Massachusetts and virginia: a comparative colonial history
Looking at the powerful America in this industrialized era, one will lightly or never have a dose of thought that it has gone much pain and struggles on its way to what seem to be an impossible vision back then. The untouchable America was, like other countries and states, was once attractive to invaders. Its states, Massachusetts and Virginia have been colonial favorites of the white men. Like other countries and states, Virginia and Massachusetts have struggled, failed and triumphed over famine, slavery and war all for these reasons: freedom and security of its people. Tracing the history of Virginia and Massachusetts from the colonial years to their progress in the 19th century will lead us to the comparison of the two, being both major English colonies. In this paper, we will try to compare the two colonies in the aspects of culture, government, economy and religion; these aspects being considered the pillars of every nation’s foundation that defines their victory and failure.
It was the desire for colonial expansion that drove the Englishmen towards the land of the red men, the native caretakers of the pre-colonial America. A charter granted by the king to a private company, named London Company, had formally authorized Christopher Newport and the rest of the group to adventure across the Chesapeake Bay on December 19, 1606 with one clear vision: to settle to the land of the Red Men, they later called Jamestown, for economic gain. “They obtained a royal charter enabling each to found a colony, granting the right to coin money, raise revenue, and to make laws, but reserving much power to the king.” (W Elson, 1904) Upon establishing the first English settlement in 1607, the settlers called the colony Virginia, in honor of Queen Elizabeth. On the other hand, the Plymouth Company, granted the same charter and permission from King James attempted to establish a colony at the Maine coast but was not successful. Here now lies the first main difference between the two colonies. While they were both granted the same power and were driven by the same purpose of making much money out of the New World, the London Company had clearly realized its purpose in establishing the Virginia colony. The cultivation of Tobacco as a cash crop have defined how successful the company was in developing Virginia as an agricultural society. The export and trade of tobacco and other cash crops have considerably grew fast and brought much money to the colonists. What was however sad about this was that tobacco farming is highly labor-intensive, and the fact that the English colony does not have its own source of labor for the industry, was of much concern to the Englishmen. So what they did was to import laborers from England whom they have themselves abused. This was the beginning of slavery in Virginia which also widened the gap between the rich and the poor sector through massive labor exploitation. As Virginia developed and was known as the King of Nicotine, being Tobacco cropping as its basic economic source, labor malpractice also continued “These exploitation tactics enabled the colony of Virginia to succeed, while putting huge profits in the plantation owners’ pockets.” (J Greiner, 1995)
Meanwhile, the New England Company who headed for Massachusetts had not started anything valuable for England until 1620 when the company sent small colonies which arrived at Plymouth, Massachusetts. As early as 1622, the Englishmen were able to establish trading and fishing posts at Wessagusset through the leadership of Andrew Weston. Wessagusset was later named Weymouth. A fishing post at Cape Ann failed to be realized by Roger Conant in 1623 but the one established at Naumkeag (Salem) finally succeeded in 1626. A trading post at Mt. Wollaston, later renamed Merry Mount was successfully established in 1625 by Thomas Wallaston. With these valuable ports of commerce for Massachusetts, it can be initially assessed that the colony was not a complete failure for England’s purpose of establishing worthy colonies in the New World. While Virginia was successful in bringing much wealth to the England through tobacco cropping, Massachusetts primarily focused its efforts on religious matters. The early settlers had the church as the center of their invasion activities. It is actually for this ground that the charter granted to the company has been later revoked. After securing a charter from Charles I, the company has been re-organized as Massachusetts Bay company in 1629, granting permission to the company to establish a company independent of England. The spread and strengthening of the Puritan Theocracy was the central aim of the colony. While the Virginia company was kept busy in developing the Tobacco farming, the Massachusetts colony were kept busy by long church services, establishment of religious instructions and the construction of churches.
Before the English settlers came to Virginia, “each man is a servant of the state” and therefore does not own anything. There was communism, where all things are held in common ownership. When Sir Thomas Dale was appointed by Lord Delaware as his successor in the governorship of Virginia, he has partly abolished the system of communism by giving each old settler three acres of land to till and cultivate, including the right to own private property. This system was for the purpose if stimulating the colony’s industry since each settler were encourage to work hard for the land that was granted to them Sir Thomas Dale, being a “man of much ability and character” were able to establish new settlement for the colony. Dale was said to have used iron hands in governing the colony especially on the punishment of criminals. His system though hard for some has generally paid off for the whole colony as “Under his masterful guidance Virginia came out from the valley of the shadow of death.” (Fisk, 396) This is true to the fact that it was Dale who had stimulated the settlers’ sense of pride and value as they have been given the opportunity to have their own properties. By this system, Dale was able to save the colony from starvation since their agricultural land cultivation has been maximized.
