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Europeans to the Atlantic Coast of North America

In 1513, Juan Ponce de León claimed Florida for the Spanish crown. Spain was soon to claim the entire Atlantic coast of North America, which it called La Florida, and points along the gulf coast.

French Protestants — Huguenots — interested in escaping France and establishing a colony in the Americas did so in 1564 at what became known as Fort Caroline, on the St. Johns River in what today is northern Florida. Later that year a group of mutineers from Fort Caroline fled the colony and turned to piracy, attacking Spanish vessels in the Caribbean. For the Spanish this was reason to locate and destroy Fort Caroline, and Spain's King Philip II of Spain wanted to discourage French competition in the Americans. The Spaniards didn't want or couldn't take care of unwanted "Lutheran" heretics and Spain's admiral, Pedro Menéndez, executed several hundred (according to Wikipedia) at what is now known as the Matanzas Inlet. Wikipedia:

The atrocity shocked Europeans even in that bloody era of religious strife... This massacre put an end to France's attempts at colonization of the southeastern Atlantic coast of North America.

A few weeks later, on September 8, 1565, Admiral Menéndez and a purported 800 Catholic colonists waded ashore at what was to be a settlement called St. Augustine, planned as a base for further colonial expansion. Members of the Timucua tribe, which had occupied the site for more than 4,000 years, greeted Menéndez and his colonists peacefully. On that day, was what some describe as the real first "Thanksgiving" — a Catholic affair. An altar had been erected and a priest, Father Lopez, performed a mass of thanksgiving for their safe arrival. The Timucans were then invited to join them for a communal meal.

King Philip was an intensely devout Catholic Christain, and he shared with his man Admiral Menéndez, and the now late Columbus, to do their part in fulfilling Biblical prophesy. This did not impress the French, and in the years that followed in and around Florida were French raids and intermittent fighting with the Spaniards, with native American involvement. The English joined the conflict. Queen Elizabeth (queen since 1558) and King Philip II were hostile, and Elizabeth's favorite pirate and weapon against Philip, Sir Francis Drake, sacked St. Augustine in 1586. (This Florida from early in the century is dramatized in the PBS series "Secrets of the Dead," a documentary titled "Secrets of Spanish Florida.")

French in Canada and Dutch in New York

In the late 1500s, meanwhile, fishermen from Normandy and Brittany (today France) were fishing for cod around the waters of Newfoundland, and they were going ashore to sun-dry and salt their fish for the long journey home. They met Indians and began trading, their steel knives, copper kettles and other things for the beaver and bearskin coats made by the Indians. This commerce became profitable, and interest in the area increased.

In 1608, on the St. Lawrence River, the French founded their first settlement, rather than just a trading post. What was to become Quebec began with 28 settlers. Only eight survived the first winter. But more arrived in the spring. Quebec became a fur trading center, and soon the French were taking sides the conflicts among the local Indians.

In 1610, the Dutch set up a trading post on the southern end of Manhattan Island. In 1624 the Dutch sent thirty colonists, mostly French-speaking Protestant refugees — Walloons — from a Catholic area in the Netherlands (Belgium) to the Hudson River area. And in 1626 the Dutch bought Manhattan Island from local Indians for 60 guilders (about $1,100 in 2012 dollars), and they renamed the island New Amsterdam.


England's King James I, meanwhile, was interested in the spread of Protestant colonies in the Americas as a counter to the expansion of Spain's territory. In 1606, James granted a charter to the Virginia (named after the late virgin queen, Elizabeth. The company sent not farmers but men looking for gold, and some of them searched for a passage to the Pacific Ocean, believing China much closer than it actually was. some of them traded with local Indians such as the Powhatan and Pamunkey. Trading with the Powhatans for corn allowed the colonists to survive.

Then, in 1610–11, the company sent to Jamestown people it expected to farm, on their individual plots. This second wave pursued good relations with the Powhatans, and in 1612 a colonist named John Rolfe married the chief's daughter, Pocahontas. She went to England and was treated as a celebrity — and died there in 1617. Her son returned to Virginia, and his part-Indian descendants were to become prominent in Virginia society.

In addition to growing crops, the Virginia Company colonists raised cattle and sold goods to seamen: turpentine, resin, pitch, tar and lumber. The crop that worked best for them was tobacco, the colonists using the same slash and burn methods as the Powhatan. A good market for tobacco existed in England. The first barrels of cured tobacco reached England in 1614, and, by 1619, 50,000 pounds were being shipped annually. Smoking had become a fad in England, with King James describing it as "loathsome," harmful to the brain and dangerous to the lungs. Tobacco growing expanded and in 1619, and, in need of labor, some colonists purchased twenty slaves that had arrived on a Dutch ship — the beginning of slavery in Anglo America.

Puritans to New England

Puritans running from the authority of the Church of England went to Holland where they were not happy, and some of them agreed to work England's Virginia Company in exchange for passage on a ship called the Mayflower. The ship was blown off course, and rather than land in Virginia it landed at Plymouth, in what today is Massachusets.

