A FEW years cover the beginnings of colonization in America. Great impulses seem to be epidemic. The variety of causes which led to the planting of the American colonies became operative under diverse national and race conditions, so that they appear in history as the synchronous details of a common plan. As the reader follows these pages and appropriates all the wonderful and inspiring details of this unequaled record of four centuries, his interest will deepen and his amazement will keep pace with his interest. Finding a barren shore, broken only by the roar of the surf, the cries of birds and animals, and the whoop of the Indian, you will discover that civilization has followed the sun until the two oceans have met connected by an unbroken tide of humanity ebbing and flowing from the Atlantic to the Pacific.
A minute account of the social and political situations in the various kingdoms of Europe during the sixteenth century is not within the scope of this work, but it will be well to make a very brief statement of the questions that agitated Christendom at this time, and to notice the temper of the times.
Cupidity and a love of adventure led the Spaniard to the conquest of the New World. Spain was then paramount in Europe, most powerful as well as most Catholic; and the controlling motive of her sovereigns was conquest. It was not reformation nor revolution that sent her people over seas, but the love of power and wealth. In France, on the contrary, the spirit of revolt against established dogmas had led to persecution, so that the Huguenots were glad to find an asylum in the wilderness of the New World. Under these conditions the first colonies were attempted in the middle of the sixteenth century. Thirty years later a second planting, more general and more effectual, was begun.
At that time Protestant England had a Catholic king. Henry of Navarre was upon the throne of France, which he had gained by his apostacy. Holland, the mighty little republic, was, under the wise leadership of John of Barneveld and the States General, keeping Catholic Europe in check. Spain had been for years planning the conquest of England “as a stepping-stone to the recovery of the Netherlands.” It will be seen that the very causes which led emigrants to colonize the new continent forbade friendship or common interests between those of different races, the animosities of the Old World being very carefully transplanted to the new along with other possessions.
France made the first attempt at colonization in 1555. One of the leaders in the enterprise was Coligny, the Huguenott admiral; John Ribault and Laudoniere were masters of successive expeditions, seeking first the Florida coast and afterward establishing a settlement in Carolina. The French have seldom made good colonists, and those of Carolina were no exception to the general rule. It is probable that their quarrelsome dispositions would have destroyed them in time had not the Spanish claimants of the country, led by Menendez, hastened the event. This expedition of the Spaniards was not only noteworthy because of the cruel massacre of Ribault and his Huguenot followers, but also as the occasion of the founding of the most ancient of North American cities, St. Augustine. This occurred in 1564.
The settlement of St. Augustine was followed by a hiatus in which nothing was done toward the colonization of America. This was due to the great religious war which was then raging in Europe. But in the interval the missionary expeditions of the Spanish Franciscans, Ruyz and Espejio, in 1582, resulted in the building of Santa Fe in New Mexico. There had also been the establishment by adventurers of various fishing and trading stations, notably the one on the island of New Foundland.
During the interval England had been steadily growing as a marine power, and her navigators had directed men’s eyes anew towards the land where so many of their countrymen should find refuge. Finally Raleigh, following in the footsteps of his famous half-brother, Sir Humphrey Gilbert, obtained a patent from Queen Elizabeth, by the terms of which he should become proprietor of six hundred miles radially from any point which he might discover or take, provided he did not encroach upon territory otherwise granted by any Christian sovereign. As an auxiliary to this grant the queen gave her favorite a monopoly of the sale of sweet wines, by the profits of which business he was soon enabled to fit out what was known as the Lane expedition, that sailed under the command of Grenville in 1585, and landed at Roanoke, in Virginia.
Grenville’s first act upon landing was to rouse the animosity of the Indians by burning one of their villages and some cornfields, after which he left Lane, the Governor, with only an hundred and ten men and returned to England. Scarcity of provisions, a constant quarrel with their Indian neighbors, and a general feeling of discouragement led these first Virginia colonists to hail the navigator, Drake, who appeared on the coast a few months after, as a deliverer, and rejecting his offers of a vessel and provisions, they insisted upon returning with him to the mother country. Their departure was almost immediately followed by the arrival of reinforcements and supplies from Raleigh, brought by Grenville, who, when he found the place deserted, left fifteen, men to guard it and himself proceeded southward to pillage the Spaniards of the West Indies.