Contrary to Virginia, the early settlers of Massachusetts have their privately owned fields. They were primarily agricultural people raising cattle, goats and swine. They live in a common village with individually owned houses. In the common village was a church, which is considered the most dominant structure. This church, where they hold long Sabbath services also serve as a site for town meetings. It is to be noted that private ownership of land and other properties are restricted to church members, and that town meetings are accessible only for the property holders, thus, non-church members are excluded from the planning activities of the local government. During this time, non-members of the church were not allowed to vote. In their long Sunday church services, two to four hours were allotted for the minister’s sermon. The religious persecution could have been one of the events that Massachusetts can be remembered of. In 1635, having been the boldest critic of the Puritans, all Baptists, with their leader Roger Williams, was expelled from the colony.
If we are to look into the government of both colonies, we will be able to assess that they somehow have ran their governments as that of England. Virginia also adapted the governorship system wherein governors were initially appointed by the king, as with the case of Lord Dela Warr and Sir Thomas Dale. It is important that we clarify the three charters which were granted by England to the Virginia colony. In the first charter, the colony had adapted the autocratic theory of government wherein the local council was subject to a superior council in England, and these councils are both under the direction and control of the king. This means that under the first charter, the Virginia colony did have its self-governing powers. In the second charter granted in 1609, the positions in the council are filled up by means of electoral system, that is, through the votes of the stockholders. Through this charter, the council was granted the right of self-government. This system was imposed with the purpose of having the English government be adapted and have its roots in the American territory. On the third charter, the stockholders were granted a wider range in the exercise of its powers. The making of laws, choosing of leaders and all governmental powers were placed in the hands of the stockholders. This therefore has widen the gap between the property holders and the ordinary people since latter were deprived of their rights to participate in the political arena.
The Massachusetts colony was governed by the General Court. This governing body was composed of the Governor, a Deputy Governor, assistants and deputies. These positions were traditionally elected by the Massachusetts Bay Company members. In this colony, the state was regarded as an agency of God’s will on earth, being the church as the dominant sector of the colony. The status of a freeman, meaning that status which enables anyone to participate in the affairs of the colony, was strictly granted to the member of the church. This system continued until 1664. The establishment of religious qualifications for suffrage was however abolished when King Charles II issued another charter, where Massachusetts, Plymouth and Maine were unified and merged into one Royal Colony in 1691.
The presence of the colonies in America is not however that of a bad dream for the settlers. Their system of government, their economic process and means have contributed a lot in the way Virginia and Massachusetts run their independent lives now. The Tobacco cropping, with which Virginia is known for, is the colony’s legacy to the early Americans. The head right system of land acquisition and the indenture labor systems were probably the worse in the list of Virginia colony legacies that the Native Americans will not eventually desire to get back with. On the contrary, the Massachusetts colony has its foundation deeply rooted in the form of education system. Despite the fact of religious persecution, the Massachusetts colony was the first ones who have established formal schools in the New World. In 1635, Boston Latin School was established as a product of its promotion of educational facilities. This system was initially for the purpose of enhancing the study of the scripture and of developing it as a learned ministry. Harvard school was also established in 1636. In 1647, laws were drafted and passed requiring the establishment of elementary schools in towns with more than fifty families. This marked the beginning of popular education in the United States. These educational programs were not however free but open to all.
The most memorable year in the early history of Virginia was 1619, for in this year was born the first government by the people as opposed to what has been the government of the stockholders. This system is destined to play a great part in the future development of the new nation. In November 1618, the Virginia Company had issued an order limiting the power of the governor of the colony and establishing a legislature of burgesses to be elected by the people. In July, 1619, the representative of the House of Burgesses of twenty two delegates met. This was the beginning of a government that was authentically established by the free people who have been given the right to choose their own leaders. Thus, this government, which America has really proud of unto this day, was a government born of Virginia. The “government of the people, for the people, and by the people” thus gained its first foothold on American soil, courtesy of Virginia. This new form of government has attracted settlers like a magnet and soon has made America known as the land of the free. The scar of slavery seems to have been gone out forever, though the bitter memories of the past will not surely be erased from those who were once the victims.
