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Interactive History Feature: 1628 Across the Continent

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Drawing of Henry Hudson
Henry Hudson (standing) was the first European to explore what is today the Hudson River and New York state.
By about 1613, French fur traders were focusing their efforts in Canada, establishing small, all-male settlements. In 1627, after nearly two decades of colonization, New France had only 85 colonists, all of them men, who relied on French supply ships for much of their food and Indian goodwill for their survival and prosperity. The region, with its short growing seasons and long winters, was best for obtaining valuable thick furs and not very good for agriculture.

Though land was abundant and not a significant source of conflict, the French made some native enemies. By embracing their northern alliances with the Montagnais, Algonkin, and Huron, the French inherited their enemies -- the Five Nation Iroquois who dwelled to the south in what is now upstate New York. The Five Nations were the Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, and Seneca.

Whereas the Iroquois had formerly feuded amongst one other, internal peace between the Five Nations created a formidable foe to outside forces. Other enemies of the Iroquois included the Abenaki, Mahican, Mohegan, Nipmuck, Massachusett, and Wampanoag to the east in New England, and the Lenni Lenape to the southeast in the Delaware valley. By 1628, New France had become a volatile region for both the Europeans and the native peoples.

Further south, the English were exploring, settling, and chartering New England, which John Smith explored and named in 1614. By 1628, there had been some attempts at settlements, like the small settlement at the mouth of the Kennebec River on the coast of Maine in 1607. But those colonists sailed home the next year, giving the region a reputation for being frigid and hostile. In 1620, the Mayflower crossed the Atlantic, bringing the Puritans to found a town named Plymouth. After a long, hard winter killed half of the settlers, whose numbers were soon replenished by new emigrants.

Rendering of Hudson River
A colonial rendering of the Hudson River in New York state, near what is now West Point.
A much larger Puritan emigration, called the "Great Migration," was underway by 1630. Subsequently, settlements expanded northward and southward. The New English labored hard to create a Bible Commonwealth, change the landscape to resemble England, and subdue and convert the Indians to Christianity.

The natives spoke related Algonquian languages, but were not politically united. In southeastern New England the leading tribes were the Mohegan and Pequot of Connecticut, the Narragansett of Rhode Island, the Patuxet and Wampanoag of the Plymouth colony, and the Nipmuck, Massachusett, and Pennacook of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Although natives hoped to incorporate colonies into mutually beneficial networks of exchanges and alliances, as the colonists grew in strength and number they eschewed such arrangements. During the 1630s, the Massachusetts Bay Colony, together with the Plymouth colony, openly bullied and extorted the natives to finance the steady expansion of settlements. The pressure for tributes demanded by colonial leaders erupted in wars, and by the end of the century the New England colonists outnumbered the Indians of southern New England by three to one.

English neglect of the mid-Atlantic coast allowed the Dutch and Swedes to establish their own small colonies -- New Netherland in the Hudson Valley and New Sweden in the Delaware Valley. Yet by the mid-16th century, English envy of their rival Dutch empire's wealth prompted interest in conquering New Netherland (which had swallowed up New Sweden).

Dutch merchants annually sent ships across the Atlantic and up the Hudson River to trade for furs with the Indians; in 1614 Dutch traders established Fort Nassau (later renamed Fort Orange) on the upper Hudson River, with an associated village called Beverwyck ("Beaver Town"). Fort Orange had few inhabitants (only 50), and the Dutch West India Company realized it needed populous settlements to protect the mouth of the Hudson from French or English warships seeking to steal their furs. In 1625, the Dutch founded the fortified town of New Amsterdam on Manhattan Island. The Dutch surrendered control to England in 1664, and the town's name has remained the same ever since: New York.

-- Mica McCarthy





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