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North America witnessed an influx of immigrants from England during the 17th century. One of the most important pioneer English settlements in the continent was the Massachusetts Bay Colony. This colony was established on the East coast of North America by the Massachusetts Bay Company, which facilitated the migration of Englishmen to this destination. A major motivation for emigrating from England during the 1600s was to escape the political and religious chaos the country was experiencing (Hopley 20). To the immigrating colonists, America was the New World where they would not only prosper but also enjoy political and religious freedom. The colonists living in Massachusetts were able to create a stable community and achieve great prosperity.
Cause of Immigration
During the 1600s, England was experiencing major changes in its political and religious structure. The country had just broken away from its Catholic roots and established the Church of England. At the same time, there was a prolonged struggle for power between the Parliament and the Monarch. In 1629, King Charles I dissolved Parliament and gave the Archbishop of the Anglican Church great authority (Williams 21). All Englishmen were supposed to recognize the authority of this church and religious dissenters were punished. The Puritan community regarded the Anglican Church as corrupt and wanted to reform it. For this reason, the Archbishop of Canterbury victimized the Puritan community with the aim of destroying it. Spencer documents that the religious persecutions caused the Puritans to immigrate to America where they would have the opportunity to freely practice their religion (40).
Living in Massachusetts
To facilitate the immigration of the Puritan community, the Massachusetts Bay Company was formed by a number of Puritan businessmen. These individuals were able to obtain a land grant in the Americas and subsequently, they acquired a Charter from King Charles (Clarke 85). While Massachusetts Bay was created as a profit driven company, it was transformed into a religiously motivated organization. The Massachusetts Bay Colony was established as a refuge for Puritans who were escaping religious persecution from the English Crown. The first major voyage by the Massachusetts Bay Company consisted of 1000 colonists who arrived at American East coast in 1630. Williams reports that over the next decade, the company would transport over 20,000 colonists to the Massachusetts Bay region (21).
The First wave of immigrants experienced extreme difficulties in the New World. These difficulties included poor crop yields, affliction by new diseases, and attacks from the Native Indians (Clarke 85). These difficulties led to the deaths of about 200 immigrants from the first settler group and an equal number choose to return to England to escape the hardships (Hopley 26). However, the colony received a constant flow of immigrants who brought with them new supplies and increased the labour force in the colony. The first English colonists to reach the shores of Massachusetts Bay were able to clear the land and build homes. Horn reveals that the basic building block of the colony was agriculture and the settlers were expected to engage in food production (22). On arrival at the colony, each settler was given a home space within the village. He was then assigned a strip of land outside the village for cultivation. By placing the strips of land for cultivation close together, it was easy for the colonists to plan communal agricultural activities such as harvesting, planting and sowing. The colonists were able to cultivate huge tracks of land, enabling them to produce enough food to sustain the colony and ensure its development.
Economic prosperity was crucial to the sustainability of a colony. A unique feature of Massachusetts colony was that it had many well educated and professionally skilled immigrants (Horn 22). These individuals were able to use their skills and knowledge to ensure the success of the colony in various industries. Massachusetts had a number of natural resources that the colonists could exploit. As such, a number of economic activities were undertaken to help the colony grow. The availability of abundant water resources led to the development of a thriving fishing industry. The numerous forests were logged for timber, which was used to build settlements, docks and ships. The harbours promoted trade with England and other European Nations. Horn notes that the economic success of the colony led to more immigrants joining Massachusetts and increased the colony’s influence among the other settlements established in North America (23).
Community life was very crucial for the Massachusetts colonists. The colonists created structured, organized societies that were modelled after the English townships in England. The typical town in this colony was centrally located and it was characterized by the presence of a meetinghouse (Horn 26). This meetinghouse was used for religious purposes as well as community meetings. During the town hall meetings, the residents of the colony could discuss the issues affecting them. The local affairs were discussed in the meetings and consensus reached on contentious issues. The town also housed some of the skilled labourers in the community. Specialized workers such as artisans, blacksmiths, and cobblers maintained residence in the town. The colonists were therefore able to access the services provided by these professionals with relative ease.
