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The Anglo-American Adventure

Chapter 2: Colonial America, Part I

1607 to 1783

This chapter is divided into three parts, which cover the following topics:

Part I

The Search for a Northwest Passage (concluded)
The Founding of New France
They Came on the Mayflower
New Netherland
Colonization: The Second Generation
New Amsterdam Becomes New York
The Last French Explorers
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Part II

Colonial Growing Pains, Part 1
The Founding of Pennsylvania
The Importance of the Religious Element
The Lone Star Colony
Colonial Growing Pains, Part 2
Sideshows to European Wars
The French and Indian War
Pontiac's Rebellion
Causes of the American Revolution

Part III

The California Missions
"The Shot Heard 'Round the World"
Through the Cumberland Gap
From Fort Ticonderoga to Boston
The Declaration of Independence
The (British) Empire Strikes Back
Saratoga: The Turning Point
Valley Forge and the Battles for Philadelphia
On the Wild Frontier
Showdown at Yorktown
The Treaty That Ended It All


"In sixteen hundred seven
We sail the open sea
For glory, God, and gold and the
Virginia Company."

These words, taken from the opening scene of the Disney animated feature Pocahontas, summarize the adventurous spirit that led to the founding of Jamestown. Because the Roanoke colony had failed, and England did not yet have any other colonies beyond Europe, Jamestown has been called the place "where the British Empire began." North America did have wealth to offer, but it was not something that could be easily obtained, like precious metals or spices; it would take work to make North America profitable. What the continent had were several excellent harbors, a good location relative to Europe, a moderate climate where all European crops thrived, and native plants that could be useful in the mother country. It was the English, and not the Spaniards or the French, who noticed these assets and exploited them; their colonies developed local industries, and planted crops that brought a steady dividend (tobacco, cotton, indigo, etc.), rather than go for a one-time profit like gold mining. Consequently England would be the most successful colonial power north of the tropics.

The Jamestown venture began with three ships, the Susan Constant, the Godspeed and the Discovery, carrying 102 colonists. The captain of the Susan Constant, Christopher Newport, led the expedition, while Bartholomew Gosnold, the explorer we saw at the end of the previous chapter, went as captain of the Godspeed. Also important were John Ratcliffe, the captain of the Discovery, and an officer named Captain John Smith. A soldier of fortune, Smith had fought for King Henry IV of France, the Hapsburgs of Hungary, and Radu Serban of Wallachia; those adventures ended when he was wounded in a 1602 battle, captured, and sold as a slave to a Turk. The Turk sent Smith as a gift to his sweetheart in Constantinople, whereupon the girl fell in love with Smith and helped him escape. After wandering around Europe and North Africa for a while, Smith returned to England, but was too restless to stay there for long, so he volunteered to go to Virginia. During the voyage he apparently was still a rowdy sort, for he took part in a mutiny; Captain Newport arrested him and was planning to hang him when they made landfall. Smith got a pardon, however, when the ships reached America, because Newport had sealed orders to be opened upon arrival; those orders listed the seven council members who would govern the colony, and Smith was one of them! At this point, the expedition was about 100 miles north of where the Roanoke colony had been. The Virginia Company had told the colonists to pick a location that could be easily defended from the navies of unfriendly European states, so on May 14, 1607, they chose an island in the James River, and began to build Jamestown.

Unfortunately the Virginia Company was using the same kind of logic as the Plymouth Company, when the Plymouth Company thought Maine would be no colder than England. Because Chesapeake Bay was the same distance from the equator as the Mediterranean Sea, it was reasoned that it would also have a warm and pleasant climate, and the Indians would be easygoing folks like the Italians. However, the Indians of Virginia had already met the Spaniards, and that encounter made them dislike all Europeans. Another problem that soon developed was that the first colonists had a misunderstanding of the colony's purpose. More than half of them were "gentlemen," meaning middle to upper class; they thought the colony was to be a military outpost, for raiding Spanish colonies. A military fort would receive supplies from England, or failing that, it would take what it needed from the Indians and Spaniards; working to provide for themselves was the last thing these colonists expected to do.

There weren't many Indians in Jamestown's neighborhood. Although this might sound like a good thing, it was because the banks of the James River were a feverish swamp, which didn't have large game such as deer or bears; the Indians of the Powhatan tribe did their hunting elsewhere. The settlers quickly killed and ate the animals they could find, and instead of planting crops, many of them foolishly began digging for gold. By mid-June they had finished building a fort, and sent the Susan Constant back to England with a load of what they thought was gold-containing ore and dirt. Alas, it was only pyrite, also known as "fool's gold," and disease and starvation were now causing the settlers to drop like flies. Gosnold died in August, and when John Smith became president of the colony in 1608, succeeding John Ratcliffe, he instituted a stricter policy, declaring that "He who does not work, will not eat." Nevertheless, they needed to find new sources of food, so he led a raid on the Indians and captured one of their chiefs. Next, according to Smith, he did "take this murdering Opechancanough . . . by the long lock of his head; and with my pistol at his breast, I led him {out of his house} amongst his greatest forces, and before we parted made him [agree to] fill our bark with twenty tons of corn." A year later full scale war broke out between the Powhatans and the Virginia colonists. Smith was seriously injured by a gunpowder burn and had to return to England for treatment; he never returned to Virginia.(1)

Although the Virginia Company kept its promise to regularly send ships to Jamestown with supplies and new settlers, something the backers of Roanoke had failed to do, what this mainly did was prolong the suffering; the mortality rate remained as bad as ever. The luckiest settlers survived by reversing roles; instead of enslaving the Indians, they actually offered themselves as slaves to the Indians, in exchange for food. During the winter of 1609-10, a period called the "Starving Time," there were even a few reports of cannibalism; these were recently verified by the discovery of the remains of a girl that had been butchered and buried in a trash heap.

When John Rolfe arrived with two supply ships in May 1610, he found the colony in ruins. Of the 500 settlers that had been brought here over the past three years, only 60 were still alive, and they voted unanimously to return to England. The survivors were loaded on the ships, but just as the homeward voyage began, Thomas West, the Baron De La Warr, showed up with 150 more settlers. He ordered the colonists back to Jamestown, placed the colony under martial law, and told everyone to not even think about leaving. As tough as this was, it got Jamestown through the critical years. More ships arrived, each bringing settlers to replace those who had died. What finally insured the colony's survival was the discovery of a profitable crop. They tried planting coffee, sugar cane and bananas, but since Virginia does not have a tropical climate, none of them were successful. Then in 1613, John Rolfe got Jamestown's settlers to try tobacco, and that did the trick. In the century since Christopher Columbus discovered tobacco, Europe had developed a nicotine addiction, and now Europeans couldn't get enough of the stuff. The Indians had only used tobacco in religious ceremonies, so they must have been astonished to see the English planting acres of land with their sacred weed. In 1617 alone, Jamestown exported 50,000 pounds of tobacco back to England. At last the colony paid off its investment, and it gave Englishmen an incentive to move there; tobacco remained Virginia's primary product for the next two centuries.

Jamestown reached a turning point in 1619, because several key events happened in that year. First, women began arriving in large numbers, allowing Virginia's population to grow naturally, instead of depending on ships to bring more people. Second, the colonists were tired of waiting months for London to make any decision on their behalf, so they set up the first colonial government, an elected body called the House of Burgesses, to handle local affairs. England's King James I was the type of ruler who didn't like to see any challenge to the divine right of kings, and he decided to dissolve the House of Burgesses, but died before he got around to doing it. Thus, the colonists started getting some experience at governing themselves, more than a century and a half before the American Revolution. Third, the first blacks arrived in Virginia. Tobacco farmers were now having a problem finding laborers to work for them. There never were enough Englishmen to do the job(2), and the Indians made poor workers; if they didn't die from disease or overwork, they ran away. The colonists resorted to the same solution that Spain and Portugal had used to get workers for their sugar cane plantations--they brought in slaves from Africa. Africans could be counted on to stay put, because they did not have a tribe to rejoin if they escaped, nor were they allowed to own land or work the same jobs as white settlers. It marked the beginning of a cruel "peculiar Southern institution," one whose social effects we are still dealing with today, more than a century after its abolition.

