The Founding of New England/IX
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IX. Attempts to Unify New England
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ATTEMPTS TO UNIFY NEW ENGLAND
As a result of the complete crushing of the power of the Pequots their whole country was opened to peaceful settlement, and the extension of the frontier in that direction became rapid. Within about two years from the signing of the treaty with the savages, the foundations were laid of Guilford, New Haven, Milford, Stratford, Fairfield, Norwalk, and Stamford along the Sound, and of Southampton and Southold on the eastern end of Long Island, thus making a continuous line of English settlement up to the Dutch boundary, if not, indeed, within it.
For its size, New Haven was undoubtedly the wealthiest colony in New England, its assessed valuation, the year after it was planted, having been £33,000, or the present equivalent of, perhaps, $700,000. Its founders, under the leadership of the Reverend John Davenport, a Nonconformist London clergyman, and Theophilus Eaton, a schoolmate of his, had arrived in the early summer of 1637, just in time to take part in the Antinomian controversy and the taxes for the Pequot war. Mr. Davenport was requested to contribute to the former, and Mr. Eaton to the latter. Their company was a distinguished one, including several other wealthy London merchants besides Eaton; five ministers; four school-teachers, among whom was the first president of Harvard; the father of Elihu Yale, the founder of Yale University; and Michael Wigglesworth, the “lurid morning star” of New England verse. Both Davenport and Eaton had been, for some years, members of the Massachusetts Bay Company, and that company’s colony made great efforts to retain the new body of settlers within its own bounds. While the leaders took under consideration the various offers made to them, they either found them unsatisfactory, or had already determined to establish an independent colony of their own. After Eaton had examined the country around Quinnipiack, it was decided to plant there, and seven men were left to guard the site during the winter, the whole company following in the spring. Not only were the resources of the colonists unusually ample, but their preparations seem to have been exceptionally complete, and the little town soon contained the most stately dwellings in all New England. Some idea of their scale may be gained from the reputed presence in Davenport’s of thirteen fireplaces, and of nineteen in Eaton’s. The intention, apparently, was not only to found a Puritan state, but to have it become the chief mercantile centre of the New World, which accounts for their having built, as one of their Massachusetts critics wrote, “as if trade and merchandize had been as inseparably annexed to them as the shadow is to the body, in the shining of the sun.” One disaster followed another in their business ventures, however, and the dreams of the merchantfounders were never realized.
Davenport and most of his company were not only Puritans, but of the strictest sect, and the Bible Commonwealth which they proceeded to form was of the most extreme type. Like the Connecticut and Rhode Island people, they were without a charter, and were mere squatters upon the soil; but in June, 1639, a meeting was held of the “free planters,” to discuss a frame of government to replace a previously signed plantation covenant, now lost. We have no knowledge of what constituted a “free planter,” but the term undoubtedly excluded a large number of males in the settlement. The proceedings took the form of queries put by Mr. Davenport, upon which those present voted by raising hands. As a result of unanimous votes at this meeting, the fundamental agreement provided that the franchise should be restricted to church members, and that the free planters should choose twelve men, to whom should be intrusted the sole right of selecting from among the rest of the colonists those who should become church members and freemen, and who were to have the power of appointing magistrates from among themselves, of making and repealing laws, and, in fact, of performing all public duties. This was legalizing the most extreme claims of the Massachusetts oligarchy. Only one voice, apparently that of Eaton, was raised to protest “that free planters ought not to give this power out of their hands”; but he was, of course, overruled. Four months later, at the October court, it was further voted that “the worde of God shall be the only rule to be attended unto in ordering the affayres of government in this plantation.” As had been the case in Connecticut, no mention had been made of allegiance to England; but in this additional step, the new colony swept away all obligation to observe the common and statute laws of the mother-country. The conflicting texts of the Bible, as arbitrarily chosen and interpreted by the small self-perpetuating group of rulers, became the only laws that might safeguard, or hazard, the rights of dwellers in New Haven and the affiliated church-towns which soon sprang up. The reactionary thought of the framers of these fundamental orders, however, was to be without appreciable influence upon the growth of colonial political theory as then developing; for New Haven was to have only a quarter of a century of independent but unimportant life before being absorbed by Connecticut, while a more and more democratic tendency was manifesting itself in all the colonies, even in Massachusetts.
The effects of the frontier life, and of the distance separating England from her colonies, were already beginning to show themselves strongly. The semi-independent communities which had been established in Rhode Island, Connecticut, and New Haven were entirely without legal authority; and the two latter, in their “constitutions,” had utterly ignored the existence of any power outside of themselves. The situation was not wholly overlooked in England, but as the crisis in public affairs there was rapidly drawing near, the authorities were helpless to interfere. A new demand for the return of the Massachusetts charter, when flatly refused by that colony in 1638, could not be followed by any show of force; and during the next twenty-two years—which were those of the Civil War, the fall of the Stuart monarchy, and the reign of Cromwell—the New England colonies pursued their way almost wholly without reference to the power of England.
