Strict religion rules New England

Settling in villages and towns around the harbors, New Englanders quickly adopted an urban existence. Common pasture land and common woodlots served to satisfy the needs of townspeople who acquired small farms nearby. Many of these farmed in addition to carrying on some trade or business. Compactness made possible the village school, the village church, the town meeting, and frequent communication, and all of these together had a tremendous influence on the nature of the developing civilization. Sharing similar hardships, cultivating the same kind of rocky soil, following simple trades and crafts, these New Englanders rapidly acquired characteristics which marked them as a people apart.

Actually these qualities had roots that reached back to the one hundred and two sick and sea-weary "Pilgrims" who traveled to Cape Cod from Leyden and Plymouth. Coming under the auspices of the London (Virginia) Company and thus destined for settlement in Virginia, their ship, the famous Mayflower, made its landfall far to the north. After some weeks of exploring, the colonists decided not to make the trip to Virginia but to remain where they were. They chose Plymouth harbor as a site for their colony, and though the rigors of the first winter were severe, the settlement survived.

Even while Plymouth struggled for existence, other settlements were planted nearby. The one which occupied the Massachusetts Bay region after 1630 played a particularly significant part in the development of New England and of the nation. It was founded by some twenty-five men who obtained a royal charter. Some of these, together with a group of settlers, came to America themselves, bringing the charter with them. They were determined to succeed, and though New England proved something less than a paradise and some of the colonists went home to nurse their disillusion, most set themselves to the stern business of making a living and constructing a society suitable to the strong-minded individuals they were. Within the first ten years, sixty-five learnedly versed in theology arrived, and the development of a theocracy in Massachusetts took place as a logical consequence of its leaders' deep conviction. In theory, the church. and state were separate. Actually they were one, all institutions being subordinated to religion. Soon a system of government, theocratic and authoritarian, evolved. At town meetings, however, there was opportunity for discussion of public problems, and settlers thereby received a certain amount of experience in self-government. And though the towns developed around the church organization, the whole population, by the very exigencies of frontier life, shared in civic obligations and in consultative meetings. Still, for years the clergy and conservative laymen attempted to maintain conformity.

Sixteenth-century artist's sketch of an Indian community They did not succeed, however, in binding the mind of every citizen or curbing the tongue of the inspired zealot. Such a rebel was Roger Williams, a minister of blameless life, a brilliant man learned in the law, who questioned both the right of taking the Indians' land and the wisdom of keeping church and state unified. For spreading his "new and dangerous opinion against the authority of the magistrates," he was sentenced by the general court to banishment. He found refuge among friendly Indians in Rhode Island and soon established a colony there based on the concepts that men might believe as they wished and that church and state would be forever separate.

But heretics in search of liberty of conscience were not the only ones who left Massachusetts. Even orthodox Puritans seeking better lands and opportunity made their way from the colony. News of the fertility of the Connecticut River Valley, for instance, early attracted the interest of farmers having a difficult time with poor land. They were ready to brave the danger of the Indians for level ground and deep soil. Significantly, these groups, in setting up a government, extended the franchise and eliminated church membership as a prerequisite for voting. Concurrently, other Massachusetts settlers filtered into the region to the north, and soon New Hampshire and Maine were colonized by men and women seeking liberty and land.

While Massachusetts Bay was indirectly extending its influence, it was growing apace at home and expanding its commerce. From the middle of the century onward, it rapidly grew prosperous, and Boston became one of America's greatest ports. Oak timber for ships' hulls, tall pines for spars and masts, and pitch, for the seams came from the north eastern forests. And building their own ships, sailing them to ports all over the world carrying freight as they went, the shipmasters of Massachusetts Bay laid a foundation for a traffic which was to grow constantly in importance. By the end of the colonial period, one-third of all vessels under the British flag were American-built. Surplus food products, ship stores, and wooden ware swelled the exports. New England shippers soon discovered, too, that rum and slaves were profitable commodities.

Society in the middle colonies, the second great division, was far more varied, cosmopolitan, and tolerant than that in New England. Pennsylvania and its appendage, Delaware, owed their initial success to William Penn, an eminently practical Quaker, whose aim was to attract to the vast region granted him by King Charles II settlers of numerous faiths and varied nationalities. Also determined that the colony set an example of fair and honest dealings with the Indians, Penn entered into agreements with them which, scrupulously observed, maintained peace in the wilderness. The colony functioned smoothly and grew rapidly. Within a year after Penn's arrival, three thousand new citizens came to Pennsylvania. Heart of the colony was Philadelphia, a city soon to be known for its broad, tree-shaded streets, its substantial brick and stone houses, and its busy docks. By the end of the colonial. period, 30,000 people, representing many languages, creeds, and trades, lived there. The Quakers, with their grave, deliberate ways, their philanthropy, and their talent for successful business enterprise made the city, by the middle of the eighteenth century, the thriving metropolis of colonial America.

In Puritan New England a few irresponsible colonists scandalized their neighbours by enjoying gaiety and song. Here a pious elder begs them to return to godly ways. Though the Quakers dominated in Philadelphia, elsewhere in Pennsylvania other strains were well represented. The Germans came from a war-ravaged land in large numbers, asking for the chance to earn their bread. They soon became the province's most skillful farmers. Important also in the colony's development was their knowledge of cottage industries-weaving, shoe-making, cabinet-making, and other crafts. Pennsylvania was also the principal gateway into the new world for a great migration of Scotch-Irish. They were vigorous frontiersmen, taking land where they wanted it and defending their rights with rifles and interminable texts from the Bible. Often lawless, they were an affliction to the godly Quakers, but their very shortcomings made them a force of incalculable importance. Believing in representative government, religion, and learning, they were the spearhead of civilization as they pushed ever farther into the wilderness.

Mixed as were the people in Pennsylvania, it was in New York that the later polyglot nature of much of America was foreshadowed even as early as the mid-seventeenth century. By 1646, over a dozen languages could be heard along the Hudson and the population included Dutch, Flemings, Walloons, French, Danes, Norwegians, Swedes, English, Scotch, Irish, Germans, Poles, Bohemians, Portuguese, and Italians- the forerunners of millions of their compatriots in centuries to come. Most of them earned their living through trade and established a commercial civilization which anticipated the characteristics of succeeding generations.