IV. THE COLONIAL ERA.
The Colonial Era, intervening between the permanent colonization of the Atlantic coast and the momentous time when the colonies united to assert their independence, may be said to have been comprised within a period of a little more than a century. In 1664 England had acquired possession of the whole colonized territory from the Kennebec to the southern boundary of South Carolina. Georgia was still unsettled, and remained to be colonized some sixty years after by that good and gallant General Oglethorpe, who forbade slavery to be introduced into the province, and prohibited the sale of rum within its limits. Florida was still held by the Spanish, the only continental power which then had a foothold on the Atlantic border of what is now the United States.
The century of settlement and growth which we call the Colonial Era was full of hardship, romance, brave struggling with great difficulties, fortitude, and alternate misfortune and success. As we look back upon it from this distance, however, we do not fail to be struck with the steady and certain progress made towards a compact and enduring nationality. Even then the same variety of race and habits and characteristics which the United States reveal to-day were to be observed in the population which was scattered over the narrow strip of territory extending a thousand miles along the seaboard. There were English everywhere - predominant then, as English traits still possess, in a yet more marked degree, the prevailing influence. There were, however, Dutch in New York and Pennsylvania, some Swedes still in Delaware, Danes in New Jersey, French Huguenots in the Carolinas, Austrian Moravians, not long after, in Georgia, and Spaniards in Florida.
[The New England Colonies.]
Amid such a diversity of races, of course the habits, the laws, and the religious opinions of the colonies widely differed. But these differences were not confined to those arising from variety of origin. The English in New England presented a very marked contrast to the English in New York and in Virginia. The settlements of Plymouth and Massachusetts Bay comprised communities of zealous Calvinists, rigid in their religious belief and ceremonies, codifying their religious principles into political law, and adhering resolutely, through thick and thin, to the idea expressed, by one of the early Puritans, that "our New England was originally a plantation of religion, and not a plantation of trade."
Roger Williams founded Rhode Island on the principle of religious toleration; but he carried thither the sobriety and diligence and courage of his former Puritan associations. He provided, as he himself said, "a shelter for persons distressed for conscience." Connecticut was also essentially a "religious plantation," which for many years accepted the Bible as containing the only laws necessary to the colony, and confined the right of suffrage to members of the church; and Connecticut, as well as Massachusetts, vigorously punished offenders by the rough, old-fashioned methods of the pillory, the stocks, and the whipping-post.
[Colonial New York and Virginia.]
No contrast could be more striking than that between colonial New England and colonial New York and Virginia. The Puritans gathered together in towns and villages; they lived in log or earth cottages, one story high, with no pretensions to ornament, and but little to comfort. The wealthier New Englanders, after a time, built two-story brick houses; but these were still plain and substantial, and not imposing.
The men wore short cloaks and jerkins, short, loose breeches, wide collars with tassels, and high, narrow-crowned hats with wide brims. The women dressed in plain-colored homespun, but bloomed forth on Sundays with silk hoods and daintily worked caps. The proximity of Indians required that every New England village should be a fortress, and every citizen a soldier. Two hundred years ago, muster-days and town-meetings, means of defence from attack and of self-government within, were as prominent features of New England life as they are to-day.
[New England Industries.]
The New Englanders were mainly farmers, hunters, and fishermen. Commerce was slow to grow up among them. Trade was the means towards supporting a religious state; not a method for the acquirement of wealth. By and by, however, manufactures of cotton and woollen fabrics grew up, lumber was floated down to the coast, gunpowder and glass were made, and fish were cured for winter use and to be sent abroad. They ate corn-meal and milk, and pork and beans were a favorite New England dish from the first; and they drank cider and home-brewed beer. The first coins appeared in 1652; and the oldest college on American soil, Harvard, was founded at Cambridge in 1636.
[Dutch and Cavaliers.]
The Dutch, in New York, and the Cavaliers, in Virginia, set out upon their colonial careers in a very different way. The Dutch came to America as traders; the Cavaliers came to be landed proprietors and to seek rapid fortunes. Instead, therefore, of clustering close in towns and villages, both the Dutch and the Cavaliers spread out through the country and established large and isolated estates. Wealthy Dutchmen came hither with patents from the East India Company, took possession of tracts sixteen miles long, settled colonies upon them, and lived in great state on their "manors," ruling the colonies, working their lands with slaves, and assuming the aristocratic title of "Patroon." Thus a sort of feudal system grew up, in which the "Patroons" exercised an authority well nigh as absolute as that of the mediaeval barons on the Rhine; and this system long flourished side by side with the democratic simplicity of the Puritan commonwealths.
[Captain John Smith.]