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© Copyright 2005 Bryan Hardesty. All rights reserved.
THE AGE OF DISCOVERY
It is not known how long humans have wandered the expanse of land that came to be known as America. The earliest identified inhabitants, those now recognized as American Indians, are believed to have entered the North American continent through an icy Siberian passageway that once existed between northeastern Asia and the region now called Alaska. Many archeologists believe Viking ships explored the far northeastern coast of North America around the year 1000 A.D. In terms of recorded history, the story of the American nation and its culture begins with the 1492 discovery of the New World by Italian explorer Christopher Columbus.
Columbus was a mapmaker who believed that Europeans could reach the Orient more efficiently by ocean travel than across land. Two hundred years earlier, another Italian explorer, Marco Polo, had taken the eastward, overland route to Asia, returning with spices and other exotic items. At the time, spices were highly valued, as they were the only means of hindering bacterial spoilage in food during warm seasons. The Turkish city of Constantinople was the primary supplier of spices, rice, fruits, and silk fabrics to such Italian city-states such as Marco Polo’s home of Venice and Columbus’ home of Genoa.
By the mid-to-late 1400’s, Europeans began to build sturdier ships than before, and Portugal’s Henry the Navigator was among the first to apply the direction-finding principles of Ptolemy, the ancient astronomer, to long-distance sea voyages. While there remained a number of potential dangers to such excursions over water, Christopher Columbus believed that God directed him to set forth on a westward journey across the Atlantic Ocean. In a journal, he wrote, “It was the Lord who put into my mind (I could feel His hand upon me) the fact that it would be possible to sail from here to the Indies.…There is no question that the inspiration was from the Holy Spirit, because he comforted me with rays of marvelous illumination from the Holy Scriptures.” Columbus’ personal vision was limited to finding a water-route to India. The actual outcome had far greater impact on mankind than he could ever imagine.
As a prominent seafaring nation, Portugal initially appeared to be the best possible site where Columbus could raise money for shipbuilding. It took a decade of rejections, broken promises and failed deals to compel him to move onward to Spain, where his proposal drew the interest of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella. Though the Spanish monarchs were skeptical, they yearned to break Italy’s trade monopoly with Asia. After a four-year period of deliberation, Queen Isabella consented to support the venture.
On August 3rd, 1492, Christopher Columbus’ fleet of three ships set sail from the Spanish port of Palos. Eighty-seven men onboard the Santa Maria, the Pinta, and the Santa Clara — nicknamed the Nina—traveled for more than two months across a seemingly endless Atlantic Ocean. At a point where hope of success had virtually vanished, and with the crew threatening mutiny, land was finally sighted. On October 12th, 1492, Christopher Columbus set foot upon the beach of a Caribbean island in what was later known as the Bahamas. Planting a cross in the soil, he christened the island San Salvador, meaning “Holy Savior.” Because Columbus was convinced he had reached the Indies, he referred to the island’s brown-skinned inhabitants as Indians.
At the time, it was common for seafaring crews to be comprised of unscrupulous adventurers, fugitives from justice, and societal rejects. Columbus was therefore stern in ordering his men to behave kindly and respectfully to the natives. His goal was to exemplify the Christian faith through demonstrations of friendship and trust.
Venturing onward to explore other islands (and wrecking the Santa Maria in the process) Christopher Columbus returned to a hero’s welcome in Spain during April of 1493. Enthralled with the Caribbean gold set before them, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella claimed permanent possession of the lands Columbus discovered. To encourage Portuguese explorers to respect the claim, the Spanish monarchs entered an agreement with Portugal called the Treaty of Tordesillas. Pope Alexander the Sixth was commissioned to draw a line of demarcation, dividing the known non-European world. Portugal’s half consisted mainly of Africa’s northern and western coastlines, while the region of Columbus’ discovery went to Spain. Since the enormous geographical expanse of the New World had yet to be discovered, no one at the time realized the treaty’s favorable ramifications for Spain.
Whereas the first voyage of Columbus was a profound event that changed the world, his next two expeditions ended disastrously. Preoccupied with dreams of finding enough gold to finance a Catholic takeover of Jerusalem, Columbus continued to explore the Caribbean, leaving fellow Spaniards behind to govern the claimed islands. Many of these men raped island women and robbed native inhabitants of gold ornaments. Death came quickly to those islanders who resisted the well-armed Europeans. When Columbus hanged several of the culprits at Hispaniola in 1498, fellow Spaniards rebelled, returning him to Spain in chains. Respecting his previous accomplishments, the King and Queen allowed Columbus to embark on a fourth expedition in 1502. Though he discovered vast gold deposits in what is now known as Central America, severe storms caused a temporary stranding and cargo loss. In November of 1504, Columbus returned to Spain in poor health, never to sail again. At the time of his death in 1506, his popularity in Europe had waned.
Christopher Columbus never realized that the land he discovered was not Asia. In the end, the New World would not bear his name. That honor went to an Italian adventurer, Amerigo Vespucci, who enthralled Europeans with broadly embellished tales of his own travels to the New World in 1497. Vespucci was first to assert that the New World was not Asia, but rather an entirely different continent altogether. In the decade that followed, other explorations substantiated his claim, and in honor of Amerigo Vespucci, German map-maker Martin Waldseemuller named the region “America.”
Like Christopher Columbus, Giovanni Caboto—better known as John Cabot—was born in Genoa, Italy, yet made his voyage to the New World on behalf of another country. In the service of England, Cabot made the 1497 discovery of the large North Atlantic island that came to be known as Newfoundland.
The first landing on the actual mainland of North America was made by Juan Ponce de Leon, who explored the eastern coastline of the Florida peninsula in 1513. That same year, Vasco Nunez Balboa arrived at what is now Panama, crossing the Central American isthmus on foot to make the first European sighting of the Pacific Ocean. By this time, it was apparent that the earth was larger than previously imagined.
A more complete assessment of the earth’s expanse was gained through the first around-the-world voyage, launched by Ferdinand Magellan in 1519, and completed by Juan Sebastian in 1522, after Magellan was killed in the Philippines.
SPAIN IN THE NEW WORLD
As the number of voyages to the western hemisphere increased, a collision of cultures erupted between native inhabitants and European adventurers. In 1519, Hernando Cortés and his army of five hundred Spanish “Conquistadors” arrived at the shores of what is present-day Mexico. There, they encountered the Aztec people, a pagan culture that practiced cannibalism, human sacrifice, and ritualistic torture on a broad scale.
The Aztec empire, led by Montezuma II, was a cluster of disunited tribes. While some were friendly with Cortés and his Conquistadors, others were hostile. Although some Aztecs were killed in violent clashes with the Spanish, most fatalities resulted from European-borne diseases, for which native bodies had no immunities. The Conquistadors introduced firearms, metal weaponry, and horses to the New World.
Relations between Cortés and Montezuma deteriorated, and in 1521, the Conquistadors, aided by tribal enemies of the Aztec emperor, vanquished the pagan empire. Shiploads of Aztec gold and silver were dispatched to Spain, stirring enthusiasm for further explorations of the New World.