The next two English colonies were founded on islands, rather than on the mainland. In 1610 John Guy, a Bristol merchant, brought 39 settlers to Newfoundland, and founded an outpost named Cuper's Cove. By 1621 there were three villages on Newfoundland, but they didn't do very well; a harsh climate, poor soil, unskilled settlers, ineffective leaders, and hostile fishermen (who resented settlers trying to take over their fishing grounds) all worked against the colony. More successful was the English settlement of Bermuda, in 1612. Bermuda had been discovered in 1505 by Juan Bermudez, a ship captain on his way back to Spain, but the Spaniards were always too busy to come back and occupy the place. The timing of this settlement allowed Bermuda to serve as an advance base for ships heading to Virginia, when Jamestown needed it the most.

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The Search for a Northwest Passage (concluded)

In Chapter 1 we looked at the adventures of those who were interested in finding a way around America, rather than exploring it. This tradition was continued in the early seventeenth century by a professional navigator, Henry Hudson. Sent forth first by the English, and then by the Dutch, Hudson entered the Arctic three times, trying to find a "northeast passage" around Siberia. He didn't find it, but got as far north as latitude 80o, proving that he was the man you would want for polar exploration. Then in 1609, still employed by the Dutch East India Company, he decided to try his luck in North America. Checking out the Atlantic coast, from Maine to Virginia, he decided that New York Harbor was the most promising location for a passage, so he landed on Manhattan Island, introduced himself to the local Indians (that is why they listened to a Dutch offer to buy the island a few years later), and sailed 150 miles up the Hudson River. He turned back at the site of modern Albany, when he realized that the river doesn't have tides, meaning that it did not connect to any other ocean. When the ship got back to England, it and the crew were seized by the government; Hudson was commanded to serve only the country of his birth after this.

By this time most folks with an interest in the matter felt that the strait between Baffin Island and the mainland's Ungava peninsula was the elusive passage, so Hudson came here on his next (and final) expedition. Henceforth that body of water would be called Hudson Strait. In August 1610 he made it through the strait, found a great gulf on the other side, and concluded that this was the Pacific. It wasn't, but was instead the third geographical feature that would soon bear his name, Hudson Bay. Hudson found this out the hard way, because as he headed south into the bay, the ice grew thicker, not thinner. Finally, his ship got frozen in when he reached James Bay, forcing him to spend the winter there. This was a ghastly experience that destroyed the morale of the expedition; when spring came and Hudson said he would do some more searching for a passage, the surviving crew mutinied and set Hudson, his son, and seven loyal sailors adrift in a lifeboat, never to be seen again.

Back in England the mutineers could not hide their guilt, but they were too valuable to hang, for only they knew how to retrace Hudson's steps. From their confused account it looked as if the much-hoped-for opening to the Pacific would be on the west side of Hudson Bay, rather than the south, so a Northwest Company was floated to promote further expeditions; among the 300 investors who financed it were the Archbishop of Canterbury and three of the actual mutineers. With the incredible stubbornness that marked all northern ventures, a new series of expeditions followed. The most professional of these were led by William Baffin; after a careful exploration of both Davis Strait and Hudson Bay (1615-6), he concluded that there was "no passage, nor hope of passage."(3) The last attempts of the era were made by Luke Foxe and Thomas James in 1631.

These voyages were failures in every sense; many brave men struggled and died, usable routes were nowhere to be found, and little geographical knowledge was added. The Norsemen had gone in those directions before, using more primitive ships, and if what was found made news in Western Europe, most of it was old hat to the Icelanders. The only genuine discoveries made were Hudson Bay and Baffin Island; the sole practical result of the whole business was the discovery that polar waters are an excellent hunting place for whalers.

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The Founding of New France

We last looked at French activities at the end of Chapter 1, when Samuel de Champlain and Pierre du Guast, Sieur de Monts, founded Port Royal in Acadia. When de Monts lost his job as governor of Port Royal, he decided to set up another outpost. The spot he picked was Quebec, on the lower St. Lawrence River, and since he and Champlain made a good team, he put Champlain in charge of it (1608). Quebec turned out to be much more profitable than Port Royal, because it was in a good location for trading with the Indians. Thus, it became the capital of what would soon be known as New France.

Each of the European powers that was active in America had a different Indian policy. The Spaniards were inclined to shoot first and ask questions later; they didn't show much interest in learning about Indian cultures, and most of what they saw, like the human sacrifices of the Aztecs, looked devilish to them anyway. The English were more open-minded, and tried to get along with the Indians at first, but eventually they wore out their welcome when their colonies grew too large. Dutch policy was limited, since they were only in North America for fifty years, and geared mainly toward making the Indians customers of theirs (e.g., the purchase of Manhattan). It was the French who made good relations with the Indians their priority. French missionaries might preach to the Indians, and sometimes fur traders, the coureurs des bois ("runners of the woods"), married Indian women, but otherwise they left the tribes alone; exploiting them in any way was forbidden, and for a while settlers in communities like Quebec were not allowed to bring their families, to keep the communities from growing too fast. As a result, most Indian tribes liked the French best, but even a friendly European power could be harmful in the long run. The introduction of guns and alcohol did not do the Indians any good, and since the French wanted furs, especially beaver pelts, beavers were nearly hunted to extinction; by the time of the French and Indian War (see below), there weren't enough beavers left to keep the fur trade going.

The principal trading partners of the French were the Huron tribe, who lived on the north side of the Great Lakes in present-day Ontario. However, their fur-laden canoes did not always make it safely down the St. Lawrence River to Quebec, because their arch-rivals, the Iroquois, lived on the south bank. The Huron and the Iroquois were closely related (both had migrated from the Ohio valley after the Hopewell culture collapsed in the sixth century) and had carried on a Hatfield-McCoy-style feud for so long that nobody knew what started it. The Iroquois were the best organized tribe in eastern North America; in what is now upstate New York, they formed a confederacy by uniting five smaller tribes (the Mohawk, Cayuga, Onondaga, Oneida, and the Seneca) in a permanent alliance, which Europeans called the League of Five Nations.(4) This discipline gave them a strength that their enemies could not match. Despite this, when war broke out in 1609, Champlain agreed to help the Huron and the Algonquin against the Iroquois. He didn't really have a choice, because it was the Huron who had the furs he wanted. In the first campaign, Champlain marched far enough south to discover a large lake in New York, which was subsequently named Lake Champlain; at Ticonderoga he won a critical battle against the Iroquois. Then he began exploring the rest of the Great Lakes region, with the help of a scout, Étienne Brûlé. In 1611 Brûlé discovered Lake Huron, and then, after checking out Lake Ontario, he found the Susquehanna River; according to his account, he followed it all the way to its mouth in Chesapeake Bay.

After this, however, the tribal war turned against the French and their allies. A 1615 assault against an Iroquois fort on the Oneida River failed; there Champlain got wounded by three arrows (two in his leg, one in his knee). Now Champlain realized that he had picked the losing side, but the French had alienated the Iroquois so badly that in future conflicts between the French and English, the Iroquois would side with the English, while the other Indians remained with the French.

Greater disappointments came next, this time at the hands of other Europeans. Port Royal was abandoned in 1623, and four years later a Scottish expedition showed up, built a new fort there, and gave the Acadian peninsula a new name (they called it Nova Scotia, Latin for New Scotland). By this time there was another French settlement on the peninsula, La Tour Harbor, and to Champlain's dismay, the French settlers decided to join the Scots. Then in 1628 a band of English privateers, led by David Kirke, captured Tadoussac in 1628. They returned in the following year and demanded the surrender of Quebec. At this stage Quebec was too small to resist, having only about 100 residents, so Champlain negotiated the terms of surrender and departed for Europe.

