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As you know, the settlers in New England had a clear idea of the religious code that would guide them in the creation of their colonies in America. In fact, they left England specifically because they could not follow their beliefs back home.
But then, once the colonies survived their initial years, trouble began. This should have been entirely predictable. Putting many people together and expecting them to all believe identically seems unreasonable. And so it was that the Puritan colonies split. New England is not a single state today, but a collection of states, the legacy of divisions in the 1600s.
But, perhaps if Winthrop and the leaders of the colonies could have been wiser, or more persuasive, or more strict. Perhaps things did not have to go as they did.
What do you think? Was Winthrop’s dream of a religiously pure society ever possible?
DISSENT IN MASSACHUSETTS BAY
There was not too much room for religious disagreement in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Puritans defended their dogma with uncommon fury. Their devotion to principle was God’s work; to ignore God’s work was unfathomable. When free-thinkers speak their minds in such a society, conflict inevitably results.
Such was the case in Massachusetts Bay when Anne Hutchinson and Roger Williams spoke their minds.
Secondary Source: Illustration
The trial of Anne Hutchinson by the leaders of the Massachusetts Bay colony.
Anne Hutchinson was a deeply religious woman. In her understanding of Biblical law, the ministers of Massachusetts had lost their way. She thought the enforcement of proper behavior from church members conflicted with the doctrine of predestination. She asked simply, “If God has predetermined for me salvation or damnation, how could any behavior of mine change my fate?”
This sort of thinking was seen as extremely dangerous. If the public ignored church authority, surely there would be anarchy. The power of the ministers would decrease. Soon over eighty community members were gathering in her parlor to hear her comments on the weekly sermon. Her leadership position as a woman made her seem all the more dangerous to the Puritan order.
The clergy felt that Anne Hutchinson was a threat to the entire Puritan experiment. They decided to arrest her for heresy. In her trial, she argued intelligently with John Winthrop, but the court found her guilty and banished her from Massachusetts Bay in 1637.
Roger Williams was a similar threat. Two ideas got him into trouble in Massachusetts Bay. First, he preached separation of church and state. He believed in complete religious freedom, so no single church should be supported by tax dollars. Massachusetts Puritans believed they had the one true faith. Therefore such talk was intolerable. Second, Williams claimed taking land from the Native Americans without proper payment was unfair.
Massachusetts wasted no time in banishing the minister. In 1636, he purchased land from the Narragansett and founded the colony of Rhode Island. Here there would be complete religious freedom. Dissenters from the English New World fled here seeking refuge. Anne Hutchinson herself moved to Rhode Island before her fatal relocation to New York where she was killed by Native Americans.
America has long been a land where people have reserved the right to say, “I disagree.” Many early settlers left England in the first place because they disagreed with English practice. Roger Williams and Anne Hutchinson were two brave souls who reminded everyone at their own great peril of that most sacred right.
Despite a few internal problems, Massachusetts Bay Colony was thriving by the mid-1630s. It would only be a matter of time before individuals within the colony would consider expansion.
There were obstacles to consider. Establishing a new colony was never easy. Pequot Indian settlements west of the Connecticut River were an important consideration. Nevertheless, the Puritan experiment pushed forward, creating new colonies in the likeness of Massachusetts Bay.
Thomas Hooker was a devout Puritan minister. He had no quarrels with the religious teachings of the church. He did, however, object to linking voting rights with church membership, which had been the practice in Massachusetts Bay.
In 1636, his family led a group of followers west and founded the town of Hartford. This would become the center of Connecticut colony. In religious practices, Connecticut mirrored Massachusetts Bay. Politically, it allowed more access to non-church members.
In 1639, the citizens of Connecticut enacted the first written constitution in the Western Hemisphere. The Fundamental Orders of Connecticut called for an elected governor and a two-house legislature. It served as a model for other colonial charters and even future state constitutions after independence was achieved.
In 1637, under the leadership of John Davenport, a second colony was formed in the Connecticut River Valley, revolved around the port of New Haven. Unlike the citizens in Hartford, the citizens were strict about church membership and the political process. They abolished juries because there was no mention of them in the Bible. Most citizens accused of a crime simply reported to the magistrate for their punishment, without furnishing a defense.
The New Haven colony was merged into its more democratic neighbor by King Charles II in 1662.
Connecticut provides a great example of the strictness of colonial society. Laws based on scripture, called Blue Laws, were applied to Connecticut residents. Examples include the death penalty for crimes that seem minor by modern standards. Blue laws condemned to death any citizen who was convicted of blaspheming the name of God or cursing their natural father or mother. These laws were in effect at least as late as 1672 in colonial Connecticut.
Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, and eventually New Hampshire, Vermont and Maine are known collectively as New England. All settled by Pilgrims or Puritans, they share a similar geography, climate, economy, history and values.
NATIVE AMERICANS AND THE NEW ENGLAND SETTLERS
Tensions had existed from the beginning between the Puritans and the native people who controlled southern New England. Relationships deteriorated as the Puritans continued to expand their settlements aggressively and as European ways increasingly disrupted native life. These strains led to King Philip’s War (1675–1676), a massive regional conflict that was nearly successful in pushing the English out of New England.
When the Puritans began to arrive in the 1620s and 1630s, local Algonquian peoples viewed them as potential allies in the conflicts already simmering between rival native groups. In 1621, the Wampanoag, led by Massasoit, concluded a peace treaty with the Pilgrims at Plymouth. In the 1630s, the Puritans in Massachusetts and Plymouth allied themselves with the Narragansett and Mohegan people against the Pequot, who had recently expanded their claims into southern New England. In May 1637, the Puritans attacked a large group of several hundred Pequot along the Mystic River in Connecticut. To the horror of their native allies, the Puritans massacred all but a handful of the men, women, and children they found.
Primary Source: Book Cover
An early edition of Mary Rowlandson’s memoir of her captivity during King Philip’s War.
By the mid-seventeenth century, the Puritans had pushed their way further into the interior of New England, establishing outposts along the Connecticut River Valley. There seemed no end to their expansion. Wampanoag leader Metacom or Metacomet, also known as King Philip among the English, was determined to stop the encroachment. The Wampanoag, along with the Nipmuck, Pocumtuck, and Narragansett, took up the hatchet to drive the English from the land.
In the ensuing conflict, called King Philip’s War, native forces succeeded in destroying half of the frontier Puritan towns. They especially focused on killing cattle, which they saw as symbolic of the English unjust use of Native American land. Sometimes, they took English settlers as captives. In one such case, Mary Rowlandson was held for 11 weeks before being ransomed. In 1682, six years after her ordeal, she published “The Sovereignty and Goodness of God: Being a Narrative of the Captivity and Restoration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson”. Her memoir is considered a seminal American work in the literary genre of captivity narratives. It went through four printings in 1682 and garnered readership both in the New England colonies and in England, leading it to be considered by some the first American bestseller.
In the end, the English, aided by Mohegans and Christian Indians, prevailed and sold many captives into slavery in the West Indies. The severed head of King Philip was publicly displayed in Plymouth.
The war also forever changed the English perception of native peoples; from then on, Puritan writers took great pains to vilify the natives as bloodthirsty savages. A new type of racial hatred became a defining feature of Indian- English relationships in the Northeast.
EFFECTS ON NATIVE AMERICAN LIFE
Native weapons changed dramatically as well, creating an arms race among the peoples living in European colonization zones. Indians refashioned European brassware into arrow points and turned axes used for chopping wood into weapons. The most prized piece of European weaponry to obtain was a musket, or light, long-barreled European gun. In order to trade with Europeans for these, native peoples intensified their harvesting of beaver, commercializing their traditional practice.
The influx of European materials made warfare more lethal and changed traditional patterns of authority among tribes. Formerly weaker groups, if they had access to European metal and weapons, suddenly gained the upper hand against once-dominant groups. The Algonquian, for instance, traded with the French for muskets and gained power against their enemies, the Iroquois. Eventually, native peoples also used their new weapons against the European colonizers who had provided them.
WITCHCRAFT IN SALEM
Salem, a small town in Massachusetts is notorious, even today, for the witch trials that occurred there in 1692 and 1693. Although the people of Salem focused their attention on finding and prosecuting witches, historians believe there must have been other factors that drove the hysteria. For example, Salem had suffered greatly in preceding years from Native American attacks. As the town became more populated, land became harder and harder to acquire. A smallpox epidemic had broken out at the beginning of the decade. Massachusetts was experiencing some of the worst winters in memory. The motives of the young girls themselves can be questioned. In a society where women had no power, particularly young women, is it not understandable how a few adolescent girls, drunk with unforeseen attention, allowed their imaginations to run wild?
As the deeply religious residents of Salem saw it, surely the Devil had come to their town in 1692. Young girls screamed and barked like a dogs. The were seen doing strange dances in the woods. This was behavior hardly becoming of virtuous teenage maidens. The town doctor was called onto the scene and after a thorough examination, he concluded that the girls were bewitched. Now the task was clear. Whomever was responsible for this outrage must be brought to justice.
Secondary Source: Painting
One artist’s idea of what the Salem Witch Trials looked like. The reality was probably very different.
