Tag Archives: 17th Century

The Enlightenment Philosophy of John Locke

John Locke (1632-1704) was an English philosopher and political theorist. One of his best known works was Two Treatises of Government (1690). This book set out a theories of government that would have a long-lasting impact–especially in Europe and the western world.

The following are excerpts from Locke’s Second Treatise of Government
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Galileo’s Letter to Christina of Tuscany

In this l615 letter to Grand Duchess Christina of Tuscany, Galileo defends the theory of heliocentrism–that the Earth revolves around the sun. While popular sentiment tends to hold that the Church condemned Galileo from the start, his ideas were the center of a crucial and long debate which ended with more conservative forces in the church winning. Galileo would be condemned as a heretic.
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New England: Witchcraft?

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.

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The Chesapeake: Class Conflict

 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.

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Captivity Narratives: A Window on Native/English Relations

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!
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European/Native Relations: the French

The relationship between the French and the Native American tribes they encountered was a product of the French goals in North America. Unlike the Spanish they did not arrive with large armies or attempt to enslave the Natives. Unlike the English, the French did not attempt to establish large-scale settlements. In many, but not all, cases, the relationship between the French and the Native tribes was based on mutual gain–the French gained access to natural resources such as beaver pelts and the Natives gained access to high quality European goods.

Cultural differences did exist, however, as evidenced by this account from a leader of the Micmac tribe, recorded by a French priest named Chrestian LeClerq.

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The Pueblo Revolt and Cultural Colonialism in Spanish America

The Pueblo Revolt, led by a native leader named Pope, resulted in a significant—but temporary—lost of territory for the Spanish in North America.  This description of the motivations of the rebelling natives illustrates the cultural tensions between the native peoples and the occupying Spanish.

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Religion in New England

 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.

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John Smith and Jamestown

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.

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