English Settlements in North America

Throughout Chapters 6 & 8, Taylor focuses on the English settlements in North America. He notes that the English crown followed the French and Spanish example of subcontracting to individual companies. The most prominent group (at least in the beginning) to undergo the exploration were a group of gentlemen known as the “West Country men,” who had previously led the English conquest of Ireland. In addition to discussing the English desire to settle in the New World, Taylor explores the domestic problems that plagued England at the time. Affected by rural displacement, increasing poverty, and mounting crime, the English citizenry were even more inclined to venture out to a new colony in Virginia. In order to overcome the citizens’ fear of dealing with natives to the land, the West Country promoters “insisted that the Indians of Virginia would welcome the English as their liberators” (122). After a failed settlement at Roanoke that started in 1585, the English colonizers found an easier time in Chesapeake Bay in 1607 thanks to the “better harbors, navigable rivers, and a more fertile land” (125). However, the settlers still (understandably-so) faced opposition from the native Powhatan Indians—named for their chief by the same name—and the tension only escalated with the settlement of Jamestown. Compounded by the fact the settlers were deceived to believe that the Indians would graciously welcome their presence, the Englishmen grew frustrated. After several raids on one another, Powhatan eventually died off (presumably from natural causes, though the book does not make this explicit) and was promptly replaced by his brother Opechancanough. Following several more attacks back and forth, the English eventually captured Opechancanough, upon which “an angry soldier shot [him] dead” (135). Moreover, “disease and war reduced the Virginia Algonquians” significantly in this time period, while the emigration from England skyrocketed (136). Although the Virginia Company found a new lucrative crop in Tobacco, it was not immediately profitable enough to prevent the impatient Crown from terminating the charter and seizing control for itself, which marks “the first royal colony in the new English empire” (136). With this newfound opportunity, the Crown instrumented the “founding” of Maryland—led by Lord Baltimore—and oversaw the settlement of a successful colony.

At least in my opinion, the most interesting story comes in Chapter 8, in which Taylor explores the Puritans’ struggle in England and subsequent settlement in New England. As noted in the post entitled “Instability of Trade, Economy, and Structure,” the possibility of newfound wealth in the New World was the main incentive for Europeans to leave their homes. In light of that post, the Puritans seem to make the first departure from this norm. The Puritans were equally motivated by religious reasons. Indeed, Taylor explains that the English Crown instituted the Church of England, which required all citizens to follow the same religion. He notes that “faced with the growing power of the king and his bishops, some despairing Puritans considered emigrating across the Atlantic to a New England.” While he warns us that “it is anachronistic for us to separate” the Purtians’ economic and religious incentives, Taylor does highlight that “purely economic motives, however, would have dispatched few people to cold, distant, and rocky New England” (167). This emphasis on a weak economic incentive underscores the religious motive that influenced the Puritans to leave England. In the “Great Migration” in the 1630s, the Massachusetts Bay Company—headed by the Puritan elites—colonized New England. The migration did, however, suffer from its own shortcomings, such as a lack of willing Puritan settlers. Founded on Puritan values, New England was not the wealthiest colony, but appeared to be the “healthiest, the most populous, and the most egalitarian in the distribution of property” (170). Within a few years, New England became both a commerce hub and a shipbuilding center in the empire. However, the Purtians’ success did not last long and their influence declined in New England. In addition to their strict membership policies, the Puritans also saw public opposition to their religious stronghold on the colony. Faced with “witches” and other public dissenters, Puritan New England soon declined. Additionally, Taylor argues that the Restoration “terminated and discredited the short lived revolutionary regime led by English Puritans” (185). Nonetheless, Taylor credits the Puritans for instilling their values into American culture, which he claims persist today.

I find it odd that Taylor puts so much emphasis on external threats to the English settlements in Chesapeake Bay and Jamestown (i.e. Indian resistance) and then focuses on the internal problems within Puritan New England. It seems that we lack sufficient knowledge regarding the internal difficulties of Jamestown and we are never exposed to the Puritan interactions with the natives. Taylor, however, still provides quality insight into the English domestic problems. Not to jump too far ahead, but Taylor does foreshadows the revolutionary war—by around 150 years—when he confronts the internal problems within England, both in economic and religious terms. He additionally discusses the Crown’s growing frustration with Puritan New England, which reminds us of what will be similar issues between the colonies and the King. This invaluable knowledge will help us eventually contextualize the plight of a disgruntled group of men who are subjected to English abuse—an association of men who will become known as our Founding Fathers.

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