One truth brought Virginia and Massachusetts in common: the Native Americans, the Indians do not like them. First, because the white men were strangers who landed in their lands, owned the land, cultivated them for their existence purposes. Second, the Indians will definitely defend their own land for survival. The Native Americans, as with other colonial states and countries have that thought and fear of being deprived of their usual freedom in their territories with the arrival of the colonists. This thought brought about the civil wars in both colonies. On June 24, 1675 the red men attacked the members of the church while on their way to Swansea for a Sunday church service. This event came to the point where the white men have to bring their muskets inside the church in order to be always prepared when they are to be attacked by the Indians. The friction was so intense that the war continued for a year. King Philip, the leader of the red men belonging to the Wampanaog Tribe has led the war against the colonists. He started his plan by visiting other tribes and then convinced them to unite with him in driving off the white men in their own land. Too many lives of both parties have been sacrificed in the name of freedom. The war finally ended in 1637 when John Winslow led 1,500 white men to a war against Narragansett. The said stronghold was considered to be the most formidable strongholds of the Indians. In that war called the Pequot War or the King Philip’s War, about 200 white men died and a thousand Indian lives were spared. King Philip was killed which finally ended the war. The end of the Indian Power left 13 towns destroyed and 500 buildings burned. It is said that the victory of the white men was due to the unity of the Massachusetts, Plymouth, Connecticut and New Haven.
After the war, the economy of both colonies stepped into progress at a considerably fast pace. IN the mid 18th century, Massachusetts has made it to the progressive export of fish, lumber, salt, fur and other farm products. As the lively trade develops, the industry of ship building also grew. Ships were built at Massachusetts and manned by local seamen. Despite this progress, the people still have their economic grievances relative to the different economic policies that were imposed especially on the export industry. The Stamp Act of 1765, which imposed duties on a wide range of items within the colonies; the Sugar Act of 1764 which increased the list of items that could only be exported from the colonies via English ports; the Currency Act of 1764 which prevented any of the colonies from printing their own currency were the major policies which triggered the bloody uprisings and riots leading to the Boston Massacre in 1770. The Coercive Acts or the Intolerable Acts of 1774 have later led to the Battle of Bunker Hill on June 17,1775. A few years later, the colonies have experienced severe economic depression since the old trade routes have been ordered to be closed. Later in 1788, with the ratification of Articles of Confederation, new trading routes have been created and soon opened the trading with China The ports of Boston boomed along with the other ports.
After winning the war with Britain in 1812, the US begun in its own manufacturing business, especially on the infant industry which concentrated in Massachusetts. The textile industry also boomed, including the manufacture of leather goods and shoes. This had however led the agricultural Massachusetts to fade away as the farmers eventually shifted to the operation of factories or had moved out of Massachusetts towards the west. With the perfection of the Power Loom by Francis Cabot Lowell, Massachusetts was made the early center of American textile industry. In 1820, the Water Power of Merri Mack River became the basis for Cotton Textile Industry. Economically speaking, Massachusetts colony have made a lot for America With the establishment of the manufacturing plants, it was Massachusetts which had showcased the ability and skill of the Americans in the innovation of the said industry It was the Massachusetts colony which sheltered the freedom fighters against the British invaders Massachusetts colony have sacrificed many lives for the sake of American survival during the hard times of starvation, war and economic depression, including religious persecution It was this colony which hosted and witnessed how the American economy started to earn its living as agricultural land to its way towards industrialization
Virginia on the other hand has contributed three significant events in the history of America: first, it was in Virginia where the first English settlement occurred. Secondly, it was Virginia which developed tobacco farming which brought in a lot of money to England upon its success in the trading of this cash crop. While it is true that Virginia has pioneered the use of indentured servants for the tobacco farming, its contribution to the American economy is remarkable. Lastly, and the most vital contribution of Virginia was the birth of the government of the people, for the people and by the people which America still has been adapting. Born of Virginia was the great political idea of the separation of the church and the state.
If I am to choose between the two of which colony was more successful, it is required of me to weigh which of their contributions to the making of the Great America are of the highest importance. Since both colonies have their own share in the different pillars of the nation, that is, in the areas of economy, religion, government, culture and values, including education. From the list, I am placing the highest importance to the government. From here, it is my opinion that the colony of Virginia was more successful than that of the Massachusetts. The legacy of freedom that is offered by the democratic form of government has brought about the making of America being an authentic government ran and established by the free people. Because it is more important that a nation has a good governing skills and that good sense of managing its political affairs, Virginia is therefore more successful than Massachusetts. The introduction of tobacco in the Virginia colony has also been a vital part of America’s beginnings. Because tobacco farming has been unique to the colony, I believe that will add to the few reasons why I considered this colony to be more successful that the other.
Elson, Henry William (1904) “History of the United States of America” The MacMillan Company, New York, 1904. Chapter IV, pp. 103-111
Greiner, John F “Virginia from 1607-1660: A Colony of Ignorance” October 18, 1995 Retrieved from http://muweb.millersville.edu/~columbus/papers/greiner1.html on 03/12/07
Kelly,Martin “Virginia Colony” Retrieved from http://americanhistory.about.com/cs/colonialamerica/p/virginiacolony.htm on 03/12/07
Morris,Charles LL.D., and W. E. Scull, 1899. “A New History of the United States, The Greater Republic”
“A Brief History of Massachusetts” The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition Copyright ©2000, Columbia University Press.