Our Earliest Colonial Settlements: Their Diversities of Origin and Later Characteristics

Our Earliest Colonial Settlements: Their Diversities of Origin and Later Characteristics

Our Earliest Colonial Settlements: Their Diversities of Origin and Later Characteristics

Our Earliest Colonial Settlements: Their Diversities of Origin and Later Characteristics

Excerpt

The settlement of America by Englishmen in the seventeenth century was the first phase of that world-wide expansion of England which has continued for the past three centuries. The men who founded the colonies were Englishmen, the incentives that impelled them to migrate were English in their origin, and the forms of colonial life and government they set up were reproductions or modifications of institutions already established and conditions already prevailing in one way or another at home. The world of the colonies in the seventeenth century was an English world. The first duty, therefore, of him who would write of our colonial beginnings is to discover the place that each group of settlers occupied in this great colonizing adventure and to determine the exact character of the ideas and purposes of the founders in relation to the similar ideas and purposes that were influencing men at the same time in England. It is no part of his historical task to study the colonies from the vantage ground of later events or of the higher enlightenment of the present day in order to find out, as has sometimes been done with too vivid an imagination, the contribution that the men who settled the colonies have made to the principles and practices of the great Republic of today. Little that took place in America in the seventeenth century can be construed as American, in any proper sense of the word. To scrutinize that century for the purpose of extracting therefrom something analogous to modern notions of liberty and progress is to disturb the whole historical process and to run the risk of admitting prepossessions that have already done much to mislead the popular mind as to what the earliest period of English life on American soil really means. An unbiased approach to the colonies from the standpoint of their origin will do something to eliminate those . . .

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