New England Development
The period from 1640 to 1660 was one of practical independence for the New England colonies. This neglect and freedom from interference gave rise to three distinct developments: the formulation of provincial codes of law, the confederation of the colonies and of settlements within colonies, and territorial expansion.
Settled areas in New England, about 1660.
The Massachusetts Body of Liberties.—The first of the colonial codes to be formulated was the Massachusetts Body of Liberties adopted by the general court in 1641. It provided for the protection of the private and political rights of the individual, methods of judicial procedure, rights of women, children, servants, foreigners, and strangers, the protection of animals, and the rights of the churches. Death penalties were specified, the capital crimes being the worshiping of false gods, witchcraft, blasphemy, murder, manslaughter, kidnaping, bearing false witness, and treason. Provision was also made for trial by jury. The code was amended from time to time, arson, cursing or smiting of parents, burglary, and highway robbery being added to the fist of capital crimes. The Massachusetts code became the basis of the Connecticut code of 1650 and the New Haven code of 1656.
Causes of federation.—The development of self-government was fostered not only by neglect on the part of England, but also by the necessity of protection. Being hedged in on the north by the French and on the west by the Dutch, and with hostile Indian tribes encircling the English frontiers, the various groups of settlements were in danger. Massachusetts was strong enough to protect herself, but the settlements in the Connecticut Valley and on Long Island were menaced by the Dutch and Indians.
One of the fruitful causes of dispute between New England and the Dutch was the fur-trade. The choicest hunting grounds to the west were possessed by the Dutch and Swedes. To obtain a foothold on the Delaware, the upper Connecticut, and the Hudson became a settled economic policy of several of the New England colonies and was a potent factor in the formation of the New England Confederation. To exploit the Delaware River trade a company was formed at New Haven and in 1641 a settlement was made at Varkens Kill on the site of modern Salem, New Jersey, and later another post was established at the mouth of the Schuylkill, above the Dutch and Swedish forts. The Dutch, probably assisted by the Swedes, destroyed the Schuylkill fort, and the settlement at Varkens Kill did not prosper, most of the settlers dying or removing to New Haven. Massachusetts also attempted to obtain a share in the Delaware trade. In 1644 prominent merchants of Boston formed a company, but when their pinnace appeared in the Delaware, it was turned back by the Dutch, and shortly afterwards a small group of Boston traders were severely handled by the Indians.
The New England Confederation.—For several years plans for a confederation had been discussed, but the Dutch war against the Indians in 1642 and the struggle between De la Tour and D'Aulnay in Acadia brought matters to a head. At the general court which met at Boston on May 10, 1643, commissioners from Massachusetts, Plymouth, Connecticut, and New Haven signed a compact, Rhode Island and the settlements in Maine being excluded. The government of the confederation was placed in the hands of two commissioners from each of the four colonies. Internal affairs were not to be interfered with, but the confederation was to determine matters of war and foreign relations. Expenses were to be assessed on the colonies according to population. A vote of six commissioners was necessary to determine matters, the three small colonies thus being able to override Massachusetts. The confederation contained two serious defects which eventually led to its abandonment. The central government had no authority over individuals, and the equal vote of each colony violated the principle of representative government, Massachusetts having no more power then her weaker neighbors.
Work of the Confederation.—No incident occurred to require action on the part of the confederation until 1645, when the Narragansetts attacked the Mohegans. A force of three hundred men was raised by the confederation, an action which brought the Narragansetts to terms without hostilities. When a society for the propagation of the faith was incorporated in England to assist the missionary efforts of John Eliot and Thomas Mayhew, the commissioners handled the funds. When questions of boundaries and customs arose, they were settled by the commissioners. When Massachusetts assisted De la Tour against D'Aulnay, the commissioners exerted their influence to keep the colony from interfering in French affairs. In 1650 a treaty was made between Stuyvesant, the Dutch governor, and the commissioners, with the result that the Dutch retained their fort at Hartford, but were otherwise excluded from the Connecticut Valley and the eastern part of Long Island. The English were granted the right of colonization on the Delaware, but when New Haven men attempted to found a settlement, they were turned back by the Dutch and the confederation failed to take action. When hostilities broke out between the Dutch and English in 1651, the three smaller colonies desired war, but the Massachusetts general court refused, and when Cromwell's fleet appeared at Boston in 1654 on its way to attack the Dutch settlements, Massachusetts continued her opposition. Possible complications were averted by the treaty of peace. The action of Massachusetts in the relations with the Dutch so weakened the confederation that it soon ceased to be an important factor in New England history.
