The New England Colonies in Colonial America — A Guide to Four of the 13 Original Colonies
The British Colonies in America were divided into three regions — New England, Middle, and Southern. The New England Colonies were:
- Rhode Island
- New Hampshire
Quick Facts About the New England Colonies
Here are five important facts about the New England Colonies.
- Before Europeans settled in New England, the area was inhabited by various Native American Indian tribes and bands, including the Abenaki, Micmac, Pennacook, Pequot, Mohegan, Nauset, Narragansett, Nipmuc, Waronoco, and Wampanoag.
- People living in Europe decided to move to the New World where they believed they could build a better life. While many of them were looking for religious freedom, like many of the Pilgrims who made the Mayflower Voyage, some were simply looking for a chance at a new life. Others sought fame, fortune, and glory.
- Europeans from England, France, and Holland ventured into New England and established settlements, but the first permanent settlement was made at Plymouth in 1620 by the Pilgrims.
- Some Indians, like Squanto and Massasoit, helped the Pilgrims survive by teaching them how to plant corn and fertilize the ground with fish.
- English settlements were established throughout New England, and the colonists developed a strong sense of independence.
Colonies in the New England Region, including Plymouth and Maine
By 1775, when the American Revolutionary War started, there were four main colonies in New England. However, from 1607 to 1775, there were many different settlements that were actually colonies, including New Haven and Salem, that eventually merged with larger colonies either for economic reasons, or to defend against attacks from the French or Native American Indians.
Connecticut was founded in 1636 when a group of Puritans, led by Thomas Hooker, left Massachusetts and established a settlement at present-day Hartford. Two years later, in 1638, another colony was established — New Haven Colony. In 1643, both colonies joined the New England Confederation. Then, in 1664, New Haven merged with Connecticut.
Connecticut has been known as the River Colony, Connecticut River Colony, Colony of Connecticut, Connecticut Colony, and the Province of Connecticut.
The territory of Maine was the site of various colonization efforts that were led by Sir Ferdinando Gorges. Gorges died in 1647 and his heirs eventually sold the territory to Massachusetts. The first attempt to establish a colony in New England was made in Maine. In 1607, Gorges and John Popham tried to establish the Popham Colony, but it only lasted about a year.
Massachusetts was established in 1629 by the Puritans who were led by John Winthrop. They were issued a grant by King Charles I that allowed them to create a colony in Massachusetts. However, unlike many of the other colonies, the charter and the group that controlled it did not stay in England. The Puritans brought the charter with them to Massachusetts, so they could retain as much control of their colony as possible. Over time, Massachusetts and its Puritan foundations led to the Salem Witch Trials and the independent spirit that fueled the American Revolution.
Massachusetts has been referred to as the Massachusetts Bay Colony, the Province of Massachusetts Bay, Massachusetts Colony, and the Province of Massachusetts.
New Hampshire was founded by John Mason, who worked with Ferdinando Gorges on various attempts to establish colonies in New England. The first permanent settlements in New Hampshire were established at Odiorne Point — present-day Rye — and Dover Point in 1623. From the time it was settled, until after the American Revolutionary War, New Hampshire was involved in various disputes over its territory. The most famous is the one between New Hampshire and New York over the New Hampshire Grants. Eventually, New Hampshire dropped its claims to the Grants, but the settlers living there — who were led by Ethan Allen and the Green Mountain Boys — fought to defend their land and their rights to it. The New Hampshire Grants eventually became the state of Vermont.
New Hampshire has been known as the Province of New Hampshire and New Hampshire Colony.
Plymouth Colony — also known as New Plymouth — was established in 1620 on Cape Cod Bay in Massachusetts. It was the first colony established in the territory of the New England Colonies. It was founded by a group of settlers that sailed to the New World on board the Mayflower. Most of the settlers were Puritan Separatists, who are more commonly known as Pilgrims. They named their settlement after a town in England. In 1691, Plymouth merged with Massachusetts.
Rhode Island Colony
Rhode Island was founded by Roger Williams in 1636 when he and a group of settlers left Massachusetts and established Providence Plantations. About a year later, another group from Massachusetts, who were followers and supporters of Anne Hutchinson, left Massachusetts and established a settlement at Portsmouth on Aquidneck Island. In the 1660s, the settlements in Rhode Island united as the Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations. Rhode Island was unique because Williams was a firm believer in Religious Freedom and the Separation of Church and State.
Rhode Island has been called Providence Plantations, Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations. Rhode Island Colony, and the Province of Rhode Island.
Type of Colonies in Colonial New England
The type of Colonies in New England was based on the type of government they had. There were three different types of colonies — Royal, Proprietary, and Corporate. Each colony was granted a charter, usually from the English monarch, that gave permission for people to colonize a specific area and establish settlements.
