New England

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New England is the term used to refer to a region of the United States. The states making up New England are Massachusetts, Connecticut, Vermont, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Maine. This is one of the oldest regions of the United States to be colonized by the English, and was originally settled mainly by Puritans and other religious dissidents seeking to freely practice their religion.

Colonial Era

New England

When settling New England, the Puritans created self-governing communities of religious congregations of farmers, or yeoman, and their families. High-level politicians gave out plots of land to male settlers, or proprietors, who then divided the land amongst themselves. Large portions were usually given to men of higher social standing, but every white man had enough land to support a family. Also important was the fact that every white man had a voice in the town meeting. The town meeting levied taxes, built roads, and elected officials to manage town affairs.

The Congregational Church, the church the Puritans founded, was not automatically joined by all New England residents because of Puritan beliefs that God singled out only a few specific people for salvation. Instead, membership was limited to those who could convincingly "test" before members of the church that they had been saved. They were known as "the elect" or "Saints" and made up less than 40% of the population of New England.

Farm life

A majority of New England residents were small farmers. Within these small farm families, and English families as well, men had complete power over the property and his wife. When married, English women lost their maiden name and personal identity, meaning they could not own property, file lawsuits, or participate in political life, even when widowed. The role of wives was to raise and nurture healthy children and support their husbands. Most women carried out these duties. In the mid-18th century, women usually married in their early 20s and had 6 to 8 children, most of whom survived to adulthood. Farm women provided most of the materials needed by the rest of the family which includes spinning yarn from wool and knitting sweaters and stockings, making candles and soap, and churning milk into butter.

Most New England parents tried to help their sons establish farms of their own. When sons married, fathers gave them gifts of land, livestock, or farming equipment; daughters received household goods, farm animals, and/or cash. Arranged marriages were very unusual; normally, children chose their own spouses from within a circle of suitable acquaintances who shared their religion and social standing. Parents retained veto power over their children's marriages.

New England farming families generally lived in wooden houses because of the abundance of trees. A typical New England farmhouse was one-and-a-half stories tall and had a strong frame (usually made of large square timbers) that was covered by wooden clapboard siding. A large chimney stood in the middle of the house that provided cooking facilities and warmth during the winter. One side of the ground floor contained a hall, a general-purpose room where the family worked and ate meals. Adjacent to the hall was the parlor, a room used to entertain guests that contained the family's best furnishings and the parent's bed. Children slept in a loft above, while the kitchen was either part of the hall or was located in a shed along the back of the house. Because colonial families were large, these small dwellings had much activity and there was little privacy.

By the middle of the 18th century, this way of life was facing a crisis as the region's population had nearly doubled each generation—from 100,000 in 1700 to 200,000 in 1725, to 350,000 by 1750—because farm households had many children, and most people lived until they were 60 years old. As colonists in Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island continued to subdivide their land between farmers, the farms became too small to support single families. This overpopulation threatened the New England ideal of a society of independent yeoman farmers.

Some farmers obtained land grants to create farms in undeveloped land in Massachusetts and Connecticut or bought plots of land from speculators in New Hampshire and what later became Vermont. Other farmers became agricultural innovators. They planted nutritious English grass such as red clover and timothy-grass, which provided more feed for livestock, and potatoes, which provided a high production rate that was an advantage for small farms. Families increased their productivity by exchanging goods and labors with each other. They loaned livestock and grazing land to one another and worked together to spin yarn, sew quilts, and shuck corn. Migration, agricultural innovation, and economic cooperation were creative measures that preserved New England's yeoman society until the 19th century.

Town life

By 1750, a variety of artisans, shopkeepers, and merchants provided services to the growing farming population. Blacksmiths, wheelwrights, and furniture makers set up shops in rural villages. There they built and repaired goods needed by farm families. Stores selling English manufactures such as cloth, iron utensils, and window glass as well as West Indian products like sugar and molasses were set up by traders. The storekeepers of these shops sold their imported goods in exchange for crops and other local products including shingles, potash, and barrel staves. These local goods were shipped to towns and cities all along the Atlantic Coast. Enterprising men set up stables and taverns along wagon roads to service this transportation system.

After these products had been delivered to port towns such as Boston and Salem in Massachusetts, New Haven in Connecticut, and Newport and Providence in Rhode Island, merchants then exported them to the West Indies where they were traded for molasses, sugar, gold coins, and bills of exchange (credit slips). They carried the West Indian products to New England factories where the raw sugar was turned into granulated and sugar and the molasses distilled into rum. The gold and credit slips were sent to England where they were exchanged for manufactures, which were shipped back to the colonies and sold along with the sugar and rum to farmers.

Other New England merchants took advantage of the rich fishing areas along the Atlantic Coast and financed a large fishing fleet, transporting its catch of mackerel and cod to the West Indies and Europe. Some merchants exploited the vast amounts of timber along the coasts and rivers of northern New England. They funded sawmills that supplied cheap wood for houses and shipbuilding. Hundreds of New England shipwrights built oceangoing ships, which they sold to British and American merchants.