The influence of the frontier was being felt in their domestic concerns as well. Although the most aggressively radical of the inhabitants of Massachusetts had, perhaps, gone to the other colonies, there to establish themselves in greater freedom, the struggle of the citizens continued, nevertheless, against the arbitrary power of their government. From the first, the body of magistrates had acted in a judicial, as well as an executive, capacity. The only rule by which they were guided is indicated by a resolution in the General Court of 1636, which provided that they should “determine all causes according to the lawes nowe established, and where there is noe law, then as neere the lawe of God as they can.” As English law, in many cases, was not justly applicable, and as, in others, it was largely neglected, this really meant the comparatively few laws already enacted in the colony, and the same arbitrary selection and interpretation of Old Testament texts that we have just noted in New Haven. As the magistrates acted as both attorneys and judges, and as no appeals were permitted from their decisions, no accused person had any protection against them. Anyone, therefore, who might be obnoxious to the ruling powers on account of his views, could not hope for justice; and the so-called trials of Mrs. Hutchinson, Wheelwright, and other notable offenders, were, in reality, not trials at all, but “relentless inquisitions used by the government for the purpose of crushing opposition.” That condition was not, indeed, peculiar to Massachusetts, and was probably just as true of contemporary England. It was Hooker’s glory in Connecticut to have raised his voice, as the leader of that colony, to plead for a legal restraint upon this arbitrary exercise of the judicial power of government, and for the creation of a body of fundamental law. In 1639, a committee was appointed in that colony for the purpose of drawing up such a code. The same had been formally demanded in Massachusetts even earlier, but there the wishes of the people had been steadily opposed by their leaders.
While the Massachusetts trials of the type just noted were exceptional, and in general, when passions were not aroused, the ordinary course of justice was fairly equitable, nevertheless, the entire absence of any restraint upon the unbridled will of the magistrates was a source of apprehension to the more serious thinking and liberty-loving residents of Massachusetts, outside the ring of authority. Not only was any opposition to the course pursued by the government liable to result in banishment, with the complete uprooting of a man’s life, and perhaps the financial ruin of himself and his family, but in trivial matters all the inhabitants, and more particularly, of course, the four fifths who were not church members, were liable to constant interference by the authorities. Such a law, for example, as that declaring that whosoever should “spend his time idlely or unproffitably” should suffer such penalty “as the court shall thinke meete to inflicte” was typical, both in its utter lack of definition of the nature of the crime, and in its failure to specify the penalty to be incurred by the criminal. In spite of the demands of the people in Massachusetts, however, it was not until 1640 that a draft of a fundamental law seems to have really been considered. The clergy and most of the magistrates had been opposed to any limitation of arbitrary authority, and had fought the requests with what their modern defender has called the weapon of “a goodnatured procrastination,” but which may have worn another aspect to some at the time. Finally, in 1641, an Abstract of Laws, or Body of Liberties, was passed, which marked a distinct step forward, though by no means assuring full protection. One draft, which was not, however, accepted, was based entirely upon Bible texts, of which, characteristically, but two were drawn from the New Testament and forty-six from the Old. Additional safeguards were required, and four years later, the whole discussion as to specific penalties for specific offenses was again reopened. The clergy and Winthrop still opposed any limitation upon judicial authority, the Governor, indeed, going so far as to say that God had made specific penalties only in certain cases, and as “judges are Gods upon earth,” their power should not be more limited than his—which might be denominated strong doctrine. In spite of all opposition, however, a new code, based in part upon the Body of Liberties, was finally secured and printed in 1648, twenty years after the first demand, and ten after Hooker’s famous sermon at Hartford.
The antagonism to the power of the magistrates was manifested also by new episodes in the struggle between them and the more democratic deputies, which we noted as beginning at the time of the Connecticut emigration. A dispute over the ownership of a sow, between a poor widow and a rich man notorious for his unjust business dealings, was finally brought to the General Court for decision. The evidence was by no means convincing, and the Court was divided, with a majority of the magistrates in favor of a verdict for the rich Keaynes, and a majority of the deputies in favor of the poor widow. The point was thus raised again as to whether the small number of magistrates, by a negative vote, could block the will of the much larger body of deputies. Winthrop wrote a treatise on the question, appealing to certain English precedents and the Old Testament, and stated that, if the magistrates were not allowed to veto the action of the deputies, the colony would be a democracy and “there was no such government in Israel.” So implacably did the grim shades of Moses and Aaron block the paths of Boston Common. The magistrates, in view of the strong opposition that developed, offered to leave the matter to the clergy, and to give way if the decision were adverse. They knew, of course, that it would not be so, and Winthrop records that it was “their only care to gain time,” until the people could be brought to the heel of their clerical leaders as usual. As part of the plan, the members of the Court were asked to take advice before the next meeting; and it is interesting as showing the normal danger for the ordinary citizen in discussing public matters, that a special act should be thought necessary making it “no offence for any, either publicly or privately, to declare their opinion in the case, so it were modestly.” The following year, a compromise was effected, which, however, was distinctly in favor of the magistrates; and thereafter the deputies and the magistrates sat as two separate houses, each with a negative vote on the other.
Another incident in the struggle, which soon occurred, involved both the question of the power of the local government over the colonists, and the relations of the colony to the home government in England. In 1644, it was suggested to the General Court that the condition of the large number of unrepresented inhabitants be improved by increasing the civil privileges that a citizen might possess without being a church member, such privileges then being limited, apparently, to a small share in local town business. Nothing, however, was done, and two years later, a petition signed by a Dr. Robert Child, Samuel Maverick, and five others was presented, reciting that there were many thousands in the colony who were debarred from all participation in government, although they paid taxes and were subject to military and other duties. Child was a newcomer, “a gentleman and a scholar,” and a graduate of the University of Padua. Maverick was the richest of the “old planters,” and the only freeman who was not a church member—a privilege which he owed to the circumstances connected with the first planting of the colony, as already related. Thomas Fowle, another of the signers, was a merchant; while yet another, David Yale, was a man of property, and both a stepson of Theophilus Eaton of New Haven and a brother-in-law of Governor Hopkins of Connecticut. At this very time, he was acting as attorney for the Earl of Warwick. The motives of the signers may not have been wholly disinterested, but the effort to make out that they were persons of no importance in the colony has been overdone.
