Financial Backing. The survival of the Plymouth Colony planted in 1620 spurred others to think about settlements in the same area. In 1622 Thomas Weston gave up on Plymouth and financed another group at Wessagusset in Boston harbor. The next year the Dorchester Adventurers, a group of investors who were interested in the codfish industry, attempted to set up a permanent base on the mainland, but only a small settlement arose at Naumkeag. In 1628 the New England Company for a Plantation in Massachusetts-Bay received a grant that included some of the lands already given. John Endicott led fifty new colonists in June to the Naumkeag settlement, which would become Salem, Massachusetts. The most important group, The Governor and Company of the Massachusetts Bay in New England, received a royal charter in 1629. Many of its stockholders were Puritans, people who believed that the Church of England still had too much of Roman Catholicism in it and who wanted instead something simpler and purer like the earliest Christian congregations. Like the Pilgrims at Plymouth they were looking for a place to bring families and start life again without the laws which interfered with their form of worship. The company that financed them sympathized with their aims but also hoped to make a profit. While it might not have lost money, it did not make much either. The Massachusetts Bay Company charter omitted to specify where the company’s meetings were to be held. Since one of the underlying ideas was to provide a place where settlers were free of English control, the company decided to take the charter to America and hold meetings there, three thousand miles from royal intervention. This shrewd move allowed the governor and General Court of the company to become the political leaders of the colony.
LIFE EXPECTANCY IN THE 1600S
Both men and women lived longer in New England than in the Chesapeake Bay area during the early colonial period. This table shows at what age a person on average would die if he or she reached various ages.
|One can expect to live until age|
|Middlesex Co., Va.||Maryland||Andover, Mass.||Plymouth|
|Source: Darrett B. Rutman and Anita Rutman, “‘Now-Wives and Sons-in-Law’: Parental Death in a Seventeenth-Century Virginia County,” in The Chesapeake in the Seventeenth-Century: Essays on Anglo-American Society, edited by Thad W. Tate and David L. Ammerman (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1979), p, 172.|
|M = Males; F = Females; N = Number of Males or Females|
Reasons to Migrate. One of the early promoters of settlement was Robert Cushman, who had arrived in Plymouth aboard the Mayflower but then returned to England as the colony’s business agent. There he published a pamphlet outlining why English people, “here born and bred, and hath lived some years, may remove [themselves] into another country.” After assuring would-be settlers that God was not opposed to such a move he went on to say, “a man must not respect only to live and do good to himself, but he should see where he can live to do most good to others.” Immigrating to America was not only best then for oneself but also for others as well. First, it would bring Christianity to the Indians. Second, the land was not well used by the Indians and was empty, a belief common among Europeans who did not acknowledge that Indian land-use patterns were legitimate or adequate. Third, England was overpopulated. The towns had too many young tradesmen, “and the hospitals are filled with old laborers”; everywhere there were beggars. Fourth, England had become a land of religious contention and strife that brought neighbor against neighbor and consumed energies better spent converting the heathen. Fifth, times were hard, and it became more difficult not only to live but to leave some legacy to one’s children. In America things could be different:
To conclude, without all partiality: the present consumption [deadly illness] which groweth upon us here, whilst the land groaneth under so many close-fisted [stingy] and unmerciful men, being compared with the easiness, plainness [honesty and simplicity], and plentifulness in living in those remote places, may quickly persuade any man to a liking of this course, and to practice a removal—which being done by honest, godly and industrious men, they shall there be right heartily welcome.
There were many reasons to come to America, and Cushman appealed to them all. They were not mutually exclusive. People could leave England for religious freedom—at least for themselves—and in the hopes that they and their children would have a better economic future. They could migrate overseas in the pious anticipation of converting the Indians to Christianity. The decision became easier for some as the religious climate in England deteriorated and many ministers intent upon purifying the English Church were relieved of their congregations or imprisoned. Congregations looked around for a place where they and their ministers would be left in peace.
Great Migration. Between the first settlers to Massachusetts Bay in 1630 and the outbreak of the English Civil War in 1640, some ten thousand English folk—men, women, and children—came to New England in what is known as the Great Migration. The leader of the Massachusetts migration was John Winthrop, a well-educated and wealthy country squire whose grandfather had purchased one of the abbeys confiscated by Henry VIII when he left the Roman Catholic Church. Winthrop sailed with the first fleet of seven hundred persons who arrived in Massachusetts in June—early enough to begin planting crops. These earliest arrivals spread out since they needed fresh water and realized that keeping that many people together led to poor sanitation and disease. Indeed, two hundred died the first
year, and another hundred returned to England. But others continued to come even though some of these went back as well. The Puritan migrants, like the Plymouth settlers, intended to settle permanently in America. This meant that they often came as families or if single were placed in family groups. For example, in 1635 the Reverend Joseph Hull sailed from Weymouth, England, for New England with his wife Agnes and his two sons, five daughters, two male servants, and one female servant. Hull was forty years old. Most of those on the ship with the Hull family were younger; many were children under fourteen, but both Richard and Elizabeth Wade were in their sixties, the oldest people on board. New England’s population as a whole was somewhat younger than old England’s, but it still had the full range from newborn to those in their eighties. The Great Migration also brought over those of different social and economic status. While the wealthiest and poorest elements of society generally did not leave England, there were some exceptions. As a wealthy man Winthrop was one of these exceptions, and he and the rest of those early migrants agreed that God never intended for men to be equal. The towns that the first immigrants established filled quickly, and those who came on later ships spread out. Rather than individuals going alone into the wilderness, these New Englanders formed themselves into corporate bodies which bought land from the Indians, petitioned the legislature for the right to become a town, and then moved there as households. Husbands, wives, and their children set up housekeeping immediately, and those men and women who were as yet unmarried boarded in the houses of those who were.
