A Glimpse of the Very First History of New England
How the Whole Damn Thing Began
In year 986 Bjarni Herujulfson, a Viking, was aiming to sail to Greenland but he got lost. He was trying to get out of his troubles when he caught sight -he was the first of the kind- of what would be known later as the American coast. Years after, Leif Ericson explored the latter land and called it Vinland. The Vikings held colonies in Greenland up to the VIth century but didn't have much interest in what would later be called the New World...The Scandinavians weren’t much troublesome at that time… They only had this mean habit of letting nobody fool around their oceans. But mainly, that was all. You know how they are, even today, in Sweden or Norway… good health care system, nice blue eyed blond girls… Anyway, this was a good idea they didn't invest in the American land, it had saved five centuries of mess and trouble for the Indian Tribes.
With only one paragraph, a stock idea is pushed away from our minds and cancelled forever. The first Europeans to have discovered the American Continents weren't Italian staff members working for the Queen of Spain but some Vikings sailing without compass... Hoping the next paragraphs would do just as well as this first!
Centuries after, in the year of grace 1492, an Italian sailor, Cristoforo Colombo, working on the account of the Queen Isabelle the Catholic, aimed to explore a new ocean road leading to Asia through an expected extreme western way. Well, I bet he looked puzzled when, thinking he had just made quarter the work, his eyes caught sight of a piece of land. That wasn't an isolated isle, these were the Antilles. Later on, he rediscovered a new world and gave geographers a matter of trouble that would keep them busy a considerable time attempting to draw once again the True Map of the World. Sooner, Kings and Queens got their noses in the matter. Talking with a mob of enlightened advisers:
-How about enlarging the empire westwards?
-That would be a good idea, Your Majesty.
And pretty soon the European powers began a race toward the Brave New World. Portugal, Spain and France had the advantage first while England was much more concerned with internal affairs such as the Reform, the Struggles with the Powerful Spain and a growing concern on work and conditions of life among the population. That wasn’t but the beginning...! The future internal British events would shape the nature of the exploration and the colonisation of America. Britain, at last, would show much more success than what was expected.
During the second half of the XVth century, England affirmed itself as a maritime power especially after its victory over the terrifying armada of Philippe II in 1588. Then, Elizabeth I (1558-1603) began to see higher. She encouraged a couple of explorations and attempts to colonise the American coast. Among the volunteers we can remember Sir Humphrey Gilbert who disappeared in his second expedition. Sir Walter Raleigh, his turn coming after his half brother’s disappearance, did much better and explored much further territories. Nevertheless, his life had a sudden violent end, beheaded he was by his majesty in 1618. The latter was also an essayist who advised the Queen to focus on the necessity of tightened trade relationships with the future colonies of America. After some other adventures led by numerous other adventurous spirits through the Atlantic, all of them more or less successful, pens began to feel easy in writing and fantasying about this promising new world. The American dream, thus, started to become more and more popular in English people's minds while socio-economic conditions were harder than ever in England, encouraging, as a consequence, people’s attempts to flee the country.
Virginia, a Company Became a Colony
Samuel Champlain started his explorations, sent by the French, in 1603. In 1608 he’d already succeeded in giving birth to Quebec. Not indifferent to such a feat, some English merchants asked the crown for a charter in order to establish themselves in America toward the end of 1605. The company of Virginia -which was composed of two opposite private companies, the first based in London and the second in Plymouth- represented by a group of 14 persons nominated by His Majesty was then offered lands, woods, ports and rivers, giving them the possibility of developing trade with an exclusive partner: England. It is hard to argue the legitimacy of the “donation” of lands since He never visited, nor seen even through a picture a tiny piece of them. Why, He just sat easy on His throne and signed a paper. That was all! And I bet He was really convinced those lands, with all the stuff it contained, including even mosquitoes and other bugs, were His...
Anyway, the company of Plymouth failed soon later. The basement of London succeeded in carrying in December 1606, 144 persons, all men, in a journey that would last more than four months. Only 1O5 survived to walk on the American soil. The first permanent English establishment was to be realised through the construction of Jamestown on May 24th , 1607. The hostility of the environment led to the death of more than sixty of them in a period shorter than a year. The difficulties were just about to start.
Up to the period of Restoration in 1660, many events affected and shaped the dynamic of development of the colony.
The proximity with the Indian Tribes alternated between peaceful periods where help and communication gathered the two neighbours in an easy atmosphere, and hostile ones in which a body had better not to be in betwixt them, for it was really hot!
The growth of population was assured by the arrival of lots of persons, among them girls and women who were to marry the lonely colonisers. Thus, they granted the long going of the colony. During the English Civil War, in the 1630s and 1640s, even members of the gentry who fled England joined the colony.
In terms of size, the crown enlarged the concession some years after, thus encouraging its extension. However, the status was to change from a private colony to a Royal Colony, in 1624.