The colonists embraced a philosophy of hard work for the good of the community. Each person was required to contribute to the prosperity of the society. Hard work was necessary to transform the mostly raw land in the new country of America into liveable villages and towns (Clarke 85). Most Massachusetts colonists therefore spend their days working on the farm, logging timber, or fishing. The only day for enjoyment was on Sunday when they went to the town for church services and other social activities. Idleness was frowned upon and a person could be banished from the colony for refusing to work.
Religion played an important part in the lives of the Massachusetts colonists. Spencer explains that this settlement was created primarily to provide shelter to Puritans who were facing religious persecution in England (40). The social and political life of the colonists was therefore guided by Puritans values. Ross notes that the influence of religion on the society meant that the religious leaders had great power (982). Colonists were expected to engage in useful labour for the entire week but Sundays were reserved for religious activities. In addition to this, the settlers were required to finance the church by paying regular taxes to the church elders.
The socio-political life of the colony was strongly influenced by religious beliefs of the Puritans. This group maintained that a major role of the government was to enforce the Laws of God (Ross 980). To qualify as a voter in the colony, one had to be a member of the Puritan church. As such, only ardent Puritans took up influential positions in the government. These leaders ensured that the colonists lived by strict religious principles. The government took responsibility for removing corrupt and sinful practices from the society (Clarke 86). There were specific measures taken by officials to control the moral conduct of the public. Vices such as gambling and drunkenness were banned and penalties were imposed on any person found engaging in these vices.
The colonists were a tightly knit community with each member showing interest in the affairs of the neighbours. This concern for the neighbours was the result of the religious beliefs of the colonists. The Puritans believed that the fate of the community was dependent on the righteousness of the entire society (Williams 22). The emphasis on corporate righteousness meant that each colonist had to engage in good behaviour to ensure the success of the entire colony. The religious leaders dictated upon the conduct of individuals in the colony. This led to increased public scrutiny therefore infringing on the individual’s right to privacy and freedom of expression.
Expansion was a major goal of the colonists of Massachusetts. Once they landed on America, the settlers were keen to increase the land under their control. All efforts where therefore geared towards expanding the territory of Massachusetts. When a community started to prosper, it expanded to form new communities. The village leaders determined when the community had grown large enough to expand (Horn 24). Once this was determined, the general court of the colony was petitioned for permission to send settlers to a new site. At the new site, each settler family was provided with a home lot and a strip of arable land and activity aimed at creating a prosperous and self-sufficient community was engaged in. This cycle was repeated numerous times as the colony expanded westwards.
This paper set out to discuss what it was like to live in the Massachusetts colony. It began by highlighting the reasons why the immigrants from England formed this colony. These immigrants attempted to build a new and ideal society in North America. The colonists were subjected to high moral values in accordance to the Puritan beliefs. Due to the hard work and competence of the colonists, Massachusetts was able to prosper and gain influence in America.
Clarke, Eliot. Land of the Free and Home of the Brave. NJ: Dorrance Publishing Co., Inc., 2003. Print.
Hopley, Clair. “The Great Migrations of 1630 by the Puritans.” British Heritage 26.4(2005): 20-26.
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Horn, Tammy. Bees in America: How the Honey Bee Shaped a Nation. Kentucky: University Press of Kentucky, 2006. Print.
Ross, Richard. “Puritan Godly Discipline in Comparative Perspective: Legal Pluralism and the Sources of Intensity.” American Historical Review 113.4(2008): 975-1002.
Spencer, Charles. “The Regicides’ New Haven?” History Today 64.10(2014): 38-44.
Williams, Tony. America’s Beginnings: The Dramatic Events that Shaped a Nation’s Character. NY: Rowman & Littlefield, 2010. Print.