Champlain was now sixty-two years old, and probably felt his life's work had been in vain, but European politics gave him one more chance. England's King Charles I was married to a French queen, Henrietta Maria, and he was always short on money, due to his inability to get along with Parliament, the branch of England's government that controlled the treasury. Therefore he had to find cash wherever he could get it, and that included making sure the king of France paid Henrietta Maria's dowry. To do this he agreed to a treaty in 1632 that gave New France and Nova Scotia/Acadia back to the French. Champlain returned to Quebec and used the time he had left to rebuild New France. However, the job was unfinished when he died in 1635; New France had less than a hundred French citizens, and by the end of the 1630s there were still only three hundred. As for Nova Scotia, it had an even smaller population, divided between five outposts.

Montreal was founded in 1642, on the site of an abandoned Indian village named Hochelaga, but otherwise New France remained in a precarious state for a generation. Outside of Quebec and Montreal, virtually no roads or any other infrastructure existed, and about the only French who traveled in the open were Jesuit missionaries and fur traders. They and anyone else who left the settlements did so at their peril, for the Iroquois now carried their war with the Huron into enemy territory. By 1650 they had all but destroyed the Huron and Algonquin tribes. Those French who met the Iroquois hoped for a quick death in battle, because if they were captured alive the Iroquois were fond of finishing them off through slow torture.(5)

Things did not turn in favor of the French until the 1660s. In 1660 Adam Dollard des Ormeaux led a force of 16 French from Montreal, in a sally against an invading Iroquois force. They were ambushed, and none survived, but for some unknown reason the Iroquois withdrew, instead of continuing on to Montreal. After that, the Iroquois seemed to lose interest in attacking the French, because they staged fewer raids. In 1663, King Louis XIV declared New France a French province, and sent a French garrison and an official governor, who was upset to find out, after a census in 1666, that New France had a skewed population of 2,034 men and 1,181 women. To balance this out, the king sent 700 single women between the ages of 15 and 30, and faster population growth was encouraged by making it legal for indentured servants to go to New France.(6) It worked; when the next governor took over in 1672, the population had grown to 5,000, and New France was no longer in danger of being wiped out by Indians or natural disasters.

On Newfoundland, French fishermen began settling the southern coast, and by 1655 there were enough of them to have their largest outpost, Placentia, declared the capital. Because the English had only settled Newfoundland's southeast corner, this allowed the French to claim the rest of the island.

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They Came on the Mayflower

Whereas Jamestown was a commercial venture, the first successful New England colony was founded for quite a different reason--religious freedom. During the past century, Europe had been engulfed in the Reformation, and European wars at this time were usually caused by matters of religion. Most countries allowed just one denomination to exist legally; the only countries in Europe that practiced tolerance as we know it were the Netherlands in the west, and Poland in the east. In those intolerant times, you could get in trouble even for attending the official church, if your country got a new king or queen who happened to practice a different faith. In England, this happened when the monarchy went from Anglicanism under Henry VIII and Edward VI, to Catholicism under Mary Tudor, and back to Anglicanism under Elizabeth I. England stayed Anglican after Elizabeth, but there are few differences between Anglicans and Catholics, so those Protestants who paid more than lip service to matters of doctrine were never satisfied with whomever sat on the throne. They founded quite a few new Protestant sects in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, all of them banned, of course, because they also served as political opposition movements. The most important of these sects were the Puritans, who followed the same beliefs as the Dutch Calvinists, the French Huguenots, and the Scottish Presbyterians.

Thanks to clean living, many Puritans were rich, and they thought they could straighten out England by electing enough of their members to gain control over Parliament. One Puritan group, however, owned little in the way of money or land, so they decided it would be better to get out of England. This group, which we now call the Pilgrims, sailed to the Netherlands in 1607. Here they got the religious freedom they wanted. Too much freedom, in fact; Amsterdam already had a reputation as the sort of city where anything goes, and they didn't want their children growing up in a place like that. Even worse, Europe was at war. The Pilgrims arrived in the middle of the Netherlands' eighty-year war for independence, and when the current Dutch truce with Spain ended in 1621, the Dutch were likely to draft all military-age Pilgrims into their army. And if that wasn't enough, an even bloodier conflict, the Thirty Years War, had just begun in Germany, and the Dutch were involved in that, too. In 1620 the Pilgrims chose to go away completely; they would look for a place where no civilization existed, and build a Christian Utopia from scratch. They chartered a ship, the Mayflower, and a hundred of them went across the Atlantic, willing to live in self-imposed exile if it meant they would obey nobody's rules but their own.(7)

The original plan was to settle in the neighborhood of the Hudson River, and since this land technically belonged to the Virginia Company, the Pilgrims got a license from the Company before leaving. However, the first land they sighted was Cape Cod, and it was already November; the Mayflower's captain thought it was too dangerous to keep sailing this late in the season. As a result, the Pilgrims ended up building their camp at the first place they reached after Cape Cod, Plymouth Rock in Massachusetts. New England winters being what they are, the Pilgrims suffered like those who had tried to colonize New England previously; when the spring of 1621 rolled around, only fifty of the hundred colonists were still alive.

Fortunately that was the worst part of the Pilgrim experience. What worked in their favor was that New England's Indians had recently been decimated by a disease epidemic, probably smallpox; the remaining Indians didn't want any trouble, and thus were friendly. One of them was an amazing fellow named Squanto, who introduced himself by walking into the Pilgrim camp and saying, "Welcome, Englishmen!"(8) He taught them how to grow corn, and to catch fish and eels, thereby ending the risk of starvation. The next harvest was a good one because of this knowledge, and the Pilgrims celebrated the upturn in their fortune by holding one of history's most famous feasts, the first Thanksgiving, and invited the local Indians, the Wampanoag tribe, to attend.

Thanksgiving in 1621.

The Plymouth Thanksgiving. Compare this with the Thanksgiving described in Chapter 1.

Once their survival was assured, the Pilgrims applied for, and got, a retroactive license to settle lands claimed by the Plymouth Company, because, as we saw, they never made it to the Virginia Company's land. This allowed the Plymouth Company to send reinforcements, but the colony grew slowly. Part of the reason was an inefficient lifestyle. The Pilgrims had been forced to share their food and shelter during the first winter, and they continued to own property and resources communally when their situation improved. Because their first concern was living in a way that God would approve of, most of them didn't mind being poor, and they probably saw the society they were building as proof that a Utopia was possible in the New World. However, they didn't grow enough crops to dispense with hunting and gathering, and by 1623 the wild foods were running out. At this point the governor made every man responsible for growing his own food, by assigning a plot of land to each family for that purpose. The opportunity to make a profit from their work encouraged the settlers to work harder than they had before, so this experiment in capitalism quickly proved to be a success; afterwards food wasn't a problem in New England.

There was an interesting episode when Thomas Morton, an English lawyer with a libertine attitude toward religion, came to seek his fortune in the colonies, and after he got there he decided to make trouble for the Pilgrims instead. Morton began by living like a fur trader, trading guns, ammunition and alcohol to the Indians for furs and provisions, and declared that the Indians were far more "civilized and humanitarian" than his "intolerant European neighbours." After a quick visit to England, he came back with thirty indentured servants, and turned his trading post into a colony named Merrymount (a name that sounded naughty to the Pilgrims), to compete with Plymouth. It prospered, thanks to the advantage fur traders had in that environment (see the previous footnote), and because the Indians liked Morton's attitude better than that of the Pilgrims. The captain of Morton's ship and some of the indentured servants moved to Virginia, after experiencing their first New England winter; Morton persuaded the rest of the indentured servants to stay by terminating their contracts, declaring that henceforth they would live together as equals. In 1627 he built an 80-foot maypole and threw a keg party for his followers and their Indian friends; they did it again in the following year with a May Day celebration that was downright pagan. Not only were the Pilgrims outraged by Morton's orgies, they feared for their safety because he was selling guns to the Indians. Miles Standish, the militia commander of Plymouth, led a band of armed men to Merrymount. They arrived to find everyone in a hangover from the latest party, allowing them to arrest Morton and chop down the maypole without firing a shot. Morton was exiled to an offshore island, but the Indians sent him food and helped him to escape; later he caught a ride on a ship heading back to England. As for Merrymount, the Pilgrims renamed it Mount Dagon, after the god of the ancient Philistines, and burned it down a year later. Today a suburb of Boston, Quincy, stands where Merrymount used to be.

