- Category: History 117 Week 1
- Published on Friday, 28 December 2012 00:26
- Written by Dr. Eric Mayer
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The Growth of Colonialism in North America
The spread of English settlements inevitably led to clashes with the Indians, who were particularly weak in New England.
Shortly before the Pilgrims had arrived at Plymouth in 1620, an epidemic, probably triggered by contact with English fishermen, had swept through the coastal tribes and killed more than three-quarters of the native people.
Deserted Indian fields, ready for tillage, as well as skulls and bones greeted the Plymouth settlers and provided grim evidence of the impact of the disease.
In no position to resist the English incursion, the local Wampanoag Indians at first befriended the settlers.
Cultural accommodation was facilitated by Squanto, a Wampanoag who had learned English from a ship's captain who had kidnapped him some years earlier.
The Wampanoag chieftain Massasoit signed a treaty with the Plymouth Pilgrims in 1621 and helped them celebrate the first Thanksgiving after the autumn harvests that same year.
As more English settlers arrived and pushed inland into the Connecticut River valley, confrontations between Indians and whites ruptured these peaceful relations.
Hostilities exploded in 1637 between the English settlers and the powerful Pequot tribe.
Besieging a Pequot village on Connecticut's Mystic River, English militiamen and their Narragansett Indian allies set fire to the Indian wigwams and shot the fleeing survivors.
The slaughter wrote a brutal finish to the Pequot War, virtually annihilated the Pequot tribe, and brought four decades of uneasy peace between Puritans and Indians.
Lashed by critics in England, the Puritans made some feeble efforts at converting the remaining Indians to Christianity, although Puritan missionary zeal never equaled that of the Catholic Spanish and French.
A mere handful of Indians were gathered into Puritan "praying towns" to make the acquaintance of the English God and to learn the ways of English culture.
The Indians' only hope for resisting English encroachment lay in intertribal unity--a pan-Indian alliance against the swiftly spreading English settlements.
In 1675 Massasoit's son, Metacom, called King Philip by the English, forged such an alliance and mounted a series of coordinated assaults on English villages throughout New England.
Frontier settlements were especially hard hit, and refugees fell back toward the relative safety of Boston.
When the war ended in 1676, fifty-two Puritan towns had been attacked, and twelve destroyed entirely.
Hundreds of colonists and many more Indians lay dead. Metacom's wife and son were sold into slavery; he himself was captured, beheaded, and drawn and quartered, and his head was carried on a pike back to Plymouth, where it was displayed for years.
King Philip's War slowed the westward march of English settlement in New England for several decades.
But the war inflicted a lasting defeat on New England's Indians.
Drastically reduced in numbers, disspirited, and disbanded, they never again seriously threatened the New England colonists."
When the English landed in 1607, the chieftain Powhatan dominated the native peoples living in the James River area.
He had asserted supremacy over a few dozen small tribes, loosely affiliated in what somewhat grandly came to be called Powhatan's Confederacy.
The English colonists dubbed all the local Indians, somewhat inaccurately, the Powhatans.
Powhatan at first may have considered the English potential allies in his struggle to extend his power still further over his Indian rivals, and he tried to be conciliatory.
But relations between the Indians and the English remained tense, especially as the starving colonists took to raiding Indian food supplies.
The atmosphere grew even more strained after Lord De La Warr arrived in 1610.
He carried orders from the Virginia Company that amounted to a declaration of war against the Indians in the Jamestown region.
A veteran of the vicious campaigns against the Irish, De La Warr now introduced "Irish tactics" against the Indians.
His troops raided Indian villages, burned houses, confiscated provisions, and torched cornfields.
A peace settlement ended this First Anglo-Powhatan War in 1614, sealed by the marriage of Pocahontas to the colonist John Rolfe--the first known interracial union in Virginia.
A fragile peace followed, which endured eight years.
But the Indians, pressed by the land-hungry whites and ravaged by European diseases, struck back in 1622.
A series of Indian attacks left 347 settlers dead, including John Rolfe.