A second expedition, dispatched by Raleigh, included many women, that families might be formed on the new soil and the colonists be satisfied to remain. This enterprise was led by John White and eleven others, having a company charter. Upon arrival in Virginia White found only a skeleton to show where the former settlement had been. Indian treachery was assigned as the reason for its disappearance. Actuated probably by a nervous anxiety, White massacred some friendly Indians, under the impression that they were hostiles, and in August of 1587 returned to England for supplies, leaving behind him eighty-nine men, seventeen women, and eleven children, the youngest being his own granddaughter, Virginia Dare, the first white child born in America.
White arrived in England to find the nation preparing for a struggle with Spain. His return to the colonies was therefore delayed. Raleigh, finding himself impoverished by the former expeditions, which had cost him $200,000, made an assignment, under his patent, to a company which included White and one Thomas Smith. A new fleet was procured, though with considerable trouble, and again the adventurers sought the Virginia coast, in 1590, only to find that the unfortunate settlement of three years before had been utterly wiped out of existence. So ended the first English attempt to settle America.
About the same time de La Roche, a Marquis of Brittany, obtained from Henry IV of France a commission to take Canada. His company consisted largely of convicts and criminals. Following him came Chauvin de Chatte, but he accomplished little of permanent value.
For some years following the last attempt of Raleigh to colonize Virginia, a desultory trade with the Indians of the coast was pursued, the staples being sassafras, tobacco, and furs. Richard Hakluyt, one of the assignees of Raleigh, was most active in promoting this traffic; and among others employed was Bartholomew Gosnold, who, taking a more northerly course than the one usually followed, discovered Cape Cod, Nantucket, and Martha’s Vineyard, and the Elizabeth Islands, Following Gosnold, in 1603, came Martin Pring, exploring Penobscot Bay, tracing the coast thence as far south as Martha’s Vineyard.
A French grant of the same year gave to Sieur de Monts, a Protestant, the whole of North America between the 40th and 46th parallels of north latitude. This domain was named Acadie. De Monts looked for a monopoly of the fur trade on what is now the New England and Canadian coast. His Lieutenants in the expeditions which he soon commenced, were Poutrincourt and Champlain, of whom the latter became famous for several discoveries, but in particular for the lake which bears his name.
So it will be noticed that both the French and English were stretching out their hands to acquire the same territory. De Monts and Champlain settled their colony at St. Croix, but soon shifted, trying various points along the coast, and even attempted to inhabit Cape Cod, but were driven away by the natives. At last they transferred the settlement to Port Royal (Annapolis), where it endured for about a year. De Monts’ commission or patent was recalled in 1606, and but a little while previously Raleigh’s grant was forfeited by attainder, he having been imprisoned by King James on a charge of treason.
The frequent failures to effect a permanent settlement in America did not discourage adventurers, whose desire to possess the new world seemed to grow stronger every year. Soon two new companies were incorporated under Royal charter, to be known as the First and Second Colonies of Virginia. The former was composed of London men, and the latter of Plymouth people principally.
The charter authorized the Companies to recruit and ship colonists, to engage in mining operations and the like, and to trade; their exports to be free of duties for seven years and duties to be levied by themselves for their own use for a period of twenty years. They might also coin money and protect themselves against invasion. Their lands were held of the King.
Hardly had the charter been granted when James began to make regulations or instructions for the government of the colonies, which gave a shadow of self rule, established the church of England, and decreed, among other things, that the fruits of their industries were to be held in common stock by the colonists for five years.
These instructions, along with the names of the “Council” appointed by James for the government of the settlement, were carried, sealed in a tin box, by Captain Christopher Newport, who commanded the three vessels which constituted the initial venture of the London Company. An ill chosen band landed at last at Old Point Comfort, after a stormy voyage. Of the one hundred and five men there were forty-three “gentlemen”, twelve laborers, half a dozen mechanics and a number of soldiers. These quarreled during the voyage, so that John Smith, who it afterward appeared was one of the Councilors appointed by the Crown, entered Chesapeake Bay a prisoner, charged with conspiracy. As might have been expected, this company did not fare well. They were consumed with laziness and jealousy; there were cabals in the council and bickerings outside of it. Repeatedly the men tried to desert; deaths were frequent and want stared them in the face. During this time it is hardly too much to say that the energy and wisdom of John Smith held the discouraged adventurers together. New arrivals of the same sort as the first added to, rather than diminished, the difficulties of the situation, so that at length Smith wrote that thirty workmen would be worth more than a thousand of such people as were being sent out. Not till the third lot of emigrants arrived did any women visit the new settlement, and then only two. The Indians became more and more troublesome, and the London Company, dissatisfied at receiving no returns from their investment, threatened to leave the settlers to shift for themselves.