By 1628 there were just 300 Europeans in all of New England. Besides Plymouth itself, there was Hilton's Point (modern Dover, NH), founded by two brothers, William and Edward Hilton, in 1623; Naumkeag (later known as Salem), founded by a group of fishermen in 1626; and some more of the aforementioned fur traders and fishermen. The growth rate speeded up after 1628 because the rest of the Puritans in England decided that the Pilgrims were right; King Charles I had just dissolved Parliament, meaning that England and her church could not be saved. They gained a controlling interest in the Plymouth Company, renamed it the Massachusetts Bay Company, and began sending ships and settlers in far greater numbers than before. Four hundred Puritans came over in 1629 to take over Naumkeag/Salem, while a party of one thousand arrived in 1630 to found the city of Boston. Of those thousand, two hundred died in the following winter and two hundred returned to England in the spring, but even more came on the ships bringing reinforcements. Unlike their predecessors, the Puritans did enough research to know what they were doing, and spared no expense to get the colonies anything they might need. In 1636 they founded Harvard, America's first college. The wholesale movement of their community across the Atlantic stopped in the 1640s, when the English Civil War gave the Puritans an opportunity to take over England; immigration did not resume until Oliver Cromwell's government, the "Commonwealth," collapsed in 1660.(9) Still, the survival of New England was no longer in doubt, and the population of the Massachusetts(10) and Plymouth colonies grew even during the twenty-year interruption, going from 17,800 in 1640 to 106,000 in 1700. Boston was now the largest city in Anglo-America, and would remain number one for the rest of the period covered by this chapter.

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New Netherland

The Puritan achievement was indeed impressive, but most observers in the early seventeenth century were more impressed by the Dutch achievement. The Netherlands had become a nation so recently that it did not have a national identity yet, except for a common language and a common religion (Calvinism). In fact, the Dutch were fighting for their independence from Spain at this time, but they still managed to build a first-rate navy that devastated Spain's overseas empire and made a handsome profit. For more on what the Dutch did to amaze the world, read Chapter 10 and Chapter 11 of my European history, Chapter 2 of my Southeast Asian history, Chapter 6 of my African history, and Chapter 2 of my Latin American history.

The Dutch were attracted to the Americas by their bottom line; if other Europeans could make money there, they reasoned, couldn't the business-minded Dutch make even more? They had a claim to the Hudson valley, thanks to Henry Hudson, so between 1609 and 1614 they sent several expeditions to survey the mid-Atlantic coast. However, the only attempt to control the land they now called Nieuw-Nederland (New Netherland) was Fort Nassau on the upper Hudson, built to protect the Dutch fur trade (1614).

It took the founding of the West India Company (WIC) in 1621, to really get the ball rolling for the Dutch. But even after that happened, North America was a low priority; the WIC managed Dutch activity everywhere in the Atlantic, and there was more money to be made elsewhere (e.g., Brazil, the Caribbean(11), and the Portuguese slaving stations in Africa). A second Fort Nassau went up in New Jersey in 1623, and then in 1624, the first Fort Nassau, which had been flooded in 1618, was replaced by Fort Orange, which later grew to become the town of Beverwijck (modern Albany). 1624 also saw the colonization effort begin downstream, with the arrival of thirty families on Noten Eylant, now called Governor's Island, NY. Then in 1626 came the much-celebrated episode where Peter Minuit, the director-general of the New Netherland colony, purchased the island of Manhattan from the local Indians for 60 guilders worth of "glass beads and trinkets" (most history books state the value of the trade goods at $24, but it was more like $951.08 in 2011 dollars). That marked the beginning of the most important Dutch community, New Amsterdam. Finally, the Dutch built a trading post in Delaware, which they called Swaanendael(12), in 1631, and one more fort to protect the fur trade, Fort de Goede Hoop (modern Hartford), on the Connecticut River in 1633.

You're probably wondering how the Indians could have accepted payment so cheap, for an island where real estate prices are now astronomical. For a start, they thought they were getting the better part of the deal, because they did not live on Manhattan, but on Long Island; Manhattan was only a hunting ground for them. Second, they were fooled into thinking the Dutch had a new kind of wampum. Wampum, strings of white and purple beads made from shells, was the closest thing the Indians had to money. Normally they made it into belts, using the purple beads to form pictures. When two tribes made a treaty, they would exchange wampum belts, and the bead patterns served as a mnemonic device, to help them remember the terms of the treaty. Wampum was valuable not because it was rare, but because it took a lot of work to make it, when all you had were stone tools; a six-foot belt might contain more than 6,000 beads. The Indians must have been fascinated by the new colors of the beads the Dutch gave them, without realizing that it was counterfeit wampum! Soon the Dutch were also making real wampum with iron tools, and when they flooded the market with that, the Indian economy collapsed.

William Penn's Wampum Belt.

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Colonization: The Second Generation

The Manhattan purchase showed how easily the Indians could get ripped off, because European concepts like land ownership were alien to them. Whereas Europeans saw the land as a resource that God had given them permission to exploit, the Indians saw the earth as a mother, the womb from which they were born and the tomb they would rest in after death. Indeed, it would be hard to imagine cultural mindsets more different than those of the Indians and the Europeans. As more and more Europeans came to America, the Indians grew alarmed, and suspicious. Under these circumstances, misunderstandings, and the conflicts that resulted, were probably inevitable, because the European wanted his community to grow and prosper, while the Indian wanted his community and lifestyle to stay the way they were.

In Virginia, the falling out occurred even while relations between the two sides were good elsewhere. Opechancanough, a chief who had bad experiences with both the Spaniards (see Chapter 1) and the English, launched an all-out attack against the Virginia colony on March 22, 1622. The Indians enjoyed their biggest successes on the first day, destroying two outlying settlements, Henricus and Wolstenholme Towne, and massacring half the population of a third, Martin's Hundred. Jamestown itself narrowly escaped destruction, having been warned in time to prepare defenses. Then the English got the upper hand, but by the time they drove off the attackers, 347 people, a fifth of the colony's population, had been killed. That summer and fall they launched retaliatory raids on the Indians that destroyed their crops, forcing Opechancanough to sue for peace. Negotiations followed, and at the end of one day's successful talks, Captain William Tucker, a Jamestown leader, proposed a toast with poisoned liquor, which managed to kill 200 Indians.

In 1624 a census was conducted of the Virginia colony's population, and it counted 1,275 people, meaning that only a fifth of the 6,000 who had been sent there over the past seventeen years had survived. A royal commission was set up to find out what had happened to the nearly five thousand missing colonists, and when the Virginia Company could not give a straight answer, it was dissolved. After that Virginia was a crown colony, with a governor appointed by the king. Ten years later (1634), its population had grown to five thousand, and it was split into eight shires or counties.

Another decade of growth raised Virginia's population to more than eight thousand, and in 1644 Opechancanough made one more attempt to exterminate the white man. It failed, and in fact, the Virginia tribes no longer had a chance of succeeding, now that they were outnumbered by Europeans. Henceforth the initiative was always with the colonies.

By this time Virginia had two neighboring colonies to the north, Maryland and Delaware. George Calvert, better known as the 1st Lord Baltimore, had tried unsuccessfully to establish two colonies, first in Newfoundland (1621) and then in Virginia. Calvert's motivation was that he was a Catholic, and like the Pilgrims, he was looking for a place where people of his faith could worship in peace. In the sixteenth century, when England had been caught up in the Reformation, it alternated between Protestant and Catholic rulers; Henry VIII and Edward VI were Protestant, Mary I was Catholic, and Elizabeth I was Protestant again. This meant trouble for anyone who didn't change his church when the country got a new king or queen. From Elizabeth onward, every good Englishman was expected to join the Church of England; being a Catholic meant your sympathies were likely to be with enemies of the state, especially Spain or France (see footnote #22). After 1600, however, the country was tired of religious wars, and Elizabeth and her successors preferred a "don't ask, don't tell" policy; they would leave Catholics alone if they were loyal in every other way. Hence, Calvert wanted a place where he and his followers could be good Catholics and good English citizens at the same time.