While the Spanish conquered the southern regions of North America, France, encouraged by the 1497 voyage of John Cabot, set their sights northward. In 1524, France commissioned Giovanni da Verrazano to search for a waterway that crossed through the New World and led to the Orient. After encountering a number of major rivers, Verrazano was convinced that the existence of a “Northwest Passage” was likely. This belief fueled a number of expeditions in what is now southeastern Canada.
The Spanish, meanwhile, continued their southward explorations. In 1528, Panfilo de Narvaez and his four-hundred-man expedition force landed in Florida, traversing the Gulf Coast region of North America on foot. After failing to reunite with their ships, the men built small boats and sailed toward Mexico, only to encounter a severe storm that killed most of them, including Narvaez. Alvar Nunez Cabeza de Vaca led a small group of survivors on a seven-year journey, aided largely by Karankawa Indians. In 1536, Cabeza de Vaca appeared at a Spanish post in Mexico, relating Indian fables of the “Seven Cities of Cibola,” mythical lands supposedly brimming with gold and silver.
By this time, Spanish explorations had extended southward to Peru, where treasures of the Incan empire were confiscated through acts of trickery and violence by Francisco Pizarro. His findings appeared to confirm the tales of the “Seven Cities of Cibola,” inspiring the pursuits of Hernando de Soto and Francisco Vasquez de Coronado. From 1539 to 1541, De Soto’s six-hundred-man expedition penetrated the southeastern portion of the North American continent. Advancing westward, De Soto and his men discovered the Mississippi River, and eventually reached what is now Oklahoma. Along the way, they encountered hostile natives, engaging in violent clashes. De Soto grew ill and died during the exhausting and ultimately futile search for the fabled cities of gold. Though his men returned to Spain without the anticipated treasures, they had gathered vital information about the continental interior of North America near the Gulf of Mexico.
Similarly, the explorations of Francisco Vasquez de Coronado, during the 1540’s, yielded little in terms of wealth, but contributed nonetheless to the mapping of Mexico and what are now the southwest and south-central regions of the United States. Coronado also brought Franciscan priest Juan de Padilla to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ to the Indians. His death at their hands in 1542 made him the first missionary martyr to the Americas.
In the northern reaches of America, a renewed quest for a Northwest Passage to the Orient was undertaken by French explorer Jacques Cartier. After three expeditions along the St. Lawrence River, he abandoned the search. Cartier concluded his journey in 1542, claiming the areas he explored for France. The French would not resume expeditions in America for another sixty-five years.
Spain alone reaped treasures from the New World, and with other European countries losing interest in the Americas, the Spanish seafaring fleet controlled the high seas for most of the sixteenth century. Spaniards arriving in the New World represented two extremes. While the Conquistadors sought treasure and dominion over lands, missionary friars were unselfish Christians who sacrificed wealth, status, comfort—and in some cases their own lives—to exemplify the compassion and servant-hood of Jesus Christ to the natives.
The nomadic inhabitants of the Americas—those called Indians—were a people who hunted, fished, and performed rudimentary farming. Clustered in separate tribal communities (each with their own dialects and customs) the American Indians were rarely united. Tribes commonly battled one another, having experienced widespread death, torture, and enslavement long before the Spaniards arrived. The next influx of Europeans would differ greatly from the Conquistadors and Catholic friars they encountered.
UPHEAVAL AMONG THE EUROPEAN POWERS
In Europe, the Roman Catholic Church struggled with growing corruption among its high-ranking members. Distracted by financial debt and a diminished influence on the prevailing culture, many church leaders lost sight of the founding principles of their faith. Some priests offered to absolve sins in exchange for money, and Bible reading, on the whole, was forbidden outside the priesthood. Nevertheless, there remained those within the church who devoted themselves to service as imitators of Christ. Among them was Martin Luther, a German Catholic monk and Bible scholar who devoted himself to scripture study. He recognized a number of sixteenth century church practices that grossly violated biblical doctrine. When the Catholic hierarchy ignored his pleas for reform, Luther nailed his Ninety-five Theses to the church door at Wittenberg, Germany on October 31, 1517. The document publicly exposed a number of false practices and beliefs promoted by the Catholic church during that period. Though Luther was branded a heretic and excommunicated from the church, he was not silenced. The advent of Johann Gutenberg’s printing press enabled Luther to distribute German translations of the Bible to fellow countrymen, allowing common citizens to read the scriptures firsthand. The Protestant Reformation was launched, democratizing the Bible for all people, while pressuring the church to return to its apostolic roots. Through the efforts of such theologians as John Calvin and John Knox, the Protestant Reformation spread across western Europe.
In 1531, England’s King Henry VIII, at one time a staunch Catholic, rebelled against the Church in Rome after the Pope refused to annul one of Henry’s marriages. The king founded the Church of England, establishing himself as its supreme authority, in the same way the Pope served as head of the Catholic Church. The Church of England adopted many of the reforms advanced by the Protestants, including the distribution of Bibles to the masses.
The Church of Rome resorted to militaristic tactics to stem the tide of Catholic conversions to Protestantism. The Huguenots were French Protestants who, in the face of insurmountable religious persecution, first looked upon the New World as a sanctuary for religious freedom. During the mid-1560s, the Huguenots planted a settlement in what is now northern Florida, only to be massacred by Catholic Spaniards. To protect themselves from reprisals over the mass murders, nervous Spanish priests erected a fort in St. Augustine, Florida. This was the first permanent European settlement in North America.
By this time, Elizabeth I ruled the throne of England, and this pro-Huguenot queen was troubled by Spain’s hostile dominance in the New World. The writings of geographer Richard Hakluyt reminded the English people that John Cabot had staked a claim for England in the New World a mere five years after the first voyage of Columbus. Queen Elizabeth commissioned the bold sea captain, Sir Frances Drake, to challenge the Spanish monopoly in the Americas. From 1577 to 1580, Drake raided Spanish galleons and stormed settlements along the west coast of South America. When the queen openly received the captured Spanish treasures and granted knighthood to Drake, Spain’s King Philip II ordered people to prepare for war against England.
During this period, Sir Humphery Gilbert twice attempted to establish an English colony in Newfoundland, only to be thwarted by foul weather. Upon his return to England, Gilbert was killed in a shipwreck. His half-brother, Sir Walter Raleigh, assumed the challenge, setting his sights southward, where the climate appeared more hospitable.
In 1585, Raleigh planted 107 men on Roanoke Island, in Chesapeake Bay, off the coast of what is now North Carolina. Frustrated over the absence of women, the men returned to England the following year. On his second attempt to establish a settlement, Raleigh allowed women and children to accompany the men. The new group of 114 people landed at Roanoke in July 1587. The island served as gateway to a large expanse of land that Raleigh called “Virginia” in honor of Elizabeth, England’s celebrated “virgin queen.” On August 18, 1587, the Roanoke settlers celebrated the birth of Virginia Dare, the first English child born on American soil.