In response the Virginia Company issued new orders calling for "a perpetual war without peace or truce," one that would prevent the Indians "from being any longer a people."
Periodic punitive raids systematically reduced the native population and drove the survivors ever farther westward.
In the Second Anglo-Powhatan War in 1644, the Indians made one last effort to dislodge the Virginians.
They were again defeated.
The peace treaty of 1646 repudiated any hope of assimilating the native peoples into Virginian society or of peacefully coexisting with them.
Instead it effectively banished the Chesapeake Indians from their ancestral lands and formally separated Indian from white areas of settlement--the origins of the later reservation system.
By 1669 an official census revealed that only about two thousand Indians remained in Virginia, perhaps 10 percent of the population the original English settlers had found in 1607.
By 1685 the English considered the Powhatan peoples extinct.
It had been the Powhatans' calamitous misfortune to fall victim to three Ds: disease, disorganization, and disposability.
Like native peoples throughout the New World, they were extremely susceptible to European-imported maladies.
Epidemics of smallpox and measles raced mercilessly through their villages.
The Powhatans also--despite the apparent cohesiveness of "Powhatan's Confederacy"--lacked the unity with which to make effective opposition to the relatively well-organized and militarily disciplined whites.
Finally, unlike the Indians whom the Spaniards had encountered to the south, who could be put to work in the mines and had gold and silver to trade, the Powhatans served no economic function for the Virginia colonists.
They provided no reliable labor source and, after the Virginians began growing their own food crops, had no valuable commodities to offer in commerce.
They therefore could be disposed of without harm to the colonial economy.
Indeed the Indian presence frustrated the colonists' desire for a local commodity the Europeans desperately wanted: land."
Virginia: Child of Tobacco
In 1606, two years after peace with Spain, the hand of destiny beckoned toward Virginia.
A joint-stock company, known as the Virginia Company of London, received a charter from King James I of England for a settlement in the New World.
The main attraction was the promise of gold, combined with a strong desire to find a passage through America to the Indies.
Like most joint-stock companies of the day, the Virginia Company was intended to endure for only a few years, after which its stockholders hoped to liquidate it for a profit.
This arrangement put severe pressure on the luckless colonists, who were threatened with abandonment in the wilderness if they did not quickly strike it rich on the company's behalf.
Few of the investors thought in terms of long-term colonization.
Apparently no one even faintly suspected that the seeds of a mighty nation were being planted.
The charter of the Virginia Company is a significant document in American history.
It guaranteed to the overseas settlers the same rights of Englishmen that they would have enjoyed if they had stayed at home.
This precious boon was gradually extended to the other English colonies and became a foundation stone of American liberties.
Setting sail in late 1606, the Virginia Company's three ships landed near the mouth of Chesapeake Bay, where Indians attacked them.
Pushing on up the bay, the tiny band of colonists eventually chose a location on the wooded and malarial banks of the James River, named in honor of King James I.
The site was easy to defend, but it was mosquito-infested and devastatingly unhealthful.
There, on May 24, 1607, about a hundred English settlers, all of them men, disembarked. They called the place Jamestown.
The early years of Jamestown proved a nightmare for all concerned--except the buzzards.
Forty would-be colonists perished during the initial voyage in 1606-1607.
Another expedition in 1609 lost its leaders and many of its precious supplies in a shipwreck off Bermuda.
Once ashore in Virginia, the settlers died by the dozens from disease, malnutrition, and starvation.
Ironically, the woods rustled with game and the rivers flopped with fish, but the greenhorn settlers, many of them self-styled "gentlemen" unaccustomed to fending for themselves, wasted valuable time grubbing for nonexistent gold when they should have been gathering provisions.
Virginia was saved from utter collapse at the start largely by the leadership and resourcefulness of an intrepid young adventurer, Captain John Smith.
Taking over in 1608, he whipped the gold-hungry colonists into line with the rule, "He who shall not work shall not eat."
He had been kidnapped in December 1607 and subjected to a mock execution by the Indian chieftain Powhatan, whose daughter Pocahontas had "saved" Smith by dramatically interposing her head between his and the war clubs of his captors.
