Oliver Cromwell described New England as "poor, cold, and useless." Yet in this
harsh place, with its thin, rocky soil and brutal winters, Puritans built a
dynamic, commercial society based on lumbering, fishing, shipbuilding, and
Most New Englanders continued to live on small family farms, but in Boston and
other seaports, an aggressive merchant class arose and became a power in the
Atlantic trading community.
In these port towns, the Puritan was slowly becoming a Yankee. Church
attendance declined and people began parading their new wealth. As this
occurred, Puritan ministers increased the vehemence of their attacks on the
commercial spirit, predicting that God would soon show his displeasure with New
England. In 1674, a Puritan minister named Increase Mather delivered a sermon
called "The Day of Trouble is Near."
The following year, New England was almost wiped out by an Indian assault. It
was brought on by Puritan expansion into Indian territory. Between 1650 and
1700, New England's population grew from 23,000 to 93,000, mostly because
people lived long lives and had big families in the region's cool, healthy
climate. The Pequot Indians had resisted early Puritan expansion into the
Connecticut River Valley, and they were exterminated in what Winthrop called a
Then, there was an uneasy peace with the tribes of New England until 1675.
In that year, a Wampanoag chief named Metacom, known to the English as King
Philip, launched the bloodiest war, in proportion to population, in American
history. King Philip's forces burned more than half the Puritan towns in New
England, and pushed back the line of settlement to within 15 miles of the
It was a war fought with an uncompromising savagery. King Philip's warriors
wore belts of human skin and necklaces of human fingers. Puritans killed
Indian women and sold Indian children into slavery.
When the Puritan forces captured King Philip, they executed him on the spot.
Then they cut his body into four parts, severed the head, and took it to
Plymouth on a pole for a Thanksgiving Day celebration. It remained there for
A Budding System of Black Bondage in Virginia
After his death, King Philip's forces were eventually defeated by hunger and
disease. Not long after this, merchants in the seaport towns began to petition
the English Crown to loosen Puritan restrictions on free trade and voting, and
stop persecuting other religions. The Crown began an investigation, and in 1691
it combined Massachusetts Bay and Plymouth and made the enlarged colony a royal
Property ownership replaced church membership as the basis for voting and
office-holding, and religious toleration was extended to all Protestants. The
ministers, of course, complained, citing the loss of Winthrop's original
charter as God's punishment for New England's growing secularization. But the
new charter ended exclusive Puritan rule in Massachusetts.
At almost the same time, the Crown tightened its control on Virginia. There,
the cause was civil insurrection. As King Philips' War was ending on the New
England frontier, Jamestown, Virginia, was burned to the ground by a band of
insurgents led by an unlikely revolutionary named Nathaniel Bacon.
The trouble started with a frontier war between land-hungry white settlers and
Indians. When Governor William Berkeley refused to send help, frontiersmen
rallied behind Bacon, a rich, young hot-blood who had recently arrived from
England. When Bacon attacked friendly and hostile Indians alike, Berkeley
declared him a rebel. Bacon then marched on Jamestown, captured it, and
pillaged the estates of the pro-Berkeley elite.
It was civil war. Only it didn't last long. By the time an English force
arrived to crush the revolt, Bacon lay dead of dysentery and his buckskin army
of indentured servants, runaway slaves, and former servants had melted away.
Bacon's Rebellion led to tighter British control of the colony. It may also
have hastened the movement toward a labor system based on black slavery. Some
historians argue that Virginia planters, fearing another insurrection by former
white servants, began to turn to Africa for laborers. Maybe so, but other more
important factors were moving the colony toward a system of black bondage.
Planters were finding it more difficult to recruit white servants because of
improving economic conditions back in England. At the same time, the price of
Africans began to drop. And they became a safer investment as Virginia became a
safer place, that is, a healthier place, to live. In 1650, there were only
about 400 black slaves in Virginia. By 1700, Virginia had a well-developed
A New Civilization Emerging
By this time, the future character of both New England and the Chesapeake
region had begun to take shape. One was a society of closely-knit towns made
up of literate, improvement-oriented, free laborers. The other was a society of
scattered plantations dependent on unfree labor, a growing proportion of it
These regional differences between North and South would persist, and widen,
long after the colonies came together as one nation. And eventually they would
lead to a cataclysmic Civil War. Yet however great their differences, each
region had begun to develop a number of distinctly American institutions, among
them Virginia's plantation system and New England's system of town-centered
Geography, climate, and unique adaptations to a wilderness environment, along
with 3,000 miles of ocean separating them from England, had begun to make the
colonists Americans, often without their realizing it. As they developed a
more mature society in the next century, colonists of wealth and stature began
to more strongly emulate the ideas and fashions and architecture of British
high society. Yet no matter how hard they tried to recreate English society in
the New World, they were becoming a different people.
This portrait of Mrs. Elizabeth Frique and her baby Mary is, at its heart, a
portrait of the Puritan prosperity in the late 17th century. Elizabeth Frique
was the wife of a well-off lawyer and merchant in Boston. Here she is the model
of the Puritan middle-class matron: pretty, but plain-faced, sitting stiffly,
composed and somewhat remote.
She is dressed in her Sunday best, her elaborate Dutch lace collar and cuffs,
pearl necklace, jet-bead bracelet. Her carved wooden chair is upholstered in
rich pile fabric known as Turkeywork, which had to be imported into the
colonies. In the first version of this portrait, Elizabeth Frique sat alone.
Some time later, her daughter was born, and then painted in.
Together, the two epitomize sharp distinctions between New England and
Virginia. Here was an orderly society, embracing women and children, a society
centered on home and hearth -- the power of property and wealth now competing
with the power of God.