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Growth of the English Colonies, The English and their Empire

Baron Baltimore, Sir Edmund Andros, royal colonies, Massachusetts Bay Company, Navigation Acts

The English had colonies before they had a colonial policy or an empire. The English government had little interest in directly governing its colonies. The government was, however, mercantilist: It wanted colonial economic activity to serve England. The Navigation Act of 1651 stipulated that imports into British harbors and colonies could be carried only in British ships or those of the producing country. A second Navigation Act in 1660 decreed that colonial trade could be carried only in English ships and that crucial commodities such as tobacco and sugar could be sent only to England or another English colony. Further Navigation Acts in 1663 and 1696 regulated the shipment of goods into the colonies and strengthened the customs service. For the most part, the Navigation Acts succeeded in making colonial trade serve England. They also made the colonists accustomed to and dependent upon imported English goods. But the acts did not amount to a colonial administration. Private companies, wealthy proprietors, and the settlers themselves did what they wanted without official English interference.

King James II tried to change that. In 1684 he revoked the charter of the Massachusetts Bay Company. Then in 1686 he created the Dominion of New England from the colonies of Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Plymouth, and Connecticut (all colonies that had been derived from the original Massachusetts Bay colony), along with New York and New Jersey. The king sent Sir Edmund Andros to be royal governor of this huge area. However, the king had problems at home. He was a Catholic, and he threatened to leave the throne in the hands of his Catholic son. In 1689 England’s ruling elites deposed James II and replaced him with his daughter Mary and her husband, a militant Dutch Protestant, William of Orange. As part of the agreement that made him king, William issued a Bill of Rights that ended absolutist royal government in England. The ascension of William and Mary is known in English history as the Glorious Revolution.

American colonists staged smaller versions of the Glorious Revolution. Massachusetts and New York revolted against the Dominion of New England. At the same time, the Protestant majority in Maryland revolted against Charles Calvert, 3rd Baron Baltimore, and his Catholic elite. William could have punished all these rebels and re–established the Dominion of New England. Instead, he reorganized Massachusetts, New York, and Maryland as royal colonies with elected legislative assemblies and royally appointed governors. By 1720 the crown had transformed all the mainland colonies along these lines except for Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Delaware. The Glorious Revolution ended absolutism in England, and it ensured that government in the mainland colonies would be both royal and representative.

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