The symbolism of this ritual was apparently intended to impress Smith with Powhatan's power and with the Indians' desire for peaceful relations with the Virginians.
Pocahontas became an intermediary between the Indians and the settlers, helping to preserve a shaky peace and to provide needed foodstuffs.
Still, the colonists died in droves, and survivors were driven to desperate acts.
They were reduced to eating "dogges, Catts, Ratts, and Myce" and even to digging up corpses for food.
One hungry man killed, salted, and ate his wife, for which misbehavior he was executed.
Of the four hundred settlers who managed to make it to Virginia by 1609, only sixty survived the "starving time" winter of 1609-1610.
Diseased and despairing, the colonists dragged themselves aboard homeward-bound ships in the spring of 1610, only to be met at the mouth of the James River by a long-awaited relief party headed by a new governor, Lord De La Warr.
He ordered the settlers back to Jamestown, imposed a harsh military regime on the colony, and soon undertook aggressive military action against the Indians.
Disease continued to reap a gruesome harvest among the Virginians.
By 1625 Virginia contained only some twelve hundred hard-bitten survivors of the nearly 8,000 adventurers who had tried to start life anew in the ill-fated colony."
John Rolfe, the husband of Pocahontas, became father of the tobacco industry and an economic savior of the Virginia colony.
By 1616 he had perfected methods of raising and curing the pungent weed, eliminating much of the bitter tang.
Soon the European demand for tobacco was nearly insatiable.
A tobacco rush swept over Virginia, as crops were planted in the streets of Jamestown and even between the numerous graves.
So exclusively did the colonists concentrate on planting the yellow leaf that at first they had to import some of their foodstuffs.
Colonists who had once hungered for food now hungered for land, ever more land on which to plant ever more tobacco.
Relentlessly, they pressed the frontier of settlement up the river valleys to the west, further crowding the Indians.
Virginia's prosperity was finally built on tobacco smoke.
This "bewitching weed" played a vital role in putting the colony on firm foundations and in setting an example for other successful colonizing experiments.
But tobacco--King Nicotine--was something of a tyrant.
It was ruinous to the soil when greedily planted in successive years, and it enchained the prosperity of Virginia to the fluctuating price of a single crop.
Tobacco also promoted the broad-acred plantation system and with it a brisk demand for fresh labor.
In 1619, the year before the Plymouth Pilgrims landed in New England, what was described as a Dutch warship appeared off Jamestown and sold some twenty black Africans.
Yet blacks were too costly for most of the hard-pinched white colonists to acquire, and for decades few were brought to Virginia.
In 1650 Virginia counted but three hundred blacks, although by the end of the century blacks, most of them enslaved, made up approximately 14 percent of the colony's population.
Representative self-government was also born in primitive Virginia, in the same cradle with slavery and in the same year--1619.
The London Company authorized the settlers to summon an assembly, known as the House of Burgesses.
A momentous precedent was thus feebly established, for this assemblage was the first of many miniature parliaments to mushroom from the soil of America.
As time passed, James I grew increasingly hostile to Virginia.
He detested tobacco and he distrusted the representative House of Burgesses, which he branded a "seminary of sedition."
In 1624 he revoked the charter of the bankrupt and beleaguered Virginia Company, thus making Virginia a royal colony directly under royal control.
While the English were planting the first frail colonial shoots in the Chesapeake, they also were busily colonizing the West Indies.
Spain, weakened by military overextension and distracted by its rebellious Dutch provinces, relaxed its grip on much of the Caribbean in the early 1600s.
By mid-seventeenth century, England had secured its claim to several West Indian islands, including the large prize of Jamaica in 1655.
Sugar formed the foundation of the West Indian economy.
What tobacco was to the Chesapeake, sugarcane was to the Caribbean--with one crucial difference.
Tobacco was a poor man's crop.
It could be planted easily, it produced commercially marketable leaves within a year, and it required only simple processing.
Sugarcane, however, was a rich man's crop.
It had to be planted extensively to yield commercially viable quantities of sugar.