The ordeal originated in the home of Salem’s Reverend Samuel Parris. Parris had a slave from the Caribbean named Tituba. Several of the town’s teenage girls began to gather in the kitchen with Tituba early in 1692. As winter turned to spring the townspeople were aghast at the behaviors exhibited by Tituba’s young followers. They were believed to have danced a black magic dance in the nearby woods. Several of the girls would fall to the floor and scream hysterically. Soon this behavior began to spread across Salem. Ministers from nearby communities came to Salem to lend their sage advice. The talk turned to identifying the parties responsible for this mess.
Puritans believed that to become bewitched a witch must draw an individual under a spell. The girls could not have possibly brought this condition onto themselves. Soon they were questioned and forced to name their tormentors. Three townspeople, including Tituba, were named as witches. The famous Salem witchcraft trials began as the girls began to name more and more community members.
As 1692 passed into 1693, the hysteria began to lose steam. The governor of the colony, upon hearing that his own wife was accused of witchcraft ordered an end to the trials. However, 20 people and 2 dogs were executed for the crime of witchcraft in Salem. One person was pressed to death under a pile of stones for refusing to testify.
THE FIRST GREAT AWAKENING
During the eighteenth century, the British Atlantic experienced an outburst of Protestant revivalism known as the First Great Awakening.
During the First Great Awakening, evangelists came from the ranks of several Protestant denominations: Congregationalists, Anglicans (members of the Church of England), and Presbyterians. They rejected what appeared to be sterile, formal modes of worship in favor of a vigorous emotional religiosity.
Whereas Martin Luther and John Calvin had preached a doctrine of predestination and close reading of scripture, new evangelical ministers spread a message of personal and experiential faith that rose above mere book learning. Individuals could bring about their own salvation by accepting Christ, an especially welcome message for those who had felt excluded by traditional Protestantism: women, the young, and people at the lower end of the social order.
The Great Awakening caused a split between those who followed the evangelical message called the New Lights and those who rejected it called the Old Lights. The elite ministers in British America were firmly Old Lights, and they censured the new revivalism as chaos. Indeed, the revivals did sometimes lead to excess. In one notorious incident in 1743, an influential New Light minister named James Davenport urged his listeners to burn books. The next day, he told them to burn their clothes as a sign of their casting off the sinful trappings of the world. He then took off his own pants and threw them into the fire, but a woman saved them and tossed them back to Davenport, telling him he had gone too far.
Another outburst of Protestant revivalism began in New Jersey, led by a minister of the Dutch Reformed Church named Theodorus Frelinghuysen. Frelinghuysen’s example inspired other ministers, including Gilbert Tennent, a Presbyterian. Tennant helped to spark a Presbyterian revival in the Middle Colonies of Pennsylvania, New York, and New Jersey, in part by founding a seminary to train other evangelical clergyman. New Lights also founded colleges in Rhode Island and New Hampshire that would later become Brown University and Dartmouth College. In Northampton, Massachusetts, Jonathan Edwards led still another explosion of evangelical fervor. Edwards’s best-known sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” used powerful word imagery to describe the terrors of hell and the possibilities of avoiding damnation by personal conversion. One passage reads: “The wrath of God burns against them [sinners], their damnation don’t slumber, the pit is prepared, the fire is made ready, the furnace is now hot, ready to receive them, the flames do now rage and glow. The glittering sword is whet, and held over them, and the pit hath opened her mouth under them.” Edwards’s revival spread along the Connecticut River Valley, and news of the event spread rapidly through the frequent reprinting of his famous sermon.
Secondary Source: Illustration
George Whitfield, an English minister, who travelled throughout America preaching during the First Great Awakening.
The foremost evangelical of the Great Awakening was an Anglican minister named George Whitefield. Like many evangelical ministers, Whitefield was itinerant, traveling the countryside instead of having his own church and congregation. Between 1739 and 1740, he electrified colonial listeners with his brilliant oratory.
An actor by training, he would shout the word of God, weep with sorrow, and tremble with passion as he delivered his sermons. Colonists flocked by the thousands to hear him speak. He converted slaves and even a few Native Americans. Even religious skeptic Benjamin Franklin emptied his coin purse after hearing him speak in Philadelphia.
The Great Awakening saw the rise of several Protestant denominations, including Methodists, Presbyterians, and Baptists who emphasized adult baptism of converted Christians rather than infant baptism. These new churches gained converts and competed with older Protestant groups like Anglicans (members of the Church of England), Congregationalists (the heirs of Puritanism in America), and Quakers. The influence of these older Protestant groups, such as the New England Congregationalists, declined because of the Great Awakening. Nonetheless, the Great Awakening touched the lives of thousands on both sides of the Atlantic and provided a shared experience in the eighteenth-century British Empire.
