The Effect of the Restoration in New England
The accession of Charles II to the throne of England provoked a
crisis in the affairs of the Puritans and gave rise to many problems
that the New Englanders had not anticipated and did not know how to
solve. With a Stuart again in control, there were many questions
that might be easily asked but less easily answered. Except for
Massachusetts and Plymouth, not a settlement had a legal title to
its soil; and except for Massachusetts, not one had ever received a
sufficient warrant for the government which it had set up.
Naturally, therefore, there was disquietude in Rhode Island,
Connecticut, and New Haven; and even Massachusetts, buttressed as
she was, feared lest the King might object to many of the things she
had done. Entrenched behind her charter and aware of her superiority
in wealth, territory, and population, she had taken the leadership
in New England and had used her opportunity to intimidate her
neighbors. Except for New Haven, not a colony or group of
settlements but had felt the weight of her claims. Plymouth and
Connecticut had protested against her demands; the Narragansett
towns with difficulty had evaded her attempt to absorb them; and the
settlements at Piscataqua and on the Maine coast had finally yielded
to her jurisdiction. As long as Cromwell lived and the Government of
England was under Puritan direction, Massachusetts had little to
fear from protests against her; but, with the Cromwellian régime at
an end, she could not expect from the restored monarchy a favoring
or friendly attitude.
The change in England was not merely one of government; it was one of policy as well. Even during the Cromwellian period, Englishmen awoke to a greater appreciation of the importance of colonies as assets of the mother country, and began to realize, in a fashion unknown to the earlier period, the necessity of extending and strengthening England's possessions in America. England was engaged in a desperate commercial war with Holland, whose vessels had obtained a monopoly of the carrying trade of the world; and to win in that conflict it was imperative that her statesmen should husband every resource that the kingdom possessed. The religious agitations of previous years were passing away and the New England colonies were not likely to be troubled on account of their Puritanism. The great question in England was not religious conformity but national strength based on commercial prosperity.
Thus England was fashioning a new system and defining a new policy. By means of navigation acts, she barred the Dutch from the carrying trade and confined colonial commerce in large part to the mother country. She established councils and committees of trade and plantations, and, by the seizure of New Netherland in 1664 and the grant of the Carolinas and the Bahamas in 1663 and 1670, she completed the chain of her possessions in America from New England to Barbados. A far-flung colonial world was gradually taking shape, demanding of the King and his advisers an interest in America of a kind hitherto unknown. It is not surprising that so vast a problem, involving the trade and defense of nearly twenty colonies, should have made the internal affairs of New England seem of less consequence to the royal authorities than had been the case in the days of Charles I and Archbishop Laud, when the obtaining of the Massachusetts Bay charter had roused such intensity of feeling in England. What was interesting Englishmen was no longer the matter of religious obedience in the colonies, but rather that of their political and commercial dependence on the mother country.
As the future of New England was certain to be debated at Whitehall after 1660, the colonies took pains to have representatives on the ground to meet criticisms and complaints, to ward off attacks, and to beg for favors. Rhode Island sent a commission to Dr. John Clarke, one of her founders and leading men, at that time in London, instructing him to ask for royal protection, self-government, liberty of conscience, and a charter. Massachusetts sent Simon Bradstreet and the Reverend John Norton, with a petition that reads like a sermon, praying the King not to listen to other men's words but to grant the colonists an opportunity to answer for themselves, they being "true men, fearers of God and the King, not given to change, orthodox and peaceable in Israel." Connecticut, with more worldly wisdom, sent John Winthrop, the Governor, a man courtly and tactful, with a petition shrewdly worded and to the point. Plymouth entrusted her mission also to Winthrop, hoping for a confirmation of her political and religious liberties. All protested their loyalty to the Crown, while Massachusetts, her petition signed by the stiff-necked Endecott, prostrated herself at the royal feet, craving pardon for her boldness, and subscribing herself "Your Majesties most humble subjects and suppliants." Did Endecott remember, we wonder, a certain incident connected with the royal ensign at Salem?
Against the lesser colonies no complaints were presented, except in the case of New Haven, which was charged by the inhabitants of Shelter Island with usurpation of their goods and territory; but for Massachusetts the restoration of the Stuarts opened a veritable Pandora's box of troubles. In "divers complaints, petitions, and other informations concerning New England," she was accused of overbearance and oppression, of seizing the territory of New Hampshire and Maine, of denying the rights of Englishmen to Anglicans and non-freemen of the colony, and of persecuting the Quakers and others of religious views different from her own. She was declared to be seeking independence of Crown and Parliament by forbidding appeals to England, refusing evaded by various definitions of "orthodox" and "competent estates" and was not to be fully executed for many years, yet its meaning was clear — no single religious body would ever again be allowed by the royal authorities in England, to monopolize the government or control the political destinies of a British colony in America or elsewhere.
Painting in the State House, Boston.
Painting in the collection of the Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston.
Back to: Plymouth and New England Colonies