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Toolbox Library, primary resources thematically organized with notes and discussion questionsOnline Seminars, professional development seminars for history and literature teachersAmerican Beginnings: 1492-1690
American Beginnings: 1492-1690
Topic: ContactTopic: ExplorationTopic: SettlementTopic: PermanenceTopic: Power
Topic: Permanence
Toolbox Overview: American Beginnings: 1492-1690
Resource Menu: Permanence
Text 1. Prosperity
Text 2. Cities & Towns
Text 3. English Colonies I: New England Colonies
Text 4. English Colonies II: Middle Atlantic Colonies
Text 5. English Colonies III: Chesapeake/Southern Colonies
Text 6. Servitude (Chesapeake Colonies)

Reading Guide
Magnalia Christi Americana, 1702
English Colonies I: New England Colonies
- Massachusetts: Settlers' wills from Plymouth colony, 1621-1694
- Massachusetts: Three months as an Indian captive, 1675
- Massachusetts: Cotton Mather on New England's history, 1702 (PDF)
- Connecticut: A farmer's year, 1668-1669
- Portraits (enlargeable):

John Freake & Sarah Freake, ca. 1671-1673
Thomas Smith & Maria Catherina Smith, ca. 1680-1694

- Buildings:

Fairbanks House, 1637-1638, Massachusetts
Stanley Whitman House, ca. 1660, Connecticut
Old Ship Church (Meetinghouse), 1681, Massachusetts
Parson Capen House, 1683, Massachusetts

How did England come to populate North America in far greater numbers than its sixteenth-century rivals, Spain and France? How did it come to dominate the continent north of the 30th latitude? "The English succeeded as colonies," explains historian Alan Taylor, "because their society was less successful at keeping people content at home."* The poor of Spain and France were not as inclined or encouraged to emigrate, while England offered incentives to its poor, discontented, and dissenters to populate their Atlantic colonies. Successful North American colonies required, as historian Karen Ordahl Kupperman summarizes, "a permanent commitment on the part of individual settlers to the land and the expectation of trade in colonist-produced commodities. It also required replication of something approaching normal European societies. Women were essential. . . . Once these principles were established, the settlers would spread over the land with a rapidity no one anticipated."† By 1660 there were 58,000 English settlers in the Atlantic colonies in contrast to 5,000 in New Netherland and 3,000 in New France. (The Spanish population in the hemisphere, primarily in Central and South America, numbered in the hundreds of thousands.)

In the next three groups, we will focus on the English Atlantic colonies, keeping the standard regional division of New England, Middle, and Chesapeake/Southern colonies. For each region, we will pull from a variety of sources—diaries, letters, wills, pamphlets, sermons, poems, memoirs, court records, and official reports—to convey the relative permanence of the colony or of the writer's perception of its permanence. In these seemingly disparate readings, focus on the perspective, tone, and assumptions of the writers. Do they feel they are living in a colony that will endure or one that will fail? Do they feel that they will endure or fail as individuals? For these New England colonists, in addition, religious faith is central to their experience. What role does faith play in these settlers' endurance and sense of permanence?
  • PLYMOUTH COLONY WILLS. From the twenty wills between 1621 and 1694 presented in this collection from the Plymouth Colony Archive Project, select two or three wills to print out and study. Consider including the wills of a woman, and a famous Puritan, and one from the late 1600s.

  • CAPTIVITY NARRATIVE. The widow of a Puritan minister in Massachusetts, Mary Rowlandson and two of her children spent three months as captives of the Narragansett Indians during Metacom's (King Philip's War) in 1676. She was released for a ransom of 20£, paid by her husband. In this selection, she recounts her weariness, hunger, and resourcefulness as she lives with the Indians, often commenting on the behavior of the "praying Indians" who had become Christians and those who had not converted.
    [Mary Rowlandson, A True History of the Captivity & Restoration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson, 1682]

