Puritan Frontier posted by d4nR45Y


									                                      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

         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

        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.

To top