Colonial House Picture of the colony
Meet the Colonists Behind the Scenes Interactive History Media Gallery
Behind the Scenes
Introduction Interview with the Executive Producer Colonial Life, Then and Now

The Native American Story
A Historian Awakens 1628
Religion on the Colony
The Longest Day
Building the Colony
Candid Camera
The Training
By Emerson "Tad" Baker
Photo of Tad Baker

was first contacted about consulting for COLONIAL HOUSE in the fall of 2002. By that time the production team had decided upon filming in Maine, and they were very interested in having a consultant who specialized in the early history of that region. Maine has a rich and varied early history that often gets overlooked, so I was eager to join the effort. Also, I was excited to see PBS tackle 17th-century history. The era of the first European settlement of America is a compelling and relevant topic, but difficult to do in a traditional documentary without the vintage photographs and archival film footage of more recent eras.

In January 2003, we had a meeting, at Thirteen/WNET New York, of the production team and a group of historical advisors -- experts in all aspects of early European settlement of America. In the meeting we began to narrow down the specifics of our plantation. Although the colony was physically set in Maine, we wanted to create a broader based experience, one that drew its inspiration from the many initial efforts at settlement in North America.

Still, the Maine setting limited some of our options. Maine's geography and climate meant that our colony could not be a tobacco colony like Virginia or Maryland. Instead, its basis would have to be activities like fishing, lumbering, and fur trading. Fortunately, our colony could be more typical in its religious practices. Settlements in Maine began as Anglican colonies, rather than the Puritan colonies of southern New England. The devout Puritans of Plymouth and Massachusetts Bay are well known to all schoolchildren, however they were in the minority of English settlers who came to America in the 17th century. Most colonists were contented Anglicans (members of the Church of England).

There was also consideration for the date of the colony. The producers wanted a setting that would make the colony rather isolated, without too many visits from a neighboring colony or a passing ship. This meant we had to establish our settlement prior to 1629. In that year the "Great Migration" to Massachusetts Bay began, quickly bringing thousands of settlers to the region and greatly reducing the isolation of all settlements. At the same time, we wanted as late a date as possible; the later the year, the more historical sources survive that we could use to develop a colony. So, we settled on 1628 as the date for our colony.

After the January meeting, I began to work closely with the production staff -- particularly Assistant Producer Mica McCarthy -- on a constant range of historical questions, large and small. If our colonists were actually going to start their life in the colony in June, when would they have left England? How long would it take them to build decent houses? What would they look like? How would the colony be governed? What sorts of people would migrate? Some answers I knew off the top of my head, and others took hours of research. I was glad my friends at Plimoth Plantation were working on the project too, because they were experts on many of these topics. All the questions and work was worthwhile, for it made me a better historian. I enjoy working on such public history projects because often these questions make me look at history in ways I would never otherwise consider.

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