Extensive planting, in turn, required extensive and arduous land clearing.
And the canestalks yielded their sugar only after an elaborate process of refining in a sugar mill.
The need for land and for the labor to clear it and to run the mills made sugar cultivation a capital-intense business.
Only wealthy growers with abundant capital to invest could succeed in sugar.
The sugar lords extended their dominion over the West Indies in the seventeenth century.
To work their sprawling plantations, they imported enormous numbers of African slaves--more than a quarter of a million in the five decades after 1640.
By about 1700, black slaves outnumbered white settlers in the English West Indies by nearly four to one, and the region's population has remained predominantly black ever
West Indians thus take their place among the numerous children of the African diaspora
--the vast scattering of African peoples throughout the New World in the three and a half centuries following Columbus's discovery.
To control this large and potentially restive population of slaves, English authorities devised formal "codes" that defined the slaves' legal status and masters' prerogatives.
The notorious Barbados slave code of 1661 denied even the most fundamental rights to slaves and gave masters virtually complete control over their laborers, including the right to inflict vicious punishments for even slight infractions.
The profitable sugar-plantation system soon crowded out almost all other forms of Caribbean agriculture.
The West Indies increasingly depended on the North American mainland for foodstuffs and other basic supplies.
And smaller English farmers, squeezed out by the land-hungry sugar barons, began to migrate to the newly founded southern mainland colonies.
A group of displaced English settlers from Barbados arrived in Carolina in 1670.
They brought with them a few African slaves, as well as the model of the Barbados slave code, which eventually inspired statutes governing slavery throughout the mainland colonies.
Carolina officially adopted a version of the Barbados slave code in 1696.
Just as the West Indies had been a testing ground for the encomienda system that the Spanish had brought to Mexico and South America,
so the Caribbean islands now served as a staging area for the slave system that would take root elsewhere in English North America."
Certain distinctive features were shared by England's southern mainland colonies: Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia.
Broad-acred, these outposts of empire were all in some degree dominated by a plantation economy.
Profitable staple crops were the rule, notably tobacco and rice, though to a lesser extent in small-farm North Carolina.
Slavery was found in all the plantation colonies, though only after 1750 in reform-minded Georgia.
Immense acreage in the hands of a favored few fostered a strong aristocratic atmosphere, except in North Carolina and to some extent in debtor-tinged Georgia.
The wide scattering of plantations and farms, often along stately rivers, made the establishment of churches and schools both difficult and expensive.
In 1671 the governor of Virginia thanked God that no free schools or printing presses existed in his colony.
All the plantation colonies permitted some religious toleration.
The tax-supported Church of England became the dominant faith, though weakest of all in nonconformist North Carolina.
These colonies were in some degree expansionary. "Soil butchery" by excessive tobacco growing drove settlers westward, and the long, lazy rivers invited penetration of the continent--and continuing confrontation with Native Americans."
A path-breaking experiment in union was launched in 1643, when four colonies banded together to form the New England Confederation.
Old England was then deeply involved in civil wars, and hence the colonials were thrown upon their own resources.
The primary purpose of the confederation was defense against foes or potential foes, notably the Indians, the French, and the Dutch.
Purely intercolonial problems, such as runaway servants and criminals who had fled from one colony to another, also came within the jurisdiction of the confederation.
Each member colony, regardless of size, wielded two votes--an arrangement highly displeasing to the most populous colony, Massachusetts Bay.
The confederation was essentially an exclusive Puritan club.
It consisted of the two Massachusetts colonies (the Bay Colony and bantam-sized Plymouth) and the two Connecticut colonies (New Haven and the scattered valley settlements).
The Puritan leaders blackballed Rhode Island as well as the Maine outposts.
These places, it was charged, harbored too many heretical or otherwise undesirable characters.
Shockingly, one of the Maine towns had made a tailor its mayor and had even sheltered an excommunicated minister of the gospel.
Weak though it was, the confederation was the first notable milestone on the long and rocky road toward colonial unity.
The delegates took tottering but urgently needed steps toward acting together on matters of intercolonial importance.
