In the 16th century, many people in Europe decided to move to America and form colonies where they could build a better life and practice their religion freely.
The New England Colonies were formed by various groups of people that settled in Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts Bay, Providence, Plymouth, and New Hampshire.
This region belonged to the indigenous people called the Native Americans who had farmed and hunted the region for several generations.
However, the arrival of the Europeans forced them to either fight the invaders or flee from their lands.
Some Native Americans such as Squanto and Massasoit decided to help the newcomers even though they had bad experiences with white people.
The primary reason for the colonists to move to America was the need to find a better life.
In England, mercantilism had led the economy to move from agriculture to producing wool as it was sold for higher prices.
Many people lost their livelihood and faced extreme poverty. The prospect of moving to the new world appealed to many as it presented several opportunities.
Apart from material freedom, the colonists also sought religious freedom. In England, many people were persecuted for their religious beliefs.
Anyone who did not agree with the Crown and the Church of England was either suppressed or chased out of the country.
The New England Colonies were formed by the Puritans and the Pilgrims who had very different views on the Bible than what was preached by the Church of England.
After several challenges, the colonists were able to settle in the fertile lands of North America and eventually form states and provinces.
The New England Colonies later became part of the 13 colonies that served as the foundation of the present-day United States of America.
Much of American folklore and celebration centers around the journey and challenges of the early colonists, for example, Thanksgiving day.
Religious Persecution in England
King Henry VIII had formed the Church of England to promote a belief system that was different from the Roman Catholic Church.
It was a new faith called Protestantism and was primarily formed to facilitate King Henry’s divorce from his first wife Catherine of Aragon.
However, after the reign of his daughter, Queen Elizabeth many new faiths culminated in England and caused tensions between the leaders of the congregation and the English authorities.
The Puritans were people who viewed the Church of England as corrupt and sought to reform it.
They believed that the Church of England had not truly embraced the protestant belief and wanted to purify it.
They followed the preachings of John Calvin and advocated for the removal of any influences from the Roman Catholic Church.
They were different from the Pilgrims insofar that they did not want to separate themselves from the Church of England.
However, the English Crown was intolerant of any dissenters and punished those who spoke against the Crown or the Church.
They viewed the Calvinists as troublemakers and heretics and demanded that they conform to the English Church.
Those who refused to conform were mutilated and killed to discourage others from following their examples.
The social and economic atmosphere in England was unbearable for many people in the 16th and 17th centuries.
To escape from the persecution, many of them decided to flee from England to find a new life elsewhere in Europe.
However, the Church of England pursued the leaders of the congregations even when they no longer lived in England.
Many Puritans and Pilgrims believed that the only place they could practice their faith freely was in the new world.
They viewed the opportunity of starting a new life in the wilderness of America as a message from God.
Arrival in America
The land where the New England Colony was formed was coveted by many European powers such as France, Netherlands, and England.
During the early 17th century these powers fought on several occasions to lay their claims on the New England Colony.
King of France had authorized a French nobleman called Pierre Dugua Sieur de Monts to form a settlement on the Saint Croix Island in Maine in 1604.
However, the harsh winter of New England plus the outbreak of scurvy forced the settlers to move higher up toward Port-Royal of Nova Scotia within a year.
Similarly, King James I of England authorized the Plymouth Company and the London Company to go ahead and colonize the rich lands of New England.
The Plymouth Company was successful in forming the Popham Colony in New England during the year 1607. It was named after Sir John Popham who had financed the trip.
But like the French, even the English settlers had to face the harsh winter and the diseases which led to the death of the Popham Colony leader called Captain George Popham.
The colonists struggled with the Native Americans and also lost all their supplies due to a fire in the storehouse.
This forced many English settlers including Raleigh Gilbert to leave America and go back to England.
The first seagoing ship that was built in North America was called Virginia of Sagadahoc. It was used to transport the Popham colonists back to their mother country.
More such conflicts for the land in New England took place throughout the beginning of the 17th century.
The French, Dutch, and the English attempted several times to establish a profitable colony and develop the fur trade with the Native Americans.
The Dutch West India Company became successful in setting up the site called House of Hope in what is today called Hartford, Connecticut.
They also built a fort to provide protection from the Pequot tribes who had ancestral claims on the lands of New England.
The Puritans and the Pilgrims
Even though many settlers had faced negative experiences in the Americas, it did not discourage others from trying their luck at establishing a new life there.
Chief among them were people who not only faced economic destitution in their homeland but also religious persecution by their state.
The Puritans were people who sought to purify the Church of England by removing any influences from the Roman Catholic Church.