  • COTTON MATHER ON NEW ENGLAND'S HISTORY. The English may have come to dominate North America because they were unable to keep people at home, but something else was at work, too. Early on they resolved that, despite Columbus's discoveries in the name of Spain, North America unquestionably belonged to them. In 1702, Cotton Mather, in his ecclesiastical history of New England, could survey Europe's New World exploration and conclude that the English claim trumped all others. His work focuses on a brief period, the years from 1620 to 1698. That he believed such a short span warranted a record for posterity suggests a confidence and sense of accomplishment that bespeak permanence and continuity.
    [Cotton Mather, Magnalia Christi Americana; or, The Ecclesiastical History of New-England, 1702, Vol. I, Bk. I, Ch. 1: "Venisti Tandem? or, Discoveries of America, tending to, and ending in, Discoveries of New-England"]

  • A FARMER'S YEAR. Thomas Minor was born in England, was baptized as an Anglican, and immigrated to Massachusetts in 1630, moving to Connecticut in 1643. Active in the church and community as well as on his farm, he kept a journal from 1653 to 1684. This selection presents his entries for one year, March 1668 to March 1669, in cryptic yet revealing entries.
    [The Diary of Thomas Minor, Stonington, Connecticut, 1653-1684]
We recommend viewing the paintings and buildings before reading the selections. The paintings are the earliest formal American portraits of the wealthy class and speak clearly to the proud permanence of these New Englanders. The buildings include a Puritan church and three houses—a minister's house, a worker's "growing house," and an added "lean-to" house. They will place you squarely in the context of these readings. (∼26 pages.)

Discussion questions
  1. How do these selections reveal the permanence and/or tentativeness of the New England colonies?
  2. What regional characteristics do they highlight? What is important to these settlers?
  3. What role does religious faith serve in these settlers' lives?
  4. How do the settlers deal with adversity, disappointment, fear, and the normal routines of life?
  5. In what ways are they hopeful or idealistic?
  6. Do their decisions reflect a trust in their colony's stability?
  7. To what extent did the colonies replicate "something approaching normal European societies"?
  8. How do the portraits and houses reflect the characteristics of these New England settlers?

Topic Framing Questions
  •  What factors contributed to the permanent presence of Europe in North America by the mid 1600s?
  •  How did Europeans adjust their cultures and institutions to create permanent societies in North America?
  •  What roles did commerce, religion, geographic setting, population diversity, and cultural perspectives play in developing a stable colony?
  •  What did "North America" signify to Europe in the mid 1600s?

Puritans' wills:  ∼3 
Captivity narrative:  3 
Mather's history:  3 
Farmer's journal:  3 
Portraits & discussions:  6 
Buildings & descriptions:  8 
Supplemental Sites
The Puritans, from Digital History (University of Houston)

Dimensions of Change in Colonial New England, from Digital History (University of Houston)

Puritanism and Predestination, from the National Humanities Center

New England, 1680-1720, online exhibition from Memorial Hall Museum, Massachusetts

Cotton Mather, from the Hall of Church History

Mary Rowlandson's captivity narrative, full text from Project Gutenberg

Hetty Shepard's diary, New England, 1676-1677, excerpt from History Matters

*PDF file - You will need software on your computer that allows you to read and print Portable Document Format (PDF) files, such as Adobe Acrobat Reader. If you do not have this software, you may download it FREE from Adobe's Web site.

   Puritan wills:Plymouth Colony Archive Project, from the University of Virginia
   Cotton Mather:
National Humanities Center
   Mary Rowlandson
      & Thomas Manor:

History Matters, from George Mason University and the City University of New York (CUNY)

Portraits: Worcester Art Museum
Buildings: National Park Service

Image: Title page of Cotton Mather, Magnalia Christi Americana, 1702. Reproduced by permission of the American Antiquarian Society (Worcester, Massachusetts), Mather Family Collection.

*Alan S. Taylor, American Colonies: The Settling of North America (New York: Viking/Penguin, 2001), 257.

†Karen Ordahl Kupperman, "North America and the Beginnings of European Colonization" (Washington: American Historical Association, 1992), 33.

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Revised: August 2006