The Expansion Of New England - The Colonial Settlement
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Efforts to maintain religious orthodoxy in the New England colonies also proved difficult. The presence of large numbers of "strangers" made it almost inevitable that the Puritans - not inclined toward liberalism - would make strong efforts to restrict the behavior of the non-Puritans. When Thomas Morton erected a Maypole at "Merry Mount," he outraged the Pilgrims, who claimed he had invited his friends to join some Indian squaws "for their contorts, dancing and shriking togither, and worse practises." The latter were not specified, but one of them may have been Morton's practice of paying the Indians more for furs than the other Plymouth traders paid. Morton was expelled from the colony, and his fate became that of most other dissenters as well. Fourteen persons were expelled from Massachusetts in 1630 alone.
In some instances the object of expulsion was, by our standards, clearly superior to those who judged him. Such was the case of Roger Williams, the greatest of those dissenters who advocated religious liberty. From the moment of his arrival in Massachusetts in 1631 he proved a problem; though a Puritan, he insisted on complete and absolute separation of church and state. After a brief stay in Plymouth, Williams had convinced his Pilgrim hosts that he was "a man godly and zealous, having many precious parts, but very unsettled in judgemente." When Salem called him to its pulpit Plymouth sent him forth, but took care to notify his new parishioners of his peculiarities.
The parishioners of Salem soon regretted that they had not taken heed of Plymouth's warning. Williams rejected the idea of an established church, supporting instead the primacy of individual conscience. He argued for complete religious toleration, and directed vitriolic attacks against the Puritan oligarchs. Swiftly, a movement developed to expel him. It gained strength when he openly questioned whether the charter granted the Puritans the authority they claimed. Since the king was making repeated demands for the return of the charter so that he might reexamine it, Winthrop and his colleagues feared that news of Williams' agitation might lead to a royal revocation. He was censured by the General Court, and, when that discipline proved insufficient to silence him, he was removed from his pulpit. That Williams would eventually be expelled from the colony seemed a certainty.
The existence of such intolerance in Massachusetts Bay made it inevitable that dissenting colonists would move elsewhere to escape the wrath of the Puritans. As a result, the settlement of New England was extended. The order of expulsion that lay upon Williams - though it was not to take effect for several months - did not discourage his outspoken behavior. Indeed, he was more vocal than ever in his attacks upon the leaders of the Puritan community. Pressure finally built up for his immediate return to England, however; and as he faced the prospect of a trial for treason there, he chose the better part of valor and fled from Massachusetts, accompanied by five friends. Helped by the friendly Narragansett Indians, Williams and his little band of followers survived the rigors of their homeless existence. Subsequently he purchased a tract of land from the Narragansetts - the site on which Providence now stands - and there Williams established a colony that was to serve as a refuge for the oppressed dissidents of the New World.
Rhode Island. The haven offered by Williams attracted settlers from the very beginning. As time passed, more and more people who had been persecuted elsewhere were drawn to his community, and Rhode Island expanded.
In March 1640, Providence and its neighboring towns, lacking a royal charter and threatened with destruction by Massachusetts, formed a defensive union based upon a democratic government. In 1644, application was made to Parliament for a confirmation of their land title, and in March of that year a royal grant established Providence Plantations and provided for the establishment of a government with popular election of officials and the passage of laws in conformance with English practice.
Disputes soon developed between Massachusetts and Providence over the toleration of Quakers. Though Williams viewed the Society of Friends skeptically, he insisted that toleration be extended to them. In Providence, he proudly contended, a man's conscience was his own. When Charles II granted a royal charter in 1663, it contained the proviso that no one should be "molested, punished, disquieted, or called in question, for any differences of opinion in matters of religion." Since it soon became the home of a variety of dissidents, orthodox New Englanders referred to it as "Rogue's Island," a play on words based on "Rhode Island," the Royal Charter's official designation of the colony.
As had been the case with Providence, the refusal of a stubborn individualist to submit to authority brought about the founding of another new colony in the Rhode Island area. Anne Hutchinson, whom the Puritan leaders had charged with the possession of "a vary voluble tongue," called for a theology based upon the "inner light." Her belief in divine revelation proved too mystical for church authority. Moreover, her contention that she received enlightenment directly from above put her in an impregnable position in any theological debate. A direct contradiction of the traditional view of the Bible as irrefutable, Mistress Hutchinson's argument for the validity of continuous divine revelation was tantamount to a demand for continual amendment of Holy Writ.
The radicalism of their views notwithstanding, proponents of the inner light won a surprising victory in 1636 in the election of Henry Vane, who had run against the dyed-in-the-wool Puritan, Winthrop, to the post of Governor of Massachusetts. For the next year orthodox leadership fought grimly to regain control of the colony, using a variety of tactics ranging from ridicule to political intrigue. In the next election - held at Newtown, one of the oldest strongholds of orthodoxy - Winthrop was re-elected. Anne Hutchinson was summarily ordered to leave Massachusetts, and she fled with her followers to Rhode Island, where she founded the colony at Portsmouth. In 1640, Portsmouth and Providence agreed to unite, forming the Providence Plantations. The efforts of such religious pioneers as Roger Williams and Anne Hutchinson had brought toleration to at least a corner of New England.