The colony on Newfoundland, which Calvert called Avalon, was located near Cuper's Cove, and it failed for the same reason as efforts to colonize Maine; it was simply too cold. Calvert abandoned it in 1629, and tried to settle in Virgina instead, but the Virginians wanted nothing to do with him, and ran him out of their neighborhood when he showed up. Two months after his death in 1632, his son, Caecilius Calvert, received a royal charter from King Charles I to found a colony, whether the Virginians liked it or not. The 2nd Lord Baltimore named it Maryland, and the first outpost, founded in 1634, was called St. Mary's City. Officially both were named after Queen Henrietta Maria, but he was really thinking of the Virgin Mary, as you might expect. Since there were established colonies nearby to help out, Maryland had an easier time getting started than Virginia and Massachusetts did; by the early 1640s it had 1,500 residents. The Maryland Toleration Act of 1649 promised freedom of religion to all Christians; this was one of the first laws in the colonies that guaranteed religious tolerance, and is sometimes seen as a precedent for the First Amendment. One year later, though, a group of Puritans from Virginia took over and set up a new government that outlawed both Catholicism and Anglicanism. Then in 1658 the Calvert family regained control and re-enacted the Toleration Act. This time it lasted until England's "Glorious Revolution" of 1688, when Catholicism was again outlawed in Maryland, until after the American Revolution.

The other new colony, Delaware, was then known as Nya Sverige (New Sweden). Peter Minuit, the purchaser of Manhattan, had a falling out with the Dutch West India Company, and was fired from his post as governor of New Netherland. He took his services to Sweden, which like the Netherlands, was enjoying its best years in the seventeenth century. With Swedish backing he established the New Sweden Company in 1637, and brought a few hundred Swedes and Finns to the mouth of the Delaware River, where they built Fort Christina (modern Wilmington). By 1644 they were settled on both sides of the river, and began to spread northwards into Pennsylvania.

New England not only grew in population; it also grew in the number of colonies, because the Puritans proved to be even less tolerant than the English government they were trying to escape. Rhode Island was founded in 1636 by Roger Williams, a Puritan minister who had been banished from the Massachusetts Bay Colony because he believed in religious freedom. He stayed for a while with the Wampanoag tribe (Massasoit, the same chief who had befriended the Pilgrims, was his friend), then went to Narragansett Bay, where another tribe he got along well with, the Narragansett, allowed him to have some land, and he established a settlement called Providence. In 1638, three more Puritans who had been expelled for their religious views, Anne Hutchinson, William Coddington and John Clarke, went to Aquidneck Island, where they founded the towns of Portsmouth and Newport. A fourth community, Shawomet (later called Warwick), was started in 1643 by yet another clergyman with ideas of his own, Samuel Gorton. Massachusetts and Plymouth threatened all of these settlements, because they had become a refuge for those who disagreed with the Puritans, so in 1644 Williams got a charter from Parliament that united Providence, Portsmouth and Newport as a legal, separate colony (Warwick joined in 1647).

Connecticut also got started as separate communities. In 1633, the same year that the Dutch founded Hartford, some Puritans from Plymouth built a trading post near modern Windsor. More soon followed from Massachusetts; a trader named John Oldham brought a large party to settle at Wethersfield, and John Winthrop the younger, the son of the Massachusetts governor, founded Saybrook (two modern towns, Deep River and Old Saybrook, now occupy that site). Roger Ludlow led some more colonists from Dorchester, Massachusetts, to Windsor, and then the largest migration came in 1636, when a Puritan minister, Thomas Hooker, led 100 colonists from Cambridge, Massachusetts to settle at Hartford. Thus, the Dutch were quickly outnumbered; in 1654 they abandoned their fort, and the valley of the Connecticut River was completely English after that. By then the Indians were gone, too. In 1637 New England's first war, the Pequot War, broke out between the colonists and the Pequot tribe, after a series of killings, raids and reprisals on both sides. With the help of both the Mohegan and the Narragansett, the colonists launched a surprise attack on a Pequot village at Mystic River, burning the village and killing the inhabitants as they fled from it. About 600 Pequots were killed in the entire conflict, and most of the rest were captured and sold into slavery, eliminating the tribe.

The Connecticut settlements were never self-sufficient, and traded with each other from the start. This encouraged representatives from Hartford, Windsor and Wethersfield to meet and discuss a political union, and in 1639 they reached an agreement, forming the colony of Connecticut; they went on to purchase Saybrook in 1644. Meanwhile, two other Puritans, Theophilus Eaton and John Davenport, established a trading colony on the former Pequot lands in 1638, first naming it Quinnipiac, and later New Haven. Later on settlements at Milford, Stamford, Guilford, Branford, and Southold (on Long Island) joined New Haven to form the New Haven colony. This was a colony of quite a different nature from Connecticut; according to its laws only members of the Puritan church could vote, and there were strict laws to regulate the religious and moral life of the colonists. In other words, it was a place for those who thought life in Puritan Massachusetts wasn't strict enough!

The settled area in 1650.

Click on the above map to see the part of eastern North America that was settled by Europeans in 1650 (Opens in a new window, St. Augustine, FL is not shown). From Bartleby's Encyclopedia of World History.

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New Amsterdam Becomes New York

Overall, New Netherland wasn't a big success for the Dutch. They were always more interested in making a profit than in building an empire, nor were they interested in converting the natives to Christianity (a motivator for the Spaniards and the French). As a result, they had a hard time getting people to settle in North America. Most of the settlers who came went into the fur-trading business, and they neglected construction of port facilities, houses and fortifications--anything that would have made the colony a more attractive place to live. The colony's maximum population was 10,000 in 1664, of which 1,600 lived in New Amsterdam. The Dutch government attempted to encourage colonization by introducing the concept of patroonship, where anyone who brought 50 colonists received a large tract of land along the Hudson River, and the title of patroon (lord). Although this sounds like a good deal, in practice it was very hard to achieve. The only really successful patroon was a merchant named Kiliaen Van Rensselaer, who had his estate in the neighborhood of Albany; most would-be patroons saw their colonists drift away or return to Europe after they arrived.

The only governor of New Netherland who did a very good job was Peter Stuyvesant; he governed from 1647 to 1664. Since he was also the last governor, he may have come along too late to save the colony. A stern disciplinarian who is best known for having a wooden leg (he lost his real leg in a 1644 battle with the Portuguese), Stuyvesant was hated by the colonists for imposing heavy taxes and persecuting religious dissenters.(13) He did manage to end a war with the Indians that had been going on since 1642, but then tried to prevent future conflicts by banning the sale of guns and alcohol to them. It could not be enforced; the Indians refused to bring their furs if they could not trade them for guns, and without the furs, the local economy would collapse. Incidentally, Stuyvesant is also credited with introducing tea to North America.

Peter Stuyvesant.

Peter Stuyvesant.

In 1651 the Dutch built Fort Casimir in Delaware, to replace Swaanendael, which had been destroyed in an Indian attack. This was too close to Fort Christina for comfort, so the Swedes captured it in 1654 without a battle (the defenders had no gunpowder!) and renamed it Fort Trinity. Stuyvesant responded by moving soldiers to the Delaware River in 1655, taking both Fort Trinity and Fort Christina, and ending Swedish involvement in America.

