Patterns of Settlement
In the seventeenth century, England acquired its North American colonies “in a fit of absent-mindedness.” England's kings were distracted by domestic strife and civil war. The English settlement of the New World was driven by private initiative.The First Colonies
Late in 1606, the Virginia Company, an association of merchants interested in the economic possibilities of the New World, dispatched a small fleet of three ships to America. The English made landfall on April 26, 1607, and built a small settlement that they named Jamestown. Over the next months, most of the settlers died of disease. Only the iron discipline established by Captain John Smith saved the struggling colonists. The English settlements in Virginia survived the ravages of disease and fierce wars with the local Indians. The colonists discovered a valuable cash crop in tobacco, which held out the promise of prosperity. In 1619, the settlers organized the House of Burgesses, the first colonial legislature.
Credited by legend with saving the life of Captain John Smith, Pocahontas did help to bridge the gap between Native American and English culture. She converted to Christianity, married John Rolfe, the promoter of tobacco, and died during a visit to England in 1617.
Far to the north, a small band of religious dissenters known as the Pilgrims established the settlement of Plymouth on Cape Cod. Before landing, the men signed the Mayflower Compact, a social contract for the new colony. The Pilgrims suffered heavily from disease, but their settlement survived to celebrate the first Thanksgiving in October 1621. A much larger and better-organized group of Puritan dissenters organized the Massachusetts Bay Company. Disgusted with what they perceived as the corruption in England, they hoped to establish a godly commonwealth in America. In 1630, led by John Winthrop, they settled near the Pilgrims, founding Boston and six other towns. Massachusetts prospered and absorbed Plymouth.The Expansion of England in America
In 1634, Cecilius Calvert, Lord Baltimore, established Maryland as a refuge for England's persecuted Roman Catholics. Farther south, a group of aristocratic proprietors established the Carolinas in the 1660s. Charleston was founded in 1670. Much later, Georgia was chartered, in 1732.
New York began its life as New Amsterdam, a Dutch settlement. It became New York in 1664, when the English conquered and occupied the town. New Jersey began its life as two proprietary colonies granted to a pair of well-connected owners. In 1702 the Jerseys were united as one royal colony. Pennsylvania also started as a proprietary colony. In 1681, William Penn received his charter as payment for a debt the King owed his father. A fervent Quaker, Penn set out to make Pennsylvania a refuge for all Christians. He encouraged immigrants from across Europe to settle in his colony. Delaware was originally settled by the Swedes. William Penn was given this colony in 1682. In 1703, the colonists in Delaware received their own assembly.
William Penn wanted all to live in harmony in his new colony of Pennsylvania. He expressed his idealism in the name that he gave to his capital. Philadelphia is a translation of the Greek words for “brotherly love.”
Meanwhile, the Massachusetts Bay Colony grew and prospered. Roger Williams, a minister who clashed with the authorities over the separation of church and state, was banished from Massachusetts in 1635. He and some followers founded the town of Providence. In 1644, Providence joined with some neighboring communities to become the colony of Rhode Island. In 1636, Thomas Hooker, another dissenting minister, left Massachusetts and founded Hartford. This was the origin of the colony of Connecticut, which received a royal charter in 1662. New Hampshire was given to proprietors who failed to attract colonists. It was settled instead by immigrants from Massachusetts. The King made it a royal colony in 1679.