New World Experiments: England's 17th Century Colonies

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HISTORY 1301 ~ AMERICAN HISTORY TO 1877
C H A P T E R 2
NEW WORLD EXPERIMENTS: ENGLAND’S SEVENTEENTHCENTURY
COLONIES
SUMMARY
In the seventeenth century, different and sometimes disparate groups of English settlers established several colonies in North America. The English way of colonization differed from that of the Spanish in that English colonization did not emanate from a desire to create a centralized empire in the New World.

Breaking Away
English migration to the New World was part of a larger pattern of mobility—the New World was just another destination. Some Englishmen migrated to the New World for economic reasons, leaving poverty and seeking land. Others came seeking religious opportunity or to avoid political strife and conflict in England.

The Chesapeake: Dreams of Wealth
In the early- to mid-seventeenth century, the English established two successful but diverse colonies around the Chesapeake Bay—Virginia and Maryland.

Entrepreneurs in Virginia
In 1607, the London Company, a joint stock company, built Jamestown in Virginia. This colony, however, experienced numerous problems arising from a hostile natural environment, conflict with local Native Americans, the colonists’ failure to work for the common good, and unclear goals.

Spinning Out of Control
To save the colony, Captain John Smith took over the management of the town and imposed military order. The London Company also restructured the government and sent more people to keep the colony going.

“Stinking Weed”
One key to the eventual success of Virginia was the development by John Rolfe of tobacco as a commercial crop. London Company directors further attracted settlers by giving land grants (headrights), establishing elective local government (the House of Burgesses), and bringing women to the colony. Under the management of Edwin Sandys especially, the colony thrived with new settlers arriving regularly.

Time of Reckoning
Disease and battles with the native population made Virginia a dangerous place, especially for indentured servants. Despite increased immigration to Virginia, the mortality rate remained high in Virginia. Such problems, combined with the continued low percentage of women colonists, made establishing a family difficult.

Corruption and Reform
In 1624, King James I declared that Virginia was a royal colony to help solve some of the problems plaguing the Virginia colony. James reformed the governance of the colony, appointing a royal governor and council. Nonetheless, the House of Burgesses, which the Stuart monarchs opposed, continued to meet, eventually forcing the monarchy to recognize them as a governing body. Despite the changes in the colony’s management, the economic and social aspects of life there continued much as before. Tobacco remained the primary crop, and life continued to revolve around the plantation.

Maryland: A Troubled Refuge for Catholics
In the 1630s, Sir George Calvert and his son Cecilius, the Lords Baltimore, acquired a royal grant to settle a colony north of Virginia, which was named Maryland in honor of the queen. The second Lord Baltimore insisted on religious toleration of all Christian religions, including Catholicism, within the colony, but this proprietary colony still faced much sectarian trouble during its early days.

Reforming England in America
Calvinist religious principles played an important role in the colonization of New England. A small group of Separatists, or Pilgrims, first went to Holland and then settled the “Plymouth Plantation.” There these new settlers tried to replicate the villages and communities of England. Without assistance from the local Native Americans, the Pilgrims would not have survived in the New World.

“The Great Migration”
The Puritans, a much larger and wealthier group of religious reformers, wanting to escape the tyranny of King Charles I, established the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Under the leadership of John Winthrop, they...
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