- Connecticut — Charter Colony
- Massachusetts — Charter Colony (later became a Royal Colony)
- New Hampshire — Royal Colony
- Rhode Island — Charter Colony
A Royal Charter meant the colony was ruled by the Crown, through a Royal Governor. In New England, New Hampshire was a Royal Colony.
A Proprietary Charter meant the territory was granted to a person or family and also granted them rights to govern the colony. There were no Proprietary Colonies in New England.
A Corporate — or Joint-Stock — Charter was granted to a business. Colonies with a Corporate Charter are usually referred to as Charter Colonies. In New England, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island were Charter Colonies. Under their charters, they were given the freedom to govern themselves, as long as their laws were based on English law at the time.
Government in the New England Colonies
The government in the New England Colonies was established by the charter. The charter usually allowed for a Governor, Governor’s Council, a General Assembly, and a court system — all based on English laws.
At the local level, the government in each settlement was usually based on the Puritan religion. Men who attended church were considered citizens and were eligible to serve in the government. Rhode Island was the exception because it did not allow church officials to enforce public laws.
Settlements in New England were governed by Town Meetings. Meetings would be held, committees would be formed, and decisions would be made based on the popular vote. Town Meetings were particularly effective in Massachusetts and helped organize resistance to British policies during the American Revolution. As war became inevitable, the Town Meetings helped create the Committees of Correspondence, Provincial Governments, and the system of express riders that included men like Paul Revere.
Religion in the New England Colonies
Religion in the New England Colonies was based primarily on the beliefs and practices of the Puritans who left England and went to the New World in order to practice their religion as they saw fit. They wanted to be free of the struggle between Protestants and Catholics that plagued Europe. Although Puritans were part of the Church of England, they were concerned the church was becoming too much like the Roman Catholic Church and they wanted to “purify” it. Within the Puritans was an even more radical group, the Separatists, who wanted to completely separate from the Church of England and base their worship entirely on Biblical teaching. The founders of Plymouth Colony were Separatists and the founders of Massachusetts were Puritans.
Both groups came to the New World for religious freedom, however, they did not tolerate viewpoints that disagreed with them. Both Roger Williams and Anne Hutchinson were banished from Massachusetts for having different ideas than the Puritan leaders. Williams established Providence Plantations and the government allowed Religious Freedom and also Separation of Church and State — two important principles that are enshrined in the United States Constitution.
Over time, it became clear the colonies would need to have some sort of tolerance for other religions. They needed to do business with each other and they needed to help each other defend against attacks on the frontier from the French and Indian tribes.
Early settlements in each colony were based on some form of Puritanism, except for Rhode Island, which tolerated all religions.
New England Colonies Economy
The economy in the New England Colonies focused on fishing, whaling, lumber, subsistence farming, and the production of rum, whiskey, and beer. The geography and climate in the northeast were not suitable for large-scale farming but the proximity to the sea allowed ship-building and merchant shipping to flourish.
New England’s economy became dependent on the manufacturing of ships, harvesting timber from forests, and fishing in the deep seas off the coast. The products New Englanders produced, especially ships, lumber, and rum, were important to the Triangular Trade and helped fuel England’s Mercantile System. The reliance on manufacturing led to the establishment of large settlements that grew into towns and cities.
The New England colonies traded lamp oil and other commodities with the Middle Colonies and Southern Colonies, primarily for agricultural products that could not be grown in the New England climate. Food and supplies had to be shipped into the large harbors, like Boston and then transported to the settlements and towns throughout the colonies.
Mercantile System in New England
The Mercantile System in New England forced the colonies to operate as a source of raw materials for England, and as a market for British merchants to sell finished products. As far as England — later Great Britain — was concerned, the colonies only existed for the benefit of the Mother Country.
Salutary Neglect in New England
Salutary Neglect in New England allowed merchants to ignore the Navigation Acts. It led to an increase in smuggling and bribery. Merchants knew they were breaking the law, but they also believed they were doing smart business. Salutary Neglect allowed merchants to flourish but also increased their independent spirit.
Triangular Trade in New England
Triangular Trade in New England contributed to the wealth of New England merchants and contributed to the slave trade in the British Empire. New England merchants traded rum to West Africa for slaves and then traded the slaves to the West Indies for molasses, which was used to make rum.
Colonial New England Geography
The geography of the New England Colonies featured a rocky coastline that extended into the mainland, where land was covered with rocks and thick, dense forests.
Colonial New England Climate
The climate of the New England Colonies was the coolest of the three regions. Because of that, the summers were short and mild. It made the growing season for crops short and led to harsh winters.
New England Timeline — Important Dates in Colonial New England
This timeline presents an overview of the history of the New England Colonies and includes some — but not all — of the important dates in the history of Colonial New England.