In 1609 the London Company succeeded in obtaining a new charter, by the terms of which it organized as a stock company, with officers chosen for life, a governor appointed by the Company‘s Council in England, and a territory extending from the Atlantic to the Pacific in a strip four hundred miles in width. During the interval between the granting of the charter and the organization of the new government anarchy reigned in Virginia. Smith did everything possible to restore order, but was at last wounded by an accidental explosion of powder and forced to return to England. At this time Jamestown, which was the name of the settlement, contained five hundred men, sixty dwellings, a fort, store and church. The people possessed a little live stock and about thirty acres of cultivated land, but as this was all inadequate to their support, there followed what is known in the annals of the colony as the ” Starving time.”
These earlier days in Virginia, while historically valuable only as a warning, have afforded an unusual share of romance, much of which centers about the unromantic name of Smith.
Clearing away the romance, and allowing all that is necessary to one who is so often the hero of his own narrative, it may not be uninteresting to briefly note some of the unquestioned services that John Smith performed for the struggling colony. We have seen how he arrived under suspicion and arrest, landing on the site of the little settlement which was destined to owe so much to him, like a felon. The opening of the hitherto secret instructions given under the broad seal of England, disclosed the fact that he was one of the Councillors named in that document. But it was his own clear head and strong courage rather than any royal appointment which won him the leadership in the affairs of the settlement. The quarrels and incompetency of the two governors, Wingfield and Ratcliffe, acted as a foil to display his superior quality. Although believing to the full in the common creed of his time, that the inducements of wealth were the only ones which would lead men to sacrifice home and comfort for the wilderness, yet he evinced a genius for hard work and a contempt for hard knocks worthy of a nobler purpose.
It was in his first extended exploration of the Chickahominy that the Pocahontas affair is supposed to have occurred. That he was taken prisoner then, and by some means escaped from his captors, is undeniable. And in passing, we may observe the curious misapprehension regarding the width of the American continent which Smith’s journey up the Chickahominy betrayed. He was actually looking for the Pacific ocean! In keeping with this error is that clause in the American charters which would make the land grants like long, narrow ribbons reaching from ocean to ocean.
In 1608 Smith ascended Chesapeake Bay and explored the larger rivers emptying into it. In an open boat, he traveled over two thousand miles on freshwater. He parleyed with the Mohawks, and returned to subdue the much more unmanageable colonists at Jamestown. When the half-starved and wholly discouraged adventurers became mutinous, his methods of dealing with them were dictatorial and effectual.
As already stated, Smith, upon his departure from Virginia, left nearly five hundred people there. In six months there remained only sixty. Many had died, some thirty or more seized a small vessel and sailed South on a piratical expedition, and a number wandered into the Indian country and never came back. Sick and disheartened, the remainder resolved to abandon Virginia and seek Newfoundland. Indeed, they had actually made all preparations and were starting upon their voyage, when they were met by the new governor from England, Lord De La War, with ships, recruits and provisions.
The charter under which De La War assumed the government of Virginia was sufficiently liberal. It was that granted to Raleigh. But in the years that followed, the colony began to be prosperous and to excite the jealousy of the king; the same base, faithless king that had beheaded Raleigh. James began to conspire against the Virginia charter. It was too liberal: he dreaded the power it conferred. By 1620 colonists were pouring into Jamestown at the rate of a thousand a year, and thence being distributed through the country.
To try to condense the early colonial history of Virginia to the limits of our space would result in a bare recital of names, or a repetition of the narrative of ignorance, vice, and want, occasionally relieved by some deed of devotion or daring. At first, in spite of the liberal provisions of the charter, the conditions were, to a large extent, those of vassalage. In 1623 James ordered the Company’s directors to surrender their charter, a demand which they naturally refused. He then brought suit against the Company, seized their papers so that they should have no defense, and finally, through foul means obtained a decision dissolving the Company. After that the government of the colony consisted in a governor and two councils, one of which sat in Virginia and the other in London. The governor and councils were by royal appointment.
