A Visitors Guide to Colonial and Revolutionary New England is the first of three related heritage travel books. A Visitor's Guide to Colonial and Revolutionary Mid-Atlantic America and A Visitor's Guide to the Colonial and Revolutionary South followed to complete the trilogy. Each can be enjoyed and used by travelers independently, but there are many links between them. As new settlers arrived from Europe they spread along the Eastern coast and eventually combined to fight the Revolutionary War and create the Constitution which firmly united them.
People who travel walk through human history, whether they are conscious of it or not. In this book we hope to enhance the pleasure of your travel along the Eastern seaboard of the United States by developing and refining a sense of place. Heightened awareness of what happened where we walk now and whose footsteps preceded ours satisfies not only curiosity but also a natural longing to be connected with our surroundings.
Colonial and Revolutionary history is a kaleidoscope of movement and change, but it is clearly tied to many places that still remain. Rediscovering those places and expanding their meaning is the aim of this book and its successors. It is not designed for committed antiquarians or for those who reduce the past to a prologue of the present. It is designed for travelers with a persistent curiosity, those who like to build contexts around what they see.
Our emphasis is less on memorializing important political and military events than understanding the context in which they occurred, so the book includes much material on the social and cultural history of everyday life, architecture, clothing, food, transportation, occupations, religious practices, customs, folklore, and the like. The early groups of colonists left Europe and endured the hardships of living in the wilderness of the New World to attain religious freedom and maintain their own cultures. Often such groups defined religious and social practices narrowly, expelling those who would not conform. And sometimes rigid rules in one colony created another, as in the case of Massachusetts Bay spawning Rhode Island.
Thus the idea of a quintessential colonial America is itself more a convenience for historians than a reality. In fact there were many disparate settlements that gradually and often reluctantly banded together for limited common purposes. Since the New England colonies were quite diverse in topography and economic activity, with peoples drawn from different ethnic, regional, and religious traditions in Europe, the story has to be retold for each within the larger framework of American expansion. The process of their amalgamation lasted through the Revolution and beyond, eliciting much controversy and sometimes bumptious behavior. Regionalism, by no means dead today, persisted throughout the Colonial and Revolutionary eras and blocked many attempts at cooperation among the colonies.
Also, many early European attempts to establish colonies in America were dismal failures, often because the entrepreneurs and adventurers who came were bent on exploiting the new land. Those with money to invest in shares were not used to hard work and often ill equipped for the rigors of living in the wilderness. Some of these failed ventures, like the 1607 Popham Colony at the mouth of the Kennebec River in Maine, the 1587 Lost Colony on Roanoke Island in North Carolina, and the 1559 Tristan de Luna y Arellano Spanish colony on the Alabama-Florida coast, became footnotes in the history of colonization. Among the settlements that survived and prospered, others were abandoned later as economic or political conditions changed. Permanence, order and stability were envisioned in royal charters but seldom realized in the early history of colonies.
The cultural diversity that we prize today also fragmented American experience. Succeeding waves of immigrants--English Puritans, French Huguenots, Welsh Quakers, German Mennonites, Moravians and Lutherans, Scotch-Irish Presbyterians--clung together in enclaves united by religious principles, ethnic origins, language and folk traditions. They maintained their identity through forms of worship and customs from home, precious objects from the past, Christmas or festival decorations, and clothing worn on special occasions.
Colonial and Revolutionary America, then, is no single fabric but a patchwork quilt of many pieces, each with its own distinctive character and design. As you explore its many wonderful places, keep an eye out for change, instability, transience, variety and anomaly, and be prepared for surprises. During our research for this book, most of the generalizations we had harbored from American history courses were shattered, to be replaced by sharper images and a keener sense of the many stories that are never fully or conclusively told. When you discard preconceptions and look closely at the places you visit, you too will begin rewriting colonial and Revolutionary history in your own mind.