New England splintered into separate colonies because of disagreements over religious doctrine, and faced violence because of conflicts over land with neighboring Native Americans. Some of the problems of the New England colonies were entirely self-inflicted, as was the case of the Salem Witch Trials. But did this have to be? Was Winthrop’s dream of a religiously pure society ever even possible?
BIG IDEA: New England was not a universally happy place. There were conflicts among colonists about religious doctrine and with their Native American neighbors.
Not everyone in New England agreed with the teachings of the Puritan Church. Anne Hutchinson did not believe in predestination. Roger Williams thought that the church and government should be separate. He also thought taking lands from Native Americans without payment was wrong. Both Hutchinson and Williams were expelled from Massachusetts and founded Rhode Island.
Thomas Hooker thought that voting should not be restricted to members of the church. He left to found Connecticut. A second settlement in Connecticut created the first written constitution for government in America.
Although the early New England settlements had benefited from help from local Native Americans, things went badly as time went by. English settlers took Native lands and eventually the Native Americans in the area banded together and made war on the English. King Philip’s War was long and bloody. The Native Americans burned farms, kidnapped English settlers and especially killed livestock. Mary Rowlandson’s memoir of her time in captivity became the first American bestseller. Eventually the Native Americans lost. The war had a strong effect on the way English settlers viewed Native Americans.
Interaction with the English had an effect on daily Native American life. Metal tools, especially guns, were important and made war between Native American groups more deadly. Also, English and French traders wanted to buy beaver fur to sell back in Europe which led to a change in Native economies. Instead of hunting for subsistence, many Native Americans focused more attention on capturing beaver for export.
A famous episode in American history were the witch trials that happened in the town of Salem in Massachusetts. A group of girls were accused of being witches. They could save themselves by naming other witches, which led to many accusations. The entire episode helps us understand the limitations of science at the time as well as the power of the church and weakness of women in colonial New England society.
By the 1700s, the power of the church was weakening in New England. Then a revival of interest in religion spread. Beginning back in England, the First Great Awakening spread through America as travelling ministers gave exciting sermons. One result was an increase in church membership and participation. Another effect was the beginning of new Christian denominations such as the Methodists, Presbyterians, and Baptists.
Rhode Island: Colony south of Massachusetts founded by Roger Williams and his followers.
Salem: Massachusetts town that became famous because of witch trials that took place there in 1692 and 1693.
PEOPLE AND GROUPS
Anne Hutchinson: Puritan dissident in Massachustts. In 1637 she was banished from the colony because she believed that church rules about behavior contradicted the belief in predestination. She eventually died in an attack by Native Americans in New York.
Roger Williams: Puritan who believed in the separation of church and state (government and church leadership should be separate). He was banished and founded Rhode Island.
Thomas Hooker: Puritan minister who left Massachusetts and founded Hartford in Connecticut. He believed that all men should be able to vote, not only church members.
John Davenport: Leader of the colony at New Haven, Connecticut. He believed jury trials should be abolished because juries are not mentioned in the Bible.
Metacom: Leader of the Wampanoag and the surrounding Native American tribes who fought King Philip’s War against the Puritans. He was also called Metacomet, or King Philip by the English.
Mary Rowlandson: Puritan who was kidnapped by Native Americans who attacked her town during King Philip’s War. She wrote a memoir of her captivity and became one of America’s first famous authors.
Tituba: African slave from the Caribbean in Salem who was accused of teaching witchcraft to local girls.
New Lights: Ministers who led the First Great Awakening.
Old Lights: Ministers during the First Great Awakening who wanted to preserve traditional practices and rejected the teachings of evangelical ministers.
Johnathan Edwards: Minister of the First Great Awakening who was known for his oratory. Among his famous sermons is “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.”
George Whitfield: English minister, who travelled throughout America preaching during the First Great Awakening.
Methodists, Presbyterians, Baptists: Protestant denominations established during the First Great Awakening.
Hersey: Beliefs that contradict official church teachings.
King Philip’s War: Conflict between Puritans in New England at the surrounding Native American tribes in 1675 and 1676. The Puritan colonies were nearly wiped out before the Native Americans were defeated.
First Great Awakening: Revival in religious practice in the mid-1700s in both England and the English colonies in America. Ministers preached a more direct connection to god that did not rely on official church leaders. The movement weakened the power of established churches and led to the creation of new denominations such as the Methodists, Presbyterians and Baptists.
Fundamental Orders of Connecticut: Laws outlining the government of the Connecticut colony, including an elected governor and two-house legislature. Many colonies and states copied this model.