Founding of New England
by Wes Riddle    Mon, Oct 3, 2011, 08:33 AM

In the 17th century, the leading empires of Europe went about carving up the New World.  Their motives were varied, some despicable and some quite lofty.  If we reduce most of them into categories called God, Gold and Glory, you begin to see what I mean.  While Spain most clearly evinced the latter two, and everyone knows the English sought religious freedom, those are gross oversimplifications.  Spanish missions served a dual purpose of fortification and care/conversion of the Indian.  The Spanish ultimately established legal protection for Indians within its system too, whereas the English kept Indians outside domestic legal protections by establishing frontiers of exclusion.  The English did go about establishing New Israel in New England, but they also desired and acquired land and established commerce for profit as much as piety.  Moreover, the Puritan dream was sullied some, by Salem’s famous panic over witches in 1691-3.

Still it would be hard to find a more beautiful vision, than that which launched New England—and America.  Governor John Winthrop captured it in a sermon he delivered aboard his ship Arbella.  Before his followers could even touch shore, they were thoroughly instructed in “A Modell of Christian Charity” (1630).  The model was covenantal, devoted to constructing a community at Massachusetts Bay Colony based upon the word of God:

     Now the only way to . . . provide for our posterity, is to follow the counsel

     of Micah, ‘to do justly, to love mercy, to walk humbly with our God.’  For

     this end, we must be knit together . . . as one man.  We must entertain each

     other in brotherly affection.  We must be willing to abridge ourselves of our

     superfluities, for the supply of others’ necessities.  We must uphold a       familiar

     commerce together in all meekness, gentleness, patience and liberality.  We

     must delight in each other; make others’ conditions our own; rejoice together;

     mourn together; labor and suffer together, always having before our eyes our

     commission and community in the work, as members of the same body.  So

     shall we keep the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace. . . .

Indeed, Winthrop not only had a way with words—he lived what he preached.  He knew what it was to mourn together: his small son Henry drowned in a river within a few days of their arrival.  When Winthrop’s wife Margaret arrived the following spring, she brought news that two more of their children had died, including the newborn baby daughter he never saw.  Winthrop also knew what it was to sacrifice: he paid out his fortune for the colony’s provision and re-supply, and he devoted the remainder of his life to the colony’s success.

            John Winthrop remained confident that God would see them through.  As he wrote in his shipboard sermon:

                 The Lord will be our God, and delight to dwell among us, as His     own people,

     and will command a blessing upon us in all our ways . . . .  We shall find that

     the God of Israel is among us, . . . when He shall make us a praise and glory that

     men shall say of succeeding plantations, ‘the Lord make it like that of New England!’ 

     For we must consider that we shall be as a city upon a hill.  The eyes of all people

     are upon us. 

And so they were, and so they have remained.  Ronald Reagan was the last president to explicitly reference this ‘Shining City upon a Hill’—a reference that originally comes from Matthew 5:14, which has come to mean everything good America hopes to be or strives to become.  

Americans managed to carry forth the Puritan banner into the 18th century and beyond: the sense of special mission, as well as the work ethic and self-discipline that goes with it.  American experience would prove to be exceptional in this regard.  Today Europe and England—indeed the rest of the world—look upon us for leadership and example.  In large measure, this is because the Puritan vision embraced that role.  The Puritan institutions of church, family, and community also evolved along lines that are uniquely American.  The Puritan Fathers deserve a place of honor in our history, for their idealism and struggle—even if results did not always live up, in their time or ours.



Wesley Allen Riddle is a retired military officer with degrees and honors from West Point and Oxford.  Widely published in the academic and opinion press, he serves as State Director of the Republican Freedom Coalition (RFC).  This article is from his newly released book, Horse Sense for the New Millennium  available on-line at and from fine bookstores everywhere.  Email: This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it .



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