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History of the United States by Charles A. Beard and Mary R. Beard
» PART I. THE COLONIAL PERIOD
» CHAPTER I

«·THE GREAT MIGRATION TO AMERICA · The Colonial Peoples·»


The Agencies of American Colonization

It was no light matter for the English to cross three thousand miles of water and found homes in the American wilderness at the opening of the seventeenth century. Ships, tools, and supplies called for huge outlays of money. Stores had to be furnished in quantities sufficient to sustain the life of the settlers until they could gather harvests of their own. Artisans and laborers of skill and industry had to be induced to risk the hazards of the new world. Soldiers were required for defense and mariners for the exploration of inland waters. Leaders of good judgment, adept in managing men, had to be discovered. Altogether such an enterprise demanded capital larger than the ordinary merchant or gentleman could amass and involved risks more imminent than he dared to assume. Though in later days, after initial tests had been made, wealthy proprietors were able to establish colonies on their own account, it was the corporation that furnished the capital and leadership in the beginning.

The Trading Company.—English pioneers in exploration found an instrument for colonization in companies of merchant adventurers, which had long been employed in carrying on commerce with foreign countries. Such a corporation was composed of many persons of different ranks of society—noblemen, merchants, and gentlemen—who banded together for a particular undertaking, each contributing a sum of money and sharing in the profits of the venture. It was organized under royal authority; it received its charter, its grant of land, and its trading privileges from the king and carried on its operations under his supervision and control. The charter named all the persons originally included in the corporation and gave them certain powers in the management of its affairs, including the right to admit new members. The company was in fact a little government set up by the king. When the members of the corporation remained in England, as in the case of the Virginia Company, they operated through agents sent to the colony. When they came over the seas themselves and settled in America, as in the case of Massachusetts, they became the direct government of the country they possessed. The stockholders in that instance became the voters and the governor, the chief magistrate.

John Winthrop, Governor of the Massachusetts Bay Company
John Winthrop, Governor of the
Massachusetts Bay Company

Four of the thirteen colonies in America owed their origins to the trading corporation. It was the London Company, created by King James I, in 1606, that laid during the following year the foundations of Virginia at Jamestown. It was under the auspices of their West India Company, chartered in 1621, that the Dutch planted the settlements of the New Netherland in the valley of the Hudson. The founders of Massachusetts were Puritan leaders and men of affairs whom King Charles I incorporated in 1629 under the title: “The governor and company of the Massachusetts Bay in New England.” In this case the law did but incorporate a group drawn together by religious ties. “We must be knit together as one man,” wrote John Winthrop, the first Puritan governor in America. Far to the south, on the banks of the Delaware River, a Swedish commercial company in 1638 made the beginnings of a settlement, christened New Sweden; it was destined to pass under the rule of the Dutch, and finally under the rule of William Penn as the proprietary colony of Delaware.

In a certain sense, Georgia may be included among the “company colonies.” It was, however, originally conceived by the moving spirit, James Oglethorpe, as an asylum for poor men, especially those imprisoned for debt. To realize this humane purpose, he secured from King George II, in 1732, a royal charter uniting several gentlemen, including himself, into “one body politic and corporate,” known as the “Trustees for establishing the colony of Georgia in America.” In the structure of their organization and their methods of government, the trustees did not differ materially from the regular companies created for trade and colonization. Though their purposes were benevolent, their transactions had to be under the forms of law and according to the rules of business.

The Religious Congregation.—A second agency which figured largely in the settlement of America was the religious brotherhood, or congregation, of men and women brought together in the bonds of a common religious faith. By one of the strange fortunes of history, this institution, founded in the early days of Christianity, proved to be a potent force in the origin and growth of self-government in a land far away from Galilee. “And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul,” we are told in the Acts describing the Church at Jerusalem. “We are knit together as a body in a most sacred covenant of the Lord … by virtue of which we hold ourselves strictly tied to all care of each other’s good and of the whole,” wrote John Robinson, a leader among the Pilgrims who founded their tiny colony of Plymouth in 1620. The Mayflower Compact, so famous in American history, was but a written and signed agreement, incorporating the spirit of obedience to the common good, which served as a guide to self-government until Plymouth was annexed to Massachusetts in 1691.

Three other colonies, all of which retained their identity until the eve of the American Revolution, likewise sprang directly from the congregations of the faithful: Rhode Island, Connecticut, and New Hampshire, mainly offshoots from Massachusetts. They were founded by small bodies of men and women, “united in solemn covenants with the Lord,” who planted their settlements in the wilderness. Not until many a year after Roger Williams and Anne Hutchinson conducted their followers to the Narragansett country was Rhode Island granted a charter of incorporation (1663) by the crown. Not until long after the congregation of Thomas Hooker from Newtown blazed the way into the Connecticut River Valley did the king of England give Connecticut a charter of its own (1662) and a place among the colonies. Half a century elapsed before the towns laid out beyond the Merrimac River by emigrants from Massachusetts were formed into the royal province of New Hampshire in 1679.

Even when Connecticut was chartered, the parchment and sealing wax of the royal lawyers did but confirm rights and habits of self-government and obedience to law previously established by the congregations. The towns of Hartford, Windsor, and Wethersfield had long lived happily under their “Fundamental Orders” drawn up by themselves in 1639; so had the settlers dwelt peacefully at New Haven under their “Fundamental Articles” drafted in the same year. The pioneers on the Connecticut shore had no difficulty in agreeing that “the Scriptures do hold forth a perfect rule for the direction and government of all men.”

The Proprietor.—A third and very important colonial agency was the proprietor, or proprietary. As the name, associated with the word “property,” implies, the proprietor was a person to whom the king granted property in lands in North America to have, hold, use, and enjoy for his own benefit and profit, with the right to hand the estate down to his heirs in perpetual succession. The proprietor was a rich and powerful person, prepared to furnish or secure the capital, collect the ships, supply the stores, and assemble the settlers necessary to found and sustain a plantation beyond the seas. Sometimes the proprietor worked alone. Sometimes two or more were associated like partners in the common undertaking.

William Penn, Proprietor of Pennsylvania
William Penn,
Proprietor of Pennsylvania

Five colonies, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and the Carolinas, owe their formal origins, though not always their first settlements, nor in most cases their prosperity, to the proprietary system. Maryland, established in 1634 under a Catholic nobleman, Lord Baltimore, and blessed with religious toleration by the act of 1649, flourished under the mild rule of proprietors until it became a state in the American union. New Jersey, beginning its career under two proprietors, Berkeley and Carteret, in 1664, passed under the direct government of the crown in 1702. Pennsylvania was, in a very large measure, the product of the generous spirit and tireless labors of its first proprietor, the leader of the Friends, William Penn, to whom it was granted in 1681 and in whose family it remained until 1776. The two Carolinas were first organized as one colony in 1663 under the government and patronage of eight proprietors, including Lord Clarendon; but after more than half a century both became royal provinces governed by the king.


«·THE GREAT MIGRATION TO AMERICA · The Colonial Peoples·»