The petitioners desired that “members of the church of England, not scandalous in their lives and conversations,” be admitted to the churches, and that “civil liberty and freedom be forthwith granted to all truly English, equall to the rest of their countrymen, as in all plantations is accustomed to be done, and as all freeborne enjoy in our native country.” Other reforms were demanded, and although some of the charges were overdrawn, nevertheless, the main point was not fairly met in the lengthy reply prepared by Winthrop, Dudley, and others of the court. That point was that in an English colony, and upon English soil, the great majority of the inhabitants were debarred from a share in the government because of beliefs which would not have so disfranchised them in the home country. No amount of legal casuistry expended upon the charter, and no amount of sophistry employed in explaining the relations between the colony and England, could alter that fact, nor the additional one that Massachusetts was a colony and not an independent nation. As the request of the petitioners was for such liberties only as they would have possessed at home, and not for general religious toleration, an appeal to England was natural, and was set on foot as soon as the reply of the magistrates was received. Winthrop, however, declared that he would not tolerate such an appeal, and the petitioners were heavily fined by the court, and two of them imprisoned. Child, and some of the others insisting upon going to England, they were seized just before the ship sailed, their baggage and houses were searched, and they themselves imprisoned. As some of the magistrates had not agreed to the earlier proceedings, they were not consulted in the present one, which was distinctly of a Star-Chamber sort. Among the papers of Dand, another signer, was found one suggesting the appointment of a royal governor, for which he also was promptly put in jail. Vassall and Fowle finally reached England; but the political situation there by 1647 had become such as to preclude any consideration of colonial matters. The tide of popular rights in the colonies was rising, however, and “all the troubles of New England” were “not at the Massachusetts,” as Winslow wrote to Winthrop, nor were high-handed proceedings wholly limited to that commonwealth. In Plymouth, a written proposal, favored by many of the inhabitants and of the deputies, was presented to the General Court, “to allow and maintaine full and free tollerance of religion to all men that would preserve the civill peace and submit unto government.” “You would have admired [wondered] to have seen,” wrote Winslow, “how sweet this carrion relished to the pallate of most of the deputies.” “Notwithstanding it was required, according to order, to be voted,” the Governor would not permit any vote to be taken; and the effort thus to extend to others the same freedom that the leading founders of the colony had availed themselves of for twelve years in Holland was summarily suppressed.
During the decade we have been considering, the struggle of Englishmen at home for the preservation of their liberties against the incompetent and reactionary rule of the second Stuart, had left that ruler but little leisure to consider the American colonies. Except for occasional and ineffectual efforts to retain some control over them by the home government, they had been left free to work out their own theories, untrammeled by any higher power. By 1640, the scattered settlements in Maine, the towns in New Hampshire, the Bay Colony, Plymouth, the four separate towns in what is now Rhode Island, Saybrook, the affiliated towns of New Haven, and the river settlements of Connecticut, were pursuing their several ways virtually as independent states, preëmpting lands, erecting governments, treating with the natives, with each other, and with the French and Dutch, as if they were sovereign powers. Nor was there anything to prevent innumerable other petty states, each with its few square miles of territory, and ruling according to its own ideas, from arising over all New England, save as restrained by the jealousy of those already in existence. If this tendency had not been restrained, New England might have come in time to be a checker-board of tiny republics, engaged in constant disputes over boundaries and other relations at home, and, should the shield of England cease to protect them, the prey of foreign foes abroad.
There were three possible methods of preventing this development of a Puritan Balkans. England might assert her rights legitimately, and endeavor to bring some sort of uniformity and order out of what might otherwise become an impossible situation; one or another of the colonies might, by force of greater strength, subdue its weaker neighbors, and thus create one or several greater states; or, finally, a confederation might be formed of all of them. Under the circumstances, the legal and logical method would have been some sort of imperial control by the mother-country, but that was out of the question unless the English government was strong and united enough to enforce her will, and wise and experienced enough to make it acceptable to the colonists. For the present, that solution was impossible. Of the other two, the first would naturally appeal to a strong and aggressive colony like Massachusetts, while a confederacy would be favored by her weaker but no less independent neighbors. Both the latter plans were tried, and the intercolonial relations of the next quarter of a century were largely the result of these two conflicting methods of unifying New England being pursued simultaneously.
Owing to the death of Mason, and the failure of Gorges’s plans for Maine, the settlements north of Massachusetts were without a settled government, and the inhabitants do not seem to have had the ability to create a stable one for themselves, which was so marked a characteristic of those in Massachusetts and Plymouth, Connecticut and New Haven. We have already seen how Massachusetts, by an unwarrantable construction of her charter, had begun to lay claim to all the land of New Hampshire and Maine lying eastward of the most northerly source of the Merrimack, although the whole course of the Crown and Council for New England at the time of the grant showed that such a claim was absolutely untenable. Nor, in the beginning, had the Massachusetts leaders dreamed of making it, and it was, in fact, as Professor Osgood says, “more clearly an usurpation than was any later act of the crown which affected New England.” The decision, otherwise favorable to Massachusetts, of the English Chief Justices in 1677, declaring the interpretation claimed to be utterly without warrant, and reassigning the lands to the heirs of the two original patentees, seems entirely just.