English Privateer Bartholomew Gosnold leads an expedition to Cape Cod. He finds an island and names it “Martha’s Vineyard.” His expedition decides to return to England due to a lack of supplies. Gosnold returns to the New World in 1607 and helps found Jamestown.
King James I becomes King of England. He is also King James VI of Scotland. His ascension to the English throne unites the two kingdoms.
Captain Martin Pring leads an expedition that explores present-day Maine, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts. He becomes the first European on the Piscataqua River. He built the first English fort on Cape Code.
Two joint stock companies are created and receive Royal Charters from King James I. The charters grant the companies permission to establish colonies in North America.
The Virginia Company of London was granted from the 34th parallel — Cape Fear — and the 41st parallel — Long Island Sound.
The Virginia Company of Plymouth was granted from the 38th parallel — Potomac River — and 45th parallel — the St. John River.
The two companies shared the territory between the 38th parallel and the 41st parallel
The first leader of the Plymouth Company was Sir Ferdinando Gorges and he was given permission to begin starting colonies in North America.
In May, Bartholemew Gosnold and his cousin — Captain John Smith — lead an expedition for the London Company and establish Jamestown.
In August, the Plymouth Company, led by George Popham, establishes the Sagadahoc Colony, also known as the Popham Colony.
The Popham Colony is abandoned and the Plymouth Company dissolves.
The Second Charter of Virginia extends the territory of the London Company. It includes the old territory of the Plymouth Company and establishes the “sea to sea” provision, which meant the territory extended from the east coast to the west coast.
John Smith explores and maps the coast of Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Maine. He gives the territory the name “New England.”
Squanto and some other men from the village of Patuxet are kidnapped by Captain Thomas Hunt and taken to Europe to be sold as slaves. Squanto was able to escape and he traveled to Spain and England. He learned English and returned to New England.
Squanto returns to Massachusetts.
The Plymouth Company is revived as the Plymouth Council for New England.
King James I gives the Plymouth Council a Royal Charter and permission to establish settlements in New England.
The Mayflower sails for the New World. The passengers include the Pilgrims, who have permission to settle in Virginia. However, the ship is blown off course during the trip and anchors in Cape Cod. The passengers decide to settle there and establish the colony of Plymouth. They write the Mayflower Compact, which defines the basic laws and social rules for the new colony.
The Plymouth Council of New England grants land to Sir Ferdinando Gorges and Captain John Mason. The territory is between the Merrimack River and Kennebec River, which includes parts of present-day New Hampshire and Maine. Gorges was the first person to call the territory “Maine.”
Captain Christopher Levett receives grants from the Plymouth Council to establish colonies in New England. Levett’s first settlement was the Colony of York, at the site of present Portland, Maine, however, it was abandoned by the settlers. His second settlement was at the mouth of the Piscataqua River — Kittery — and was successful. A second settlement at York, on the York River, also survived. Kittery and York were the first permanent English settlements in Maine.
Charles I becomes King of England, Scotland, and Ireland. He works with Archbishop William Laud to start removing non-conformists from the Church of England, and the largest group is the Puritans.
Salem is established by Roger Conant and a group of settlers from Cape Ann.
The Massachusetts Bay Company receives a Royal Charter from Charles I to establish a colony in North America, within the territory of the Plymouth Council of New England. The charter was written so the Massachusetts Bay Company controlled the colony.
On March 2, Charles I dissolves Parliament and the ‘11 Years of Tyranny” begins. Over the next 11 years, roughly 80,000 Puritans leave England.
Gorges and Mason divide their grants at the Piscataqua River. Mason has the land west of the river, which becomes the Province of New Hampshire.
In April, the first ships in the Winthrop Fleet set sail from Yarmouth, Isle of Wight, headed to Massachusetts. They arrived at Salem on June 13, 1630.
The colonial government of Massachusetts is organized, and the General Court is located in Charlestown. The first three counties in Massachusetts are created — Norfolk, Suffolk, and Essex.
Massachusetts starts to annex land in Maine, which had originally been granted to Gorges and Levett. Massachusetts leaders believe they have a right to the land because it overlaps with their grants.
Roger Williams is banished from Massachusetts
Roger Williams buys land from the Narragansett Indians and establishes Providence Plantations.
Thomas Hooker leads a group of Puritans and establishes Hartford.
Anne Hutchinson is banished from Massachusetts.
Hutchinson and others found Portsmouth, Rhode Island.
King Charles I puts Sir Ferdinando Gorges in charge of Massachusetts. However, the ship carrying the document confirming the transfer of power — and with the King’s seal on it — sinks in the Atlantic Ocean on the way to Boston. Since the document never arrives, the leaders in Massachusetts ignore it.
New Haven Colony is established.
The Pequot War ends.
The Fundamental Orders of Connecticut are adopted by the Freemen of Hartford, Wethersfield, and Windsor.
Parliament is restored and is dominated by Puritans.
