The Puritan Frontier The difference between a failed colony and a successful colony was not financial backing from home, the volume of Indian trade, or the form of government adopted; it was numbers. King Charles I succeeded James I in 1625. Because his wife was the sister of the Catholic French King, he was thought of as soft on Catholicism. Trouble was not long in coming. There was a strong Puritan party in the House of Commons, and when Parliament started impeaching bishops, the king arrested some of its members. Finally, Charles dismissed Parliament and locked up the Puritan leaders. In a return to personal rule, he reigned without an elected legislature for eleven years. This period from 1629 to 1640, known as “the Great Migration,” sent twenty thousand Englishmen t the shores of New England. What was a trickle in 1607, and a stream in 1620, became a flood after 1629. A large number of Englishmen, made miserable by economic depression, unemployment, poor harvests, and religious persecution, did not want to live in their own country. In this constrained political climate, the sentiments of thousands of dissidents were summed up in this couplet that appeared in The London Magazine: We are on tiptoe in this land, Waiting to pass to the American strand. After the Pilgrims led the way, King Charles began to grant more patents to other groups. John Endecott, a Puritan, sailed with about fifty settlers in June 1628 and landed in September at a spot he named Salem (Massachusetts). There he found a few Pilgrims who had left the expanding Plymouth in 1626. Five more ships brought three hundred more colonists. Back in England, John Winthrop, a Cambridge College graduate and owner of a five hundred acre property, went through a crisis of pessimism concerning the state of England. By 1629, he could no longer hide his dislike of the Catholic queen, and of the King’s behavior. He saw a sick society, a countryside full of beggars, horse thieves, and homeless orphans – a land of “wandering ghosts in the shape of men.” Feeling a need at start over and wanting to take part in a worthy enterprise, he joined the Massachusetts Bay Company, which was given a grant in the area where Endicott has already landed. In May 1629, Winthrop signed an agreement with eleven other leaders. To raise cash, they all pledged to sell their estates in England. (Unlike the Pilgrims, the Puritans were numerous and wealthy.) In this way, they arranged for the management of the company to remain in their own hands rather than under the control of directors in England, freeing themselves from all control in the “mother country.” Winthrop was named the governor of the newly named “Massachusetts Bay Colony.” They sailed in April 1630 with five ships and about six hundred settlers. As always, Puritan discipline was strict. Their arrival on June 12, 1630, was less than joyous. There they found Endecott’s people, who had been there for nearly two years prior. They were in a shabby state, living in wigwams, with not enough crops planted to feed themselves. Thomas Dudley described the settlement as “in a sad and unexpected condition, above eighty being dead the winter before; and many of those alive weak and sick; all the bread and corn among them… hardly sufficient to feed them for two weeks.” The new settlers soon began creating the way of life they wanted without any interference from England. The Puritans noted that they had “all things to do, as in the beginning of the world.” Two hundred died in the winter of 1630-1631. They died mostly of scurvy, but in February 1631, a supply ship carrying lemons brought relief. About eighty of the faint-hearted gave up and went back to England. But, there were plenty more arrivals, and by 1632 the Massachusetts Bay Colony had two thousand settlers. They number doubled by 1634, and doubled again by 1636. In fact, by 1636, only six years after their arrival, they had built the first university in America – Harvard. (They also were the first to require public education for school- age kids. See, The New England Primer) For thirty years, from 1630 to 1660, they pursued their “errand in the wilderness” without interference. According to the New England model, each town was built around a church and a congregation. The government structure consisted of a governor, a lieutenant governor, and a number of assistants. To vote, or hold elective office, you had to be a full member of the church, and “church law” became “town law.” (They had created a true “theocracy.”) It was a class-conscious frontier, discriminatory and undemocratic. The seating plan of the church was based on the age, estate, and dignity of the townspeople, with everyone jockeying for a better pew position. In Boston, the Puritans were soon cutting off dissidents’ ears and branding them, much as had been done to the Puritans themselves back in England. Winthrop might have replied that when the wilderness is on your doorstep, you have to govern with a firm hand. It was important to maintain order. Idleness was a criminal offense, officially called “mispence of time.” This becomes the basis of the Puritan work ethic – “Idle hands are the Devil’s workshop.” Laziness was not only a crime, it was considered a moral sin. Free time, or recreation, was considered wasteful; pleasure itself was considered selfish and therefore sinful. Little tolerance was given to sinners. (Think The Scarlet Letter) In fact, life itself was viewed as a constant job to make oneself worthy in the eyes of God, and at church services, the minister would always remind the congregation of how “unworthy” they were. Fear of an eternity in Hell motivated the Puritans more than anything else. (See, Jonathan Edwards, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God”) The original Puritan concept called for a permanent settlement, a shining “city of a hill” to be admired as a model of what the Puritan lifestyle could produce when given the chance; but the Massachusetts frontier contained the germ of continuous expansion. And, the central problem of the frontier was always relation with the Indians. Since the Indians were on the Boston doorstep, the Puritans deemed it necessary to place them under English law and the English court system. They were charged with violating laws they didn’t know existed. For example, in Plymouth they were expected to keep the Sabbath. Indians were arrested by English constables, placed in English jails, tried by English judges, convicted and sentenced under English law, and whipped in the town square in from of jeering English townspeople. To the Puritans, Indian relations, like everything else, were ordained by God. “If God is not pleased by our inheriting these parts,” Winthrop wondered, “then why does he make room for us by diminishing them as we increase?” A 1633 epidemic carried away many of the Indians in the Connecticut River area. In September 1634, a group asked permission to move south to the Connecticut River area. This group was led by Thomas Hooker, a dissenter fleeing arrest in England. Hooker argued that Massachusetts was too cramped, the fields were too rocky, and they didn’t have room to graze their cows. In 1635, the General Court gave permission for four groups to move so long “as they continue under this government.” The colonization of Connecticut was underway. Wars with the Indians caused a great deal of stress for the Connecticut settlements, which were isolated from each other and easy to pick off. On April 23 1637, the Pequot Indians raided Wethersfield, attacking the settlers in the fields, killing six men, three women, and taking two girls captive. (The Dutch later rescued the two girls.) The Wethersfield raid prompted the English to action. On May 26, 1637, a force of ninety Englishmen attacked tow Pequot strongholds, killing between six and seven hundred of the Indians. For all practical purposed, the Pequot had been exterminated. Once the Pequot were gone, there was nothing to stop the Puritan’s advance. The Connecticut settlements grew along the rivers. In 1639, the Connecticut River settlements formed a government separate from Massachusetts. By 1640, when the Great Migration had ended, there were about 34,000 Englishmen living in America: 6,500 in Virginia, 1,000 in Maryland, 18,000 in Massachusetts, 6,000 in Connecticut, and 2,000 farther north. In the thirty-three years between 1607 and 1640, almost half of the future original 13 U.S. states had been settled and had Englishmen living in them. These were hard years, in which hard lessons were learned, but the seeds of modern America were planted.
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