Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The Peopling of New England

In our continuing historical diversion . . .

John Winthrop's fleet was the first of many ships that brought Puritans to New England. Over 20,000 settlers arrived between 1630 and 1640 in what the Puritans called “The Great Migration.” After the English Civil War broke out, immigration abruptly stopped.

Within a few years, however, natural increase of the settlers made Massachusetts the most populous of England's North American provinces.

Several factors contributed to this and serve as a contrast with the earlier settlement in Virginia. First, the Puritans faced and less numerous and less hostile native population. Although two major wars broke out with the surrounding tribes, the Puritans experienced nothing like the devastation faced by settlers in Virginia. Second, the Puritans lived in an environment that did not support many of the communicable diseases that plagued Virginians. And finally, the different demographics of the settlers laid the foundation for explosive population growth even after emigration ceased. In contrast to the predominantly single, male, and uneducated servant that came to Virginia, the Puritans attracted intact families with education, skills, and financial assets.The population exploded from this original 20,000 to nearly 100,000 by 1700 as they spread from Massachusetts, to Rhode Island, Connecticut, and New Hampshire.

The peopling of Massachusetts and New England was not haphazard. During the first generations, the colony's leaders managed the seeding of additional settlements. Most villages seemed to have been planned as nucleated villages surrounding a green and a meeting house. The villagers each possessed small landholdings for farms, orchards, and pastures. And for the first couple of generations, the Puritans utilized “applied theology” to build their Christian commonwealth.

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