The Puritan movement into New Hampshire.—Massachusetts took advantage of the disturbed conditions in England to absorb the territory to the northward. In 1629 Mason had obtained a second patent for a tract extending sixty miles inland and lying between the Merrimac and Piscataqua rivers, which he named New Hampshire, and Mason and Gorges obtained title to lands between the Merrimac and Kennebec. In 1631 the two patentees and others obtained a tract of twenty thousand acres which included the Portsmouth settlement. In 1633 the English merchants who had founded Dover sold their shares in the settlement to Lord Saye and Sele, Lord Brooke, and others, a transaction which was followed by a Puritan migration. The same noblemen also obtained title to the Portsmouth settlement. During the Hutchinsonian controversy, Wheelwright and others found refuge at Dover, but shortly afterward established themselves at Exeter. Massachusetts claimed that the New Hampshire settlements fell within her boundaries, and in 1641, upon the suggestion of Lord Saye and Sele and Lord Brooke, extended her jurisdiction over Portsmouth and Dover. In 1643 Exeter also came under the protection of Massachusetts.
The incorporation of Maine with Massachusetts.—Several conflicting patents to lands in Maine were issued between 1630 and 1645. Few settlers came, the only new group of importance being the three towns of Georgiana (York), Welles, and Kittery on the Piscataqua. Massachusetts claimed that her charter entitled her to the Maine region, and in 1639 took the first step toward ownership by purchasing a tract on the Androscoggin River. When the region about Saco and Casco bays became a matter of dispute between rival patentees in 1644, the case was referred to the Massachusetts general court, but no decision was reached. When referred to the English commissioners for plantations, the Gorges estate lost most of its property, being left only the settled region near the Piscataqua. In 1647 Gorges died and the settlers were left without guidance. Two years later the three towns declared themselves a body politic. In 1651 Massachusetts asserted her claim to the Maine region, and the Royalists there found themselves powerless. The following year the Massachusetts authorities ordered the survey of the Merrimac and established civil government at York. In 1653 all the settlements in southern Maine accepted the jurisdiction of Massachusetts. The settlements about Casco Bay refused to submit until 1658, when they also acknowledged the authority of Massachusetts.
Massachusetts hopes to obtain the trade on the Hudson.—In 1657 the general court of Massachusetts declared that the fur-trade ought to be controlled by the commonwealth and in the following year a report was made which showed that fur-trading privileges at Springfield, Concord, Sudbury, Lancaster, Groton, Marlborough, and Cambridge were farmed out to various individuals. In 1659 a company was formed whose main purpose was to obtain access to the fur-trade of the upper Hudson, but it failed to carry out the project.
Connecticut.—In the Connecticut colony the period from 1640 to 1660 was one of expansion and consolidation. Southampton and East Hampton on Long Island, and on the mainland Farmington, Saybrook, New London, and Norwalk were brought under the jurisdiction of the colony.
New Haven.—In the New Haven colony the danger from the Dutch and Indians in 1643 brought about a union of the isolated units. A constitution was adopted which restricted the suffrage to church membership. Minor cases were to be judged in each town, and a governor, deputy-governor, and three associates were to judge the more important cases. No provision for trial by jury was made. The general court, consisting of the magistrates and two deputies from each of the towns, was to meet at New Haven twice a year to enact laws. In 1649 Southold on Long Island, in 1651 Bradford, and in 1656 Greenwich were added to the New Haven confederation.
Rhode Island.—Admission to the New England Confederation was denied to the Narragansett Bay settlements. Providence, Portsmouth, and Newport had all been founded by outcasts from Massachusetts, and a fourth settlement of a similar nature was founded at Shawomet, now Warwick, in 1643 by Samuel Gorton. The danger from powerful and grasping neighbors caused Williams to seek a patent to the lands about Narragansett Bay, and on March 14, 1644, a patent was granted which allowed the inhabitants of Providence, Portsmouth, and Newport to form their own government. The Warwick settlers were asked to join the others.
In 1647 a code remarkable for its mildness was adopted, and by 1650 the government had been formed. The legislative powers were vested in a general court composed of six representatives from each town, the presiding officer of which was called a president. In executive matters he was to be aided by an assistant from each town. Provision was also made for a treasurer, sergeant, general recorder, attorney-general, and solicitor-general. The president and assistants acted as a court for important cases, which were to be tried by jury. The legislative body and the court made the circuit of the towns. The initiative and referendum were introduced, each settlement having the right to propose legislation, and acts of the general court were referred to the towns for ratification or rejection. Membership in a particular church was not made the basis of citizenship as in the other New England colonies. The disturbing element in Rhode Island at this time was Coddington. In 1651 he obtained from the Council of State a commission as governor of the islands in Narragansett Bay, but his power was short-lived, for the following year Williams obtained a revocation of the Coddington patent and in 1654 was elected president of the confederation.
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