Oliver Cromwell, who ruled England from 1649 until his death in 1658, undertook an aggressive policy of colonial expansion, the promotion of Protestantism, and commercial empowerment in the British Isles and the Western Hemisphere. His army forcibly extended English control over Ireland, massacring civilians, banning the public practice of Catholicism, and seizing land owned by Catholics. In the Caribbean, England seized Jamaica, a valuable sugar island, from Spain. In 1651, as will be related in Chapter 3, Parliament passed the first Navigation Act, which sought to challenge the Dutch hold on international commerce by confining colonial trade to English ships and ports.

Thus, by the middle of the seventeenth century, several English colonies existed along the Atlantic coast of North America. Established as part of an ad hoc process rather than arising under any coherent national plan, they differed enormously in economic, political, and social structure. The seeds had been planted, in the Chesapeake, for the development of plantation societies based on unfree labor, and in New England, for settlements centered on small towns and family farms. Throughout the colonies, many residents enjoyed freedoms they had not possessed at home, especially access to land and the right to worship as they desired. Others found themselves confined to unfree labor for many years or an entire lifetime.

The next century would be a time of crisis and consolidation as the population expanded, social conflicts intensified, and Britain moved to exert greater control over its flourishing North American colonies.


1. Compare and contrast England’s settlement history in the Americas to Spain’s. Consider the treatment of Indians, the role of the Church, the significance of women, and economic development.

2. For the English, land was the basis of liberty. Explain the reasoning behind that concept and how it was markedly different from the Indians’ conception of land.

3. Many Puritans claimed they came I о North America seeking religious freedom, but they were extremely intolerant of other beliefs. In fact, there was greater liberty of conscience back in their native England. How do you explain this?

4. Describe who chose to emigrate to North America from England in the seventeenth century and explain their reasons.

5. In what ways did the New England economy and government differ from those in the Chesapeake colonies?

6. The English believed that, unlike the Spanish, their motives for colonization were pure, and that the growth of empire and freedom would always go hand in hand. How did the expansion of the British empire affect the freedoms of Native Americans, the Irish, and even many English citizens?

7. Considering politics, social tensions, and debates over the meaning of liberty, how do the events and aftermath of the English Civil War demonstrate that the English colonies in North America were part of a larger Atlantic community?

8. How did the tobacco economy draw the Chesapeake colonies into the greater Atlantic world?


1. With many degrees of freedom coexisting in seventeenth century North America, a person might go from having no rights to possessing many in a lifetime. Use examples to demonstrate this fact.

2. To provide full freedoms for the higher social orders in both England and English North America, lower social orders had to do without. Explain how and why this was so.

3. How did the concepts and goals of “freedom” differ fort he following settlers: newcomers to John Smith’s Jamestown; a Puritan family in 1630s Massachusetts; and a Catholic landowner in 1640s Maryland?

4. Explain how the Puritans used their concept of moral liberty to justify their actions against others in the New World. Then discuss why some Puritans, other English settlers in the New World, and those remaining in England might see these justifications as hypocritical.

5. Review the debates over the t rue meaning of freedom and “English liberty” following the English Civil War. What would you say was the lasting significance of these debates?

You can support our site by clicking on this link and watching the advertisement.

If you find an error or have any questions, please email us at Thank you!