Homes Far from Home
By DAVID QUINN
JACOBEAN and Stuart England spawned a curious variety of colonies across the western ocean—Virginia, intended industrial frontier of the London merchant class, blossoming instead into slave-owning, tobacco-growing plantation; Bermuda, its satellite; Maryland, hideaway of reactionary Catholic squires, nursery of a feudal tradition; Carolinas North and South, Jerseys East and West, little more than real-estate specu- lations; Pennsylvania, business-like, hard-headed Quakerdom; New York, feeder of the fur trade and soon sales centre for the eastern seaboard; Connecticut, middle-of-the-road puritan, almost Anglican in its mediocrity; urban puritan Massa- chusetts, with capital to build itself; frontier puritan Rhode Island; marginal Maine; fish- frontiered Newfoundland, littoral rather than marginal.
The distinguished American historian Charles McLean Andrews, in the decade before his death in 1943, published four fat volumes on these colonial beginnings. The Colonial Period of American History* has now been reissued in a handsome paperback edition for a new genera- tion of readers. Andrews had begun his career as a student of medkeval England and, though he taught American history for some forty years, he remained English-centred in his approach to problems of colonial growth on his own side of the Atlantic. His study begins with the English and European background in the sixteenth cen- tury, but soon plunges into a detailed study of each colony as it was projected, planned, char- tered (if it was), settled by its first pioneers, reinforced by successive settling groups, governed by design, improvisation or experiment and launched in a generation or two as a viable, con- stitutional, political and social experiment.
Concerned primarily to show how each colonial polity had emerged from its homeland and had carried certain things overseas with it, Andrews saw the colonies as projections of England itself, picking out and developing certain characteristics, secular or religious, social or economic, which were present in the home country but which for some reason or other were confined or thwarted and sought expression in a new environment, in the Elizabethanland of Virginia and Maryland looking to the past, in New England looking to the future. In the first three volumes he is con- cerned very little with the Americanism of. the- settlements or of the potentials in them of genuine novelty and need for a self-determination wholly separated from their homeland. He makes the point that the colonies could act indepen- dently of England for long periods--Rhode Island was chartered a generation after its creation, Massachusetts admitted no royal official for nearly half a century--while at the same time they considered themselves part of the English realm, bound in theory at least by commands from Westminster, owing fealty if not invariably rendering obedience to the commanding home- land.
. It was not Andrews's design to leave his history at this point. He planned seven volumes in all—the last three to concentrate on the uniquely American developments which took place in each separate community and which in the end brought them into a headlong clash with their imperial mother country. The last three * Yale University Press, Your vols., 18s. 6d. each.
were never written: illness sapped his energies. But the three volumes of colony history were capped by a fourth volume of imperial history, a close and coherent study of the laws of trade which bound each settlement intimately to its maker and together made up a system of regu- lation coherent, logical and, to a considerable degree, unenforceable. The four volumes have a consequent unity as a history of English colonial efforts in America during the seven- teenth century and into the early eighteenth which makes them of enduring value.
Andrews was not a brilliant writer, but as a careful and judicious scholar he made each of his studies of colonial growth a clear and authoritative picture, so that he reads today, without seeming to pontificate, well and con- vincingly. His concentration on, one colony after another, if it is liable to frustrate the seeker for quick information on comparative growth in the colonies,, is single-minded, sincere and wholly effective. It can be said of Andrews that he is somewhat too concerned with the frame- work of colonial institutions and so does not always convey their spirit. It is clear that he had not the statistical data and the economic expertise at his disposal which have enabled subsequent writers to cast new light on Virginia and Massa- chusetts, amongst others of the colonies.
To the New England colonies Andrews's ap- proach is both more intimate and more complex: here, a feeling for the country is implicit in his writing and here, too, he brings the builders, the founding settlers, uniquely to life. The New England chapters indeed have a classic quality in which he transcended his normal limitations. Yet he is always worth reading. The English reader will find in him an approach which leads him congenially from London to Jamestown, from old Boston to new Boston, from Bristol to Newfoundland, from a western island off the European mainland to the eastern seaboard of a facing continent: the American student may find himself a little disconcerted by the absence of the usual signposts to the Revolution, but he, too, will find himself 'in the end absorbed and informed.
The fourth volume broadens the field of in- quiry into the changing relationship between the colonies as a whole and Great Britain in the eighteenth century. The facts of growth and diversification alone made it impossible to main- tain 'intact a self-contained trading world, made up of mother country and colonies, in the face of the inevitable growth of the latter in wealth, needs, and population,' but Andrews was able to show also that neither sentiment nor practice was wholly dominated by a mechanical ad- herence to doctrinaire mercantilism. Interests of state overrode those of the merchants as, at times, the welfare of the colonists did those of the metropolitan population, while neither the money nor the effort necessary was spent on building up an authoritative bureaucracy across the Atlantic. The internal changes in the colonies which rendered the system, viable in 1700, so vulnerable to explosion three-quarters of a cen- tury later are those which Andrews did not live to chronicle in detail, but his volumes remain essential to the understanding of the roots from which an American republic was at length to spring.