Many merchants became very wealthy by providing their goods to the agricultural population and ended up dominating the society of sea port cities. Unlike yeoman farmhouses, these merchants resembled the lifestyle of that of the upper class of England living in elegant two-and-a-half story houses designed the new Georgian style. These Georgian houses had a symmetrical façade with equal numbers of windows on both sides of the central door. The interior consisted of a passageway down the middle of the house with specialized rooms such as a library, dining room, formal parlour, and master bedroom off the sides. Unlike the multi-purpose halls and parlours of the yeoman houses, each of these rooms served a separate purpose. In a Georgian house, men mainly used certain rooms, such as the library, while women mostly used the kitchen. These houses contained bedrooms on the second floor that provided privacy to parents and children.

Culture and education

Elementary education was widespread in New England. Early Puritan settlers believed it was necessary to study the Bible, so children were taught to read at an early age. It was also required that each town pay for a primary school. Most boys in England had some form of formal education on account of this law. About 10 percent enjoyed secondary schooling and funded grammar schools in larger towns. Most boys learned skills from their fathers on the farm or as apprentices to artisans. Few girls attended formal schools, but most were able to get some education at home or at so-called "Dame schools" where women taught basic reading and writing skills in their own houses. By 1750, nearly 90% of New England's women and almost all of its men could read and write. Many churches in New England established colleges to train ministers while Puritans founded many places of higher learning such as Harvard College in 1636 and Yale College in 1701. Later, Baptists founded Rhode Island College (now Brown University) in 1764 and a Congregationlist minister established Dartmouth College in 1769. Few men (and no women) attended colleges, which were for prospective ministers and sons of wealthy families.

New England produced many great literary works. In fact, more works were created in New England than all of the colonies combined. Most of these works were histories, sermons, and personal journals and were written by ministers or inspired by religious beliefs. Cotton Mather, a Boston minister published Magnalia Christi Americana (The Great Works of Christ in America, 1702), while revivalist Jonathan Edwards wrote his philosophical work, A Careful and Strict Enquiry Into...Notions of...Freedom of Will... (1754). Most music had a religious theme as well and was mainly the singing of Psalms. Because of New England's deep religious beliefs, artistic works that were not very religious or too "worldly" were banned. These endeavors included drama and other types of plays.

19th century

Viewing themselves as the embodiment of America's national identity, New England's leaders celebrating their region's republican simplicity, educational attainment, economic prosperity, religious commitment, and social order. Not just the elite but at the popular level these themes appeared as images on pitchers, plates, gloves, and coverlets. Paintings in the picturesque style, as well as histories and travelogues, presented New England as a place where an orderly, but not over-refined society had emerged from the struggle with the "wilderness." The region's self-image of an idealized, republican New England became the basis of a regional consensus and was successfully deployed by groups as diverse as Democratic Republicans on the Maine frontier and ministers of the Massachusetts Standing Order.[1]


In recent years, New England is a stronghold for liberals and usually votes Democratic at the local, state, and national levels. And, unlike its founding, it is highly irreligious; to the extent religion is prevalent it is predominantly liberal in theology.

Following the 2008 elections, all members of the House of Representatives from New England are Democrats. Both US Senators from Maine are Republicans: Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins. In addition, one senator from New Hampshire is a Republican: Judd Gregg.

Further reading

  • Hall, Donald, Burt Feintuch, and David H. Watters, eds. Encyclopedia of New England (2005), the major scholarly resource
  • Adams, James Truslow. The Founding of New England (1921) online edition
  • Adams, James Truslow. Revolutionary New England, 1691-1776 (1923) online edition
  • Adams, James Truslow. New England in the Republic, 1776-1850 (1926) online edition
  • Andrews, Charles M. The Fathers of New England: A Chronicle of the Puritan Commonwealths (1919), short survey by leading scholar. online edition
  • Beals, Carleton; Our Yankee Heritage: New England's Contribution to American Civilization (1955) online
  • Brooke, John L. The Heart of the Commonwealth: Society and Political Culture in Worcester County, Massachusetts, 1713-1861 (1989)
  • Bushman, Richard L. From Puritan to Yankee: Character and the Social Order in Connecticut, 1690–1765 (1967) online at ACLS e-books
  • Formisano, Ronald P. Transformation of Political Culture: Massachusetts Parties, 1790s-1840s (1983)
  • Goodwin, John A. The Pilgrim Republic: An historical review of the colony of New Plymouth (1899)
  • Handlin, Oscar. "Yankees", in Harvard Encyclopedia of American Ethnic Groups, ed. by Stephan Thernstrom, (1980) pp 1028–1030.
  • Hill, Ralph Nading. Yankee Kingdom: Vermont and New Hampshire. (1960).
  • Kermes, Stephanie. Creating an American Identity: New England, 1789–1825 (2008) 291pp
  • Labaree, Benjamin Woods. Colonial Massachusetts: A History, (1979)
  • Palfrey, John Gorham. History of New England (5 vol 1859-90), classic history
  • Pierce, Neal. The New England States (1972), in depth look at politics and society in the 1960s
  • Zimmerman, Joseph F. The New England Town Meeting: Democracy in Action (1999) online edition


  1. Stephanie Kermes, Creating an American Identity: New England, 1789–1825 (2008)