Connecticut. The Puritan and Pilgrim recognition of the strategic importance of the Connecticut Valley as a pathway for marauding Indians persuaded them to establish permanent settlements in Connecticut. In addition, the superior fertility of the valley made it agriculturally attractive. The value of the valley had become singularly apparent when in 1633 the Dutch established a post at the site of modern Hartford. In 1635, John Winthrop, Jr. settled with a small group of Puritans at Saybrook, Connecticut. The Massachusetts Bay Colony aggressively pressed its claim on the territory by sending Thomas Hooker to settle another Puritan community in the valley.
Hooker, who had his own private differences with Puritan practice, was granted the settlement at his own behest. Though fully and firmly committed to the theology of Puritanism, he took sharp issue with its political practices. He believed that "the foundation of authority is laide in the consent of the governed." Rather than provoke disquieting debate, Hooker emphasized the economic motive for his move, especially the agricultural promise of the valley. He also pointed to the danger from others who might seek to possess its fertile richness. The Puritan authorities, uneasy at the large-scale emigration Hooker's move might inaugurate, reluctantly granted permission. In May 1636 Hooker and his flock of one hundred moved to Hartford.
Massachusetts struggled to maintain control over the "river towns" that grew up along the Connecticut River, but soon lost the battle. On May 1, 1637, the Connecticut towns organized their own General Court. The independent existence of Connecticut was formalized with the passage in 1639 of the Fundamental Orders. The form of government thus established resembled the Massachusetts government, but there was a major difference: no religious test for voting was to be imposed. Furthermore, the governor, though he had to be a church member, was chosen by a comprehensive franchise, and was limited to one term in office.
As often happened in the colonies, Connecticut, in growing older, became less liberal. In 1657 and 1662 the establishment of property qualifications for voting caused the disenfranchisement of the poorer classes. Also, the governor gained the right to succeed himself. These restrictions stemmed from economic rather than religious considerations. The wealthier inhabitants of the valley sought to make themselves secure from the potential excesses of their lesser brethren.
The fears of orthodox Puritans that Boston was lapsing from traditional Congregationalism led to the establishment of another colony in 1638. New Haven, founded by a wealthy merchant, Theophilus Eaton, and a Dissenter minister, John Davenport, was governed wholly by the teachings of Scripture. The Old Testament was applied literally, and Mosaic Law rather than English common law prevailed. Since jury trial was nowhere mentioned in the Bible, none was provided. All civil and ecclesiastical powers were tightly vested in a twelve-man council which governed both church and state. But the subsequent expansion of settlement about New Haven brought the organization of a General Court in New Hampshire and Maine. One of the by-products of the Anne Hutchinson controversy was the founding in New Hampshire of Exeter in 1638 by John Wheelwright, a minister, and a handful of subscribers to inner light doctrine. This settlement was followed shortly afterward by an orthodox Puritan settlement at Hampton. Unlike the other New England colonies, the New Hampshire settlements contained a sizable number of Anglicans. Confusion as to exact status characterized the new colonies. The charter grant to Ferdinando Gorges and John Mason by the Council for New England had included Maine and New Hampshire. In 1629 the two proprietors had divided the territory, with Mason gaining most of present-day New Hampshire. Massachusetts, to the dismay of Mason's heirs, asserted its claim to New Hampshire in 1641. The Puritans held to their claim until 1677, but in that year the English Court of King's Bench declared that Massachusetts was not entitled to New Hampshire. In 1679, England made it the first of the royal colonies in New England.
Maine had an equally confused early history. Gorges tried to give substance to his proprietary grant by establishing a number of settlements between 1640 and 1650. A General Court was organized to govern the region in 1649 and extended toleration to those who practiced their beliefs "in a Christian way." Although the Privy Council ruled that Massachusetts' claim to Maine was invalid, the Puritan oligarchs secured control in fact by secretly buying out the Gorges claim. Puritan control was officially confirmed by William and Mary in the Massachusetts charter of 1691.
The New England Confederation. As the New Englanders dispersed through the countryside, they were forced to experiment in interdependence. Threatened on all sides - by the French, the Dutch, and the omnipresent Indians - they discussed the possibility of a loose union to secure themselves from attack. The coming of civil war in England in the early 1640s exposed the colonies to attack, but at the same time removed any threat of immediate British retaliation to prevent union. In May 1643, Plymouth, Connecticut, New Haven, and Massachusetts formed a defensive alliance "for mutuall help and strength in all our future concernments." Religious orthodoxy was the binding link; Rhode Island was excluded because of its religious liberality, and New Hampshire for its democratic inclinations.
The Confederation lasted, at least in theory, from 1643 to 1691. It pursued a near-independent course in the conduct of foreign affairs prior to 1660. In 1645 its members, seeking to expand their land holdings, defeated the same Narragansett Indians who had provided yeoman assistance in the defeat of the Pequot Indians eight years before. The Dutch were excluded from the Connecticut Valley by treaty in 1650. The Confederation also tightened Puritan control by passing tithe laws, restricting church membership, and passing anti-Quaker laws. But Massachusetts expressed increasing discontent with a union that gave all members political equality while obliging the Bay Colony to provide the bulk of fiscal and manpower resources. With the restoration of Charles II in 1660 increasing hostility toward the Confederation was manifested by the London government. The Confederation endured only as a pale shadow of its original self, but continued to suggest the advantages of colonial cooperation and to serve as proof that the experiences which bound New England colonies together were stronger than those which divided them. The South as a distinct and unique region might not yet exist; New England did.