Beginning in the late sixteenth century, England joined Spain and France in creating a new world empire. Late getting started, when compared to Spain, the English monarchy sponsored its first voyages to the New World under Sir Humphrey Gilbert in the 1580s. The first English colony was established on Roanoke Island in 1585 but was unsuccessful; what happened to its residents has remained one of history’s great mysteries. However, beginning in 1607, a series of permanent colonies were created under the English flag: Jamestown, Plymouth, Massachusetts Bay, Maryland, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and New Hampshire.
The English came to the New World for many different reasons. Some, like the founders of Jamestown, were adventurers, looking for gold and hoping not to escape from English ideals, but rather to transplant those ideals to a new setting. Historian Daniel Boorstin comments that in the early years of Virginia it was not uncommon “to rise into the ranks of gentry,” a goal of those who “believed in the mystique of the gentleman.”1 On the other hand, the New England colonies and Maryland were founded by religious groups, Pilgrims and Puritans in the case of New England, and in Maryland, Catholics, all escaping persecution in the mother country.
When England became embroiled in a civil war and experienced a period of republicanism in the 1640s and 1650s, colonizing efforts stopped; they began again when Charles II was restored to the throne in 1660. Most of the English colonies established between 1585 and 1642 were created by charter companies like the London and Plymouth Companies; only Maryland was proprietary.
The purpose of this chapter is to trace English colonization from the late sixteenth century until the outbreak of Civil War in England in 1642, and to follow the evolution of these colonies through the late seventeenth century.
4.1.1: Learning Outcomes
After completing this chapter, you should be able to:
- Explain the motivation of the English Crown in sponsoring voyages of exploration and colonization in the new world.
- Compare the attitudes of Maryland and New England on the issue of religious toleration and explain why the Calverts of Maryland did not want an official church for their colony.
- Analyze the differences in how the New England and Chesapeake Bay colonists interacted with the Indians.
- Explain the motivation behind the creation of Roanoke Island and analyze why Roanoke Island became a “lost colony.”
- Analyze the impact of Puritanism, including Puritan ideas about predestination and election, on the government and social structure of the Massachusetts Bay Colony and Plymouth, and on the development of other colonies such as Rhode Island and Connecticut; compare the relationship of religion and society in Massachusetts Bay to that in Rhode Island.
- Analyze the differences in political, social, and religious structure between the New England and Chesapeake Bay colonies.
- Analyze sources of labor in the English colonies created before 1642 and explain why slavery did not become as entrenched in New England as it did in the Chesapeake colonies.
- Explain the major issues that affected the New England and Chesapeake colonies through the end of the seventeenth century.