Ethnic Homogeneity. Once the English Civil War, which pitted Parliament and the Puritans against the king and the Church of England, began, migration to New England nearly ended. Many, although not all, had come to America partially to escape religious persecution. Now that Puritans controlled England, those still there felt no need to leave. Indeed, some in Massachusetts felt that they should return and help in the fight against the Crown. Those in New England tried to preserve their religious base and even hanged four Quakers who would not leave the colony. Massachusetts’s soil was relatively poor and its growing season short. Few newcomers arrived in New England, and most of its population growth would be due to high fertility and low mortality rates. Most of the eighteenth-century migrations did not occur in Massachusetts, and the colony boasted no sizable German or Scots populations. There were African slaves, however, although never in large numbers. In the cities they worked as laborers and as helpers in bakeries and storehouses. They also served aboard ships, and in the countryside they performed farm labor. African women worked as domestics. In 1776 Massachusetts, which then included Maine, had some 330,000 whites and maybe 5,200 blacks.
Connecticut. Not everybody who first came to Massachusetts stayed there. Some looked for fertile lands elsewhere, while others found Massachusetts’s brand of Puritanism not strict enough. In 1634 and 1635 Massachusetts migrants settled the Connecticut River valley and founded the three towns of Wethersfield, Windsor, and Hartford. The well-known Puritan minister Thomas Hooker brought some of his English congregation to the area in 1636. Three years later the three towns joined together as Connecticut and adopted the Fundamental Orders “to maintain and preserve the liberty and purity of the gospel.” Meanwhile in 1638 the minister John Davenport and the merchant Theophilus Eaton, with powerful friends in England, purchased land from the Indians along the coast and called their settlement New Haven. Finding the Puritans in Massachusetts some what lax, they adopted a government based on Mosaic Law. The two colonies coexisted, but in 1662 the Crown granted a charter that allowed Connecticut to incorporate New Haven against its will. Connecticut, without a major harbor, could not grow as did Massachusetts. Its population relied mainly on farming and raising livestock. Called “the land of steady habits,” it had neither the wealth nor the poverty of its neighbor. Most of its population came from Massachusetts and so shared its English orientation. An exception were the few African slaves that helped work the farms of the wealthy. In 1774 the white population numbered 191,000; nonwhites (including Indians) totaled 6,450.
A NEW ENGLAND TOWN COVENANT
Some of the earlier settlers, especially in New England, drew up contracts setting out some of the plans for their towns. The following excerpts are from the 1636 Articles of Agreement for Springfield, Massachusetts. They show not only that the town was to be built through attracting families but also that some in the town, already more wealthy, would be given special privileges to maintain that distinction. The agreement also makes clear that this town had yet to find a minister.
We whose names are underwritten, being by God’s providence engaged together to make a plantation at and over against Agawam upon Connecticut, do mutually agree to certain articles and orders to be observed and kept by us and by our successors, except we and every [one] of us for ourselves and in our own persons shall think meet upon better reasons to alter our present resolutions.
1ly. We intend by God’s grace, as soon as we can, with all convenient speed, to procure some Godly and faithful minister with whom we purpose to join in church covenant to walk in all the ways of Christ.
2ly. We intend that our town shall be composed of forty families, or, if we think meet after[ward] to alter our purpose, yet not to exceed the number of fifty families, rich and poor.
3ly. That every family shall have a convenient proportion for a house lot, as we shall see meet for everyone’s quality and estate.
4ly. That everyone that hath a house lot shall have a proportion of the cow pasture to the north of End Brook lying northward from the town; and also that everyone shall have a share of the Hassokey Marsh over against his lot, if it be to be had, and everyone to have his proportionable share of all the woodland.
9ly. That whereas Mr. William Pynchon, Jeheu Burr, and Henry Smith have constantly continued to prosecute this plantation when others fell off for fear of the difficulties, and [have] continued to prosecute the same at great charges and at great personal adventure: therefore it is mutually agreed that forty acres of meadow lying on the south of End Brook under a hillside shall belong to the said parties free from all charges forever.
Source: John Demos, Remarkable Providences: Readings in Early American History, revised edition (Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1991).
Rhode Island. Like Connecticut, Rhode Island began its existence as various smaller settlements. Unlike Connecticut, or any of the other New England colonies, it served as the refuge for those who were unwelcome in those places. The Dutch called it the “latrina [sewer] of New England,” while Puritans labeled it “Rogues Island.” The most famous of Rhode Island’s founders were
Roger Williams and Anne Hutchinson, but they were not the only ones to find that their religious beliefs resulted in their banishment. Williams was a young minister who arrived in Massachusetts in 1631. Everybody, including Winthrop, admired him, but Williams soon developed unacceptable ideas, including the unlawfulness of taking land from the Indians and the sinfulness of interaction with those whom God had not saved. He was a separatist—one who wished to break from the Church of England—whose views finally led him to believe that the church and state should be completely separate because the state would corrupt the church. He maintained that since it was unclear who the saved actually were—he believed that he could be sure only of himself and his wife—maybe the church should be open to everybody. Informed by Winthrop that he was about to be arrested in 1635, he fled Massachusetts and lived for a winter with the Narraganset Indians. He bought land from them and was joined by some of his followers in founding the town of Providence.