Survival on the untamed island was made possible by the periodic delivery of provisions on English supply ships. However, these deliveries were interrupted in May of 1588 when war broke out between England and Spain. Spain’s King Philip II dispatched his Armada, a colossal fleet of 130 warships, for the conquest of England. As the world’s largest, most invincible naval force at that time, the Spanish Armada carried 30,000 men and 2,400 guns. Though England’s fleet was considerably smaller, its ships were faster, the crews were more advanced in battle skills, and the North Sea winds were at their backs. Over a ten day period in July 1588, the English defeated the once mighty Spanish Armada, reducing its ships by half. Spain’s dominance over the high seas came to an end.
England’s victory came at a cost to the Roanoke settlers. Two years had passed without a single supply ship to the settlement. When a cargo vessel finally arrived in 1591, no settlers could be found. Carved in a tree was the word “Croatoan,” possibly indicating an attempt to resettle on nearby Croatoan Island. However, further searches yielded no clue. After the mysterious disappearance of the Roanoke settlement, a period of fifteen years elapsed before England resumed efforts to colonize Virginia.
Queen Elizabeth I, last of the Tudor family monarchs, died in 1603, passing the English crown to her second cousin, James I of the Stuart family. Encouraged by English businessmen and adventurers, King James, in September 1605, granted a charter to two business groups committed to colonizing Virginia. The London Company was licensed to settle southern Virginia, at that time extending from the Chesapeake Bay to the James River, while the Plymouth Company was licensed for northern Virginia, extending through most of what is presently the New England seaboard.
It was not difficult to recruit volunteers for the risky endeavor. England enacted new enclosure laws to remove penniless squatters trespassing on private farms, so that more sheep could be raised to meet increasing demands for wool. With nothing to lose, many squatters accepted the risky endeavor settling in America. Some dreamed of finding gold, like the Spanish Conquistadors, while others planned import-export ventures, exchanging English manufactured goods for animal furs and Indian-made objects.
With only a primitive understanding of the earth’s wind currents, the adventurers mistakenly assumed that American land on the same latitude as England would have an identical climate. Though the expanse licensed to the Plymouth Company was latitudinally south of England, it was subject to colder winters and hotter summers. The harsh climate extremes compelled all surviving Plymouth Company settlers to return to England. Simultaneously, to the south, the London Company planted 144 men in a settlement called Jamestown. The parcel was predominately swampland that bore no crops, and the settlers were sickened by contaminated water and malaria-laden mosquitoes. Within a week, 41 men sailed northward in search of a water passage through the continent. Disease and death ravaged many of those who remained in Jamestown, and in five months time the settlement’s population dwindled to forty-six.
The London Company dispatched three ships, the Godspeed, the Discovery, and the Sarah Constant, to repopulate the settlement. They arrived in May of 1607. A mercenary soldier, Captain John Smith, was commissioned to bring order to Jamestown. He decreed that anyone who did not work would not eat. While waiting for crops to grow, Smith sustained the settlers on food seized from surrounding Indian camps. Over time, the raids grew increasingly violent, eventually leading to Smith’s capture by the Indians. Tribal chief Powhatan took pity on the starving Jamestown settlers, returning John Smith to his people, along with a large supply of corn. (Through repeated tellings of his story, Smith eventually included the popular—but unlikely—scenario in which he was spared the executioner’s blade after Powhatan’s twelve-year-old daughter, Pocahontas, intervened.)
Despite Captain Smith’s best efforts, the settlers could not raise adequate crop amounts to sustain themselves. Instead of food deliveries, the supply ships from England simply deposited more clusters of naïve adventurers at the shoreline. When Smith resumed raids on Indian food supplies, he was quickly repelled by Powhatan’s warriors, who threatened to destroy the entire colony if he continued. In Autumn 1609, the London Company merged with the inactive Plymouth Company to form the Virginia Company, and John Smith was recalled to England.
During a period known as the Starving Time of 1609-10, nine out of every ten settlers died from either starvation or disease. With Jamestown on the brink of extinction, the Virginia Company dispatched emergency shipments of food and supplies. In 1611, the colony’s new governor, Sir Thomas Dale, arrived with threats of harsh and oppressive penalties for those who failed to meet food production quotas. When his intimidation tactics failed to improve conditions, Governor Dale abducted the Indian princess, Pocahontas, demanding a large supply of Chief Powhatan’s corn as ransom.
Appalled by Dale’s tactics, conscience-stricken settlers showered Pocahontas with loving kindness. Their examples of selfless compassion inspired her to convert to Christianity. At the age of eighteen, she married Jamestown planter John Rolfe—a union that launched a period of friendship and sharing between the settlers and Indians. Jamestown survived, becoming the first permanent English colony in America.
Pocahontas changed her name to Rebecka, traveling to England in 1616 with Rolfe and their infant son, Thomas. Tragically, her immune system was unaccustomed to viruses common among the English, and she died in 1617. Her grief-stricken husband, John Rolfe, returned to Virginia to develop his tobacco crop, a product of growing appeal in England.
Virginia’s governor, Sir Thomas Dale, realized that the settlers would never work beyond what was minimally expected, as long at the Virginia Company reaped most of the profits from their toil. Jamestown’s prosperity increased after Governor Dale extended property ownership privileges to the settlers. In further recognition of settler’s rights, the Virginia Company established America’s first representative assembly, the House of Burgesses, in 1619. All representatives were elected by the men who resided in the colony.
During that time, a Dutch ship arrived in Virginia, offering the services of thirty Africans as low-cost laborers. Their acceptance opened colonists to a mindset that eventually permitted slavery in America. Relations between the Jamestown settlers and neighboring Indians began to deteriorate after the 1619 death of Chief Powhatan. In 1622, hostile tribes massacred 347 Virginians. In the seventeen years that followed, more than 4,000 settlers lost their lives in Indian raids. Recognizing Virginia’s potential as a money-maker through tobacco, England’s King James revoked the Virginia Company’s charter in 1624, declaring the land a royal colony, henceforth governed by agents of the crown.
Elsewhere on the North American continent, England’s rivals, Spain and France, continued their own colonial endeavors. In the southwest, Catholic friars established the Spanish settlement of Santa Fe, while in the North, French explorer Samuel de Champlain founded Quebec, introducing Franciscan friars to Indians in the area. Among them was Jesuit Priest Jean de Brebeuf, who, in the process of being slowly boiled, skinned and eaten alive by Iroquois Indians, courageously offered prayers of forgiveness for his killers.
COLONIZATION FOR RELIGIOUS FREEDOM
Reports of the harsh realities of life in the Americas were enough to discourage most Europeans from embarking on ventures across the Atlantic. Typically, only the most extreme circumstances compelled people to abandon familiar surroundings in exchange for a foreboding, uncertain future. Beginning in the seventeenth century, hoards of English civilians embarked on a mass exodus to America. Their incentive had little to do with wealth opportunities. Above all other factors involved in the founding of America, the quest for religious freedom was foremost.
The Church of England was the only legal religious denomination of the English people, and by law, every household was ordered to pay a tithe (ten percent of income) to the national denomination. For one to hold a government position, or be accepted at a prominent university, membership in the Church of England was mandatory. What to believe and how to worship were matters dictated by England’s monarch.