Here we must be allowed to digress a little, to give the part played by one Nathaniel Bacon in the affairs of Virginia. It was the year 1676, when Bacon became the leader of a popular movement instituted by the people of Kent County, whose purpose was twofold; first, to protect themselves against the Indians, which the Government failed to do; and, secondly, to resist the unjust taxes and the oppressive laws enacted by the existing legislative assembly, and also to recover their liberties lost under the arbitrary proceedings of Sir William Berkeley, then Governor Bacon, a popular, quiet man, who had come over from England a year before, was selected as their leader by the people, who, enrolling themselves 300 strong, were led by Bacon against the Indians. Bacon’s success increased the jealousy of Sir William, who, because of Bacon’s irregular leadership, he having no proper commission, proclaimed Bacon a rebel. Finally, the people rose en masse, and demanded the dissolution of the old assembly, whose acts had caused so much trouble. Berkeley was forced to yield, and a new assembly was elected, who, condoning Bacon’s irregular leadership, promised him a regular commission as General. This commission Berkeley refused to issue, whereupon Bacon, assembling his forces, at the head of 500 men, appeared before Berkeley and demanded his commission, which Berkeley, who was a real coward, made haste to grant. But, as if repenting of his concession, Berkeley determined to oppose Bacon by force. In this he was unsuccessful, and in July of that year, Bacon entered Jamestown, the Capital, and burned the town. A little later, in October, Bacon died, and with him the “rebellion,” or “popular uprising” as it had been variously called, subsided. Shortly afterward Berkeley was removed, for oppression and cruelty -a cruel, bloodthirsty man he was and, sailing for England, died soon after his arrival, and the world’s population of scoundrels was lessened by just one.
While the curious mixture of cavalier and criminal was working out the early destinies of Virginia, a deeply religious element in Nottinghamshire and Yorkshire, England, were being educated by adversity for an adventure of a very different sort. At Scrooby, in 1606, a congregation of Separatists or Bronnists, who were ultra Puritans, used to meet secretly for worship at the house of their elder, William Brewster. King James, like most renegades, was a good persecutor, and he finally drove the Scrooby church to flee. Led by their pastor, that wisest and gentlest of the Puritans, John Robinson, the little company escaped to Holland. The history of their ten years of sorrow and hardship in Amsterdam and Leyden is too well known to require repetition here. It is impossible to overestimate the influence of such a man as Robinson, or to question the permanency of the impression which his character and teaching made upon his flock.
Procuring a patent from the London company, the Scrooby-Leyden Separatists prepared for their adventure. Only about half the Holland company could get ready, and it fell to the pastor’s lot to stay with those who were left behind. Embarking on the Speedwell, at Delft Haven, the colonists bade good-by to their friends and directed their course to England, where they were joined by the Mayflower.
The Speedwell was found to be unseaworthy, so at length most of her passengers were transferred to the Mayflower, which proceeded on the voyage. To those who know how small a vessel of i80 tons is, the fact that one hundred souls, besides the crew, were upon a stormy ocean in her for more than sixty days, will be as eloquent as any description of their discomforts could be. The objective point was far to the southward of the land that they finally fell upon, which was not within the limits of their patent from the Virginia Company. But they dropped anchor in Cape Cod harbor, sick and weary with the voyage, and landed, giving thanks for their deliverance. With wisdom and frugality the plans for the home in the wilderness were made.
Being too far North to be bound or protected by the provisions of the Virginia charter, the Pilgrims, as they called themselves, made a compact which was mutually protective. The terms of the contract foreshadowed republican institutions. Thus in character, purpose and outward surroundings the Puritan of Plymouth and the Cavalier of Jamestown differed essentially. The after development of the two settlements followed logically along these lines, emphasizing these differences.
