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Who were the people in the 1600s who left their ancestral homes in England, and embarked on months-long voyages across the stormy Atlantic Ocean, only to arrive in the raw wildernesses of North America? Even though at that time, England’s agricultural and animal husbandry systems, and its advanced arts and crafts made England one of Europe’s most cultivated societies. And, for the educated classes, it was also the home of two world-renown universities, Oxford and Cambridge. England had also built the most powerful military force in the known world. However, the commoners’ lives were largely spent in servitude to the monarchy.
The overall focus of this In Search for Freedom essay series will be on the people and events of the 1600s to the mid-1700s which led up to the founding of the United States. At that time, the majority of the people who immigrated to North America were of English origin, with French, Dutch, and Spanish settlers in smaller numbers.
In this essay, we will attempt to bring perspective to some of the origins of human bondage and how persons, from nearly every culture and ethnic background, have been forced into slavery by powerful invaders.
History tells us that the peoples of the world were ruled by chieftains, emperors, and kings. In other words, conquer or be conquered. These rulers kept most of the world’s population under the control of an elite few. Out of this authoritarian system, family dynasties emerged, convincing themselves that their authority came from the “Divine right of kings.”
The most famous ship in American history was the Mayflower. However, it was not a passenger ship. The Mayflower was used for the transportation of cargo, and in times of conflict, it was even pressed into service as a warship to defend England’s maritime interests. However, in 1620 it was chartered to carry 102 Puritans, along with 60 additional passengers and crew, on a stormy voyage across the Atlantic to the New World.
Having survived the perils of the north Atlantic crossing aboard the Mayflower, during their first winter in Massachusetts nearly half of the Pilgrims had perished from malnutrition, scurvy, and exposure to frigid temperatures. Living conditions were harsh both on and off the ship.
From a grateful people to a grateful nation. Thanksgiving is a unique tradition that started in the Plymouth Colony in 1621. It was a three-day celebration and time for thanksgiving for the Pilgrims’ successful harvest of corn after a harsh first year in Plymouth Colony. They were also grateful for the help and friendship of the people of the Wampanoag Tribe.
Benjamin Franklin was born in Boston, Massachusetts on January 17, 1706. He was the fifteenth of seventeen children born to his Puritan parents Josias and Abiah Franklin.
On January 29, 1737, Thomas Paine was born to Quaker parents in the British village of Norfolk. By the age of 12, it was necessary for him to leave school to assist his father whose trade was crafting ladies corset stays out of whale bone and fabric. Without the possibility for a formal education, and well into his adulthood, Thomas frequented libraries where he immersed himself in books on Greek and Roman history, the sciences, engineering and mechanics.
The beautiful countryside surrounding the Adams’ farmhouse, in Braintree, Massachusetts, held endless fascination for John Adams during his youth
Thomas Jefferson’s parents, Peter and Jane Jefferson raised their family of ten children on their Colonial Virginia farm called Shadwell. Jane Jefferson tended to their 9 children while also overseeing the activities on their farm. While Peter Jefferson did not have the advantages of a formal education, he was a successful farmer, surveyor, and mapmaker. He was also a captain in the Virginia militia, served as a justice of the peace and sheriff, and was a member of the Virginia Legislature.
George Washington’s great-grandfather, John Washington, came from a prominent English family that lost their estate and political standing during one of England’s civil wars. As a consequence, in 1655, John relocated to the British colony of Virginia in order to build a new life. He purchased land in Westmoreland County and in 1660, he married Anne Pope, started a family, and served as a colonel in the British military. After his death in 1677, his eldest son, Lawrence, inherited his father’s Westmoreland farm, which he named Mount Vernon.
The French and British kingdoms had a history of conflicts over the dominance
of their respective countries in Europe. As both countries explored the North
American Continent, they claimed territories for themselves. By the early
1600s, France had established trade relations with the natives of the northern
Huron Confederacy tribes and had created settlements in eastern Canada.
Shortly thereafter, the British began developing colonies on the American east
coast, stretching from Massachusetts to South Carolina and traded with the
Like their male counterparts throughout the Revolutionary War era, women played significant roles in protesting the heavy-handed British rule. As their fathers, husbands, and sons fought for freedom, both on the battlefield and in the Continental Congress, women had to become completely self-sufficient running households, working farmlands, and caring for their families.