Since 1571, it had been a crime to support any Christian doctrine differing from that of the Church of England, and during Queen Elizabeth’s reign, more than two hundred people from unapproved denominations were put to death. While humility and self-sacrifice were hallmarks of biblical Christianity, political ambition and elitism were qualities of Christendom. Leadership was commonly devoid of mercy and compassion.
Though prison awaited those protesting the corruption of England’s church, one group of devout Christians stood firm in their faith. Branded as “Separatists,” these believers called for the church to return to its biblical model. The Separatists also promoted the idea of each individual having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ—a concept beyond the scope of Church of England doctrine. Facing persecution at home, a congregation of roughly three hundred Separatists from Scrooby, England fled to Leyden, Holland during the first decade of the 1600’s, only to enter a culture more corrupting to their children than the one they escaped. By 1620, stories of Jamestown’s survival and success inspired the notion of a Separatist settlement in America. In such a place they could remain true to their faith without sacrificing English social customs.
After a time of prayer, fasting, and studying the scriptures, Separatists from the Holland congregation secured a Virginia Company license to establish a settlement near the mouth of the Hudson river. They intended to travel to America on two ships, the Speedwell and the Mayflower. However, the Speedwell, which had transported them from Holland to England, sprang leaks. Only 35 of the Holland Separatists were able to board the Mayflower. All other passengers were non-Separatists seeking financial opportunities in America. With ship’s crew, the number aboard the Mayflower was just over one hundred. On September 6, 1620, the Mayflower departed Plymouth, England. The harrowing, 66-day journey through stormy seas forged the Separatists and non-Separatists into a single group who called themselves “Pilgrims.”
On November 9, 1620, the Mayflower arrived near the shores of what was later known as Cape Cod in Massachusetts, far north of their intended destination, and outside the Virginia Company’s area of regulatory control. With cold weather setting in, the Pilgrims decided to settle where they landed. Before leaving the ship, they drafted and signed a document of self-governance called the Mayflower Compact. As the earliest model for a “government of the people, by the people, and for the people,” the compact established the foundation for an orderly society based on the moral laws valued by its members.
On November 11, the Pilgrims disembarked at a land they named Plymouth, after the last English town they saw. Myles Standish, a non-Separatist, assumed leadership in protecting the Puritan settlement. A legislative body called the General Court was established, and John Carver was elected governor of Plymouth.
With their arrival in the dead of autumn, the Pilgrims had no opportunity to harvest crops. More than half of the Mayflower arrivals perished during the first Plymouth winter. Instead of succumbing to fear and bitterness, the survivors committed themselves to prayer and worship of God. The miracle they sought arrived in the form of an Algonquin Indian chief who, to their astonishment, spoke English. Samoset, as he was called, had learned the language from English sea captains who fished along the coast of what is now Maine. Samoset introduced the Pilgrims to another Indian who spoke better English that he.
Squanto, as the second Indian was called, recounted how he had been captured by Spanish slave traders, only to escape to England, where he learned the language and returned to America with a group of explorers. Squanto introduced the Pilgrims to the Wampanoag Indians of the region. The Plymouth settlers learned of the best places to fish, and were instructed in the planting and harvesting of crops. By the following autumn, the Pilgrims acquired a bounty of food. In October 1621, they invited their Wampanoag and Massasoit Indian neighbors to join them in a celebration feast, thanking God for the harvest. The event would serve as the origin of the American holiday of Thanksgiving.
William Bradford, Plymouth’s governor during many of its early growth years, was instrumental in establishing land ownership rights among the settlers. Civil government was not allowed to interfere with religious liberty.
Overseas, turmoil intensified over doctrinal issues in the Church of England. One faction within the body called for reforms to purify the church. Though King James I had been tolerant of these “Puritans,” his son, Charles I, who ascended to the throne in 1625, refused to allow anyone to question church policy. To avoid persecution, the Puritans followed the example of the Separatists, setting their sights on America.
In 1629, a group of influential Puritans, led by John Winthrop, formed the Massachusetts Bay Company. Among the company’s first stockholders were sympathetic non-Puritan businessmen who secured the king’s permission to establish a colony in America. Absent from the signed charter was any requirement to keep the Massachusetts Bay Company’s headquarters in England. The oversight allowed the Puritans to conduct affairs beyond the reach of non-Puritan stockholders.
A convoy of eleven ships, containing approximately seven hundred passengers, sailed from England in November of 1630. Upon arrival in Massachusetts, John Winthrop was elected governor. He considered his colony to be the biblical “City upon a Hill,” with hopes of showing the world—and especially the Church of England—the benefits of a Puritan society.
Unlike the Pilgrims of Plymouth, the Puritans of Massachusetts asserted governmental authority over the affairs of the church. In time, many of the same issues that had split the Church of England began to divide the Puritans. Roger Williams, a Puritan minister, confronted the colonist’s arrogance toward Native Indian tribes in the region. He also offended church leaders with assertions that forced conversions to Christianity were not real conversions of the heart, and that governmental bodies had no right to impose their authority over matters of personal religious faith. In January of 1636, Puritan leaders plotted to abduct Williams and ship him back to England. However, Massachusetts governor John Winthrop, a man of deep compassion, alerted Roger Williams of the plot and provided safe passage to the wilderness near Narragansett Bay. Williams paid the Indians for a large tract of land, establishing the settlement of Providence, where he and his followers founded America’s earliest Baptist Church.
Puritan officials also expelled Anne Hutchinson from the Massachusetts colony. Initially favored for her apparent spiritual gifts, Hutchinson infuriated church officials by suggesting that God was just as willing to grant ordinary women the same insights as ordained ministers. As exiles, Anne Hutchinson, her family, and a small group of supporters founded the settlement of Portsmouth. Hutchinson and her five of her children were later killed by Indians.
The Portsmouth settlers united with those in Roger Williams’ town of Providence to create the State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantation—Rhode Island for short. The colony remained open to other Christian denominations. Williams learned the Algonquin language and culture, demonstrating how English settlers could live in friendship and harmony with their American Indian neighbors.
Like Roger Williams, Thomas Hooker was a popular Puritan minister who distanced himself and his flock from the increasingly overbearing Massachusetts government. Hooker envisioned a government by the consent of the governed, through the democratic process of voting. Instead of breaking from the church, Hooker gently persuaded the Massachusetts General Court to permit him to move his congregation toward more fertile land in the southwest. In 1635, the first group of settlers established the town of Hartford. Thomas Hooker joined them the following year. In 1639, he drafted the Fundamental Orders of Connecticut, the very first written constitution in America. Drawing upon biblical principles, this form of civil government attracted hundreds of other Puritans to the area, including a group led by John Davenport, founder of the New Haven settlement. The neighboring communities formed the colony of Connecticut.