A Different Heresy. Hutchinson’s beliefs were different from Williams’s but just as dangerous to Massachusetts. She held that some of Massachusetts’s ministers were preaching Arminianism, a gospel of works which said that people could influence God’s will about their salvation through good behavior. She also felt that those who were saints should not obey the laws that were made by those who might not be saints. Her final heresy came out in a lengthy trial when she claimed to know through direct revelation from God who was saved. Puritans did not believe this, and of course it was dangerous to have people claiming that this minister or that magistrate was not among the chosen few. Hutchinson and her followers were banished on 7 November 1637 and founded the town of Portsmouth soon afterward. Hutchinson did not stay in Portsmouth long because religious squabbles plagued the community. Controversy centered around William Coddington, a political leader and former Hutchinson advocate, and Samuel Gorton, already persona non grata in Plymouth and Massachusetts. Gorton believed in the divinity of all human beings and rejected both a church restricted to saints and any form of social hierarchy. His contentiousness proved too much for Coddington, who left in 1639 to found Newport. Gorton finally left in 1641 and established the town of Warwick, the last of the original Rhode Island towns, in 1643.
Charter. Roger Williams meanwhile traveled to England to secure a charter for this menagerie of religious and political misfits. A skillful politician, he succeeded both with the Puritan Parliament in 1644 and the newly restored Charles II in 1663. The charter gave Rhode Island more autonomy than other colonies and was the most tolerant in New England. Quakers found acceptance there, and a small Jewish community emerged.
Rhode Island never had a large ethnic population, but it was the most heterogeneous colony of the region. Newport was a cosmopolitan port town with Scots, French, Dutch, Germans, Portuguese, and Italians. Rhode Island also had the largest percentage of nonwhites in New England. Nevertheless, the numbers of people involved were small since Rhode Island contained only 1,214 square miles, about one-eighth the size of Massachusetts. In 1755 the colony had 36,000 whites and 4,700 blacks and Indians.
Richard Archer, “New England Mosaic: A Demographic Analysis for the Seventeenth Century,” William and Mary Quarterly, 47 (1990): 477–502;
Bruce C. Daniels, Dissent and Conformity on Narragansett Bay (Middletown, Conn.: Wesleyan University Press, 1984);
Benjamin W. Labaree, Colonial Massachusetts: A History (Millwood, N.Y.: KTO Press, 1979);
William D. Pierson, Black Yankees: The Development of an Afro-American Subculture in Eighteenth-Century New England (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1988);
Robert J. Taylor, Colonial Connecticut: A History (Millwood, N.Y.: KTO Press, 1979).
As one of the distinct cultural and political hearths of colonial settlement in British North America, New England played a decisive role in the shaping of the new American Republic. From the area's initial colonization through the early nineteenth century, New Englanders developed and maintained a strong regional identity that helped give rise to various nationalistic visions, but in many cases they also were a local counterpoint to such larger allegiances. Yet this idea—this sense of identity, of "New Englandness"—operated not only as a defining element of New Englanders' identification with the new American nation, but as a powerful part of their critique of the Republic when they perceived their place within it challenged and threatened. In a somewhat ironic demonstration of the dynamic and evolving nature of the new Republic's nationhood, New England's regional distinctiveness served first to bolster, but then often critically to examine the bonds of union in the early American Republic.
New England was the second major region of English colonization in North America. Unlike the preceding Chesapeake colonies, the New England settlements were, socially and culturally, initially more stable and homogenous. Founded primarily as Puritan enclaves, these colonies possessed a greater collective identity and sense of purpose than most of their counterparts in England's American domain. This Puritan-inspired sense of mission was summed up most famously by John Winthrop, governor of Massachusetts Bay (founded 1630). Winthrop exhorted his fellow Puritan settlers that they must be "a Citty upon a Hill. The eies of all people are uppon us." The Puritan "errand into the wilderness," meant to provide a beacon of reform for the unregenerate mainstream of the Anglican Church, ultimately proved a failure, however. Subsequent colonies in the region were founded by dissenters from this orthodoxy, testimony to the increasing divergence of views within the larger Puritan colonial community.
Most significantly, the Puritan mission of Massachusetts Bay became a victim of the colony's success. The thin, rocky soil of New England was unsuitable for agriculture beyond the scale of small family farming. But the extensive lumber supplies, rich fisheries, and numerous harbors of the region provided a path to economic growth that looked seaward through such pursuits as shipbuilding, naval stores, whaling, fishing, and commerce. As Boston became a preeminent center of Atlantic trade, the colony's economy grew significantly. This in turn attracted new settlers, many of whom did not share in the original Puritan ethic. Economic growth begat new social and cultural priorities; by the 1660s, Puritan ministers were preaching jeremiads lamenting the increasing worldliness of their flocks, which ultimately threatened the success of the Puritan experiment. These lamentations proved prescient—by the end of the century, New England resembled the other English colonies much more closely in its more secular nature. Most symbolic of this transformation was the crown's reorganization of its American colonies in the wake of the Glorious Revolution of 1688–1689. The new royal charter of 1691 for the colony of Massachusetts combined the original Puritan colonies of Plymouth and Massachusetts Bay into one unit and tied political participation to property ownership rather than membership in a Puritan congregation. Despite the failure of the reformist mission articulated by such figures as Winthrop, the Puritan identity continued to exert a profound influence on the cultural and social development of New England. Much of New England's regional identity in the Revolutionary and early national periods arose from the Puritan legacy.
