and punished immoral behavior severely.
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Colonial Charters: Some Generalizations

Finally, colonial charters were statements of basic English liberties. They codified basic liberties protected in common law. They seem remarkably regressive to us, but they were progressive in many ways. For example, the number of capital crimes was greatly reduced in colonial America over the mother country.

strategies for making the study of colonial america more interesting
Strategies for Making the Study of Colonial America More Interesting
  • Use of Novels and Plays: The Crucible, The Scarlet letter, and The Last of the Mohicans, and The Prairie.
  • Use of Biography and “Great” Men and Women: Anne Hutchinson, Roger Williams, John Winthrop, Captain John Smith, Powhatan, Pocahontas, and William Bradford.
  • Jill Lepore, The Name of War: King Phillip’s War and the Origins of American National Identity. Analysis of how we talk about war.