By 1642, some 25,000 Puritans had migrated from England to Massachusetts. The colony acquired a tract of land called New Hampshire, due to the failure of its licensed founder, Captain John Mason, to establish a settlement. Likewise, the heirs of Sir Fernando Gorges sold his parcel, later known as Maine, to the Massachusetts colony. The region encompassing Rhode Island, Connecticut, and all of Massachusetts’ holdings came to be known as New England.
Northwest of New England, France maintained its claim to lands along the St. Lawrence River. Fifty Dutch families from Holland (also known as the Netherlands) held steadfast to New Netherlands, a large expanse land on both sides of the river once explored by Henry Hudson. At the mouth of the Hudson River was New Amsterdam, a settlement on Manhattan Island, which the Dutch had purchased from American Indians in 1624. Northward up the Hudson, a Dutch trading post was established at Fort Orange. New Netherlands was licensed to the Dutch West India Company. Holland also acquired a Swedish land claim along the mouth of the Delaware River.
THE ROYAL COLONIES
After the death of England’s King James I in 1625, his son, Charles I, banned joint-stock groups from granting charters for American settlements. Thereafter, land grants were bestowed upon individuals favored by the king. The colony of Maryland was granted in 1632 to George Calvert, the first Lord Baltimore, who died soon thereafter. His son, Cecilius, assumed responsibility of settling the region. The township of St. Mary’s was founded north of the Potomac River. Like their Virginia neighbors, these settlers grew and traded tobacco. As a Roman Catholic, the second Lord Baltimore designated Maryland as a haven for fellow believers. Nevertheless, the colony was predominantly inhabited by Protestants. To protect both groups, a Toleration Act was passed in 1649, guaranteeing freedom of religion to anyone “professing a belief in Jesus Christ.”
Meanwhile, civil war erupted in England. King Charles I had entangled himself in a bitter power struggle with the legislative Parliament. The English army, led by Oliver Cromwell, sided with Parliament, and the king was captured and beheaded in 1649. Thereafter, Cromwell dissolved Parliament, establishing military districts throughout England. He declared himself Lord Protector, a title that was passed to his son, Richard Cromwell, in 1658. The English people came to regret the rule of the Cromwells, and in 1660, Charles II, son of the beheaded king, returned from exile in France to become the nation’s new king.
As a reward to eight noblemen instrumental in restoring the Stuart monarchy, Charles II granted a joint proprietorship over a large tract of American land between Virginia and Spanish Florida. The region, named Carolina in memory of the first King Charles, was a restoration colony commemorating the return of the Stuart dynasty to the throne. Carolina’s initial governing structure was based on a feudal system, in which the upper-class proprietors ruled over the common people. The arrangement, however, was too unappealing to attract settlers, and the colony was eventually forced to model itself after Virginia and Maryland.
After establishing the Carolina colony, King Charles II turned his attention to the Dutch colony of New Netherlands. This region surrounding the Hudson and Delaware Rivers stood out as a non-English blemish in the middle of the king’s colonial map. Charles II promised his brother James, the Duke of York, the title to any Dutch holdings he could capture. In 1664, James arrived with a fleet of ships at the port of New Amsterdam, declaring that New Netherlands was henceforth an English colony. The colony’s Dutch governor, Peter Stuyvesant, called his people to arms. However, the settlers of New Netherlands, envious of the freedoms exercised in the northern English colonies, welcomed the change in leadership. New Netherlands became the New York colony, in honor of England’s Duke of York, without a single shot fired. Likewise, New Amsterdam was renamed New York City. Since the Dutch settlers submitted to English rule without the slightest resistance, the Duke of York allowed them to keep their farms.
The large expanse of territory south of New York was granted to Lord John Berkeley and Sir George Carteret, close friends of James, the Duke of York. They named their proprietorship New Jersey. In 1674, Lord Berkeley sold his portion of New Jersey to two members of a Christian sect called the Society of Friends—later known as the Quakers. The Quakers valued biblical scriptures and quiet, “inner voice” revelations of the Holy Spirit, as opposed to the politically convenient decrees of the Church of England. For this reason, they were persecuted in England, as well as in Massachusetts, where the Puritans sought reconciliation with the Church of England. Western New Jersey became a temporary haven for ill-treated Quakers.
When Sir George Carteret died in 1680, the Quakers purchased the remainder of New Jersey. To the west was a large tract of land called Sylvania, meaning “forest land.” In repaying a debt owed to the late Admiral William Penn, England’s King Charles II granted Sylvania to the admiral’s son, also named William. The younger Penn, a Quaker since the age of 22, proclaimed Pennsylvania a permanent haven for fellow members of the faith. Penn viewed the endeavor a “Holy Experiment,” though after a time of prayer and meditation, he questioned whether the land had really been the king’s to grant. Seeking the moral course, Penn made payments to nearby American Indians for the right to establish the colony. He also pledged to protect the Indians from unscrupulous European settlers and traders. William Penn’s attitude toward American Indians was largely shared by most of the early English settlers.
Knowing firsthand the value of religious freedom, William Penn opened his colony to all Christian denominations, promoting Pennsylvania throughout Europe. The invitation was well received in Germany, where Mennonites, Amish, and German Reformed church members were among those facing persecution. The German immigrants to Penn’s colony were initially called the “Pennsylvania Deutsche.” Over time, the term evolved into the less accurate label, “Pennsylvania Dutch.”
EUROPEAN SETTLERS AND THE AMERICAN INDIANS
American Indians (oftentimes referred to as "Native Americans") tended to live in small clusters of local tribes, and were classified in terms of language. The earliest tribes encountered by the colonists were typically from the Algonquin, Iroquois, or Muskhogean nations. The Algonquin nation, extending from Nova Scotia to Virginia, included the Delaware, Powhatan, Arapaho, Blackfoot, Cheyenne, Cree, and Massachusett tribes, among others. The five Iroquois nations of New York and Pennsylvania were the Mohawk, Cayuga, Oneida, Onondaga, and Seneca tribes. The Cherokee tribe, a branch of the Iroquois nation, was located in the South. The Muskhogeans, comprised of the Choctaw, Creek, Chickasaw, and Seminole tribes, roamed an area in what is now the southeastern United States.
Unlike the Spanish Conquistadors of earlier times, English settlers were generally friendly with the native inhabitants. One significant exception was the Pequot War of 1637, in which Connecticut settlers and Indian allies vanquished a violent Algonquin faction called the Pequots. However, most American Indian deaths from European contact occurred through the unintentional transmission of European-borne viruses, for which the settlers possessed natural immunities. Nevertheless, interactions between Indians and colonists were largely beneficial to both parties. In exchange for European-crafted tools and knives, the Indians offered beaver pelts and deerskins, which were highly valued in Europe.
In 1673, two Frenchmen, the Jesuit missionary, Jacques Marquette, and the fur trader, Louis Joliet, surveyed the Mississippi River from its northernmost point to the mouth of the Arkansas River. The remainder of the Mississippi was explored in 1682 by Robert Cavelier de la Salle, and soon thereafter, French settlements were constructed along the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers, from the Great Lakes to the Midwest region of the continent. Since these strictly Catholic settlements offered no religious freedom, they failed to draw large numbers of immigrants. The French holdings remained little more than small forts and trading posts for fur trappers and merchants. The rivers provided the most efficient means of transportation at that time, and the French claimed much of the land along America’s largest river routes.
