This series has eight easy 5 minute installments. This first installment: How Religious Policies of England’s Government Affected the Puritans.
After the Pilgrims established their colony at Plymouth, King James I incorporated the Council for New England. This Council was granted total control of the lands around Massachusetts. The Council made numerous grants to the settlers. These grants made Massachusetts the emigration of choice for the Puritans back in England.
Meanwhile unrest in England increased in the years leading up to the English Civil War. Out of this unrest came the movement leading to the larger emigration to New England which Palfrey, the New England historian, describes.
This selection is from History of New England by John G. Palfrey published in 1890. For works benefiting from the latest research see the “More information” section at the bottom of these pages.
John G. Palfrey (1796-1881) was a clergyman who wrote history, served in Congress, and helped found the Harvard Divinity School.
The emigration of the Englishmen who settled at Plymouth had been prompted by religious dissent. In what manner Robinson, who was capable of speculating on political tendencies, or Brewster, whose early position had compelled him to observe them, had augured concerning the prospect of public affairs in their native country, no record tells; while the rustics of the Scrooby congregation, who fled from a government which denied them liberty in their devotions, could have had but little knowledge and no agency in the political sphere. The case was widely different with the founders of the Colony of Massachusetts Bay. That settlement had its rise in a state of things in England which associated religion and politics in an intimate alliance.
Years had passed since the severity of the government had overcome the Separatists, forcing them either to disband their congregations or flee from the kingdom. From the time when Bishop Williams was made keeper of the great seal, four years before the death of King James, the high-commission court again became active, and the condition of Puritans in the Church was day by day more uneasy. While some among them looked for relief to a happy issue of the struggle which had been going on in Parliament, and resigned themselves to await and aid the slow progress of a political and religious reformation in the kingdom, numbers, less confident or less patient, pondered on exile as their best resource, and turned their view to a new home on the Western continent. There was yet a third class, who, through feeble resolution or a lingering hope of better things, deferred the sacrifices which they scarcely flattered themselves they should ultimately escape, and, if they were clergymen, retained their preferments by a reluctant obedience to the canons. The coquetry of Buckingham with the Puritans, inspiring false hopes, was not without effect to excuse indecision and hinder a combined and energetic action.
Among the eminent persons who had reconciled themselves to the course of compromise and postponement was Mr. John White, an important name, which at this point takes its place in New England history. White, who since the second year of King James’ reign had been rector of Trinity Church in Dorchester, was a man widely known and greatly esteemed, alike for his professional character and his public spirit. The subject of New England colonization, much canvassed everywhere among the Puritans, who were numerous in the part of the kingdom where he lived, was commended to his notice in a special form. Dorchester, near the British Channel, the principal town of the shire, furnished numbers of those who now made voyages to New England for fishing and trade; and they were often several months upon the coast without opportunity for religious worship and instruction. Mr. White interested himself with the ship-owners to establish a settlement where the mariners might have a home when not at sea, where supplies might be provided for them by farming and hunting, and where they might be brought under religious influences. The result of the conferences was the formation of an unincorporated joint-stock association, under the name of the “Dorchester Adventurers,” which collected a capital of three thousand pounds.
The Dorchester company turned its attention to the spot on Cape Ann where now stands the town of Gloucester. The Council for New England, perpetually embarrassed by the oppugnation of the Virginia Company and the reasonable jealousy of Parliament, had recourse to a variety of expedients to realize the benefits vainly expected by its projectors. In carrying out one scheme, that of a division of the common property among the associates, the country about Cape Ann was assigned to Lord Sheffield, better known as a patriot leader under his later title of Earl of Mulgrave. Of him it was purchased for the people of New Plymouth by Edward Winslow, when in England on the business of that colony; and they in turn conveyed to White and his associates such a site as was wanted for their purposes of fishing and planting.
The Dorchester company had probably anticipated this arrangement by dispatching a party of fourteen persons to pass the winter. They carried out live stock, and erected a house, with stages to dry fish and vats for the manufacture of salt. Thomas Gardner was overseer of the plantation, and John Tilley had the fishery in charge. Everything went wrong. Mishaps befell the vessels. The price of fish went down. The colonists, “being ill chosen and ill commanded, fell into many disorders and did the company little service.” An attempt was made to retrieve affairs by putting the colony under a different direction. The Dorchester partners heard of “some religious and well-affected persons that were lately removed out of New Plymouth, out of dislike of their principles of rigid separation, of which number Mr. Roger Conant was one, a religious, sober, and prudent gentleman.”
He was then at Nantasket, with Lyford and Oldham. The partners engaged Conant “to be their governor” at Cape Ann, with “the charge of all their affairs, as well as fishing and planting.” With Lyford they agreed that he should “be the minister of the place,” while Oldham, “invited to trade for them with the Indians,” preferred to remain where he was and conduct such business on his own account. The change was not followed by the profits that had been hoped, and the next year “the adventurers were so far discouraged that they abandoned the further prosecution of this design, and took order for the dissolving of the company on land, and sold away their shipping and other provisions.” Another seemed added to the list of frustrated adventurers in New England.
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