Some Puritans were strictly against the corruption of the English Crown and religious authorities and demanded a separate church.
They became known as the Separatists in England and were punished for heresy and non-conformity.
Many people like John Rogers were burned at the stake for expressing their displeasure with the Church of England and propagating their religious beliefs.
The leader of the Pilgrims called William Brewster was pursued in the Netherlands after the congregation fled from their hometown of Scrooby in Nottinghamshire.
Soon they met with Merchant Adventurers and planned their escape to North America.
The English Crown also saw this as a win-win situation because not only would England rid itself of the religious dissenters but also generate revenue through the activities of the colonists in America.
Thus began a treacherous trans-Atlantic journey of the Pilgrims in search of a new life and land where they could freely establish their own religious beliefs and practices.
They set out in a ship called Mayflower which was only 106 feet long and carried 132 passengers.
The conditions on the ship were unhygienic and one passenger lost his life due to sea-sickness.
They faced various challenges on their way and arrived in America to face even more difficulties.
Their relationship with the Native Americans began on the wrong foot as they stole the corn that was meant for the dead in a Native American burial ground.
After exploring several regions they finally settled in an abandoned village which they named Plymouth Colony because that was the last port of departure for the Mayflower in England.
Soon their relationships with the Native Americans also improved when the last surviving member of the Patuxet tribe called Squanto helped form alliances between the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag tribe.
Squanto spoke English and taught the Pilgrims how to grow corn and catch eels and fish.
His involvement in the day to day affairs of the Pilgrims was critical to the success of the Plymouth Colony.
The festival of Thanksgiving originates from a feast that was held in Plymouth after their first successful harvest.
53 Pilgrims and 90 men from the Wampanoag tribe celebrated the event together and strengthened their friendship in what is now known as the first thanksgiving.
After Jamestown in Virginia, the Plymouth Colony was the second successful colonial venture of the English settlers in North America.
The word of the Pilgrim’s success in Plymouth Colony persuaded many other Puritans to also consider moving to America.
Puritans opposed the rituals of the Catholic Church and sought to reform the Church of England.
The relationship between the clergy and the leaders of the Puritans was not amicable.
Therefore, many Puritans felt motivated to leave England and pursue religious freedom in America.
Between 1620 and 1640, over 80,000 people left England to settle in America in an event known as the Great Migration.
They learned how to live in America from the former settlers and established congregations and beliefs according to the Calvinist principles.
At first, the small colonies had their own leaders and governments based on the religious principles of the Puritans.
But soon when the population grew larger, colonies were combined and bigger governments were formed.
For example, Plymouth Colony was combined with Massachusetts Bay Colony and together they became the Province of Massachusetts Bay.
Life in New England Colony
After initial hardships, life in New England colonies became more stable and various institutions were built to support its growth.
The Puritans began educating their children to be able to read and write so that they could study the Bible for themselves.
Though the Puritans objected to the Church of England and its persecutory powers, in New England many dissenters of the Puritan laws were also treated in much the same way.
Roger Williams was removed from Massachusetts Bay Colony in January 1636 because he advocated for separation between the church and the state.
He also believed that the colonists must pay fair prices to the Native Americans in order to purchase their lands.
The Puritans did not care for his views and told him to go away during the harsh winter of New England.
With a lot of help from the Native Americans, Williams traveled 55 miles in snow from Salem, Massachusetts to Raynham, Massachusetts.
Here he purchased land from the Native Americans and named it the Providence Plantations.
He then created a system that was one of a kind for that time wherein the church and the state were kept separate and all people could freely express their beliefs.
Trade and Commerce
The New England Colonies initially practiced fishing and farming as their main occupations.
But soon they discovered that lumber was a profitable commodity since England was fast running out of wood.
They also hunted the forests for animals which would not only provide food but also valuable fur to be traded.
The sea life that the Atlantic coast offered to the New England Colonies played a substantial role in the economic wellbeing of the settlers.
The coast also led to the development of commerce between the New England Colony and Europe.
The colonists imported glass, linen, hardware, machinery, etc. from Europe as the industrial revolution made the imports of such household items cheap and affordable.
The New England colonists established trade routes with the West African coast to import slaves.
The labor-intensive work on the plantations in the south made the slave trade very lucrative for the colonists of New England.
Furthermore, the practice of enslaving defeated enemies in the war was rampant in the New England colonies especially after the Pequot War and King Philip’s War.
The colonists of Plymouth sold over 500 Native Americans of New England as slaves during King Philip’s War.