ENGLISH MERCANTILISM AND THE AMERICAN COLONIES
The majority of settlements in America were populated by Englanders, and yet each English colony developed a distinctively regional identity. The New England colonies were largely settled by devout Christian families who tended to aid and support one another, while Virginians and Carolinians were typically indentured servants, volunteering to work for an average period of five years, as payment for transportation fees from England. Since males were the preferred workers for the tobacco fields, women were in short supply, hindering the growth of families in the agricultural south. Death rates were higher in this region, as four out of every ten indentured servants perished from overwork during their time of service. New Englanders typically lived twenty-five to thirty years longer than those in the agricultural south.
Death rates in Virginia and Maryland were excessively high, as Chesapeake Bay wetlands promoted malaria outbreaks. The resulting labor shortages prompted the English government to establish a “headright” system, offering fifty acres of unclaimed land to any person who built a home and planted a crop on the parcel. The incentive proved successful, and other colonies, such as Pennsylvania and New Jersey, offered their own variations of the headright system.
English merchants grew increasingly alarmed at the rapid advancement of trade relations between the colonies and other nations of the world. Failing to understand that American profits reflected a healthy expansion of wealth opportunities, English mercantilists adhered to a false notion that wealth was a fixed entity, with one country’s gain only achievable at another’s loss. Desperate to maintain economic supremacy, the mercantilists pressured England’s Parliament to secure a trade monopoly with its American colonies. Between 1651 and 1673, a series of Navigation Acts were passed, requiring all products entering or leaving America to first pass through English ports.
Banned from trading directly with the American colonies, the Netherlands (Holland) declared war on England, recapturing New York in 1672. The colony remained under Dutch control until a 1674 peace treaty restored English rule.
The Navigation Acts created a convoluted system of cargo transportation that discouraged a number of countries from buying American products. When orders for tobacco plummeted, Virginia’s Royal Governor, Sir William Berkeley, attempted to maintain the level of government income by raising taxes. New levies were imposed on the very tobacco growers suffering losses of income from the Navigation Laws.
Meanwhile, the northern colonies, settled primarily by devout Christians seeking denominational freedom, were more concerned about religious matters than commerce and trade regulations. In the same way that the politics of the English government corrupted the Church of England, the politics of the Massachusetts government corrupted the Puritan Church. A drastic plunge in church membership prompted Puritan leaders to draft the Half-Way Covenant, granting church membership to non-devout residents, along with baptism privileges for their children, in exchange for a pledge to uphold Puritan traditions in the culture.
Other Christian denominations in the northern colonies grew through evangelization efforts. American Indian tribes were especially affected by exposure to Christian missionaries. Thousands of Indians converted to the faith, rejecting certain tribal customs in order to follow the ways of Christ. Upon seeing their best warriors lay weapons down for the sake of the Gospel, the Iroquois expelled their Christian converts. Wampanoags, Narragansets, and Mohegans targeted the source of their crisis, the Christian colonists.
In June 1675, Wampanoag chief Metacomet, known to the colonists as King Philip, assembled fighters for the purpose of exterminating New England settlers. In what became the bloodiest conflict of 17th century America, some 2,000 colonists and Christian Indians were brutally tortured and killed. King Philip’s War ended in August 1676, after a Christian Indian shot Metacomet. More than fifty townships had been destroyed, rendering the English colonists perpetually fearful of the American Indians.
Southward in Virginia, Indian warriors launched a series of devastating attacks on the colony’s western frontier in 1676. A militia group led by Nathaniel Bacon requested permission from Virginia’s governor, Sir William Berkeley, to defend the land. The governor, already unpopular for raising taxes on struggling tobacco farmers, denied the request. In response, Bacon and his 500 followers burned Jamestown to the ground, then launched an indiscriminate killing spree on both violent and non-violent Indians. Within a few short weeks, Nathaniel Bacon died of dysentery, leaving his confused militia in disarray. Governor Berkeley hanged twenty-three of Bacon’s rebels. Soon thereafter, the English crown appointed a new governor to Virginia.
During the years prior to the passage of the Navigation Acts, tobacco farming had spread beyond Virginia to the northern half of the Carolina colony. The southern region of Carolina was occupied primarily by sugar growers who had originally established operations on the island of Barbados. By 1680, Charles Town (later, Charleston) emerged as a major port of trade for Carolina plantation owners. The sugar planters, accustomed to the use of slave labor on Barbados, introduced the practice in southern Carolina.
To the culture of that time, slavery did not seem morally deplorable, since many English settlers had lived as indentured servants. Whereas indentured servitude was largely voluntary and temporary, slavery involved the capture and forced labor of unwilling participants for indefinite periods. As the old English practice of indentured servitude declined, plantation owners began using African slaves. North African Muslims were among the first groups to apprehend villagers from the deeper regions of the continent for slave labor. Eventually, members of individual African tribes abducted those from rival tribes, selling their captives to European traders. Dutch merchants were first to transport Africans to the American continent, but upon passage of the Navigation Acts, England became sole provider of slaves to its colonies.
Whereas the development of the southern colonies was driven predominately by agricultural interests, the northern colonies were settled primarily by devout Christian groups seeking religious freedom. Slavery, therefore, did not gain a foothold in the north. The Quakers were first to publicly denounce it as outright evil.
INSTABILITIES IN COLONIAL GOVERNMENTS
The region known as New England was an expanse of American land comprising present-day Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont. The throne of England had never intended for religious differences to fracture New England into separate colonies. Upon the 1685 death of King Charles II, his brother, James II, ascended to the throne, ordering all colonies north of Pennsylvania to unify as a single entity called “the Dominion of New England.” To the dismay of the colonists, Edmund Andros, the crown-appointed governor of the Dominion, abolished representative assemblies and restored the Church of England’s authority over religious matters.
The policies of James II were not well-received on either side of the Atlantic. As a Catholic with close ties to France’s Louis XIV, the new king attempted to reestablish Roman Catholicism in England. In 1688, James II was dethroned in a bloodless revolt launched by Holland’s William of Orange, at the invitation of Parliament. William, the grandson of Charles I, was also the husband of James II’s Protestant daughter, Mary. In what came to be known as the “Glorious Revolution,” William and Mary emerged as co-rulers of England. The New England colonies were restored to the original governing structures.
Inspired by the dethroning of James II, New Englanders ousted Governor Andros. William and Mary sympathized with the colonists and took no action. However, they were less tolerant of Leisler’s Rebellion in New York, named for its leader, Jacob Leisler, an angry merchant who forcefully assumed control of the colony’s government. When he refused to yield to William and Mary’s newly appointed governor, Leisler was hanged.
France’s King Louis XIV, enraged by the dethroning of James II in England, threatened war. William III launched a preemptive strike against France in 1689, in a conflict known in Europe as the War of the League of Augsburg. Americans referred to it as King William’s War.
