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Politics and native relations in the New England colonies

English colonists in New England and Virginia developed unique societies due to different environments and reasons for migration. New England's colder climate led to small farming and a democratic society led by the Puritan church. Virginia's warmer climate allowed for plantation agriculture. Both colonies, however, treated Native Americans similarly, leading to conflict and war.

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Video transcript

- [Instructor] In the last video, we began discussing some of the similarities and differences between the English colonists who landed at New England versus those who landed in Virginia. Thanks to different reasons for migrating to the New World and a much colder, rockier environment, New England society was based around mostly small farming and led by the Puritan church. Another consequence of the unique environment and society of New England was that it was unusually democratic for that era. Now, when the pilgrims first came over on the Mayflower, they agreed in what was called the Mayflower Compact to kind of work together and hold each other in mutual esteem. And some people say that this is one of the first founding documents showing democracy in the New World. New Englanders, like Virginians, were very far from the mother country and they had to fend for themselves. So, English colonists learned to make decisions by themselves, 'cause asking for help from across the ocean wasn't very easy and took a really long time. So, because England was so far away and really not paying much attention to the American colonies at all, there was a tradition of self-government among English colonists. But what was different about democracy in New England than democracy in Virginia was that most people in New England were middle class. They were small farmers. Most people were about the same social station and that meant that they were used to having about the same amount of political power. So, in New England, most towns had town meetings where the men of the town would gather to solve local problems. Now, this was, of course, a very limited democracy where only white men have a say, but for the era of the 1600s, it was very democratic indeed. For all the ways that New England and Virginia were very different, there was one way in which they were virtually identical and that was their treatment of Native Americans. Just as early compromise and cooperation with the Powhatan tribe turned into the English attempting to eradicate Native Americans from the eastern seaboard, New Englanders originally cooperated with local Algonquian tribes like the Wampanoags or Narragansett Indians. But as English demands for more land and more food began to disrupt Native ways of life, relationships soured and cultural misunderstandings between the two groups soon led to outright war. When English settlers made treaties with Native Americans asking for land, Native Americans thought that they were asking for the rights to hunt on that land, not the rights to fence in that land and not allow Native Americans on it. So, because English ideas of property did not align with Native ideas of property, soon, when Native Americans went to hunt on their traditional lands, they found the English prosecuting them as intruders. And because Algonquians practiced Three Sisters farming where corn, beans, and squash were grown together, English people, who separated all their crops, didn't recognize that those fields were actually Native agriculture and allowed their cattle and pigs to roam through them, destroying Native crops. With so much pressure on their source of food, Native people began to lash out at English people who thought of themselves as the victims of senseless Indian attacks. By 1675, many tribes in the area decided to work together to oust the English led by a man named Metacom. In fact, I think Metacom was only one of the leaders, but the English called him King Phillip and believed that he was the instigator of this war. So, in 1675, Metacom and other groups began to attack English villages. But in 1676, the English recruited Indian allies of their own and turned the tide, so that by the end of 1676, about 3,000 Native Americans had died to about 1,000 English. And those that were remaining, the English either executed or sold into slavery. So, in this way, they were not very different from the English people of Virginia at all. Metacom's war, like the Anglo-Powhatan Wars in Virginia, really marked the end of Native American resistance to English colonization on the east coast. Survivors fled further inland or north and joined other tribes that continued to resist the English for many decades to come. I wanna finish by just briefly summarizing some of the similarities and differences between English settlement in New England and English settlement in the Chesapeake Bay that we've been talking about throughout these videos. Here, I've just made a quick chart comparing some of the aspects that we've talked about, and, as I see it, there are three real differences between New England and the Chesapeake, and two real similarities. Now, one thing that was really different between them was just their environment. New England was far north of the Chesapeake, so it was much colder and rockier, which didn't permit the settlers of New England to conduct plantation agriculture at a large scale like we did in the Chesapeake. So, instead, they had small family farms, they fished. Compared to the Chesapeake Bay where although it was very hot and marshy, not a healthy environment at all, it was, with its very long growing seasons, a great place for plantation agriculture, particularly growing tobacco. Another major difference between the two regions was who came to each of these places and why. In New England, settlers came for religious freedom for the most part. Puritans attempting to escape persecution in England hoped that they could set up their Puritan city on a hill in Massachusetts Bay. So, consequently, they were middle class families who came as a family unit. They had a lot more women in New England than they did in the Chesapeake, which meant that their natural rate of growth was going to be higher, because they could have more families and more families could have more children. In the Chesapeake, by contrast, most settlers were single men who were coming to seek their fortune, either white men, often as indentured servants, or enslaved Africans who were forced to migrate to the Chesapeake Bay to labor in tobacco plantations. So, there were fewer women and the kind of rate of population growth really only depended on more and more people immigrating as the unhealthy environment led to quite a bit of death from tropical disease. The last major difference I see is in the labor systems of each of these regions and the kinds of class systems that they generated. In the Chesapeake Bay, as a group of early planters became more and more prosperous and brought in more and more enslaved laborers, there was a great disparity of wealth, as the poorest were at the bottom of the social hierarchy, including enslaved people, indentured servants, a few small farmers who were independent and had made it, and then, at the very top, the tobacco planters who held most of the wealth, but made up, really, quite a small percentage of the population. In comparison, people in New England had a general equality of wealth, meaning that most people were small farmers getting by comfortably. There weren't many people who were at a distant top of the social hierarchy and not that many people who were stuck at the very bottom. Most people in New England were middle class, but there were some similarities between New England and the Chesapeake. In both of these regions, local government was unusually democratic for the era. In New England, the citizens of a town would meet in town meetings to discuss local issues and pretty much all white men had a say in those meetings. In the Chesapeake, there were also local assemblies like the House of Burgesses in Virginia. And although most of these democratic institutions were dominated by elites, these elected assemblies were still considerably more democratic than the monarchy of England. And the last way that New England and the Chesapeake were quite similar to each other were in their attitudes toward Native Americans. In both New England and the Chesapeake, the English carried on wars of extinction against local Native American tribes, whether it was the Wampanoags in Metacom's war, or the Powhatans in the Anglo-Powhatan Wars. English colonists simply could not imagine a world in which they coexisted peacefully with Native Americans or in any way incorporated them into their societies. Now, I started this video series with a question about who was the real spiritual ancestor of the United States. Was it the New England colonies with their pilgrims and search for religious freedom, or was it the Chesapeake colonies with their search to find fortune? Well, perhaps the evidence that we've taken a look at here has persuaded you one way or another, but myself, I think, that comparing the two of them, we can see that, in many ways, English colonization was directly impacted by the environment and by the individuals who came to each of these settlements. But there are some larger trends about English settlement. In both the cases of the New England colonies and the Chesapeake colonies, English people who came to the New World had unusually democratic forms of government. They were independent, used to taking care of themselves, but they were also united with their approach to Native Americans. Unlike the Spanish, who incorporated Native Americans into society, even if at the lowest rungs, and the French or the Dutch, who cooperated very much with Native Americans, English people saw Native Americans as an obstacle and one that needed to be removed.