Northeast: 1620–1730



In the Northeast region of North America, settlements were established in the early 17th century by two major groups seeking religious freedom: the Pilgrims and the Puritans. In 1620 the Pilgrims founded Plymouth Colony, the first permanent colony in New England. About 10 years later, the Puritans established the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Both colonies were initially controlled by governors and groups of church members, with the governors reporting to the British monarchy. Through town meetings, colonists exercised a level of influence. Ample forested land and access to the sea allowed trade and the lumber, shipbuilding, fishing, and whaling industries to flourish. Early relations with native tribes, generally guarded but peaceful, were marred by the 1636 Pequot War and King Philip's War 40 years later.

At A Glance

  • The first European settlers to successfully found long-term communities in New England came primarily seeking a safe place to worship and to strengthen their vision of Christianity, which opposed the Roman Catholic Church and split from the Church of England. These included the Pilgrims, who founded Plymouth Colony.
  • Puritans established Massachusetts Bay Colony, where they could practice their exacting faith. More tolerant Puritans founded Rhode Island, and Quakers founded Pennsylvania.
  • Prior to the arrival of Europeans to North America's northeast coast, most indigenous tribes in the region lived in agricultural communities with strong social structures and cultural traditions.
  • The arrival of Europeans and the subsequent spread of their colonies forced changes to the Native American ways of life and intensified the conflict between Iroquoian- and Algonquian-speaking groups. This intrusion also sparked two major conflicts between Europeans and native people: the Pequot War (1636) and King Philip's War (1675).
  • The geography of New England discouraged farming for profit. However, the coastal waters and natural ports supported thriving fishing and shipbuilding industries and prosperous trade.
  • The colonies in the Northeast were governed by religious men who then reported to the monarchy in England. By way of town meetings, colonists had a voice in their government and its decisions.
  • Religion pervaded the social structure of the colonies, dictating gender roles and forming the basis of education.