French populations in North America were much smaller than those in English colonies. Ever since 1608, when Samuel de Champlain founded Quebec (the first permanent French colony on the continent), an alliance existed between French settlers and Indians from the Algonquin and Huron tribes. The archenemies of these two tribes were the five Iroquois nations, who sided with English colonists in New York.
Hostilities already existed between the English and French over fishing rights to North Atlantic waters along the American coastline. Overactive beaver trapping had depleted resources for the fur market, forcing French settlers to compete with New Englanders in the fishing trade. For the Americans, King William’s War was little more than a series of small, isolated skirmishes between French and English colonists. Nevertheless, rivaling Indian tribes took advantage of the conflict, conducting a number of raids on border settlements.
Amidst impending fears of violence, the New England colony of Massachusetts faced an additional crisis. By the late 1600’s, Puritanism no longer resembled the devout faith of its founders. Subsequent followers had grown either spiritually lax or unbendingly legalistic, and the clash of these extremes culminated in a 1692 scandal at the Massachusetts town of Salem. After falling under the influence of a fortune-telling, voodoo-practicing slave from the West Indies, three young Salem girls began exhibiting strange behavior. Panic spread through the town when slave proclaimed herself a witch. With the revelation that other curious townspeople had dabbled in the pagan arts, local Puritan leaders reacted harshly. After a series of court trials, nineteen convicted witches were hanged and one was smothered under a pile of stones. Dismayed by the excessive punishments, Puritan leader Increase Mather persuaded Massachusetts governor William Phips to ban further executions. With regret, Judge Samuel Sewall later issued a public apology on behalf of Salem.
Despite the Puritan crisis, New England families were characterized by a strong work ethic, abiding respect for the law, and a high regard for education. In his will, Puritan minister John Harvard donated funds and books to a fledgling college in Cambridge, Massachusetts, establishing one of America’s earliest institutes for advanced learning. By the end of the 1600’s, most of the larger New England towns had constructed school houses. Printing presses operated in Cambridge and Boston, as most Puritan men were able to read and write.
Far removed from the cultural activities of the northern colonies, the two agriculturally diverse halves of Carolina were officially divided by the English crown into the separately governed colonies of North and South Carolina.
In Europe, the monarchies of England and France signed the Treaty of Ryswick in 1697, ending King William’s War. Peace, however, did not endure. In 1702, Queen Anne, daughter of James II, assumed the throne of England, launching a new war to prevent France and Spain from merging into a single nation. The ensuing conflict, known in Europe as the War of Spanish Succession, was called Queen Anne’s War by the Americans. It ended with 1713’s Treaty of Utrecht, in which France agreed to surrender Nova Scotia, Newfoundland, and the Hudson Bay region to England. Though Spain and France were prohibited from uniting as one country, England merged politically with Scotland and Wales to form Great Britain, ruled together by the English crown. Militarily, the British empire reigned supreme in Europe.
After a century of colonization, the population of British colonies in America exceeded two hundred and fifty thousand. During the early 1700s, religious persecution drove thousands of Germans to American shores. Masses of Scots-Irish immigrants also arrived after exorbitant land prices and a deteriorating woolens industry forced them out of their Northern Irish and Scottish homes. They were followed by Scottish Highlanders seeking economic opportunities in the colonies. Lacking any loyalties or emotional ties to either England or its Anglican Church, these newcomers settled in rugged back-country regions, away from English communities. All the while, southern populations, from Virginia to South Carolina, were augmented with African slaves.
THE GREAT AWAKENING AND THE ENLIGHTENMENT
Social reform in Great Britain created new colonization opportunities in America. Reformers had been disturbed by the fact that those English civilians unable to pay debts were sent to the same prisons as violent criminals. A group of wealthy humanitarians, led by James Oglethorpe, petitioned King George for a land where debtors could live in exile. In 1732, the British government, seeking to populate its buffer zone between South Carolina and Spanish-controlled Florida, issued the territory’s charter to Oglethorpe’s group. Given the name Georgia, it would be the last American colony established by the British government.
For the former convicts arriving at Georgia’s port city of Savannah, James Oglethorpe’s overbearing rules and restrictions compelled many to flee to South Carolina. After hostilities resumed between Great Britain and Spain in 1739, Georgia became the site of several small skirmishes between Oglethorpe’s expedition and Spanish settlers from Florida. Despite these early difficulties, Georgia served as a breeding ground to a spiritual movement that unified the Americans as a single people.
Like the biblical Twelve Tribes of Israel, a number of distinctive Christian church denominations emerged; each with its own vision for living the faith. America was home to Separatists, Puritans, Quakers, Baptists, Colonial Anglicans, German Mennonites, Scotch-Irish Presbyterians, European Catholics, Dutch and German Reformists, Methodists, Moravians, and Lutherans. All were founded on the core belief that God, Creator of the Universe, sent His only Son, Jesus Christ, to reconcile God to mankind through His sacrifice and atonement for man’s sin. Christianity centered on an assurance that, after he was crucified, Christ rose from the dead, reigning as Savior and grantor of eternal life to those accepting His lordship. Christians, on the whole, agreed that the Bible was the irrefutable source of information on the nature of God and His guidelines for living.
Through the course of the 1730s, denominational barriers gave way to a more communal atmosphere of Christian unity, as Englishman George Whitefield arrived in Georgia, preaching of God’s redemptive love with an unusual sense of authority. Moving northward, Whitefield delivered sermons that inspired a greater sense of heartfelt devotion, worship and charity, as opposed to mere religious legalism. His former classmates, John and Charles Wesley, prominent instigators of a similar revival movement in England, arrived in Georgia during the late 1730s to teach new believers how to live abundant Christian lives beyond the initial confession of faith.
Simultaneously in New England, listeners to the sermons of Massachusetts Congregationalist Jonathan Edwards were collectively struck by the awareness of a powerful, indescribable presence, similar to New Testament descriptions of Holy Spirit visitations. Tens of thousands of colonists were instilled with a deeper sense of faith and compassion in meetings distinguished by extraordinary events, transformations of character, and exceptional revelations and insights. This widespread Christian revival came to be known as the Great Awakening. The movement spread through the colonies, changing lives so profoundly that not even the skeptics could dismiss it as mere religious emotionalism. From North to South, the shared spiritual experience unified colonists into a single body of believers, demolishing the divisive structures of social class, territorial elitism, and doctrinal differences. The shared mindset created a new national identity, setting the Americans apart from Mother England. Through the Great Awakening, throngs of ordinary people became ministers and missionaries. Notable among them was David Brainerd, who sacrificed his own health and well being to conduct revival meetings for thousands of Indians.
Coinciding with the Great Awakening was the Enlightenment, an intellectual movement rooted in sixteenth-century Europe’s “Age of Reason.” Enlightenment philosophers identified human reason as the solution to man’s problems. Americans, who largely attributed their survival to divine intervention, realized that Enlightenment views could not stand without the acknowledgment of certain spiritual truths. In the colonies, God was credited as dispenser of the very insights that led to the scientific advancements of the Enlightenment. In American colleges and universities, the study of science by people of faith led to a deeper appreciation of “natural law” doctrine. Natural law proponents argued that a Divine Creator organized the universe in a predictable, reliable order, from the positioning of the stars, to the rotation of the earth, to the basic needs of mankind. It was therefore the task of humans to identify their correct behavioral laws, much as they had with such physical laws as gravity.