revolutionary and early national eras
Bolstering this sense of regional importance was New England's primary role in the events and debates leading to the Revolutionary War and American independence. Boston emerged as the center of colonial resistance to British policies in the years following the Seven Years' War (1756–1763). Many of the prominent figures associated with this colonial resistance were New Englanders. James Otis (1725–1783) first articulated the colonists' constitutional arguments about taxation and representation. Samuel Adams (1722–1803) was the mastermind behind many of Boston's displays of resistance, as well as an early advocate of the Revolutionary Committees of Correspondence. His cousin, John Adams (1735–1826), was a prominent leader in Boston's Sons of Liberty, as was the silversmith Paul Revere (1735–1818). The wealthy merchant John Hancock (1737–1793) lent wealth and social prominence to the movement, and he served as president of the Continental Congress when it ratified the Declaration of Independence. Many key events along the road to revolution occurred in Boston and elsewhere in New England. Boston was the site of the largest protests against the Stamp Act (1765), protests which set the pattern of popular participation and agitation that would become a hallmark of the era. The Boston Massacre (1770), the Boston Tea Party (1773), the Battles of Lexington and Concord (April 1775) and Bunker Hill (June 1775)—the coming of American independence seemed to be charted by events in Boston and its environs. No other region produced as many of the events and figures associated with the Revolutionary movement in the public imagination.
During the American Republic's first decades, New Englanders—like many other Americans—reckoned with exactly what their Revolution had wrought. Revolutionary ideals of republicanism and liberty eroded many of the norms that had characterized colonial society. Deferring to one's "betters" was no longer accepted protocol, for example; urban centers like Boston saw groups such as merchants, laborers, and even blacks and women lay claim to participation and acceptance within the larger public sphere. Assertiveness by traditionally subordinate groups could turn threatening, and even violent, in the eyes of traditional elites. Shays's Rebellion in western Massachusetts (1786–1787) seemed to embody the uncertain and contested nature of the Revolutionary legacy. The institution of slavery quickly receded throughout the northern states for these same reasons. Leading the way was Massachusetts, whose supreme court (in the celebrated Quok Walker case) declared slavery unconstitutional in 1783. By the end of the decade, slavery had been abolished throughout New England. This "first emancipation" would be a primary reason for New England's becoming the hearth of the abolitionist movement in later years.
After the ratification of the Constitution (in 1788) New England became a consistent base of political support for the Federalist presidential administrations of George Washington (1789–1797) and John Adams (1797–1801). Federalist policy favored the interests of commerce and manufacturing, both of which played central roles in the region's economy. The opposition, led by Virginians Thomas Jefferson and James Madison and dubbed the Democratic Republicans, did not make much of an inroad into New England until the early 1800s. New England solidly supported native son John Adams in the controversial election of 1800, but Thomas Jefferson won the presidency. Many New Englanders ascribed the Federalist defeat to extra Republican votes gained from the slave population through the operation of the Constitution's "three-fifths" compromise. Without these "slave votes," New England Federalists argued, Jefferson would have lost. The resentment over these issues of slavery and sectional power formed an important part of the emerging New England critique of Democratic Republican rule.
from center to periphery
Though the Democratic Republicans would control the region's state governments by early 1804, Federalist opposition remained a significant force. New England Federalists decried what they saw as the Republicans' insensitivity to the commercial interests of their region. Key events during the presidencies of Jefferson (1801–1809) and Madison (1809–1817) only served to reinforce this belief. The Louisiana Purchase of 1803 doubled the nation's size, threatening to render New England an even smaller minority in the national government. Indeed, in the wake of the purchase, a group of New England congress-men—led by Massachusetts Senator Timothy Pickering—attempted to put into motion a plan whereby New York and the New England states would secede from the southern-dominated Union and form an independent "northern confederacy." The conspirators even cultivated Vice President Aaron Burr, a native New Yorker, as a gubernatorial candidate in an attempt to win the spring 1804 election in his home state. If Burr had won, they planned to begin the process of secession that would culminate in the confederacy desired by these New Englanders. Burr, however, lost the election (blaming his defeat on Alexander Hamilton, he issued a challenge which led to the notorious duel between Burr and his longtime political nemesis) and the Federalists suffered general reverses in the spring elections throughout New England. In the wake of these defeats, the plans of Pickering and his cohorts evaporated. However, despite the failure of this specific plan for a northern confederacy, anti-Republican and anti-southern sentiment in New England remained strong, awaiting only another threat to the region's interests to fan it into full flame.
Commercial disputes with Britain and France, eventually leading to the War of 1812, created resentment in New England, as various Republican retaliatory measures (embargo and commercial nonintercourse) decimated the New England economy and led many in the region to accuse the Republicans of a larger anti-commercial—and anti-New England—animus. The protests emanating from New England had taken on an increasingly sectional tone by this point, a significant contrast to earlier decades. During the War of 1812 itself, New England remained essentially neutral—financiers refused to lend the government necessary funds, governors withheld militias from federal service, and grassroots opposition to a highly unpopular war culminated in a special convention at Hartford, Connecticut, which opened in December 1814. The Hartford Convention, however, was not only the height but the end of New England's sectionalism. The convention demanded constitutional amendments to restrict southerners' political powers and protect what it saw as New England's interests. News of Andrew Jackson's smashing victory at New Orleans (January 1815) and the Treaty of Ghent (signed December 1814) effectively rendered the Hartford Convention moot. New England's Federalists were now seen as opponents to what had become, in the eyes of most Americans, a smashing national triumph, and thus they became tainted in the public mind with an aura of disloyalty and treason.