What the Dutch didn't realize was that New Netherland's most valuable asset was its location. Besides its excellent harbor, it was conveniently close to all the English colonies, and because Dutch businesses were very efficient, prices in New Amsterdam tended to be lower than anywhere else in North America. This made New Netherland a haven for smuggling in an age when the most common economic system was mercantilism, and the other colonial powers, especially the English, resented the Dutch draining money from them. Parliament passed legislation in 1651 that gave English ships a monopoly on trade to English colonies, and when that didn't work, the result was three Anglo-Dutch Wars (1652-54, 1665-67, and 1672-74). Most of the battles in these wars were fought at sea, and while the Dutch did very well (they had plenty of experience, having fought Spain for eighty years), ultimately England was the winner, because the Dutch found it too expensive to keep unprofitable warships around. In 1664 four English ships sailed into New Amsterdam's harbor and forced Stuyvesant to surrender. King Charles II gave New Netherland to his brother, the future King James II. Since James was also known as the Duke of York, both New Netherland and New Amsterdam were renamed New York. He kept Delaware for himself, while giving the land between Delaware and New York to Lord John Berkeley and Sir George Carteret; those grants became the colonies of west and east New Jersey. A fleet of 21 Dutch ships took all this back in 1673, but in the treaty ending the Third Anglo-Dutch War, the Dutch gave the land up again. Compared with the profits coming out of places like Indonesia and South America, the North American colonies looked expendable, so the Dutch felt they were getting the better part of the deal when they bargained away New York, New Jersey and Delaware at the conference table, in order to keep their other colonies.(14) This left England with a solid block of territory, stretching from Maine to just south of Virginia.

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New York, New Jersey and Delaware were not the only colonies England added in the 1660s. In 1663 Charles II granted the lands between latitude 36o 30' and 29o N. to eight of his followers, to thank them for helping him gain the throne of England. This new colony was named Carolina, in memory of his father, Charles I. The first settlements were in two widely separated areas, Albermarle Sound on the northernmost stretch of the coast, and Charleston. A third settlement, called Clarendon, was established near modern Wilmington, NC in 1665. Because of their separation, the governor was required to stay in the southern settlement, and the deputy governor stayed in the northern one, an early sign of the need to split the colony later on.

The only association Carolina had with the crown was its name. Otherwise it proved to be a bizarre political experiment, compared with the religious experiments that had led to the founding of other colonies. For a start, the eight founders, now called the Lords Proprietor, hired John Locke, the political philosopher, to write a constitution for them. Locke proposed a three-level oligarchy, which in some ways resembled the ancient Roman Republic, except that there were eight men on the top level, instead of two consuls. Those eight were the Lords Proprietor, of course; beneath them were the gentry, some of which had peculiar titles to keep things interesting, and on the third level were small landowners and planters. Most of the time the Lords Proprietor would act like a supreme court, mainly handling the judicial function of government, while a Grand Council would enact legislation, and a popularly elected Assembly, like the tribunes of Rome, would have the power to veto that legislation. Officially the colony's religion would be the Church of England, but anyone who believed in God, including Jews, would be allowed a reasonable amount of religious freedom.

This constitution was never ratified, but King Charles didn't want to rule the colonies directly, because that would cost money. Like most kings in those days, Charles II had trouble living with a budget, so he was quite happy to let entrepreneurs, corporations or "proprietors" pay the colonial bills for him. That is why English colonies were not founded by military missions, like many of the colonies of Spain. Unfortunately, that also meant the Crown didn't have much control over what went on in the colonies, and the colonies tended to be populated by folks who liked it that way. Thus, while there was a royal governor for Carolina, the Lords Proprietor otherwise got to do things pretty much as they pleased.

To the north, another royal charter merged the New Haven colony with Connecticut in 1665.

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The Last French Explorers

As the Iroquois threat receded, the French resumed their exploration of the Great Lakes region. The last time we looked at the French, they knew about Lake Huron and Lake Ontario, but not the lands and bodies of water in-between. Fur traders and missionaries led the way, when it came to filling in gaps on the map. One of the former was Médard Chouart, Sieur des Groseilliers, who discovered and explored Lake Superior in the mid-1650s. Here he learned from the Cree tribe that the lands to the north and west were very rich in furs, and that a frozen sea, probably Hudson Bay, was nearby. To check this out des Groseilliers teamed up with another fur trader, Pierre-Esprit Radisson (whose sister he had married), and in 1659 they explored the area, reached Hudson Bay, and brought back thousands of furs. The officials in New France, however, were under orders from Paris to develop farming, not fur trapping, so they confiscated their furs and arrested them for trading without a license. Des Groseillers and Radisson responded by going over to the other side for their next venture; they went to Boston and persuaded the English to trying sailing into Hudson Bay, to set up stations for an English-run fur industry. They made it on an English ship in 1669, and in 1670 England set up Hudson's Bay Company, one of the oldest corporations in the modern world.

Hudson's Bay Company (HBC) began with a string of trading posts along the shore of the bay; one of them, York Factory in northeastern Manitoba, served as the company headquarters until 1957. The charter granted to the company by Charles II gave it much more--all of the land that was drained by rivers going into the bay (more than one third of present-day Canada). This area was soon known as Rupert's Land, after Prince Rupert of the Rhine, a cousin of the king who served as the company's first director. Each spring and summer Indians came to the trading posts, where they swapped furs for metal tools, hunting gear--and alcohol. In 1690-91 Henry Kelsey, an English fur trader, explored northern Manitoba for the company, going from Hudson Bay to the Saskatchewan River; we now believe he was the first white man to see Alberta.

Rupert's Land (Hudson's Bay Company).

Rupert's Land.

Both Radisson and des Groseilliers were considered traitors by the French, but because the cause of their defection was understandable, des Groseilliers was eventually allowed to return to New France. He founded another company to compete with the HBC, La Compagnie du Nord, and the next time war broke out between England and France, he led some raids against the English trading posts along Hudson Bay. Still, the area remained in English hands, and what had started out as a French enterprise ended up earning England a profit.

The main missionary-explorer was Father Jacques Marquette, a Jesuit sent to the Huron tribe. In 1668 he founded Sault Ste. Marie as a mission, between Lakes Superior and Huron; this would serve as a base for the next expeditions.(15) From here he had access to Lake Michigan, and the Indians living around Lake Michigan invited him to come and preach to them. They also told him that there was a great river, just a few days' journey to the west, and it ran all the way to the Gulf of California; if a northwest passage did not exist, this would be the next best thing! He requested permission to look for that river, and was granted a leave of absence in 1673. The governor of New France had already sent a professional explorer, Louis Joliet, in that direction (Joliet had previously explored the river going from Lake Huron to Lake Erie), so when Joliet met Marquette at the Straits of Mackinac, they agreed to go on together. From Green Bay on Lake Michigan's western shore, they went up the Fox River to its source, traveled overland a short distance, reached the Wisconsin River, put their canoes in that, and rode it into the Mississippi. From here they simply let the current carry them downstream, and what a current it was; as they passed the junctions with the Missouri and Ohio, it must have looked like every stream from North America's heartland drained into this mighty river.(16) That, and the fact that the river never deviated from a southward course, soon convinced Marquette and Joliet that the Mississippi goes in the Gulf of Mexico, not the Pacific. When they got to where the Arkansas River joins the Mississippi, they decided this had to be the "Father of Waters" that de Soto discovered a century earlier, and turned back. On the return trip the Illiniwek tribe showed them a path through their land, following the Illinois and Chicago Rivers to reach Lake Michigan; that turned out to be a quicker way than the one they had taken through Wisconsin.

It was René Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle (better known as Robert de La Salle), who finished what the other French explorers had started. A nearly destitute young nobleman, he arrived in New France in 1667, at the age of 24, and hoped to make his fortune by exploring. He also was a true disciple of France's egotistical king, Louis XIV, and thus wanted to give France the greatest empire in North America. La Salle began by exploring Lake Erie(17), and learned from the Iroquois that south of the lake was a great river, which flowed west to join an even greater river. Of course this was the Ohio River on its way to the Mississippi, and he came to the same conclusion as Father Marquette, that the Mississippi ended in the Gulf of California. In 1669 he left Montreal to check this out. Details are not clear, but he claimed he found the source of the Ohio, and followed it as far as present-day Louisville, Kentucky, before turning back, so he gets the credit for being the first European to see that river. Then he built Fort Frontenac (modern Kingston, ON) on Lake Ontario in 1673, as part of a fur trade venture. In 1679 he became the first white person to navigate through the Great Lakes by sailing ship, going from a fort near Niagara Falls through Lakes Erie, Huron and Michigan, founded a fort at the mouth of the St. Joseph River in southwest Michigan, and followed the courses of the St. Joseph, Kankakee and Illinois Rivers. On the latter he built Fort Crèvecoeur, near the site of modern Peoria, and returned to Fort Frontenac for more supplies.