Of the hundred souls left in Plymouth only fifty per cent remained alive when the supplies from England came, a year later. Scurvy, famine and exposure to the severe climate had killed most of the weakest of them. Not a household but had suffered loss. Yet not one offered to go back. Men and women alike stood to their posts with a heroism that has never been excelled in the world’s history. We read how they planted their corn in the graveyard when planting time came, so that the Indians might not discover the greatness of their loss. Cotton Mather, in writing of this dark time says, with that provoking, cold-blooded philosophy that can bear other people’s troubles with equanimity: “If disease had not more easily fetched so many away to heaven,” all must have died for lack of provisions. The Indians were at first very hostile, owing to depredations committed by a previous navigator, but they were too few in number to be very troublesome. Squanto, who became the interpreter, and Samoset, a sagamore from the eastern coast, were their first friends among the red men. Squanto was their tutor in husbandry and fishing. Then, too, came Hobbamock, whom Longfellow has immortalized as the “friend of the white man.” The names of those who formed this little colony have become household words all over the land. Miles Standish, John Alden, Priscilla, Elder Brewster, Bradford, where are these names not known? Frugal as the Pilgrims were, and industrious, they found that their inexperience in planting maize, together with other drawbacks, kept them on the edge of starvation for several years. Clams became at one time the staple diet, and were about all that the settlers had to regale their friends with, when a new shipload of those that had been left behind in Leyden, arrived. A description of Plymouth, given in 1626, shows the situation of the town: A broad street, ” about a cannon shot of eight hundred yards long,” bordered by the houses of hewn planks, followed by a brook down the hillside. A second road crossed the first, and at the intersection stood the Governor’s house. Upon the mound known as “burial hill ” was a building which served the double purpose of a fort and a church. A stockade surrounded the whole. At first the agricultural and other labors of the people had been communistic, in accordance with the conditions of the London Company’s charter. But in 1624 this plan was done away with and the lands thereafter held separately. Still the people, unlike those of Virginia, continued to dwell in towns, and their habits in this respect descended to their children.
The second New England colony was that of Massachusetts Bay, which was sent out by a company provided with a charter very much like that of Virginia. The provisions of this patent allowed for the appointment of officers by the company, but it was not stated where the headquarters of the company were to be. This important oversight allowed the transplanting of the company, with officers, elective power, and other democratic rights, to New England. The company, which pretended to be a commercial organization, was really composed of Puritans, who, though not Separatists, were strict to the point of fanaticism. The leader of the first emigrants was John Endicott. His followers numbered less than a hundred souls, with which little force he planted Salem. The Salem colonists, though they had known less persecution and hardship than those of Plymouth, or perhaps for that reason, yet were more intolerant and Quixotic in their rules for self government, in social observances, and especially in their dealings with people of other religious sects. The transference of the government of the company, together with the addition of over eight hundred new colonists, was made in 1630.
As the Massachusetts colonies grew they excited the jealousy or animosity of two very different classes of people. These were their Dutch neighbors and the Indians. The most serious of the early difficulties with the aborigines was, in fact, the effect of Dutch interference. These people had purchased the Connecticut river lands from the Pequots. The Pequots only held the territory by usurpation and the original owners obtained the Puritan protection, giving them a rival title. The enraged Pequots commenced hostilities which were promptly resented by the Puritan Governor, Endicott, who led his men into the Indian country, punishing the assailants severely. This act, however necessary it may have been, laid the colony open to all the cruelty of a long-continued war, which lasted until the final remnant of the Pequot tribe had been extinguished.
The war with Philip, Massasoit’s son, occurred in 1675, when the colony was stronger and better able to bear the tax upon its vigor, but during the year in which it lasted the settlements were frightfully crippled. Six hundred houses had been burned, the fighting force of the English had been decimated, and the fruits of years of labor wasted. The whole difficulty arose from the Puritans’ “lust for inflicting justice,” and might have been avoided.
One of the most significant, as well as beneficial, of early New England institutions was the “town meeting,” which ranked next to “the meeting house worship ” in importance to the colonist; for while in one he indulged liberty of conscience, the other allowed him liberty of speech. Having both his speech and his conscience under control, the Puritan took a sober delight in their indulgence. The town meeting was in the New Englander’s blood, and it needed only the peculiar conditions of his new life to bring it out. His ancestors had had their Folkmotes where all questions of public policy and government were freely discussed. So it came natural to him to gather in unsmiling earnestness with his neighbors, and attend to their plans or suggest others for their mutual guidance and safety. This ventilation of grievances and expression of views did more, in all probability, to prepare for the part which New England should take in future political movements than any other one agency.