From the Pilgrims’ landing in Massachusetts in 1620, and for the next 150 years, the populations of farm communities and towns continued to grow in North America. Most of the colonists had come from England and still considered themselves to be loyal British citizens. However, King George III and his British Parliament viewed the colonists as inferior subjects to be ruled and primarily valued as new sources of revenue for the crown.
There is some dispute about who fired the first shot of the Revolutionary War. Was it when British troops encountered Captain John Parker and his Minutemen in Lexington at dawn on April 19, 1775? Or, was it two hours later when the British were again confronted by a larger contingent of armed Patriots at the North Bridge crossing of the Concord River?
The Massachusetts colony played a prominent role in the development of the British colonization of the New World.
May 19, 2017
Franklin Anticipates the Declaration of Independence
In 1754, Franklin was a Pennsylvania delegate to a Convention of the Colonies which met in Albany NY on "the defense and security against the French" where Franklin proposed having the colonies unite as one country. It's interesting to note he advanced the concept of the United States 22 years before the Declaration of Independence became a reality.
May 5, 2017
Thomas Jefferson - Patriot.
It was in 1765 that 22-year-old Thomas Jefferson was stirred by Patrick Henry's celebrated speech against Great Britain's Stamp Act which put a tax on every piece of paper used by the colonists. Henry resolved that only the Colony of Virginia should be able to levy taxes on its citizens. From that time forward, Jefferson became a champion for American Freedom. Note: Patrick Henry's famous "Give me liberty or give me death" speech was to come ten years later.
February 17, 2017
Before the writing of The Declaration of Independence, in 1744 the Continental Congress petitioned England's King George III, asking for a repeal of "intolerable acts," such as: taxation without representation (in the British Parliament); property seized without consent (search and seizure); and abolishment of trial by jury (being at the absolute mercy of the British forces in North America). At the time of the writing and submission of their petition, the members of the Continental Congress were intent upon presenting themselves as loyal subjects to King George however, the King ignored and vetoed their petition and, while warning them that the 13 colonies were subject to the laws of England and must abide by them.
December 15, 2017
Nancy Morgan Hart (1735-1830) was a legendary hero of the American Revolution who made it her mission to rid the Georgia territory of British Loyalists. Even the local Cherokees referred to her as “Wahatche” or “war woman.”
March 2, 2018
To all brave, healthy, able bodied, and well-disposed young men
in this neighborhood, who have any inclination, join the troops under
GENERAL GEORGE WASHINGTON
for the defense of the
LIBERTIES AND INDEPENDENCE OF THE UNITED STATES
against the hostile designs of foreign enemy ~ July 1775
December 1, 2017
"If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself." James Madison, Federalist #51
March 3, 2017
The Declaration of Independence can be read in under 5 minutes! However, following up on the participants' names and the human stories during this epic time in U.S. history can be inspiring. In this document, which would be presented to the British Monarch, the Continental Congress listed 27 grievances signifying the extent to which the Colonists suffered at the hands of the British. In summary, they wrote of their inhumane treatment: "...works of death, desolation and tyranny...with circumstances of Cruelty and perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages..."
March 24, 2017
The World’s Most Famous Mission Statement
As we learned last week, the Declaration of Independence can be read in less than 5 minutes. Yes, that is right - the very document that ignited the American Revolution and launched the nation that would become a “shining city on a hill” - can be read in less time than the instructions for your new toaster.
We recognize Thomas Jefferson as the true author of the Declaration of Independence but four other men were appointed to the writing committee: John Adams, Ben Franklin, Robert Livingston, and Roger Sherman.
Today we explore the four components of the Declaration itself.
April 21, 2017
After Signing the Declaration of Independence
When the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence affixed their name to that document, they knew they were committing treason; that they were taking on the most powerful military force on earth with a ragtag army and militias made up of farmers and merchants. Benjamin Franklin famously said as he was signing: "We must, indeed, all hang together, or most assuredly we shall all hang separately.” Indeed, many of the signers fought, some were captured, some lost their homes, their fortunes and sometimes their families.
What the signers did following the war gives further testament to the greatness of the men that assembled in Philadelphia that sultry summer.
December 8, 2017
Anxious citizens gathered outside Independence Hall, at the conclusion of the Constitutional Convention, and a woman asked Ben Franklin whether the nation had been given a monarchy of a republic; he famously replied, "A republic madam, if you can keep it."
March 9, 2018
The Society of Friends began in England in the 1650's. More familiarly known as Quakers, they believe that there is something of God in everybody. Therefore, as pacifists, they are opposed to war.