Early in 1641, a dispute between church factions in Dover, headed by two contending clergymen, gave Massachusetts a chance to intervene. Captain Underhill, who had been banished from that colony at the time of the Hutchinson controversy, was then on the Piscataqua, and, perhaps with an idea of once more ingratiating himself with the home authorities, sent a petition to the Massachusetts Court, asking aid for himself and his party. Massachusetts at once dispatched a magistrate and two clergymen, and the Underhill party were victorious, the clergyman heading the opposing faction having opportunely turned out to be a personally immoral character. The Dover patentees, Warwick, Say, and the others, who had purchased the patent in the interests of Massachusetts some years before, now passed the grant, with slight reservations, to that colony, which at once annexed the town. A temporary government was installed, and, two years later, it was agreed that the inhabitants should have the privilege of freemen to manage their local affairs, and to elect deputies, even though they were not church members. Thus a right not yielded to four fifths of her own citizens was granted to those in her new possessions, and imperial ambition seems to have won the first victory over Israelitish polity. This provision not only disproved her former claim that civil order could not be maintained without forced religious conformity, but, combined with the further provision that the settlers in the newly annexed territory should be subject only to local, and not to general, taxation, it tended to show that she herself did not believe the claims she made as to the interpretation of the charter. If she really considered that the territory now being seized under pretext of ownership was as indubitably hers as that south of the Merrimack, why did she thus deprive herself of the right of religious and fiscal control?
She next claimed and absorbed the town of Exeter, and her new claims, extending to Maine, there came into conflict with those of Gorges and the Pilgrims. The latter, indeed, had lately heard her state that she was entitled to a part of the town of Plymouth itself, and she did encroach upon the Plymouth territory. A further enlargement of her power to the south, and one obviously outside her jurisdiction, was next made within the present limits of Rhode Island.
Samuel Gorton, from his heretical notions in religion, according to the Gospel of New England, and his somewhat explosive efforts to defend persons he thought oppressed by the colonial authorities, had led a troubled and troubling life in Massachusetts, Plymouth, Portsmouth, and Providence. Indeed, in his wandering course through the Puritan heavens, he seems to have been as fatally followed by trouble as a comet by its luminous tail. As he punctuated his career by denominating the Massachusetts magistrates “a generation of vipers,” the Governor of Plymouth, “Satan,” and the justice of Portsmouth, “a just-ass,” he can hardly be said to have had an ingratiating way with the authorities, although no crime could be laid at his door. The people of that day had an insatiable passion for ploughing in the theological field, which was always proving as full of unexploded shells as any on the modern battle-front of France, and Gorton seems to have had a fatal facility for turning these up. He had already been blown out of three colonies, when, after some experience with him, the men of Providence decided that he or they must leave. Finally banished, he made an Indian purchase, and settled some miles to the south.
This, however, was not far enough for his former neighbors, who, in 1641, asked assistance from Massachusetts in ridding them of Gorton. That colony refused to consider the request, unless Providence would place herself under her jurisdiction. The matter became complicated by a dispute between Miantanomo and two other sachems, arising out of Gorton’s purchase, and the sachems also applied to Massachusetts. Both they and the Providence men were received under her jurisdiction, and the next move was to send a force of forty armed men to take Gorton and his party into custody. Even those opposed to him in Providence suggested arbitration; but the Massachusetts clergy advised the magistrates that this was not an “honorable” course, as the Gorton party “were no state, but a few fugitives living without law or government,” and “their blasphemous and reviling writings” could be “purged away only by repentence and public satisfaction.” The case was, therefore, prejudged without a hearing, and the more summary method was taken of trying to set fire to the log fort in which Gorton and his company had taken refuge.
It must be presumed that the ministers of Christ considered this as a more “honorable” course than arbitration with “a few fugitives” from their vindictiveness. The attack was made on a Sabbath morning, and even the heretical Gorton was naturally surprised. In receiving the Indians under their jurisdiction, Massachusetts had required that the savages should not profane that day by doing any work upon it, and that they should not kill any man but upon just cause and authority. The attempt, immediately following, on the part of that colony’s expedition, to burn their fellow white men alive during church hours, because they were too impatient to wait, may have struck their new savage subjects as a little incongruous. Nine of the Gortonists were captured, taken to Boston, and imprisoned. The clergy called for blood, and gave their written opinion that all nine of the prisoners “deserved death by the law of God.” In this unjust and inhuman decision, all the magistrates but three concurred, and it was prevented from passing only by the people’s representatives among the deputies. Finally, the prisoners were condemned to be distributed among seven towns, there to be “kept to worke for their living, and wear irons upon one leg, and not to depart the limits of the town, nor by word or writing maintain any of their blasphemous or wicked errors upon pain of death.” The sentence was executed and the prisoners were kept in irons until the following year; when the growing popular disapproval of the clergy’s actions caused their victims to be suddenly released and banished.
The Massachusetts authorities had thus utilized the request of one faction in a settlement wholly outside their own limits, to extend their jurisdiction. They had attempted, upon a charge of heresy directed against persons living in another colony, to murder the entire body of the opposing faction, after refusing the arbitration proposed by that faction’s own enemies. When the decree was finally softened to banishment, this was held to include exclusion of the prisoners from their former homes, now considered as part of the Bay Colony. They had seized and sold the cattle and goods of the unfortunate people, to pay the expenses of their so-called trial and illegal detention. In all this, there had not been even the fallacious plea, as in the case of Williams and Mrs. Hutchinson, that the civil peace of Massachusetts had been endangered. The outcome showed, however, that the cruel and immoral power of the clergy and magistrates was coming to be opposed by a growing body of healthy and liberal opinion. The bloody sentence demanded by them had been refused by the people’s leaders, and public opinion had finally secured the reversal, within a year, of the milder one that had been executed. The confusion of Gorton’s own religious views, and his incoherence in expressing them, could in themselves have won him little popular support. What the people were groping after was the right of the individual to think and act for himself, so long as the state was not endangered, as had been clearly expressed in the Plymouth petition. The road was to be long and bloodstained, but there was now no doubt that the people of Massachusetts intended to travel it, and that their feet were at last set in the right direction.