Indians there had already been decimated by smallpox. Of the 3,000 or so Massachuset Indians living in the area in 1614 less than 800 were there when the Pilgrims arrived. The nearby Wampanoag Indians had been decimated, their survivors numbering around 1,200. It was December 1620. There was little food to share, and only half of the Puritan settlers survived the first winter. Those who did had stayed in abandoned Wampanoag villages and had raided Wampanoag food caches.

The following spring, the settlers found streams teaming with fish, and the Wampanoag exercised their sense of sharing. They brought the Pilgrims the meat of deer they had hunted. They showed the Pilgrims how to plant corn, how to cook squash and pumpkins, how to make corn pudding, and how to gather greens. The settlers and the Wampanoag made a treaty, the Wampanoag happy to have allies to help defend against hostile neighbors. On November 25, 1621, the Wampanoag chieftain, Massasoit, and more than ninety of his warriors feasted with the Pilgrims. The Pilgrims were thankful. The day was to be celebrated in the United States as Thanksgiving.

More Puritans arrived around Plymouth. In 1622, sixty people from England settled around 25 miles north of Plymouth at Weymouth. There a food shortage developed, and some of the settlers stole corn that Massachuset Indians had stored — sharing not approved by the Indians, and they decided to cut their trade with the settlers. The settlers threatened violence, and from Plymouth a military leader, Miles Standish, went to the rescue of the Weymouth colony. He led a raid against the Indians, defeating a group and its leader, Wituwamet, killing eight. And Standish resorted to the European tradition by displaying Wituwamet's head on a wooden fort wall, and the local Indians began calling the settlers wotowquenange – cut throats.

In 1623, 120 more Puritans – men and women – landed at Weymouth, and that year the settlement there abandoned land-sharing. Men laboring in the fields had been disgruntled by the sharing, believing they were doing more than some others, and married men disliked seeing their wives cooking for bachelors. Each family was given its own plot of land, and dissension among the settlers declined.

In 1624, Thomas Morton emigrated from England to the Plymouth Colony. Unable to get along with the Pilgrim authorities in Plymouth Colony, Wollaston and Morton left the colony in 1625 with a company of 30 or 40 colonists, and they cleared the land and built log-huts on the seaward slopes of the hills in what is now Merrymount. A few Plymouth families crossed the bay to settle at Duxbury.

In 1625, Charles I succeeded his father, James I, as king of England, and, with the approval of Charles, the Massachusetts Bay Company sponsored a new migration of around 1,000 Puritans to the Massachusetts area. Puritan stockholders of the company had changed the company's emphasis from trade to religion, seeing the colony as a refuge from Anglican (Church of England) authorities.

In 1632, Charles granted a charter to his friend, the Catholic aristocrat John Calvert, also known as Lord Baltimore, for a colony that was to become Maryland (as in Mary, the mother of God). The colony was intended as a refuge for English Catholics, who, like the Puritans, felt harried by Anglican bishops. Calvert was tolerant and planned to leave Maryland open to any Christian, and Charles agreed not to levy taxes against the Maryland colonists except for a fifth of the gold or silver that he hoped might be found there.

The Puritans at the Massachusets Bay Colony established a theocratic government and zealously resisted views that differed from their own. They believed that one among them, Roger Williams, was spreading dangerous ideas. He was to be quoted as saying that "coerced worship stinks in God's nostrils." Williams was to be described by historians as gifted, especially in languages. The distribution of intelligence was such that someone was likely to be around who was brighter than the authorities, and with the Puritans were authorities who wanted to crush the dissent.

Threatened with arrest and shipment to an English prison, Williams in 1636 began a settlement in what today is Rhode Island that offered people freedom of conscience. Williams believed that freedom of religion was a natural right that should be served by keeping church and state separate — including the state that was the Massachusetts Bay Colony.

Critics of Williams' Rhode Island colony called it "Rogue's Island", and the Puritan minister and prolific author Cotton Mather called it "the sewer of New England." (Mather, a man of certainties who believed in witches, was to be influential in the coming Salem witch-hunts.)

Williams was the 1638 founder of the First Baptist Church in America, also known as the First Baptist Church of Providence. His colony guaranteed protection from arbitrary imprisonment, guaranteed the right to a trial by jury, freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, a legislature created by universal manhood suffrage, and no capital punishment.

Anne Hutchinson

Another problem for the Massachusetts Bay Colony authorities was Anne Hutchinson. She had been holding Bible study meetings for women that some men attended as well. Her interpretation of scripture did not conform to that of the Massachusetts Bay Colony's governor, John Winthrop. In 1637, at the age of forty-six, she was put on trial – presided over by Winthrop. Aware that those who sat in judgment of her were on a course of hostility, she spoke to the court:

Therefore, take heed how you proceed against me. For you have no power over my body. Neither can you do me any harm, for I am in the hands of the eternal Jehovah my Saviour, I am at his appointment. The bounds of my habitation are cast in Heaven. No further do I esteem of any mortal man than creatures in His hand, I fear none but the great Jehovah, which hath foretold me of these things, and I do verily believe that He will deliver me out of your hands. Therefore take heed how you proceed against me; for I know that for this you [are] about to do to me, God will ruin you and your posterity, and this whole state.