The next time La Salle came to the Illinois River, in 1682, he was ready for the big journey, down the Mississippi. He followed the river all the way to the end, to make sure that Marquette and Joliet had been right about its course. The only significant stops on the trip were at Memphis, TN, where he built Fort Prudhomme, and at the mouth of the Mississippi itself, where in a special ceremony, he buried an engraved plate and a cross, and claimed all the territory drained by that river and its tributaries for France. He named the territory Louisiana in honor of his patron king, and sailed to France to secure support for his next plan.

That plan was to establish a permanent French colony at the mouth of the Mississippi, which would help secure French control over everything upstream. King Louis was flattered, all right, and granted four ships and three hundred colonists for La Salle's next expedition. They left France in 1684, but after that nothing seemed to go right. One ship was lost to pirates in the West Indies, and then La Salle made a grave error in navigation--he thought the Mississippi was two-thirds of the way across the Gulf Coast, instead of half way. Consequently he steered for Texas, where in Matagorda Bay, another one of his ships sank and a third ran aground.(18) With what he had left he built his fort, Fort St. Louis, near present-day Victoria, TX. Since this land definitely did not look like anything he had seen before, he led three groups out on foot to find the Mississippi; on the third attempt he was murdered by mutineers (1687). The fort itself lasted one more year, before the rest of the settlers succumbed to the usual combination of illness and Indians.

Fortunately for the French, La Salle's dream did not die with him. Another noble, Pierre Le Moyne d'Iberville, led the French raids against the English in Canada during the 1690s, and after King William's War ended, France's Minister of Marine chose him to lead another expedition to Louisiana, one that would make it something besides a name on a map. D'Iberville arrived on the Gulf Coast in 1699, and did a little exploring before choosing Biloxi, MS, as the best site for a coastal fort. Then in 1700 he entered the Mississippi delta, sailed 40 miles upstream to build a second fort, and returned to the Gulf Coast in 1702 to found Mobile, Alabama. His successors gave Louisiana more permanent settlements: Natchitoches on the Red River in 1714, and finally New Orleans in 1718, which henceforth would serve as the territory's capital. A series of upstream forts and missions followed, in key locations like St. Louis.

Efforts to explore and exploit the lands north and west of the Mississippi got only marginal results. In the far north, the main explorer was a former army officer named Pierre Gaultier de Varennes, Sieur de La Vérendrye. He had been seriously wounded in Flanders during the War of the Spanish Succession, and after he recovered, he married, moved to Canada, farmed and fur traded, until 1728, when he was appointed commandant of all French outposts on the north shore of Lake Superior. Three years later he began exploring, eager to find the nearest river that might flow into the "Western Sea." Between 1731 and 1738 he wandered around Manitoba and North Dakota, accompanied by four sons and a nephew, and established a series of forts as far west as Lake Winnipeg. La Vérendrye wanted to go farther, but his superiors refused to back him, so Saskatchewan and Alberta remained unexplored, meaning it was still a long way to the northwestern edge of "Louisiana."

The explorers of southwestern Louisiana simply followed the courses of the Red, Arkansas and Platte Rivers. From the sources of those tributaries it is only a few hundred miles to Spanish-ruled New Mexico, and the French reasoned that a trade route in that direction would be worth something, because the inhabitants of the Spanish colonies could never get enough European-made goods. Two brothers, Paul and Pierre-Antone Mallet, tried blazing a trail to New Mexico in 1739. The problem was that such a trail would pass through the heart of Apache country, and the Apaches did not like any Europeans. Consequently the Mallet brothers lost all of their trade goods, so they had nothing to sell when they reached Santa Fe, but at least they had not broken any Spanish laws against smuggling! The astonished Spanish officials didn't know what to do, so they wrote to the viceroy in Mexico City for instructions. Mexico City was 1,500 miles away, and roads going in that direction were nearly nonexistent, so it took nine months to receive an answer; predictably, the viceroy ordered the intruders thrown out. The Mallet brothers returned to New Orleans empty-handed, but they still thought that trade was possible, if a way could be found to do it legally. A second journey was attempted in 1741, and Pierre went on a third in 1750. Both the Indians and the Spanish officials remained unfriendly, so no profits were made on these ventures, either. Pierre was arrested and sent first to Mexico City, and then to Spain for interrogation, while Paul settled down as a farmer in Arkansas; nothing was heard from either brother after this.

The main reason why both the La Vérendrye and the Mallet expeditions petered out is that supply and communication lines were simply too long; the French government could not consistently support any activity this far from home. If there had been a city in the middle of the continent, to serve as a base camp, reliable support would have been available, and we can assume that the expeditions eventually would have gotten positive results. Instead, exploitation of most of the heartland would have to wait until after the creation of the United States; in the next chapter Americans will use Independence, Missouri as their launching pad to the west.

If you looked at a map of North America in the late seventeenth-early eighteenth century, you would probably think that Robert de La Salle got his wish, for the French colonial empire was more impressive than the English one. The English were confined to two areas, the Atlantic coast and Hudson Bay, while most of the interior--the Great Lakes, the St. Lawrence valley and just about everything between the Appalachians and the Rockies--was claimed by France. However, most of the French claim was only inhabited by Indians. The English colonies, though smaller, had a higher population than the colonies of any other empire, because the English had brought their wives and children to settle with them in the New World. From this you can see the main difference between the French and English colonial policies. In most places the French explored but did not settle, while the English settled but did not explore.

By the mid-eighteenth century, England's fifteen Atlantic seaboard colonies had a combined total of 1.25 million inhabitants. Virginia was the largest, with a quarter million. The only ones that had less than 30,000 were Georgia, Newfoundland and Nova Scotia; Georgia was the youngest colony, while the other two had the least desirable climate. By contrast, the French had only 50,000 in New France, 10,000 in the area that would become the Maritime Provinces of Canada, and 4,000 in Louisiana. In the Old World, France may have been larger than England, in terms of land and population, but in the New World the English outnumbered the French by nearly 20 to 1; that is why we have more to say about the growth and development of the English colonies. When the French lost their empire, the community in New France (now called Quebec, after its capital) would be large enough to keep its identity, but the others would be assimilated by the conqueror.

This is the end of Part I. Click here to go to Part II.


1. Today John Smith, and Jamestown for that matter, are chiefly remembered for a romantic incident that happened on another one of Smith's raids. He was captured by Opechancanough's half-brother, chief Powhatan, and Powhatan was about to have him clubbed to death, when his eleven-year-old daughter, Pocahontas, threw herself on Smith, thereby persuading Powhatan to spare him. Later on Pocahontas married John Rolfe, was baptized, and took the Christian name of Rebecca.
As famous as the rescue story is, modern historians believe that John Smith made it up; for a start, Powhatan's real name was Wahunsunacock or Wahunsenacawh (for some reason the English gave him the same name as his tribe). What's more, Smith didn't tell or write down the story until several years after Pocahontas' death. It now appears that he plagiarized the story of Juan Ortiz, a follower of Panfilo de Narvaez, from eighty years earlier. Four members of the Narvaez expedition were captured by the Indians, and the Indians roasted three of them over a fire. Ortiz nearly suffered the same fate, but the Florida chief's daughter intervened, saying something like, "I could use a slave, Daddy." Incidentally, the English word barbecue comes from barbacoa, the Spanish word Ortiz used to describe what the Indians tried to do to him.

2. Understandably, Englishmen were reluctant to move to Virginia during the early years. Sometimes the government got them to go by offering exile to convicted criminals, as an alternative to execution. Because most settlers didn't last more than a year in the New World, it might as well have been a death sentence. Others were poor men who came as indentured servants; in return for passage across the Atlantic, they agreed to work a certain amount of time, like seven years, for the patron who paid for their ticket. Once the labor time was up, though, the indentured servants had no reason to stay on the patron's farm, so they left and started farms and businesses of their own, thereby increasing the demand for labor.