In terms governance the colony did well. It started with a strictly vertical royal authority and evolved to a spectacular direct representation through the Council of Burgesses which was composed of 22 members, all elected by the population of the colony. It was a kind of a basis to the legislative body as known nowadays in democratic societies.
In terms of trade, there was good news. Starting with a subsisting culture of Indian Corn, the interest was gradually focused on a successful culture of Tobacco, assuring a regular income to the colony.
In 1670, Virginia counted more than 35 000 inhabitants. It was now to be regarded as a serious economic support to its mother homeland, England. It gave essence for the future American Democracy with all its contradictions lying on the centralisation of power and wealth in a small minority's hands while a large majority of unfortunate people were just begged to keep working hard. Virginia was the daughter of economic adventures more than humanitarian ones. It nevertheless evolved to a coherent modern society carrying inhabitants involved in a hierarchical class order.
Puritans in Massachusetts
The Mayflower Ship started its way to America on September 16th, 1620. On broad, there were 102 persons, among them, women and children. The majority of them were puritans. Puritanism could be defined as the radical branch of Protestantism. Its advocators were sharp critics of the Church of England. They fled England, being afraid of some persecutions. The project was actually a contract with the Company of Virginia legal for seven years of time. They were asked to work hard, cultivating the lands, in return, they were to share the profits with the company.
They arrived at New Plymouth on December 25th, 1620. On their sailing road, a social contract was written. The Mayflower Compact is ratified by 41 signatures. Above myth, while the contract described a future equal society, drawing thus the perfect image of Democracy, it concentrated power in the hands of a small minority.
Well, after being established, hard weather was to be faced. The first winter shrank the population number to its half. But instead of despair, those people, extremely religious they were, accepted their fate and remained dignified. Moreover, the satisfaction of the summer harvest gave hope a greater chance. This had been celebrated in Thanksgiving ceremony.
In 1628, some fervent puritans decided to buy the stockholdings from the company of Virginia. This was the act of birth of The Massachusetts Bay Company. The 1630s saw the Puritan migrations amplified after Charles I, whose wife was catholic, acceded to the throne in England. The religious ambition of those people encouraged them to extend their colony's development. Many cities were soon created among which Boston became the most important economic and intellectual centre. By the year 1660, the Massachusetts Bay Colony have more than 20 000 inhabitants.
The colony started as an Ecclesiastic State governed by some religious elite and where the right of vote was exclusively reserved to the members of the Congregationalist church. The revolt of the rest of the population in 1632 led to the creation of a legislative assembly, thus following the tracks of the Virginian example. From a puritan Republic, its status evolved to a Royal colony in 1691.
The Connecticut was the first colony daughter of Massachusetts, in that way that it was created, city after city, by people originally belonging to the puritan population of Massachusetts. Rev. Thomas Hooker (1586-1647), being more liberal than John Cotton, a theologist of the Church of Boston, was exasperated by the way things were going on there. He fled, with his disciples to Hartford, Wethersfield and Windsor in October 1635. Among cities that were founded a short period of time later, the well known New Haven. In 1636, the Connecticut had 800 inhabitants. From its origins, this was a colony devoted to liberty and democracy. It will be later remerbered as being the first “state” to hold a codified constitution in the western world, with The Fundamental Orders of Connecticut. In 1662, Charles II offered a very inhabitual liberal charter to the colony, giving it the privilege to be self-governed.
Rhode Island was at its origins a creaton of Roger Williams (1603-1683) in 1636. This latter, reverend of Salem, was pushed to flee the country because of his advocation to a more secular governance, criticising fiercely the narrowness of the religious authority's vision. Rhode Island is to be remembered for its model of secularism in the political field.
Before 1640, were created as well the establishments of New Hampshire and the Maine, following an outline as represnted before. That is to say, the appearance of these new colonies were originally due to a clash in the religious visions among the theologists of Massachusetts.
The Maryland, a Haven for Catholics
There was a king, Charles I, reigning over a country, England. There was a guy, actually a lord, Cecilius Calvert. The King was an Anglican, the guy a Catholic. The Former being exagerately upset by the latter, he offered him the right, in a form of a charter, to establish his own colony, and to own it, far away, in America. He was clever king, wasn't he? He got rid of him forever. The Maryland was the first Owned Colony, whose owner aimed to realise his father's dream: make the land a refuge for catholics. But there warn't only catholics in it, and I guess it was better like that. Because, thanks to the mixture of religious beleifs, people were bound to tolerate each other. The Colony finally became a royal one, as the rest you may say, in 1692.
This was how the lands were divided up to the English Revolution and the Restoration. See how different the origins of every colony were and how generally people did well. See how the Crown remained always lazy and offered the right to exploit lands and forests that weren't His. See how little concern was given to the aborigens who were already living in that false New World. All in all, this was how the ball got rolled in that part of the North American Continent nowadays known as The United States of America.
Histoire des Etats-Unis, Jean Michel Lacroix, Editions PUF 1996