Social Issues

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Social Issues

John Easton . . . 119

Elizabeth Bacon and William Sherwood . . . 131

Cotton Mather, Ezekiel Cheever, and Samuel Sewall . . . 145

A Brief Narrative of the Case and Tryal of John Peter Zenger . . .159

Robert Beverley . . . 169

John Woolman . . . 181

Thomas Morton . . . 193

Excerpt From the Trial of Anne Hutchinson" . . . 207

Documents in this chapter trace significant social issues confronted by American colonists in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Conflict with Native Americans was an ongoing crisis as settlers tried to acquire more land, and tensions frequently escalated into full-scale war. A Relacion of the Indyan Warre is an account by Rhode Island colonist John Easton of the events leading up to King Philip's War, one of the most devastating confrontations of the colonial period. Problems with Native Americans also led to conflicts among the colonists themselves. For example, a letter written by Elizabeth Bacon, who defended the rebellion her husband Nathaniel led against the royal government of Virginia. Nathaniel Bacon charged that frontier farmers were not being adequately protected against Native American raids. However, Bacon's views were not shared by all Virginians: Colonist William Sherwood charged Bacon himself with lawlessness and arrogance.

One of the most infamous events in early American history was the Salem witchcraft trials. A transcript of a trial written by Cotton Mather and Ezekiel Cheever shows that the woman who was willing to admit she was a "witch" was set free, while the one who refused to plead guilty was executed. Excerpts from Samuel Sewall 's diary give glimpses into the closed world of the Puritan elite, which lead to the trials. A Brief Narrative of the Case and Tryal of John Peter Zenger highlights another famous court proceeding, the trial of New York newspaper publisher John Peter Zenger, who was accused of seditious libel. The not-guilty verdict rendered by the jury set a precedent for freedom of the press in America.

By the late 1600s the majority of immigrants in North America were English indentured servants. Although they worked in all of the colonies, the majority labored on plantations in the South. Living conditions for servants were extremely harsh, and the practices of plantation owners came under increased scrutiny, especially in England. In his history of Virginia, planter Robert Beverley vigorously defended the system, calling it both lawful and humane. Excerpts from Beverley's book, The History and Present State of Virginia, present Virginia laws that regulated the treatment of servants and slaves. At the time Beverley issued his defense, plantation owners were increasingly relying on African slaves instead of white indentured servants as a source of labor. Slaves had lived in the colonies since the 1620s, but by the early 1700s the slave trade had become a vital part of the colonial economy in both the North and South. Religious leaders had privately opposed the owning of slaves, but Quaker preacher John Woolman was the first to wage a public campaign. Woolman took a stand against slavery in his essay titled Some Considerations on the Keeping of Negroes. It is considered the first widely published abolitionist statement in America.

Religion was also a source of conflict in all the colonies, but the most pronounced differences occurred in New England where Puritan leaders controlled every aspect of community life. One of the best-known incidents took place when Plymouth colonists broke up a May Day celebration in the nearby town of Merry Mount. A portion of the colorful account of the event written by Thomas Morton, a vocal critic of the Puritans, who had organized the festivities. Puritan officials constantly had problems with dissidents in their own ranks. Among the most outspoken was Anne Marbury Hutchinson, who was banished from Massachusetts Bay because she challenged the authority of Puritan ministers. Excerpt From the Trial of Anne Hutchinson presents Hutchinson asserting her right to hold religious meetings.

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