3. There is a northwest passage through the Arctic, but to navigate in those waters one must either use a ship built to break through the ice, or go under it, like the submarine Nautilus did when it surfaced near the North Pole in 1958. The passage was finally conquered in 1906 by the future discoverer of the South Pole, Roald Amundsen; it took him three years because his ship was immobilized in the ice during the worst weather. In 1969 a US icebreaker, the Manhattan, repeated the journey through the northwest passage more quickly.

4. Nobody knows for sure how or when the Iroquois Confederacy was founded. The Iroquois themselves said it was a combined effort on the part of Hiawatha, a chief who lived around 1550, and a prophet known as Deganawida, "The Great Peacemaker." Later on it would provide some ideas for the Founding Fathers who wrote the US Constitution.

5. Étienne Brûlé, Champlain's protege, died this way, but ironically, it wasn't at the hands of the Iroquois. In a 1633 battle he was captured by the Iroquois, and the Hurons, thinking he was already dead, did not try to rescue him. Brûlé managed to escape, but when he made his way back to the Hurons they did not believe his story, and decided he must have survived by switching sides, so Brûlé ended up getting tortured to death by his own allies!

6. One of the indentured servants who came in the 1660s was Étienne Trudeau, a direct ancestor of the Canadian prime ministers named Trudeau.

7. Those rules were mostly based on the Bible, of course. Even before they came ashore, the Pilgrims drew up their rules in the form of The Mayflower Compact, colonial America's first constitution.

8. It took me a while to find out where Squanto learned his English. What I discovered was that in 1614 Squanto was captured by fur traders and taken to Europe, to be sold as a slave. He escaped and managed to come back on a westbound ship in 1619, so he missed the previously mentioned epidemic. Those fur traders, by the way, enjoyed the "good life," compared to everyone else, because in those days it was easier to live off the land like an Indian than it was to build a European-style settlement in the wilderness. The wealth of the fur traders offended the hungry and pious Pilgrims almost as much as their heavy drinking and their Indian girlfriends.

9. The defeat and execution of King Charles caused a wave of his followers, known as the Cavaliers, to emigrate to Virginia. Then after the monarchy was restored, a large wave of Puritans fled to Massachusetts. Plenty of colonists took notes on what was happening in England; for the founders of the United States, memories of the English Civil War were as vivid as memories of the American Civil War are to today's Southerners.

10. At this point Massachusetts also included the present-day states of New Hampshire and Maine; they would be broken off later.

11. Spain organized a convoy of ships in the Caribbean every year, to bring home the gold and silver taken out of Latin America. The purpose of the convoys was to protect the ships from pirates and privateers, and the most dangerous part of the journey occurred when they sailed between Florida and Cuba. In 1628 a Dutch admiral, Piet Hein, captured fifteen Spanish ships full of silver by trapping them in Cuba's Bay of Matanzas; the money he got from that heist paid the Dutch army's expenses for eight months, and there was still enough left over to give the WIC's shareholders a whopping 50 percent dividend for that year. As for the crews of those ships, Hein didn't want to take any prisoners, so he left them enough provisions for an overland hike and gave them directions to Havana, using the fluent Spanish he had learned when he was a prisoner of Spain, twenty-five years earlier.

But even the convoy system couldn't protect Spanish shipping from a natural enemy--hurricanes. They suffered a really bad loss to storms in 1622, when a hurricane sank two treasure ships, the Santa Margarita and the Nuestra Senora de Atocha, in the Florida Keys. The Santa Margarita wreck was located, and Spanish divers managed to recover most of her cargo over the next ten years, but there was nothing they could do for the Atocha; she went down in 50 feet of water, too deep for diving in those days, and a second hurricane scattered and buried what was left. Because Spain was fully involved in the Thirty Years War by now, this loss put the country in debt, forcing the Spaniards to borrow money and sell several galleons. Over the next 360 years, many treasure hunters came looking for the Atocha, until Mel Fisher found the wreck in 1985, after searching for sixteen years. By this time the Atocha's cargo was worth $450 million, and because both the US government and the state government of Florida claimed the treasure, Fisher had to go through an eight-year court battle, before he was finally allowed to keep most of it.

Despite Fisher's triumph, the greatest sunken treasure of all may still be waiting to be discovered. After Queen Anne's War (covered later in this chapter), Spain was badly in need of money again; even worse, it took two years to assemble the first treasure convoy in Havana after the war. The convoy fleet included five ships from Mexico, six ships from Panama, and one French merchant ship that was forced to travel with the Spaniards so it could not tip off pirates on when the convoy was sailing. By then it was the summer of 1715, and the fleet commander idiotically decided to leave right away, though it was now hurricane season in the Atlantic (June-November). Within a week a hurricane sank the fleet off the east coast of Florida, and drowned more than a thousand men. Ironically, only the French ship, the Grifon, survived the storm. In the three centuries since then, plenty of gold and silver objects have washed up on the nearest beaches, and divers have recovered more items from the shipwrecks, to the point that Indian River, St. Lucie and Martin Counties are called the Treasure Coast today. The exciting part is that four of the eleven shipwrecks were never located; they may have been blown north, in the vicinity of Cape Canaveral (the "Space Coast"), before they sank. So if you plan to retire on a Florida beach, consider doing some treasure hunting in your spare time.

12. Swaanendael is modern Lewes, DE, which proudly calls itself "The First Town in the First State."

13. A member of the Dutch Reformed Church Council, Stuyvesant didn't want religious competition from Jews, Lutherans, Catholics or Quakers. The first Jews arrived at New Amsterdam in 1655; Stuyvesant tried to keep them out, but the Dutch government ordered him to let them in, in the name of tolerance. That marked the beginning of what would become the world's largest Jewish community in the twentieth century.

14. The Dutch were now out of the colonial game, but for centuries to come New York's richest families, like the Vanderbilts and the Roosevelts, would have Dutch ancestry.

15. Sault Ste. Marie was split in two by an 1818 treaty, when the British agreed that the land now known as Michigan's Upper Peninsula belonged to the United States, not to Upper Canada. As a result, Sault Ste. Marie became the oldest city in both Ontario and Michigan.

16. It now appears that Des Moines, the capital of present-day Iowa, got its name from a dirty joke. When the explorers got to the part of the Mississippi that runs between Iowa and Illinois, Father Marquette met with a group of Peoria Indians on the Illinois side, and asked them about the tribe that lived at the mouth of the Des Moines River. The Peoria told him the other tribe was called the Moingoana, so he applied that name to the river. Later "Moingoana" was shortened by the French to "Moines." The Moingoana became extinct in the eighteenth century, and the Peoria moved away (to Missouri), so when white settlers arrived in the area, they thought the name "Moines" came either from the Indian burial mounds along the river, or from a colony of Trappist monks living there. Then in 2003 Michael McCafferty, a researcher from Indiana University, was studying the now extinct Miami-Illinois language, and he discovered that Moingoana was an insult, not a real name; it translated as "sh*t-faces." Evidently the Peoria were having a little fun at the expense of a rival tribe, and Father Marquette didn't get it.

17. La Salle doesn't seem to have had his heart in it, when he explored Lake Erie, because he completely missed the most interesting geographic feature in the region, Niagara Falls. Credit for discovering the falls went to Father Louis Hennepin, a missionary who traveled with La Salle on a follow-up expedition in 1677. At their camp near the lake's outlet, Hennepin heard a constant rumbling sound, and when he went to find out where the sound came from, it turned out to be the falls. Niagara is a European attempt to spell Onguiaahra, the Iroquois name for the falls, and when Hennepin published his account in 1683, he made them sound even more spectacular than they are, because he estimated their height at 500 feet, almost three times the correct figure of 170 feet.

18. The wreck of the sunken ship, the La Belle, was discovered by archaeologists in 1995.

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