This remarkable transformation in New England's standing—from the heart to the fringes of the American mainstream—reflected not only the rapid growth of the Republic, but the sense of national consciousness that was evolving beyond regionally centered definitions of "American," like those of New England. New England possessed, throughout this period, a strong and coherent sense of identity. This identity, however, occupied a much different place and served much different purposes by the 1820s than it had during an earlier generation.
With the decline of the Federalists in the wake of the ill-fated Hartford Convention, New England's regional consciousness and self-definition was no longer tied to a specific partisan identity. Taking the place of political agendas was the emerging manufacturing sector of New England's economy, which had its beginnings around the turn of the century in the textile mills of the Rhode Island coast and the Merrimack River valley of Massachusetts and southern New Hampshire. Since the region was never ideally suited for farming on any scale beyond that of the individual family, there was a surplus of population in terms of what was required for farm work; this surplus became a ready-made labor force available for work in the quickly growing enterprises. As manufacturing spread into other parts of the region, and other types of production, towns like Lowell and Lynn, Massachusetts, and Pawtucket, Rhode Island, became the earliest centers of the United States' emergent industrial economy. The rise and steady growth of New England's manufacturing economy would put the region on a much different path than other sections of the United States, and ultimately play a significant role in a later generation's sectional divisions and conflicts. As the factory operative and "Yankee trader" became increasingly representative cultural types in New England, a clear contrast emerged with the rural, agrarian South of yeomen farmers and slave owning planters. Ultimately, as the American Republic matured, the very real sense of a distinctive New England culture and identity—though it now came from different antecedents—continued to be an important factor in the Republic's collection of regional identities, just as it had been from the earliest days of American nationhood.
See alsoAdams, John; Adams, John Quincy; Congregationalists; Connecticut; Democratic Republicans; Embargo; Federalist Party; Hartford Convention; Massachusetts; New Hampshire; Presidency, The; Rhode Island; Textiles Manufacturing; War of 1812 .
Bushman, Richard L. From Puritan to Yankee: Character and the Social Order in Connecticut, 1690–1765. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1967.
Gross, Robert A. The Minutemen and Their World. New York: Hill and Wang, 1976.
Heyrman, Christine Leigh. Commerce and Culture: The Maritime Communities of Colonial Massachusetts, 1690–1750. New York: Norton, 1984.
Kerber, Linda K. Federalists in Dissent: Imagery and Ideology in Jeffersonian America. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1970.
Rutman, Darrett B. Winthrop's Boston: Portrait of a Puritan Town, 1630–1649. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1965.
Sharp, James Roger. American Politics in the Early Republic: The New Nation in Crisis. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1993.
Sheidley, Harlow W. Sectional Nationalism: Massachusetts Conservative Leaders and the Transformation of America, 1815–1836. Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1998.
Waller, George M., ed. Puritanism in Early America. 2nd ed. Lexington, Mass.: Heath, 1973.
Young, Alfred F. The Shoemaker and the Tea Party: Memory and the American Revolution. Boston: Beacon Press, 1999.
Kevin M. Gannon
New England's early foodways set a pattern for the common, everyday cookery that would be carried across the American continent and endure through time to the present. Many dishes considered today particularly American—pumpkin pie, johnnycake, pork and baked beans, apple pie, among others—evolved in New England from the yeoman English cookery of the seventeenth century colonist who came to the region.
English settlers arrived in New England with a decided preference for beef and beer, wheat bread, peas and root vegetables, tree fruits, particularly apple, and well-developed dairying practices. Their seasoning habits were close to the rich and complex flavorings of the late medieval era. They ate fish on fast days, regarded it appropriately as light fare, but often associated it, especially salted fish, with poverty. Venison hunting and consumption was, for these people, restricted in Old England as sport and fare for the gentry. Within a few decades, settlers had considerably altered some of these habits to accommodate the climate and growing conditions of their new home, the variable supplies of still-developing trade networks, and economic realities of a colony as a joint stock company.
Climate and Cash Flow
New England's weather was much colder, particularly in winter, than the English were accustomed to in the Gulf Stream–moderated British Isles. The colonial period and early nineteenth century were, as well, affected by what weather historians have characterized as a mini ice age. Still summers were shorter, hotter, and more humid than English growing seasons, conditions that adversely affected wheat and pea growing in particular. A recurring mildew attacked wheat, gradually impelling a switch from wheat flour bread to one made with rye and the Native American's cornmeal, which settlers named "Indian" to produce a loaf called "rye and Indian." New England's climate favored the native beans that ultimately fared better than peas as a field crop and helped urge the shift to the beans pottage that would evolve into baked beans.