Colonial universities focused on the essays of Englishman John Locke. Inspired by the Glorious Revolution in England, Locke had written the 1690 article, Two Treatises on Government, which introduced his “contract theory,” asserting that the desire for life, liberty, and prosperity was a natural law common to all civilized people. Though governments were essential to maintain social order and protect citizens from crime, Locke asserted that any government abusing its power should be overthrown.
In 1735, a New York court case stirred debate over the inclusion of free speech and freedom of the press as natural rights. At that time, colonial law prohibited criticisms of the government and its officials. However, when newspaper editor John Peter Zenger was charged with seditious libel for publishing negative remarks about New York governor William Cosby, the jury, in essence, determined that any man-made laws in violation of Natural Law were invalid. In an exercise of jury nullification, the libel law itself was judged unfair, and Zenger was declared innocent. The outcome emboldened other newspaper editors to write freely about the government.
Popular among the colonial writers was essayist, scientist, inventor, and philosopher, Benjamin Franklin. Born in Massachusetts, Franklin’s training in the printing trade took him from Boston to Philadelphia and onward to London, England, before his return to Philadelphia as owner of the Pennsylvania Gazette. During the 1730s, he achieved popularity on both sides of the Atlantic through humorous writings and keen insights published in the periodical he called Poor Richard’s Almanac.
Benjamin Franklin’s scientific curiosity led to a dangerous kite-flying experiment in a thunderstorm, which confirmed his belief that electricity held natural properties that could be harnessed and controlled. Among his many inventions were the lightning rod, the iron room heater, and bifocal glasses. Franklin also founded Philadelphia’s first firefighting company, debating society, and circulating library. Deeply involved in colonial politics, he was a Pennsylvania Assemblyman and Postmaster General during the mid-1700s. Through his friendship and constant dialog with Great Awakening evangelist George Whitefield, Benjamin Franklin’s scientific reasoning was enhanced by an appreciation of Christian values. Throughout the colonies, Enlightenment thinking blended with Great Awakening spirituality to produce a uniquely American mindset. The British government failed to recognize this emerging national identity.
THE FRENCH AND INDIAN WAR
In 1740, Great Britain entered the War of the Austrian Succession against France. In America, the eight-year conflict was known as King George’s War, a series of small battles along the border between French Canada and the northern British colonies. The eventual peace treaty in Europe restored territorial boundaries to pre-war status. Nevertheless, resentments lingered between British and French colonists in America.
By 1752, ongoing land disputes in the Ohio Valley and western Pennsylvania culminated in a French invasion of a Pennsylvania trading post. When Pennsylvania’s governor ignored the crisis, Virginia’s Lieutenant Governor, Robert Dinwiddie, an investor in Ohio Valley interests, dispatched 21-year-old militia volunteer, George Washington, to warn the French of impending warfare if they did not withdraw. When the French ignored the admonishment, Colonel Washington was given 150 Virginia militiamen to expel the invaders.
After vanquishing an enemy reconnaissance party, Washington was confronted by French forces four times the size of his army. The young colonel ordered his men to hastily construct a defensive position, calling it Fort Necessity. French forces eventually breached the barricade, forcing Washington to retreat. Nevertheless, he received a hero’s welcome upon his return to Virginia. Though defeated in battle, George Washington was praised for his bold stand against overwhelming enemy forces.
The French and Indian War had begun. In 1754, Benjamin Franklin assembled a congress at Albany, New York. Delegates from seven colonies drafted the Albany Plan, recommending that colonists unite with Iroquois tribes to conquer the French. Though the British government rejected the strategy, the Albany Congress provided a model for uniting the diverse colonies as a single voice.
British troops and American militia formed a massive coalition army. Under the command of General Edward Braddock, they advanced on French forces at Fort Duquesne (“Du-kane”). The French, however, had joined forces with regional Indians, ambushing Braddock’s troops on July 9, 1755. The British colonials were quickly surrounded, and General Braddock was mortally wounded early in the battle. His assistant, Colonel George Washington, assumed command. In a strategy to disperse British colonials, French and Indian fighters specifically targeted Washington and his fellow officers. Of the 86 commanders in the fight, 85 were shot from their horses. All guns turned on the one remaining officer, George Washington. Two horses were shot from under Washington; yet he remained unscathed. Suffering mass casualties, the British colonials retreated to Fort Cumberland in western Maryland. The discovery of four bullet holes in his vest convinced George Washington that God had shielded him for a higher purpose.
With British colonial defenses at their weakest, thousands of Indians warriors launched a brutal rampage on frontier settlers. Delaware Indians were especially fond of torture, pouring molten lead over their victims’ wounds, while ripping out their fingernails.
British and French hostilities erupted in Europe as the Seven Years’ War. Convinced that victory was essential on both sides of the Atlantic, Britain’s Prime Minister, William Pitt the Elder, increased the delivery of troops and armaments to the American colonies. Revitalized British colonials went on the offensive. In 1758, they seized Fort Duquesne, renaming it Fort Pitt. Within months, the British colonials captured Fort Niagara, Crown Point, Quebec, and Montreal. By 1760, French forces were virtually wiped out. Spanish troops in Florida briefly entered the fray on the side of France, but were quickly vanquished.
Meanwhile, King George II died, leaving the British throne to his 22-year-old grandson, George III. Unwise to human nature, the young king expected absolute submission from all subjects on both sides of the Atlantic. Determined to extract the colonists’ share of war expenses, the king and his officials demanded stricter enforcement of the Navigational Acts. Government officials issued Writs of Assistance, which served as unrestricted British search warrants of American ships. In a 1761 court case, Boston attorney James Otis denounced the writs as instruments of tyranny. Though he lost the case, Otis was among the first to publicly challenge British rule over the American people.
In 1763, the Peace of Paris Treaty was signed, ending the Seven Years War in Europe, as well as the French and Indian War in America. Apart from a few small islands, France was forced to surrender the bulk of its Canadian holdings to Great Britain, along with all territories east of the Mississippi River, except New Orleans, which was granted to Spain as a debt payment. For its part in the war, Spain surrendered its Florida territory to Great Britain.
For a time, the experience of fighting side-by-side created bonds of friendship between British troops and American militia. In the immediate aftermath of the French and Indian War, colonists were proud to be part of the victorious British Empire. Massachusetts Governor Thomas Pownall confidently declared that nothing could eradicate the colonists’ “natural, almost mechanical affections to Great Britain.” But Pownall and other agents of the British crown failed to recognize the deepening ideological chasm between American and British cultures. Spiritually attuned to the concepts of freedom, justice, and self-governance, American tolerance for the mounting burdens of oppression had reached its end.
©2005 Bryan Hardesty. All rights reserved. No part of this material may be used without permission from the author.