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Lesson summary: New England and Middle colonies

Summary of key people, events, and concepts in the early New England and Middle colonies. 
After the first permanent English colony was settled in 1607, English colonists soon populated the entire eastern seaboard of the present-day United States. All had different reasons for sailing across the Atlantic, leading to several distinct colonies.

Key terms

Fundamental Orders of Connecticut (1639)A document that established a representative government in Connecticut, featuring a legislature elected by a popular vote and a governor elected by the legislature.
Halfway CovenantA religious compromise that allowed colonists in New England to become partial church members even if they had not had a religious conversion experience.
Anne HutchinsonBanished from the Massachusetts Bay Colony for her belief that salvation was based on faith, not good deeds. Hutchinson and her followers founded the colony of Portsmouth in 1638. Portsmouth and Providence joined to become Rhode Island in 1663.
Metacom’s War (1675-1676)Also known as King Philip's War. A military conflict in which the Wampanoag and Narragansett tribes of southern New England joined together to fight against English colonists’ westward expansion. Thousands were killed on both sides before the English forces won the war, effectively ending most Native American resistance in New England.
Navigation ActsA series of acts passed between 1650 and 1673 that established three rules of colonial trade: first, trade must be carried out only on English ships; second, all goods imported into the colonies had to pass through ports in England; and third, specific goods, such as tobacco, could be exported only to England.
William PennFounded the colony of Pennsylvania in 1681 as a safe haven for Quakers.
Proprietary colonyColonies that were under the authority of individuals that had been granted charters of ownership, like Maryland and Pennsylvania.
PuritansA group of Protestants who wanted to purify the Church of England. Some Puritans escaped religious persecution in England by moving to the Massachusetts Bay Colony.
QuakersA religious group that believed in nonviolence, gender equality, and resistance to military service. Many Quakers inhabited the colony of Pennsylvania.
Roger WilliamsFounded the colony of Providence in 1636, after being pushed out of the Massachusetts Bay Colony for criticizing Puritanism. Providence became part of the colony of Rhode Island in 1663.
Separatists / PilgrimsA group of Puritans who wanted to separate completely from the Church of England (rather than reform it).
John WinthropAn English Puritan lawyer who was one of the leading figures in founding the Massachusetts Bay Colony.

Regions of English colonies

Colonial societies and economies differed by region, based on motivations for settlement and environment.

Timeline of key events

1620Pilgrims (Separatists) sail to Plymouth aboard the Mayflower
1630Puritans found Massachusetts Bay colony
1636Roger Williams founds Rhode Island colony
1675-6Metacom's War
1681William Penn founds Pennsylvania colony

Core historical themes

Motivations for colonization: English colonies popped up along the eastern seaboard for a variety of reasons. The New England colonies were founded to escape religious persecution in England. The Middle colonies, like Delaware, New York, and New Jersey, were founded as trade centers, while Pennsylvania was founded as a safe haven for Quakers. The Middle colonies were also called the “Breadbasket colonies” because of their fertile soil, ideal for farming.
Demographics in the colonies: The New England colonies attracted Puritan settlers with families and not single indentured servants, unlike the Chesapeake colonies. The Middle colonies attracted a diverse group of European migrants, including Germans, Scots-Irish, French, and Swedish families, along with English migrants.
Economics in the colonies: Colonial economies developed based on each colony’s environment. The New England colonies had rocky soil, which was not suited to plantation farming, so the New England colonies depended on fishing, lumbering, and subsistence farming. The Middle colonies also featured mixed economies, including farming and merchant shipping.
Establishing representative governments: While on the Mayflower, the Pilgrims drafted a simple constitution called the Mayflower Compact, which established an early form of self-government. It allowed all male members of the Puritan church the right to participate in elections for the governor, his assistants, and a representative assembly. Taking into account that the English colonies were still under the British crown, creating the Mayflower Compact was unusually democratic for the time.
Interactions with Native Americans: Unlike the Spanish, French, and Dutch colonizers, the English colonizers rarely married Native Americans. Unwilling to integrate Native Americans into their society, English colonizers had several armed conflicts with Native Americans who were angry about English encroachment on native land, such as Metacom’s War (King Philip’s War) in 1675.

Review questions

  • What were the main motivations for the colonization of the New England colonies and the Middle colonies?
  • How does the environment of both the New England and Middle colonies affect their economies?
  • How did English interactions with Native Americans compare to how the Spanish interacted with Native Americans?

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