New England's climate limited natural abundance. Compared to other colonies in North America, settlers in the north were limited to gathering greens in early spring, and wild fruits and nuts in two to three months of summer and early fall. Deer, moose, and small animals were most toothsome in the fall before they had spent cold months grazing on evergreens and mosses. Settlers near water could hunt wild fowl, as well as catch fish. But cold weather hunting and fishing was often strenuous and yielded uncertain results with at least as great an expenditure of energy finding food as would be gained from eating it. Besides the issue of dubious food value, early settlers viewed hunting and gathering as the sport of the gentry and idle, and, more to the point, they faced economic realties which mitigated against that activity.
Of first importance was establishing an economic base for the colonies settled all through southern New England. As joint stock companies, they owed money, and much effort was expended to raise it and to create some business that would yield profit. From the start, this impulse created a market economy that skewed settlers' activity toward lumbering, fishing, and producing the most merchantable crops and agricultural products, and away from growing experimental foodstuffs or from indulging in hunting and gathering with potentially unreliable results. New England's gentry farmers in later years took up the gentlemanly farming found earlier in the South and the Middle Atlantic colonies, growing experimental crops, vegetables, conducting animal husbandry, and cultivating fruit trees—quince, pears, cherries, apricots, and even peaches, but chiefly apples. By the later nineteenth century even middle-class professionals spent their leisure growing everything from strawberries to pumpkins in gentile competition, but for the first century and anywhere on New England's frontiers, Yankees preferred the tried, true, and reliably abundant. This conservatism in taste and preference for reliability endured through the centuries.
Food from the Native Americans
New England's settlers adopted a limited range of food stuff and agricultural practice from the Native Americans. As most cultures do when encountering new foods, the English accepted those that most resembled the familiar and preferred. Practicality drove the adoption of what the Native Americans called the Three Sisters: corn, squash and pumpkins, and beans.
Corn grew and yielded well. Cornmeal behaved culinarily like the familiar oatmeal and was handled as oatmeal had been in England in the unleavened bread bannock. Bannock was also known in the North of England as jonniken. The corruption of the term jonniken accounts for the name johnnycake, best seen in the Rhode Island spelling of jonnycake, which is to this day an unleavened mixture of cornmeal, salt, water, sometimes thinned with milk, and baked over fire on a flat pan in traditional bannock fashion. Cornmeal was also cooked as a mush or hasty pudding, as had been oatmeal. Similarly, Indian meal was used in place of the customary coarse oatmeal to make the milk-based, molasses-sweetened Indian pudding, ultimately named for the cornmeal used to make it.
Squash and pumpkins worked in recipes like apples did, so they were stewed as a sauce or sliced in pie form as apples were in the seventeenth century. Later, in the eighteenth century, they would be used like the similarly textured sweet potato in the sweet puddings often baked in pastry shells, and thus gradually evolved into pumpkin pie.
For many centuries, the most commonly used bean in Europe was a large flat bean of which the modern fava is a kind. Settlers encountered the smaller, rounder, kidney-shaped beans of North America that could be used as peas had always been used in potages and soups, often with salted meat, or even sometimes ground to be combined with grains for a coarse bread. Most of the early potages were stewed dishes, but toward the end of the eighteenth century, New Englanders took advantage of still warm brick bake ovens to bake slowly a pot full of beans with salt pork. Baked beans were barely sweetened in the early era, the most usual proportion being one large spoonful of molasses to a quart of dried beans. Industrially produced beans of the later nineteenth and early twentieth centuries were notoriously and popularly sweet, and many homemakers followed the example to create the sweet baked beans we know today.
Reform and Beer and Bread
Uncertainty with grain crops together with the relative ease of apple growing gradually brought about a slight shift from beer and ale to apple cider drinking. Still for the first two centuries of New England's history, housewives continued the paired activities of baking and brewing, both of which used and generated yeast. The advent of the Temperance movement, the earliest of the food-ways-related reforms to take hold of New England, gradually eliminated brewed beverages from widespread daily and family consumption and replaced them with tea and coffee, and eventually for festive occasions, lemonade. Some people continued to drink wine, and beer and cider, but the Temperance influence was widespread in New England, and broke the bread-making and brewing connection, opening the way for commercial yeast-making and the wider acceptance and manufacture of chemical leavenings such as pearlash, later saleratus, and eventually baking soda and cream of tartar, and baking powder.
New Englanders reverted to making bread with wheat after the Eire Canal opened in the 1820s, and lower cost wheat flour came on the market. The old rye-and-Indian gradually disappeared, but in the mid-nineteenth century the combination could be found in Boston brown bread, which continued to use rye, cornmeal, and sometimes wheat flour as well, mixed with chemical leavenings, milk, sweetened with molasses, and steamed—more pudding than bread, but eaten as bread would be, often accompanying baked pork and beans. This combination continues even to our time, and was carried across the country anywhere New Englanders settled.
Fish, Molasses, and Industry
New England was the earliest region to industrialize. In the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, Boston and Providence capitalists converted money from trade and shipping into textile manufacture. Some of this wealth had been originally generated by the salt cod trade with Europe and the West Indies, where it formed a leg of the well-known triangle trade that included molasses and slaves. Settlers engaged in cod fishing early, utilizing one of the regions natural resources, in order to produce an income for repayment of investments in colonies. The codfish that hangs in the Massachusetts State House has little to do with gastronomic preferences of New Englanders, but honors instead the source of much wealth.
