Although the Salem, Massachusetts witchcraft trials are the most well-known, courts in New England had dealt with the perceived issue of witchcraft for decades. This case, from Connecticut, describes the case of Elizabeth Knap. At the conclusion the author provides his own assessment of the evidence in the case.
Bacon’s Rebellion, a Virginia uprising led by Nathaniel Bacon in 1676, was an example of the growing class divisions in the colonial Chesapeake as well as the continuing conflict between Native American tribes and the Virginians. This document details the rebels’ demands.
During the late 1600s, there was increasing conflict between the New England colonies and Native American tribes. Much of this conflict resulted from the New Englanders’ enormous appetite for land and increasing Native desperation to not see their way of life extinguished. The most devastating of these conflicts was Metacom’s War (also known as King Philip’s War).
One example of the evidence we have about life during this time were “captivity narratives.” These were accounts of the kidnapping and eventual ransom of (generally) English women by hostile (to the English) Natives. This excerpt, by Mary Rowlandson of Massachusetts who was a captive during Metacom’s War, is one of the most well-known.
Rowlandson organized her account as a series of “removes”–each discussion one location of her long, mobile captivity.
Note: this is a longer-than-usual excerpt, so allow yourself plenty of time to get through it!
The Colonial Age of North America is, like most historical processes, is difficult to place on a timeline. While, for our purposes, it extends from the establishment of the first Spanish colonies to end of the American War of Independence (the early 1500s to 1783). That approach, however, places a fairly heavy British perspective on the colonial experience. The Spanish did not relinquish their hold on Mexico until 1821, for example.
It is important to keep in mind that the colonization of North America was not a solely British (or British and Spanish) affair. The French played a vital role as did the Dutch. Different colonial powers expanded into North America for different reasons. The Spanish sought to exploit natural wealth such as gold and silver. The French sought wealth through fur pelts. British colonists in Virginia grew tobacco.
Not all colonists were primarily concerned with economic acquisition. The British colonies in New England had a foundation in their desire to establish a society and political system which would allow them to fully embrace their religious beliefs. Roman Catholic missionaries accompanying Spanish Conquistadors brought their faith with them and imposed in on the indigenous population with varying degrees of success.
One constant amongst all the colonizing powers is that their presence and activities had a significant effect on the Native American population—devastating their culture, society, economy, and population.
The resources in this section attempt to illustrate the diversity of the colonial experience in the lands that would, eventually, become the United States.
The Puritan founders of the Massachusetts Bay colony sought to make their society a “citiy on a hill,” an example of Christian community for their English homeland to emulate. This led to, in some cases, a greater degree of religious persecution than in England; not only against the non-Christian Native Americans but against Christians who dissented from some aspects of the leadership’s Calvinist faith.
Roger Williams (1603-1683) was a proponent of religious freedom and of a separation between civil and religious affairs. He founded the Providence Plantation colony (later Rhode Island) partially as a refuge for those persecuted.
John Smith (1580-1631) was one of the leaders of Jamestown, the first permanent English colony in North America. His background was in soldiering more than managing, but his imposition of strict discipline brought stability to Jamestown in its early years.
This excerpt from Smith’s account of the founding of Jamestown and the Virginia colony describes the “Starving Time” which occurred during the winter of 1609-1610.