New England Settlements

Massachusetts Bay Colony

The objective of the Massachusetts Puritans was to establish a colony in which they could enjoy worship purified of what they called “the idolatrous remnants of popery” in the English Church. They did not; however, open a refuge for freedom of worship. Others might live in the colony so long as they did not resist the authorities, molest the ministers, or bring discredit on the Puritan system of worship and government; but they had to contribute to the support of the Church and submit to its controlling oversight of both public and private life. Soon the Colony of Massachusetts Bay became the nucleus of the largest and most important of the English settlements in America.

During the decade 1630-1640, the growing tyranny of King Charles and the persecutions of the zealous Archbishop Laud of Canterbury drove another 25,000 refugees to the new colony. “God sifted a nation,” wrote a Massachusetts governor a half-century later, “in order that he might send choice grain to this wilderness. Archbishop Laud called the Puritans whom he drove into exile “swine which rooted out God’s vineyard.”

The king, absorbed in his quarrel with Parliament, probably knew nothing about the removal of the charter from England until, in 1634, the persecuting zeal of Archbishop Laud of Canterbury against the Puritans moved him to demand its surrender. The English representatives of the company politely informed the king that the charter was in America, well out of reach of the king’s officers. The American colony politely declined to send the charter back to England. Before the king could use force to recover the charter he was overtaken by a war with his Scottish subjects, and thus the Massachusetts Company escaped the fate which had overtaken the London Company’s colony of Virginia ten years earlier.

Early Colonists and Native Americans.

Early Colonists and Native Americans.

The large emigration to Massachusetts brought about several important political results. It relieved the colony of the immediate fear of attacks by the Indians; enabled the authorities easily to drive out various companies of settlers established by the agents of Gorges and other claimants to the Massachusetts lands under the grants of the Council for New England; and finally, it led to a representative form of government.

In 1634, the towns demanded the privilege of sending their own elected representatives to help make the laws. The more liberal spirits of the colony protested against the narrowing of the representatives to the “freemen” alone, but the Puritan leaders were firm in their determination to keep out of the government, all who were suspected of heresy in belief or laxity in morals. “A democracy is no fit government either for Church or for the commonwealth,” declared Cotton; and even the tolerant John Winthrop defended the exclusive Puritan system.

It was natural that this “Puritan aristocracy,” which seemed so harsh to many colonists, should lead to both voluntary and enforced exile from the territory governed under the Massachusetts charter. Roger Williams, the pastor of the church in Salem, taught doctrines very unacceptable to the Puritan governors of the colony. He said that the land on which they had settled belonged to the Indians, in spite of the king’s charter, that the state had no control over a man’s conscience, and that to make a man take the oath of citizenship was to encourage lying and hypocrisy. As a result, the civil authorities drove Williams from the colony in 1636. Making his difficult way southward in midwinter through the forests, from one Indian tribe to another, he arrived at the head of Narragansett Bay, where he purchased a tract of land from the Indians and began a settlement which he called, in recognition of God’s guidance, “Providence.”

Narragansetts Indians Receiving Roger Williams

Narragansetts Indians Receiving Roger Williams

Rhode Island

Other dissenters from Massachusetts followed, and soon four towns were established on the mainland about Narragansett Bay and on what would later become the State of Rhode Island. In 1643, Roger Williams secured recognition for his colony from the English Parliament, which the year before had driven King Charles from London. The little colonies of Rhode Island and Providence were remarkable for two things, — democracy and religious freedom. Election by ballots was introduced, and the government was “held by free and voluntary consent of all the free inhabitants.” Here, all men might “walk as their conscience persuaded them, everyone in the name of his God.”

The scornful orthodox brethren in Massachusetts called Rhode Island’s population “the Lord’s debris,” while the facetious said that “if a man had lost his religion, he would be sure to find it in some Rhode Island village.”

Massachusetts further showed her spite against the dissenting settlers by refusing to admit Rhode Island into the confederation of New England colonies, which was formed in 1643 for protection against the Indians. It would not be until the colony received a royal charter from King Charles II in 1663, which recognized its boundaries and its self-elected government, that it was securely established. For his heroic devotion to principles of freedom, far in advance of his age, Roger Williams deserves to be honored as one of the noblest figures in our colonial history.

Thomas Hooker and settlers journeying through the wilderness by Frederic E. Church, 1846.

Thomas Hooker and settlers journeying through the wilderness by Frederic E. Church, 1846.


The same year that Massachusetts drove Roger Williams out of her jurisdiction, the magistrates gave permission to the citizens Cambridge, Dorchester, Watertown, and other places, to transport themselves and their estates into what would become the State of Connecticut. These emigrants were partly attracted by the glowing reports of the fertility of the Connecticut Valley and partly repelled by the extreme rigor of the Massachusetts “aristocracy of righteousness,” which made impossible honest expression of opinion.

Led by their pastor, Thomas Hooker, they tramped across the wilderness between the Charles and the Connecticut Rivers, driving their cattle before them and carrying their household goods in wagons, — the first heralds of that mighty westward movement which was to continue through two centuries to the Pacific Ocean. The Connecticut emigrants founded the towns of Hartford, Windsor, and Wethersfield.

In 1639 they adopted their “Fundamental Orders,” — the first constitution drawn up in America, and the first in modern history composed by the free founders of a state. They did not require a man to be a church member in order to vote, and their clergymen exercised far less influence over political life than those of the mother colony. Although they had trouble with Massachusetts, which still claimed them under her jurisdiction, and with the Dutch, who had spread from the Hudson River to the Connecticut River, still the colonists of the river towns were strong enough to defend both their land and their government.

After the extermination of the dangerous Pequot Indians in 1637, the colony enjoyed peace and prosperity. In 1662 it was granted a charter by King Charles II, which extended its territory westward to the South Sea (the Pacific Ocean.)

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