The discovery of the Hudson River, and that of Lake Champlain occurred at nearly the same time, each discoverer immortalizing himself by the exploit. That of Hudson has, however, been of vastly more importance to America and the world than that of his French contemporary.
Hudson was known as a great Arctic explorer prior to his discovery of the site of America’s metropolis. He had previously sailed under English patronage, but now he and his little “Half-Moon” were in the service of the Dutch East India Company, and in search of a northwest passage, which he essayed to find by way of Albany, but failed. At the same time Smith was searching the waters of the Chesapeake. In 1614, the charter granting all of America between Virginia and Canada was received by the “Company of the New Netherlands” from the lately formed States General of Holland. The command of so magnificent a river system as that of the Hudson and its tributaries established almost at once the status and success of the Dutch colony.
The States General held complete control of their American dependency. They appointed governors and councilors and provided them with laws. Ordinarily, the people seemed to care as little to mix with politics as does the modern average New Yorker, a good deal of bad government being considered better than a little trouble.
Once in a while a governor got in some difficulty over the Indian question, and called a council of citizens to help him, but ordinarily he was despotic. The colonists were content to wax fat without kicking. They were honest, shrewd, good-natured, tolerant bodies, as different from the New Englander as from the Virginian, or as either of these neighbors was from the other. Primarily traders, they found themselves in one of the best trading grounds in the world, with nothing serious to prevent them from growing rich and multiplying. This they proceeded to do with less noise and more success than either of the other contemporary settlements. In the fifty years of Dutch rule, the population of New Amsterdam reached eight thousand souls. The character of the city was so cosmopolitan that it has been estimated that no less than twelve languages were spoken there. Free trade obtained, in contrast to the policy of New England and Virginia. The boundary difficulties with the Puritan colonies were a constant irritation, but were allowed to slumber when it was necessary to make common cause against the Indians.
In the time of Petrus Stuyvesant, the last of the Dutch governors, the rivalry which existed between the English and Dutch nations regarding the trade of the new world led the treacherous Charles II of England to send an armament in a time of profound peace to take the colony of a friendly nation.
Colonel Richard Nichols commanded the expedition. His orders caused him to stop at the Massachusetts Bay for reinforcements. The colonists there were reluctant to aid him, but those of Connecticut joined eagerly with the expedition, and Governor Winthrop took part in it. The colony passed, without a blow, with hardly a murmur on the part of the people, though considerably to the rage of Governor Stuyvesant, into the hands of the English, to be known thenceforth as New York. Notwithstanding the success of the Dutch colony of New Amsterdam, it was unquestionably a most important advantage in the history of America that it should have fallen into the hands of the English.
As a conservative element, the peaceful, prosperous Friend was of immense value in colonial development. The grant which William Penn obtained in 1681 gave him a tract of forty thousand square miles between the estates of York and Baltimore. Penn’s charter was in imitation of that granted to Maryland, with important differences. With the approval of Lord Baltimore, laws passed by the Maryland Assembly were valid, but the king reserved the right to approve the laws of Pennsylvania. The same principle was applied to the right of taxation. There was about fifty years between the two charters.
The settlement of New Jersey by Quakers was that which first drew Penn’s attention to America. In drawing up the plans for his projected State he did so in accordance with Quaker ideas, which in point of humanity were far in advance of the times. The declaration that governments exist for the sake of the governed, that the purpose of punishment is reformation, that justice to Indians as well as to white men should be considered, were startling in their novelty.
The success of this enterprise was instant and remarkable. In three years the colony numbered eight thousand people. The applications for land poured in and the affairs of the colonists were wisely administered, and before the death of her great founder, Pennsylvania was firmly established. Education was a matter of care from the very start in Philadelphia, although throughout the rest of the state it was neglected for many years. Indian troubles were scarcely known. The great blot on the scutcheon of the Quaker colony was the use of white slaves, for whom Philadelphia became the chief market in the new world. Not less remarkable than the unity of time which characterized the planting of several American settlements was the unity of race into which they all finally merged, with few and slight exceptions, so that in after years all of the various lines of development which have been indicated in this chapter should combine to form a more complete national life. Penn made a treaty with the Indians, and kept it; and herein lies the secret of his success. If only all treaties had been kept, what bloodshed might not have been avoided!