By 1640, although new arrivals had not been coming in so rapidly of late, the population of the New England settlements had grown to about eighteen thousand. Moreover, they had, on the whole, been prosperous. We have already seen how even Plymouth, with its slender resources, its poor soil, and its ill-chosen site, had yet achieved more than economic independence, and we have noted the financial resources of New Haven. The capital and numbers of Massachusetts were, of course, far larger than those of either of the others, and it was estimated that that colony had spent, in its first dozen years, nearly £200,000, or in our day, perhaps, five million dollars, in making its settlement. Possessed of the unrestricted resources of a continent, and having suffered no losses from Indians or foreign foe, New England was apparently in a sound economic condition, when suddenly the crash came. “Merchants would sell no wares but for ready money,” Winthrop wrote in 1640; “men could not pay their debts though they had enough, prices of lands and cattle fell soon to the one half, yea to a third, and after one-fourth part.” The Massachusetts General Court was soon called upon to pass special legislation to assist debtors, as the suffering became general.
In spite of their enormous natural resources, the colonies, like all new countries, lacked capital in the form of money. They borrowed heavily from England and imported from her still more heavily in food, clothes, and manufactured goods, without as yet having developed sufficient export trade to enable them to meet their foreign bills. The inherent unsoundness of the position had been concealed, temporarily, by the effects of the continued influx of new settlers on a large scale, which had created a demand for all the colonists’ surplus in the shape of everything required by a planter during his first years. Prices of both goods and lands advanced steadily, as a fire is blown into flame by a forced draught. Suddenly the tide of immigration stopped entirely; the exceptional demand, which had come to be regarded as normal, ceased; English merchants naturally required payment on overdue accounts; and all the familiar phenomena of an economic crisis became evident.
It is usually stated that emigration from England stopped because the prospect there had become so much brighter for the Puritans that there was no longer reason for leaving home. This, however, by no means meets all the requirements of the case. We have already seen that the great majority of the people who had been coming to New England had not joined the churches there, although in the main of Puritan stock. Nor, at the time in question, did the Puritan leaders in England, in spite of altered conditions, by any means relax their efforts to plant Puritan colonies. In fact, such men as Say and Pym were more enthusiastic than ever in their plans. These efforts, however, were no longer directed toward New England, but in quite other directions. By her religious persecutions and peculiar church-membership requirement for the franchise, Massachusetts had, little by little, antagonized all her old friends at home, from the Earl of Warwick down, who had been constantly calling the attention of her leaders to the fact that no more people, not even Puritans, would go to her if she did not discontinue her career of persecution. By that course she had already virtually excluded from her portion of the English Empire all Englishmen not acceptable to her clergy and a dozen of her leading laymen. This closed her ports to almost the entire stream of English emigration, which continued large, although somewhat changed in character, while the labor of her former friends was now expended in diverting what remained of the Puritan element itself in that stream away from, instead of toward, Massachusetts.
In this connection, Winthrop wrote bitterly to Lord Say, complaining of his efforts to induce settlers to go out from England to the Caribbean instead of to New England. To this, Say made a long reply, rebuking the authorities in the colony for their misuse of Scripture texts to further their own views, and ended with the admonition that “for what you say of the church not compatable with another frame of government, I pray putt away that error . . . the church beinge wholly spirritual, can subsist with any forme of outward government.”
Not only, however, did immigration to Massachusetts stop, but there threatened to be an emigration from that colony to the English leaders’ Caribbean settlement. John Humphrey, one of the most influential of the original planters, who had not prospered in the Bay, was made Governor of the West Indian Puritan settlements, and, in 1641, sailed thither with several hundred Massachusetts people. Many others removed to other colonies, and Winthrop relates, with evident relish, the misfortunes which befell them as God’s judgment upon them for leaving. That the influences checking the growth of Massachusetts were not wholly due to general conditions is indicated also by the fact that, while her population, in the next two decades, was considerably less than doubled, that of New Hampshire was nearly tripled, Rhode Island increased five-fold, and Connecticut four-fold. The actual numbers are even more striking than the percentages. Massachusetts, starting the period with fourteen thousand, added less than ten thousand, while the other three, beginning with but three thousand, added nearly nine thousand. Connecticut’s growth, moreover, was made in spite of the fact that apparently Massachusetts made even greater efforts to divert emigrants from that colony than were being made in England to divert them from herself; so that Hooker, in complaining of the methods employed by her citizens, was forced to write to Winthrop, that “such impudent forgery is scant found in hell.”
