Population.—New England contained some 80,000 white inhabitants. About 5,000 were in New Hampshire; Massachusetts, including the Maine and Plymouth settlements, contained about 55,000; Rhode Island probably 5,000, and Connecticut about 17,000. By far the larger part were of English stock, although there were a few Huguenots, Scotch, Irish, and Jews. The settled area extended from the Pemaquid region along the coast in an almost unbroken line to the New York border. In Maine the settled region seldom extended more than ten miles back from the coast, and between Casco and Saco bays there were large unsettled tracts. In New Hampshire the frontier line ran back from the coast fifteen to thirty miles and eastern Massachusetts was settled fifty miles inland. All of Rhode Island except some tracts in the southern part had been occupied. Portions of northeastern and northwestern Connecticut were wilderness, but in the Connecticut Valley the settlers had begun to occupy the valley lands just to the north of the Massachusetts line.
Agriculture.—The mass of the population was agricultural. The clearing of the land and the securing of a food supply were the natural pursuits of the new communities. The small farm was the prevailing type, as neither climate, crops, nor soil were suitable for the large plantation. Corn, wheat, fruits, and vegetables were the principal agricultural products, and cattle, swine, sheep, and poultry were raised for domestic use.
Furs and fish.—The forests and the sea were the principal sources of New England prosperity. In the early part of the century the fur trade was an important factor, but by the end of the century it had considerably decreased. As it declined the fishing business increased. On the Newfoundland banks the boats of the New Englanders were the most numerous. The catch of cod and mackerel was dried and salted, and became a leading export.
Lumbering and ship-building.—The uncleared back country was a continual source of profit. Logging became a regular winter pursuit. From the felled timber were produced lumber, staves, shingles, masts, and spars. The fishing business conducted close to a lumbering region led to ship-building, and almost every seacoast town engaged in the industry. Most of the boats were small, swift-sailing craft, used in the fisheries or in the coasting and West Indian trade. So well-built were they that the New Englander found a ready market in the West Indies for vessel as well as cargo.
Commerce.—Fish, furs, and lumber were the principal products which the New Englanders produced for outside consumption. Most of the carrying business was conducted by Massachusetts men, although Rhode Island also handled a considerable trade. The navigation laws were intended to keep commerce in the hands of English merchants, but in spite of them colonial vessels kept up a coast-wise trade, and shipped fish, lumber, and staves to the West Indies and Madeira. Return vessels brought wine, rum, molasses, sugar, cotton, and wool. The greater part of New England commerce was handled through Boston, although Salem and Newport were rivals. Newport traders carried on a large slave traffic from Guinea and Madagascar, but most of their cargoes were sold in the West Indies.
Manufactures.—In Massachusetts and Connecticut manufacturing for the home market developed at an early date. Grist and saw-mills, tanneries, glass and pottery works, brick yards, and salt works were commonly found in the tide-water region, and at least two iron works were in operation in Massachusetts before 1700. Every village had its cobbler and blacksmith, and the housewives did the spinning and weaving. Most of the people wore homespun, but finer fabrics were also in demand, and at an early date the manufacture of cotton and woolen goods on a more elaborate scale was undertaken in Massachusetts.
Standard of living.—Practically all New Englanders were free settlers, but a limited number of indented servants and a few hundred slaves were intermixed with the population. In the regions near the coast the standard of living had materially improved. In the larger towns the inhabitants enjoyed even a degree of luxury in dress and table, and the log huts of the first settlers had almost disappeared, frame, shingled, and even brick houses having taken their place. Most of the houses of the well-to-do had a second floor, attic, and lean-to. Every community had its meeting house, and in 1670 Boston had three places of worship. As the traveler passed into the back country, he found roads growing poorer and poorer, gradually deteriorating into mere trails. The clearings and log cabins became less and less frequent until he finally reached the wilderness, which was penetrated only by the hunter and trader. When the settlements extended a considerable distance from the coast, they were usually along a navigable stream, the indispensable means of communication in a newly settled community.
Social standards.—Daily life was simple and devoid of ostentation, but in the older communities social lines were rigidly drawn. An austere aristocracy ruled. Admitted to the inner circle were the descendants of the early leaders or of families of rank in England, Oxford and Cambridge men, and those who were selected through natural worth to fill high positions in church and state. Intelligence and piety were more potent factors than wealth in the attainment of position. Of professional men the ministers held an exalted place, exerting a powerful influence socially, religiously, and politically. There were few doctors and lawyers, the latter being looked upon as undesirable trouble makers.
Settled Areas in New England and on Long Island, about 1700.
Religion.—Throughout New England, except in Rhode Island, church and state were united, the Congregational church being in the ascendency. Though in 1660 Charles II commanded that the Anglican church be tolerated in Massachusetts, the authorities resisted its introduction, and not until 1686 was an Episcopalian church established in Boston. In Connecticut there were a few Presbyterians and Quakers. In Rhode Island the Baptists and Quakers were the most important element.
Superstitions.—The seventeenth century Puritan was intolerant and superstitious. Men must conform or be persecuted. Signs and portents were believed in, and strange and often filthy concoctions and ointments were administered at the suggestion of midwives or knowing housewives. Belief in witchcraft was usual both in Europe and America, and such learned men as Increase and Cotton Mather, prominent clergymen of Boston, wrote treatises to prove its truth. The Massachusetts laws recognized it as a capital offense. In 1692 occurred the famous outbreak at Salem in which nineteen innocent persons were executed.
Education.—In the English colonies New England took the lead in provision for popular education. Men who believed that the Bible was the source of authority naturally thought that every man should have sufficient intellectual training to enable him to read the word of God. In 1635 the first Latin grammar school in the English colonies was started at Boston, and several other towns soon followed the example. In 1647 Massachusetts enacted a general education law which required every town of fifty or more freeholders to appoint a teacher to instruct children to read and write. Every town of one hundred or more freeholders was required to support a Latin grammar school which would prepare students for college. Connecticut and New Haven soon followed the lead of Massachusetts. In Rhode Island and Plymouth each community was allowed to follow its own course. In Rhode Island the few schools were usually private enterprises. In Plymouth the first public school was not opened until 1671. Higher education was not neglected, Harvard being founded in 1636. In that year Massachusetts voted £400 toward the support of a college. Two years later John Harvard bequeathed his library and one-half of his estate for the erection of a college, and Harvard College came into existence. For many years it was devoted mainly to the training of religious leaders, and its curriculum reflected the classical viewpoint of the great English universities.
Literature.—The literature of the first century of New England was permeated with a gloomy religious viewpoint, but it was not lacking in dignity or power. It reflected the sternness of standards and purpose of the founders, who saw little of the humor, or of the lighter side of existence. The strongest of the writings were the histories, the best being the History of Plymouth by Governor Bradford and The History of New England by Governor Winthrop. Of less interest to the present day mind are the controversial religious tracts and sermons of Roger Williams and Cotton Mather, or the crude poetry of Mrs. Anne Bradstreet.
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