New Englanders certainly did consume salt codfish, often on Saturday, often in the form of a boiled dinner with root vegetables, and a sauce of fried salt pork or butter and chopped boiled eggs. This dish gained the derisive nickname Cape Cod Turkey, variously Block Island Turkey. Chowder, another dish with strong New England associations, came ashore from the fishing fleets. Earliest versions of it were comprised of fishermen's provisions, salt pork and hardtack, to which fish was added. When Yankees added potatoes to their everyday diet, they were used in the chowder, too, eventually replacing hardtack as a thickener.
The molasses was made into rum, and provided an inexpensive sweetening characteristic of many of New England's early dishes. Wherever saltwater access made shipping possible molasses, brown sugar, and refined white sugar were available to cooks, even in the hinterlands. Two other sweeteners, commonplace in interior New England, were a thick, molasses-like syrup made from boiled down sweet apple cider, and maple sugar. Produced mostly as a commodity, partly for home consumption, sugar-making from maple tree sap became a widespread activity in the middle to late eighteenth century, and grew steadily through the nineteenth. The goal was sugar production, though in more recent times, the syrup has become more desirable.
The industrialization of New England promoted urban growth and transformed many New Englanders from food producers to food consumers only. Urbanization created a stronger market for dairy products—cheese, milk, and butter—and changed many New England farms from producing varied crops to focusing on a specialty such as dairying, orchards, or raising poultry for meat and eggs. By the mid-nineteenth century, grain and even beef and pork were brought into New England's cities from the West by way of railroads and artificial refrigeration.
Factory work also changed the daily patterns of meals for many New Englanders. The old rural pattern of a morning breakfast, noon dinner, and a smaller meal called tea or supper in the evening gave way to breakfast, a lunch carried to work, and a supper or dinner in the evening at the end of the work day. For many laboring families, however, dinner became a Sunday phenomenon, placed in the middle of the day. People in farming communities would continue the old pattern well into the twentieth century.
Industrialization encouraged immigration from the French Canadian north and Europe and gradually introduced ethnic flavors to the region. The same reformist impulse that gave Temperance such a strong footing in New England also worked toward mainstreaming the newcomers' diets. Scientific cooking and cooking schools, such as the well-known Boston Cooking School, made as their missions both to educate middle-class women in healthful and aesthetically pleasing cookery, but also to uplift the poor, often immigrant, populations caught in the economic vicissitudes of industrialization. This combined readily with many immigrants desire to meld into American life, which they accomplished by giving up some of their traditional dishes to eat more meat. Many ethnic groups living in neighborhoods nevertheless managed to continue many familiar foodways and supported local groceries, butchers, fish markets, and green grocers. In the twentieth century, with the culmination of nearly a century of exposure to Italians, Portuguese, Eastern Europeans, French, and Asians, Yankee cooks ate in ethnic restaurants and experimented with foreign dishes at home.
The national holiday Thanksgiving owes it origins to the sustained custom of autumn harvest festivals brought to and continued in New England. Originally a moveable feast that could occur almost anytime at the conclusion of the growing season, early New Englanders preferred to conclude butchering season before celebrating the harvest, usually at the end of November or beginning of December. Individual colonial, later state, governors declared what day, usually a Thursday, the holiday would be observed. A holiday of family reunion, feasting, and recreation, Thanksgiving's menu has been much mythologized, starting with the event considered the first Thanksgiving, described by Edward Winslow in Mourt's Relation : "so we might after a special manner rejoice together after we had gathered the fruit of our Labors." Winslow reported that they had wild fowl and venison, and William Bradford writing in Of Pilmoth Plantation about the same event, referred to fish, turkeys, and Indian meal.
In the nineteenth century when the story of founding settlers of Plymouth was romanticized, the association of turkeys and the so-called Pilgrims at Thanksgiving assured that dish would appear on the table along with roast pork, chicken pies, fall-harvested vegetables such as squash, potatoes, and turnips. Cranberry sauce and pickles and other preserves accompanied the meal, and pies followed made of pumpkin, apple, and mincemeat. This menu, with very few substantial changes, spread across the country with settlers, and has continued to the present along with the habit of observing the day. While nearly every state in the nation observed Thanksgiving in some form, the day became a nationally declared holiday when Abraham Lincoln, at the urging of Sarah Josepha Hale, set the holiday at the last Thursday in November. Franklin Roosevelt changed the date to the fourth Thursday, where it rests today.
See also Fish: Sea Fish; Foodways; Maize: Maize as a Food; Squash and Gourds; Sugar Crops and Natural Sweeteners; Thanksgiving; Wheat: Wheat as a Food.
Albion, Robert, William A. Baker, and Benjamin W. Labaree. New England and the Sea. Mystic, Conn.: Mystic Seaport Museum, 1972.
Bradford, William. Of Plimoth Plantation. Edited by Samuel Elliot Morison. New York: Knopf, 1952.
Child, Mrs. Lydia Maria. The American Frugal Housewife. (Reprint of 12th ed. Boston: Carter, Hendee, and Company, 1833) Worthington, Ohio: Historical Society, 1965.
Dwight, Timothy. Travels in New England and New York. Edited by Barbara Miller Solomon. 4 vols. Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1969.
Farmer, Fanny Merritt. The Boston Cooking-School Cook Book. Boston: Little, Brown, 1895.
Hazard, Thomas Robinson. The Jonnycake Papers of "Shepherd Tom" together with Reminiscences of Narragansett Schools of Former Days. Boston, 1918.
Oliver, Sandra L. Saltwater Foodways: New Englanders and Their Food at Sea and Ashore in the 19th Century. Mystic, Conn.: Mystic Seaport, 1995.