In the absence of any attempt by England to unify these scattered settlements, the only tendency toward unification, as against the centrifugal forces at work, had been the process of annexation and attempted domination by Massachusetts. The growth of the frontier, however, with the resultant Pequot war, had fostered a sense of unity in the face of a common danger among those exposed to it. As Professor Turner points out, in speaking of the colonies in general, particularism was always strongest in those not so exposed, and the Indian frontier “stretched along the western border like a cord of union.” The extension, northward and westward, had also brought the English into immediate and hostile contact with both French and Dutch. Apparently as a result of the somewhat inefficient joint action in the Pequot war, a confederation between the colonies was informally discussed at Boston in 1637, and a draft prepared by Massachusetts the following year. Connecticut objected to one of the terms, the ground of her dislike, Winthrop wrote, being her “shyness of coming under our government.” The smaller colony, however, had, within a few years, so far got over her shyness as to be ready to “entertain a firm combination for a defensive and offensive war, and all other mutual offices of love,” as the records somewhat quaintly word it. The decrease in immigration, and the business panic throughout the colonies, may have helped to bring then to a more realizing sense of their isolation from England, and of the need of mutual dependence, which was greatly increased by a threatened renewal of Indian hostilities in 1642. The latter is the sole reason given by Bradford for the remarkable effort now made to combine the colonies into a confederation, in regard to which all our contemporary authorities are singularly silent.
The settlements, however, were well fitted to be thus joined in closer bonds, in spite of minor differences. The country in which they were planted formed a geographical unit, the natural boundaries of which were emphasized by the human elements of hostile French, Indians, and Dutch. The economic and social life, based upon the geographical, religious, and political factors, was, in the main, remarkably homogeneous. Their attitude toward English policy, and their trade-relations with the rest of the empire, were very similar. There was not only no such clashing of interests as divided them from the staple colonies of the West Indies, but not even the minor differences that would have made impossible such a combination between Pennsylvania and Virginia. United action in the Indian war, and the religious Synod of the same year, had been the first steps taken in the formation of the political machinery for consideration of joint affairs. The way was smoothly paved, therefore, for the establishment of a genuine union[.]
There was, however, one stumbling-block, which was the intense local feeling and exaggerated sense of importance of the separate settlements. The leaders in each of them must often have dreamed of what the future might have in store for the little colonies in which they had cast their lots, but it is impossible to say what those dreams may have been. They could not have included the actual development of the present British Empire or of the United States, the creation of each of which has been largely dependent upon economic forces and scientific inventions beyond the vision of any seventeenth-century mind. Whatever their dreams may have been, in practice the leaders adopted an opportunist policy, which, in general, may be described as the endeavor to keep from being entangled with England without losing the value of her protection. That any of them could seriously have thought that their individual colonies, as such, could ever become powerful nations, is unlikely. Added, therefore, to their policy regarding England was probably an opportunist policy regarding their neighbors. The extent and nature of the New England country had, by this time, become fairly well known, and the rate of growth could be more or less accurately forecast. With extending frontiers and but ill-defined territorial limits, disputes, already occurring, could also be foreseen as bound to become more frequent and more serious.
All of the colonies had shown the tendency toward expansion. Plymouth had started her trading posts on the rivers of Maine and Connecticut; settlements multiplied in Rhode Island; New Haven, from the meadows of Quinnipiack, was soon planting on Long Island, and nearing the Dutch boundaries on the Sound; while Connecticut, through her purchase of Saybrook from the disappointed patentees in 1644, and her planting of towns westward even of New Haven’s expansion, was rapidly stretching east and west. Massachusetts had long adopted the definite policy of extending her claims and control as fast and as far as possible. In the race for land and power, her numbers, resources, and central position, all gave her immense advantages, to which was added the no mean one of an unscrupulous disregard for the prior rights of others. On the one hand, then, the weaker colonies might hope to gain from union some protection, not only from the Indian and the foreigner, but from the growing aggressiveness of Massachusetts. On the other, that colony might anticipate dominating the councils of the Confederacy, while free scope was still left for her own aggrandizement.
Although they were far inferior to her as military powers, the acknowledgment of Plymouth, Connecticut, and New Haven as of equal political weight in the Union served largely to protect them against the Bay Colony; but there was no such protection for Maine or for the towns in Rhode Island, which were refused admission to the league. The inhabitants of the former were not received, Winthrop wrote, because the people of Agamenticus had recently “made a taylor their mayor, and had entertained one Hull, an excommunicated person, and very contentious, for their minister.” These somewhat surprising reasons for refusing representation to the few inhabitants of a territory equal in size to all the rest of New England combined may be dismissed as not the true ones. We are more likely to find the latter in that new interpretation of her charter by which Massachusetts laid claim to all this vast tract, which she formally annexed ten years later. To have allowed its inhabitants representation in the proposed confederacy would have been to acknowledge their right to be considered an independent colony, and so would have placed awkward moral obstacles in the way of the manifest destiny of God’s elect. In regard to the Rhode Island plantations, in spite of Winthrop’s affection for Williams, the Bay Colony had always exhibited a vindictive spite, the extreme virulence of which it is somewhat difficult to understand, even after making all allowances for the known facts. In 1640, under the administration of Dudley, the Massachusetts General Court had received a letter from the magistrates of Connecticut, New Haven, and Aquidneck, “wherein they declared their dislike of such as would have the Indians rooted out,” and their desire of “seeking to gain them by justice and kindness,” although carefully watching them for any hostile intent. While the Massachusetts Court voted its assent, it also insisted that the answer should be addressed only to the magistrates of Connecticut and New Haven, formally excluding any communication with those of Aquidneck “as men not to bee capitulated withall by us, either for themselves or the people of the iland where they inhabit.” Silly bigotry, as well as intercolonial discourtesy, could hardly go further than in this childish refusal even to discuss a humanitarian project of importance and of common interest. The real motive, however, may have been, as in the case of Maine, to leave the way open to annexation by refusing to acknowledge any separate government; and when, a year after the confederacy was formed, the Rhode Island towns applied for admission, the answer, undoubtedly dictated by Massachusetts, was an “utter refusall” unless they would “absolutely and without reservacon submitt” to either Plymouth or herself.