April 20, 2018
As soon as the Continental Army returned to New Jersey for the Second Battle of Trenton, General Washington sent out a call to arms to reinforce his troops. Within less than twenty-four hours, three units of United States Marines joined Washington on the march north to Princeton.
April 27, 2018
France was an unlikely ally from which Benjamin Franklin sought aid in the United States' Revolutionary War against Great Britain. Both of these European countries were ruled by kings, but, ironically, we had more in common with the British than with the pure monarchial rule of France.
September 8, 2017
Listen my children and you shall hear
Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere,
On the eighteenth of April, in Seventy-five;
Hardly a man is now alive
Who remembers that famous day and year...
-Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
But wait...there is another story about Sybil Ludington, known as the female Paul Revere!
May 5, 2018
During the eight harrowing years of the Revolutionary War, time and again George Washington let his army of Patriot soldiers through severe winter storms or blistering heat, on all-night marches immediately followed by encounters with enemy forces, and even on well-timed retreats from battles where they would be otherwise overwhelmed by the British Army.
May 11, 2018
George Washington's alias was "Agent 711." Of all of the venerable titles bestowed upon Washington, he was known as, The Spymaster, to only a select number of people. These people were part of a small network of spies, double agents, and informants whose intelligence Washington used to gain the upper hand with the British.
November 10, 2017
The bronze statue of Deborah (Sampson) Gannett, located in Sharon MA, depicts a woman wearing a simple Colonial-style dress although, on one side, she is draped with a coat of a Continental Army soldier and, she is also holding a musket and a powder horn.
February 9, 2018
Lydia Barrington Darragh was a Philadelphia Quaker who became a Patriot spy during the American Revolution. Her courageous efforts helped prepare General George Washington for an attack by the British in December of 1777.
May 25, 2018
By early September of 1777, the British already had control of Canada, Rhode Island, and New York City. At the same time, British General William Howe was poised to take over Philadelphia, the temporary capital of the United States.
June 1, 2018
After General Burgoyne surrendered to the Americans at Saratoga, New York, in the fall of 1777, George Washington brought his army together to fight the British forces of General William Howe, whose plan was to seize Philadelphia, the capital of the United States.
June 8, 2018
During the six-month encampment at Valley Forge, from December 1777 through June 1778, George Washington's headquarters were in a two-story stone house with an adjoining building, which served as sleeping quarters for up to twenty-five of his officers.
June 22, 2018
Throughout the Revolutionary War, there were Colonial men, women and even children who put their personal safety aside to join in the fight for freedom, by whatever means possible.
June 29, 2018
At age thirteen, orphan and future U.S. President, Andrew Jackson joined the Continental Army as a courier in the backcountry of the Carolinas.
August 10, 2018
The Revolutionary War was over. General Washington's Continental Army, and his French allies, had defeated the British Army at Yorktown in 1781, causing the British General Cornwallis to surrender.
August 17, 2018
Thomas Jefferson was given the task of writing the Declaration of Independence, which he completed in 19 days. After revisions, it was ratified with the famous signature of John Hancock, the President of the Congress, on July 4, 1776. However, it is worth noting that this definitive document was largely influenced by the writings of John Adams.
September 15, 2017
By 1787, ten years after the ratification of the Articles of Confederation, and of the republican form of government, the country was deeply in debt.
James Madison, and other patriotic thinkers of the time, began work on what turned out to be the greatest document written by man, The United States Constitution.
August 31, 2018
The U.S. Constitution was approved on September 17, 1787. It went into effect on March 4, 1789, with a majority vote of nine of the thirteen states, but it took another year before being officially ratified by all thirteen states.
September 22, 2017
June 1, 1789 - First Congress, First Session - Volume 1
by Judy Leithe
We all know our Constitution is unique in providing for a free and just society, and the oaths taken by our representatives are important. We love our English cousins but, let's contrast their oaths of office, taken since 1868, with our own:
November 24, 2017
As Justice Kennedy likes to point out, the word civics springs from the Latin word that was also the same root for civility. And both civics and civility are essential elements of civilization. Just consider the First Amendment's guarantee of free speech, free press, free assembly.
September 29, 2017
by Judy Leithe
Take a moment and name the 5 Freedoms guaranteed by our First Amendment to the Constitution.
The 5 Freedoms are: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; of abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."
May 18, 2018
Benedict Arnold was highly regarded by George Washington. He identified with Arnold's fiery boldness, his instincts for risk-taking tactics on the battlefield and, initially, considered Arnold as a valued asset to the cause of liberty.