Parloa, Maria. Miss Parloa's New Cookbook and Marketing Guide. Boston: Estes and Lauriat, 1880.
Russell, Howard S. A Long Deep Furrow: Three Centuries of Farming in New England. Hanover, N.H., and London: University Press of New England, 1976.
Shapiro, Laura. Perfection Salad: Women and Cooking at the Turn of the Century. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1986.
Simmons, Amelia. American Cookery: Or, the Art of Dressing Viands, Fish, Poultry and Vegetables (1796). Introduction by Mary Tolford Wilson. New York: Dover, 1984.
Travers, Carolyn Freeman, ed. The Thanksgiving Primer. A Plimoth Plantation Publication. Plymouth, Mass.: Plimoth Plantation, 1991.
Winslow, Edward. Mourt's Relation. Edited by D. B. Heath. Cambridge, Mass.: Applewood Books, 1986.
Sandra L. Oliver
NEW ENGLAND. Embracing the six states of Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut, New England formed a distinct section with a character of its own from the beginning of European settlement in North America. It is significant that New England was the first to develop the idea of complete independence from Great Britain, that it opposed the unrestrained westward expansion of the new nation, and that it was the first to propose secession from the Union (see Hartford Convention). Its sectional identity and local character were deeply rooted in its history.
Geographically, New England is separated from the rest of the United States by the northern spurs of the Appalachian Mountains, and its lack of river systems, such as the Mohawk-Hudson, denies it easy access to the hinterland. Although Puritanism was widespread in all the colonies during the period of early English settlement, New England was settled by the most orthodox Puritans. In Massachusetts the first government was a conservative theocracy, which, owing to the transfer of the charter to Boston, was practically independent of England (1630–1686). Connecticut and Rhode Island colonies never had royal governors. Owing to altered conditions in England, immigration declined sharply for the two centuries after 1640, thus limiting New England's exposure to outside influences. The early establishment of Harvard College in 1636 further increased parochialism, for potential leaders who might have been broadened by an education in England remained in the provincial atmosphere of the colony. The poor soil and rough terrain precluded development of large estates or staple crops, as well as of slavery. The region became a land of small farmers, hardy fishermen, and versatile traders, all ingenious in finding ways of making money.
There were local differences, such as the religious intolerance of Massachusetts and the freedom of Rhode Island, but the "Yankee" character dominated all of New England by 1830. The limited number of immigrants, the lack of outside contacts, and stubborn control by the clerical oligarchy were all major factors in shaping the region. Moreover, when New Englanders migrated, they often did so in groups of families or entire congregations whose group solidarity maintained customs and character.
The typical New England institutions developed in isolation—public schools, Congregational churches, town government, and the "New England conscience"—as did the New England preoccupation with religion and morality. The 1825 opening of the Erie Canal, linking Lake Erie to New York City, further isolated New England, and even the first local railroad lines did not link it to the expanding nation. However, self-reliance, ingenuity, and industrious habits made New Englanders the most skilled workmen in America, and New England merchants developed manufactures to an extent that no other region did. The growth of mills and factories demanded an increase in cheap labor, and by 1840 foreign immigration reshaped the New England population and character. Even Puritan Massachusetts became an overwhelmingly Roman Catholic state.
Despite the arrival of immigrants from Canada and Europe, the New England character, established through two centuries of struggle and separation, persisted, and contributed much to other regions through migration and by example. Among the earliest migrations were those to Long Island, New Jersey, and South Carolina, and later to the Mohawk Valley, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Illinois, Michigan, and Oregon. Towns and districts all across the northern United States seem transplanted from New England, possessing as they do New England ideas of education, Congregational churches, town meetings, and Yankee character and attitudes, all introduced by New England migrants. Americans educated in New England colleges and universities also transmitted New England traditions to other states. Sectional as New England's history has been, the region's influence on the rest of the United States is out of all proportion to its size and population.
Brown, Richard D., and Jack Tager.Massachusetts: A Concise History. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2000.
Peirce, Neal R. The New England States: People, Politics, and Power in the Six New England States. New York: Norton, 1976.
The Puritan inheritanceThe character of the colonists was early famed for its seriousness, emphasis on the work ethic, and a social consciousness that sprang from the scriptural injunction to charity; this was, however, often expressed as a tendency to enforce their view of what is good on those who did not share it. The conflict between Puritanism and pleasure can be seen in much of American social life to the present day. New England has served as the school-house and conscience of the US. One of its most famous sons, Noah WEBSTER, was a force in shaping the DICTIONARY and school-book tradition of the country; his name has entered the lore of the nation as a synonym for dictionaries.
Linguistic featuresThe terms applied popularly to present-day New England speech are often the same as those used in the 17c to characterize the language of the English Puritans: a NASAL TWANG, high-pitched, harsh, and unmusical. In fact, however, New England is divided between two rather different DIALECTS: Eastern New England, with Boston as its hub, and Western New England, which blends into upper New York State as the wellspring of the Inland Northern dialect that sweeps across the northern tier of states to the Pacific. One of the defining characteristics of these two dialects is their treatment of r when not followed by a vowel. Eastern New England is non-rhotic, articulating it much as British RP does, with a gliding vowel. Western New England, on the other hand, is RHOTIC, as is most of the US. See DIALECT (AMERICA).
J. A. Cannon