At the time of the formation of the Confederacy, Massachusetts had just driven the entering wedge at Providence and absorbed New Hampshire, and was engaged in encroaching upon the northern bounds of Plymouth and Connecticut. The three smaller colonies, therefore, had everything to gain by having their existence recognized by being admitted as political equals in the league; while they were further protected by the third clause in the Articles, which guaranteed the independence of each of them, and even forbade the voluntary union of any colony with another without consent of the Confederation. On the other hand, Massachusetts, with the rich territories to the north and south—which she was already absorbing—left open to her, had also much to gain by having a body that could give some sort of legal approval to her illegal poachings; and her own power, in extreme circumstances, could be counted upon to nullify any adverse vote. These were probably the reasons which induced her to enter a Confederation in which her two commissioners had only an equal voting power with those of each of the three smaller colonies in the governing board of eight.
Although the Articles of Confederation agreed that the four colonies should thereafter be known as the United Colonies of New England, the machinery set up was not that of a genuine federal state, but simply that of “a firme and perpetual league of friendship and amity for offence and defence, mutual advice and succor.” Even the very moderate powers granted the board of commissioners, which constituted the only organ of the league, tended to decline, and it can hardly be considered as other than a joint committee to consider matters of mutual interest and to proffer advice to the general courts of the several colonies. According to the Articles, however, the commissioners, when they met at the regular annual meetings, were to be possessed of full authority from their home courts to determine all military matters, it being provided that no colony should engage in either offensive or defensive war without the consent of at least six of the eight commissioners. This was the majority required to decide all other questions, and in case six could not agree, the matter in dispute was to be referred back to the general courts.
The Confederation, which no more recognized the existence of England than the “constitutions” of Connecticut and New Haven had done, possessed no means of operating directly upon the people as individuals, or of enforcing its will upon a recalcitrant colony. It was a useful piece of machinery, but not a new government, and it failed to call forth affection or loyalty from its members. It is impossible to say what it might have developed into had the colonies remained permanently as independent of England as they were until the restoration of the Stuarts in 1660. The various results of that event did away, in time, with the possibility, or the necessity, of such an organization. But, during the Union’s existence, it performed valuable service, not merely in accustoming the colonies to act together, but also in concentrating their resources in military emergencies, and, negatively, in saving the smaller members from the encroachments of Massachusetts. As was inevitable, that colony largely dominated its councils, and the attitude that the commissioners adopted upon questions of civil and religious polity was, in the main, that of Massachusetts rather than that of Plymouth or Connecticut. In all that concerned the liberty of the individual, the weight of their authority was, as a rule, thrown upon the side of reaction, rather than of progress. The small extent of their real powers, however, is indicated by the fact that the history of New England under the Confederacy continued to be the history of Massachusetts and her neighbors, and not that of the “United Colonies of New England.”
- The Southampton settlers at first tried to plant well within it, but were forced out by the Dutch. Cf. N. Y. Col. Docts., vols. ii, pp. 145 ff., and XIV, pp. 30 ff.; Adams, History of Southampton, pp. 48 ff.
- Estimated from entry in Records of the Colony and Plantation of New Haven (Hartford, 1857), p. 25. Hereafter cited as New Haven Records.
- J. Winthrop, History, vol. i, pp. 271 ff.; Massachusetts Records, vol. i, pp. 210, 225.
- T. C. H. Levermore, Republic of New Haven (J. H. U. S., 1886), p. 8; E. E. Atwater, History of Colony of New Haven (New Haven, 1881), pp. 112 ff.
- J. Winthrop, History, vol. i, p. 283; letter from Davenport and Eaton to Massachusetts, Bulletin New York Public Library, 1899, pp. 393 f.
- Atwater, New Haven, pp. 393 f.
- Hubbard, History of New England, p. 334.
- New Haven Records, vol. i, pp. 11 ff.
- Ibid., p. 21.
- J. Winthrop, History, vol. i, p. 324; Acts Privy Council, Colonial, vol. x, pp. 217, 227 f.; Hutchinson, History, vol. i, pp. 84 ff., 442 ff.; Hazard, Historical Collections, vol. i, pp. 432 f.
- Massachusetts Records, vol. i, p. 175.
- Osgood, American Colonies, vol. i, p, 189.
- Massachusetts Records, vol. i, p. 109.
- Palfrey, History, vol. ii, p. 22. For earlier efforts to secure its passage, cf. Massachusetts Records, vol. i, pp. 174, 222, 279, 292; J. Winthrop, History, vol. i, pp. 191, 240.
- Cf. Mass. Hist. Soc. Coll., Series I, vol. v, pp. 171 ff. The Body as passed is in Ibid., Series III, vol. viii, pp. 216 ff.
- Massachusetts Records, vol. ii, pp. 92 ff.; “Arbitrary Government Described,” in R. C. Winthrop, J. Winthrop, vol. ii, p. 448. Cf. also J. Winthrop, History, vols. i, pp. 388 ff., and ii, pp. 67 ff.
- Massachusetts Records, vol. ii, pp. 61, 168, 262.
- J. Winthrop, History, vols. i, pp. 377 ff., and ii, pp. 83 ff., 142 ff.
- The essay is given in R. C. Winthrop, J. Winthrop, vol. ii, pp. 427 ff.
- J. Winthrop, History, vol. ii, p. 143.
- Massachusetts Records, vol. ii, pp. 58 f.