There were angry jeers. She was denounced as a heretic and an instrument of the devil. The Court declared her "a woman not fit for our society." She was put under house arrest and then sent for a religious trial at the First Church in Boston. There she was accused of blasphemy and of "lewd and lascivious conduct" for having men and women in her house at the same time during her Sunday meetings. She was found guilty and excommunicated from the Puritan Church. She miscarried and the Church fathers proclaimed it God's judgment.

She and some of her family moved to a colony run by the Dutch, settling in an area that today is now the Bronx in New York City. There the Dutch were involved in a series of incidents known as Kieft's War. In 1643 she was killed by rampaging Indians.

The Southern Colonies from the mid-1600s

Virginia had around 8,000 colonists in 1644, and by 1675 their number would grow to 23,000. Like most colonists from England they saw themselves as English. They bought their supplies from England. They preferred to dress according to the fashion in England. And they read English books. They were influenced more by the Church of England. A cultural difference was developing between the southern colonies and New England. Virginia society was marked more by class differences, with the Church of England considered a part of social high standing. Many of the successful tobacco growers among the Virginians looked upon Puritans as subversives. Those with thousands of acres of land, including tobacco growers, considered themselves aristocracy. Those who owned between 50 and 200 acres had been indentured servants who had served their time during years long past, while many just recently freed from servitude didn't have the opportunity to acquire land that the older freed men had. The large plantation owners did not want competition from more growers and sought to limit the opportunities of these others. They looked askance at the landless young men wandering the colony, fearing the wanderers would turn to crime, while young men without property were wandering into what was called the frontier to establish themselves as best they could.

With the diminished supply of whites to work their plantations, and Indians unwilling to turn themselves into plantation slaves, the plantation owners of Virginia bought an increasing number of slaves from Africa. Virginia's slave population would rise from around 2,000 in 1671 to around 4,000 in 1690. And by 1700 there were 16,000 blacks in Virginia — 28 percent of what has been estimated as the 57,000 Virginia colonists in 1700.

Whether slaves received decent food or a roof that kept out most of the rain depended on the master. Some plantation owners were kind towards their slaves, but even they resorted to brutal methods to control recalcitrant slaves. Blacks might be punished by having a finger or arm cut off. But this diminished the productivity of the slave, and other punishments might be used. Whipping was the most common disincentive to disobedience.


During England's civil war (1642-51) dissenting Christians formed what the Religious Society of Friends — Quakers. In 1656, while the Puritan Oliver Cromwell was in power (as Lord Protector), Quakers began arriving in Massachusetts on ships from England. The Puritans there greeted the Quakers with hostility and often forced them to board the next ship out. The Puritans detested Quaker pacifism, and they interpreted the Quaker belief in an inner light and divine spark as pride. To the Puritans, a lack of authoritarian leadership among the Quakers seemed anarchistic. Rumors spread among the Puritans that the Quakers were burning Holy Bibles. To maintain order in their colony and their uniformity in religion, the Massachusetts colony, by 1660, had imprisoned 3000 Quakers and had hanged four, and Quakers were finding refuge as had Anne Hutchinson in the more tolerant colony in Rhode Island.

Two Quaker women expelled from Massachusetts made the mistake of going to the Dutch colony of New Amsterdam and preaching in the streets there. They were expelled. Other Quakers who wandered into New Amsterdam were imprisoned and flogged, the Dutch at New Amsterdam wanting to discourage "all sorts of riff-raff" from coming to their colony. Also, the Dutch expelled a Baptist cobbler, William Wickendam, who had wandered into New Amsterdam from Rhode Island. Wickendam had been seen "dipping" converts into river water.

Cultural Change for some Indians

The Indians were becoming more experienced and shrewd in trade, more covetous and more linked economically with Europeans. To obtain furs to exchange for European hardware, including rifles, Indians had increased their hunting. Along the coast from around Plymouth northward into what is now Maine, Indians were depleting the beaver population, which would leave them without a commodity for exchange.

Their crops had been ravaged by insects that the colonists unwittingly brought with them from Europe, and the traditional Indian crafts, such as pottery and basketry, were in decline, as was their use of the bow and arrow. Some had been raising chickens, pigs, cattle or sheep.

The Europeans had introduced Indians to alcoholic drink. The Indians thought it tasted foul, but a few hardly souls imitated the Europeans, fitting it into their own culture by associating it with their traditional dream state spirituality. For them, drink became their paradise.

Some Indians not given to drinking were dismayed by the failure of their traditional medicine and traditional spirituality against the diseases that now plagued their people. Their sweat lodge had been one of these failures. The sweat lodge had been a place of spiritual purification, but it had been disastrous for smallpox. The failures of their own traditions contributed to the acceptance of Christian modifications to their traditions, while many looked upon those influenced by European culture regarding drink and spirituality with ridicule.

Alternative source: Puritans in America

CONTINUE READING: Civil War in England

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