The English Civil War begins and supporters of Parliament — Roundheads — go to war with supporters of the King — Royalists.
Plymouth, Connecticut, New Haven, and Massachusetts form the United Colonies of New England — the New England Confederation — to help coordinate defenses against attacks from Indian tribes, the French, and the Dutch.
King Charles I is captured. England is ruled by Parliament.
King Charles I is tried, convicted and executed for treason.
Oliver Cromwell defeats Prince Charles and Charles flees to France.
The Commonwealth of England begins. Cromwell is Lord Protectorate of the Commonwealth of England and Puritans control Parliament.
Parliament passes the Navigation Act of 1651. It prohibits Dutch ships from transporting goods from the American Colonies to England. Colonial merchants are forced to ship their goods to England on English ships.
The first Quakers land in New England land at Boston Harbor. Mary Fisher and Ann Austin are arrested right away.
The towns in Maine vote to join Massachusetts.
Oliver Cromwell dies.
Mary Dyer is convicted by the Church Court in Salem for the crime of being a Quaker and hanged.
England asks Prince Charles to return. The Stuart Restoration sees him become King Charles II of England, Scotland, and Ireland.
The Navigation Act of 1660 is passed. It identifies “enumerated goods” that can only be shipped to England. The items are tobacco, sugar, rice, cotton wool, ginger, and dyes like indigo.
King Charles II orders Massachusetts to stop hanging Quakers.
Parliament passes the Navigation Act of 1663, also known as the Staple Act.
New Haven and Connecticut merge.
The Plantation Duty Act is passed to help reduce the smuggling of tobacco and other enumerated goods. It prohibits colonial merchants from trading directly with foreign nations.
King Charles II establishes the Lords of Trade and Plantations.
King Philip’s War ends.
King Charles II dies. He is succeeded by his brother, King James II, who is Catholic.
The Dominion of New England is established. It unites Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire under one Governor — Sir Edmund Andros. King James II created the Dominion in order to have more control over New England. Andros starts enforcing the Navigation Acts.
Connecticut hides its charter from Governor Andros in an oak tree, known as the “Charter Oak.”
The Glorious Revolution, also known as the “Revolution of 1688” takes place. King James II is deposed, and his daughter, Mary, is named successor to the throne. Mary is a Protestant and her husband is William of Orange, the ruler of Holland. William is also a Protestant. Parliament asks William and Mary to rule together.
As part of the agreement to allow their joint rule, William and Mary agreed to the English Bill of Rights. The document outlined the rules for succession to the throne, gave more power to Parliament, and defined the basic freedoms of English subjects.
The Great Boston Revolt of 1689 takes place when news of the Glorious Revolution arrives. Governor Andros and other government officials were arrested and jailed. The inhabitants of Massachusetts elect Simon Bradstreet as Governor and implement the old charter.
Massachusetts Bay Colony and Plymouth Colony merge into the Province of Massachusetts Bay. Maine begins to be referred to as the “District of Maine.”
The Salem Witch Trials take place.
King William III establishes the Lords Commissioners of Trade and Plantations as a permanent legislative body to oversee the colonies. It is also known as the Board of Trade and Plantations, or simply as the Board of Trade.
The Navigation Act of 1696 is passed, which requires ships to register with customs officials. It gives officials in the colonies the same authority as those in England and establishes more Admiralty Courts to help enforce the laws and collect customs duties.
The Wool Act is passed, which forces all wool and wool products in America to be shipped to England.
The Act of Union is approved by the Parliament of Scotland and the Parliament of England. It establishes the United Kingdom of Great Britain.
Queen Anne dies. She is succeeded by King George I, who approved the creation of the Prime Minister and the Cabinet Government.
The first Ulster Scots — Scot-Irish immigrants — arrive in New England at Boston Harbor. They are important because they settled on the western frontier of New England.
Around this time, the religious revival known as the “Great Awakening” begins.
Robert Walpole becomes the first Prime Minister of Great Britain.
The Hat Act is passed, which restricts the number of hats American manufacturers can produce.
The Debt Recovery Act is passed, giving creditors the authority to seize property — land and possessions — from people who failed to pay on their loans. The Debt Recovery Act considered enslaved people as property, not just in Colonial America, but throughout the entire British Empire. Prior to the Debt Recovery Act, enslaved people were not used as a means to pay off debt.
In an effort to protect the plantations in the British West Indies, Parliament passes the Navigation Act of 1773, also known as the Molasses Act, which levies taxes on molasses. The new taxes upset American merchants, especially in New England, who are afraid it was going to do significant damage to the rum industry. Merchants deal with the Molasses Act by bribing British Customs Officials and increasing smuggling so they can avoid paying the higher taxes.
The Iron Act is passed, which prohibits the manufacturing of finished iron products in the colonies.