- J. Winthrop, History, vol. ii, pp. 193, 349.
- Cal. State Pap., Col., 1574-1660, p. 327.
- J. Winthrop, History, vol. ii, pp. 320 n., 358. Cf. Winslow, “New England’s Salamander,” in Mass. Hist. Soc. Coll., Series III, vol. ii, pp. 117 ff.
- Hutchinson, Papers, vol. i, pp. 216 ff.; New England’s Jonas cast up in London, Force Tracts, vol. iiv, pp. 8 ff.
- Hutchinson, Papers, vol. i, pp. 223 ff.; J. Winthrop, History, vol. ii, pp. 348 ff. Prof. G. L. Kittredge has recently written an elaborate account of Dr. Child—“Doctor Robert Child the Remonstrant,” reprinted from Publications, Col. Soc., Mass., 1919. It is a strong brief in defense of the action taken by the Massachusetts authorities, and contains the fullest and most accurate account of the Petition and the subsequent trials yet written. Prof. Kittredge is a firm supporter of the old theory that Child was plotting to overthrow the government in the interests of Presbyterianism. While this may be so, it seems not to cover the cases of the other remonstrants. The main interest of the affair for our present work, however, lies in the evidence afforded of discontent with the Puritan regime, and in that connection, Prof. Kittredge, after showing the extreme diversity of views held by the signers on most matters, speaks of “their discontent with the administration which was the sole binding element common to all the Remonstrants” (p. 29). He also states (p. 52), that “there was more or less public sentiment in favor of the defendants.”
- Massachusetts Records, vol. ii, pp. 196, 199, 205, 241.
- Letter of Winslow to Winthrop, in Hutchinson, Papers, vol. i, p. 174.
- Cf. letter of Emanuel Downing, already cited, asking for an extension of the charter limits northward, in 1633. Cal. State Pap., Col., 1675-76, p. 74.
- Osgood, American Colonies, vol. i, p. 377.
- Acts Privy Council, Colonial, vol. i, pp. 723 ff. Palfrey’s statement that the charter, “literally interpreted,” endowed Massachusetts with the lands claimed is hardly borne out by the facts. History, vol. i, p. 587. Cf., however, Barrage, Colonial Maine, p. 364.
- J. Winthrop, History, vol. ii, pp. 33 f.
- Massachusetts Records, vol. i, p. 332; J. Winthrop, History, vol. ii, p. 50. Apparently Strawberry Bank (Portsmouth) was also annexed. Cf. New Hampshire Provincial Papers, vol. i, p. 192.
- Ibid., pp. 183 ff., 168.
- New Hampshire Provincial Papers, vol. i, pp. 182, 184.
- Bradford, Plymouth, pp. 367 ff.
- J. Winthrop, History, vol. ii, pp. 69 ff.; Rhode Island Historical Society Collections, vol. ii, pp. 191 f.
- J. Winthrop, History, vol. ii, pp. 144 ff.; Massachusetts Records, vol. ii, pp. 26 f., 40.
- J. Winthrop, History, vol. ii, pp. 168 f.
- Gorton, Simplicities Defence; Force Tracts, vol. iiv, pp. 58 ff.
- J. Winthrop, History, vol. ii, p. 147.
- Ibid., vol. ii, pp. 176 f.; Massachusetts Records, vol. ii, pp. 51 ff.; Gorton, Simplicities Defence, pp. 66 ff.
- J. Winthrop, History, vol. ii, pp. 188 f.; Gorton, Simplicities Defence, p. 83.
- Most of Gorton’s writings are as incoherent as they are vituperative. Age, however, seemed to clear his mind and style, and his letter to Morton, in 1669, defending himself from the charges in the latter’s book, was clear and dignified. It is given in Hutchinson, History, vol. i, pp. 467 ff.
- Jeremiah Dummer, A Defence of the New England Charters (London, 1721), p. 9.
- J. Winthrop, History, vol. ii, p. 21; cf. also pp. 8, 29, 37.
- A very complete list of imports could be made up from the bills of lading of the ships arriving in 1640, given in Acts Privy Council, Colonial, vol. i, p, 268.
- This was Winthrop’s version: History, vol. ii, p. 37.
- Newton, Puritan Colonisation, pp. 287 ff.
- Mass. Hist. Soc. Coll., Series V, vol. i, p. 302; J. Winthrop, History, vol. i, pp. 399 f.
- Manchester Papers, p. 424, cited by Newton, Puritan Colonisation, p. 292; J. Winthrop, History, vol. ii, p. 15. There was also some movement the other way: 1200 persons are said to have gone from Barbadoes to New England from 1643 to 1647. Cal. State Pap., Col., 1661-68, p. 529.
- J. Winthrop, History, vol. ii, pp. 103 ff., 113, 156.
- Century of Population, p. 9.
- Letter in Connecticut Historical Society Collections, vol. i, pp. 4 ff.
- Turner, Significance of the Frontier, p. 92.
- J. Winthrop, History, vol. i, pp. 283 f.
- Ibid., p. 342; Connecticut Historical Society Collections, vol. x, p. 9.
- Conn. Col. Records, vol. i, p. 31.
- Bradford, Plymouth, pp. 416 f.
- Conn. Col. Records, vol. i, pp. 266 ff.
- J. Winthrop, History, vol. ii, p. 121.
- J. Winthrop, History, vol. ii, p. 24; Massachusetts Records, vol. i, p. 305.
- Acts United Colonies, vol. i, p. 23.
- The articles have been many times reprinted. The citations above are from Acts United Colonies, vol. i, pp. 3 ff.