Rank-and-file colonists, for their part, received valuable experience in delegating their votes to properly chosen representatives.
Back in England the king had paid little attention to the American colonies during the early years of their planting.
They were allowed, in effect, to become semiautonomous commonwealths.
This era of benign neglect was prolonged when the crown, struggling to retain its power, became enmeshed during the 1640s in civil wars with the parliamentarians.
But when Charles II was restored to the English throne in 1660, the royalists and their Church of England allies were once more firmly in the saddle.
Puritan hopes of eventually purifying the old English church withered.
Worse, Charles II was determined to take an active, aggressive hand in the management of the colonies.
His plans ran headlong against the habits that decades of relative independence had bred in the colonists.
Deepening colonial defiance was nowhere more glaringly revealed than in Massachusetts.
One of the king's agents in Boston was mortified to find that royal orders had no more effect than old issues of the London Gazette.
Punishment was soon forthcoming.
As a slap at Massachusetts, Charles II gave rival Connecticut in 1662 a sea-to-sea charter grant, which legalized the squatter settlements.
The very next year the outcasts in Rhode Island received a new charter, which gave kingly sanction to the most religiously tolerant government yet devised in America.
A final and crushing blow fell on the stiff-necked Bay Colony in 1684, when its precious charter was revoked by the London authorities."
A remarkable group of dissenters, commonly known as Quakers, arose in England during the mid-1600s.
Their name derived from the report that they "quaked" when under deep religious emotion.
Officially they were known as the Religious Society of Friends.
Quakers were especially offensive to the authorities, both religious and civil.
They refused to support the established Church of England with taxes.
They built simple meetinghouses, without a paid clergy, and "spoke up" themselves in meetings when moved.
Believing that they were all children in the sight of God, they kept their broad-brimmed hats on in the presence of their "betters" and addressed others with simple "thee"s and "thou"s, rather than with conventional titles.
They would take no oaths, because Jesus had said, "Swear not at all."
This peculiarity often embroiled them with government officials, for "test oaths" were still required to establish the fact that a person was not a Roman Catholic.
The Quakers, beyond a doubt, were a people of deep conviction.
They abhorred strife and warfare and refused military service.
As advocates of passive resistance, they would turn the other cheek and rebuild their meetinghouse on the site where their enemies had torn it down.
Their courage and devotion to principle finally triumphed.
Although at times they seemed stubborn and unreasonable, they were a simple, devoted, democratic people, contending in their own high-minded way for religious and civic freedom.
William Penn, a well-born and athletic young Englishman, was attracted to the Quaker faith in 1660, when only sixteen years old.
His father, disapproving, administered a sound flogging.
After various adventures in the army (the best portrait of the peaceful Quaker has him in armor), the youth firmly embraced the despised faith and suffered much persecution.
The courts branded him a "saucy" and "impertinent" fellow.
Several hundred of his less fortunate fellow Quakers died of cruel treatment, and thousands more were fined, flogged, or cast into "nasty stinking prisons."
Penn's thoughts naturally turned to the New World, where a sprinkling of Quakers had already fled, notably to Rhode Island, North Carolina, and New Jersey.
Eager to establish an asylum for his people, he also hoped to experiment with liberal ideas in government and at the same time make a profit.
Finally, in 1681, he managed to secure from the king an immense grant of fertile land, in consideration of a monetary debt owed to his deceased father by the crown.
The king called the area Pennsylvania ("Penn's Woodland") in honor of the sire.
But the modest son, fearing that critics would accuse him of naming it after himself, sought unsuccessfully to change the name.
Pennsylvania was by far the best advertised of all the colonies.
Its founder--the "first American advertising man"--sent out paid agents and distributed countless pamphlets printed in English, Dutch, French, and German.
Unlike the lures of many other American real estate promoters, then and later, Penn's inducements were generally truthful.
He especially welcomed forward-looking spirits and substantial citizens, including industrious carpenters, masons, shoemakers, and other manual workers.
His liberal land policy, which encouraged substantial holdings of land, was instrumental in attracting a heavy inflow of immigrants.