THE Plymouth Company sent its first vessels to North America in 1607.
Two ships landed near the Kennebec River in Maine early in the year, and a rough fort was built close to the river’s mouth.
A handful of settlers remained in the colony during the winter, and George Popham, the leader of the expedition, visited Plymouth with tales of great wealth to be found in Maine.
When the supply ship returned the following spring, it found only Popham’s grave and a few starving settlers begging to be returned to Europe.
During the next decade, the Plymouth Company continued to send ships to explore the area, but made no major move toward colonisation.
In 1614, a John Smith visited the region and wrote a glowing report of it for potential settlers but no one volunteered to go to America.
Several companies were organised on the strength of his report, among them the Adventurers, the Dorchester, the Laconia and the New England.
None was successful.
When the Adventurers were finally able to arrange for a shipment to New England, it was captured by French pirates; a second cargo was seized by the Turks.
Smith’s reports meanwhile were read by a group of religious dissenters known as Pilgrims, who had relocated for religious reasons to Leyden, in Holland. Representatives of the London Company offered to send the Pilgrims to Virginia as stockholders in the company, not as employees.
After seven years, the venture was to be dissolved and a distribution made to all according to the number of shares they owned.
The London Company would provide £7 000 and receive half the profits, with settlers dividing the other half among them.
Thirty-five Pilgrims accepted the offer and joined by 66 non-pilgrims, leaving on the Mayflower from Plymouth in 1620.
The ship did not go to Virginia; instead it went to Massachusetts.
Soon, a small town was established.
The Mayflower remained for the winter and provided a haven for the colonists.
By the time the ship left the following April, however, half the colonists had died. The settlement was replenished the following fall when the Fortune dropped off 35 additional colonists and carried a cargo of furs back to England to the London Company.
The settlement showed small profits almost immediately.
In 1627, the Pilgrim leaders were able to buy out the London merchants and distribute all the land in the colony to its inhabitants.
More towns were established, and the colony thrived.
It remained independent until 1691, when it was annexed to the larger and more powerful Puritan settlements in Massachusetts.
By then, the English faced strong competitors from the Dutch Republic, a country which also possessed a vital merchant capitalist class and strong finances
In 1643, the English colonies north of New York united to form the New England Confederation.
Its major ambition and accomplishment was to halt Dutch expansion from New Amsterdam and the Hudson Valley.
Dutch traders and manufacturers had been interested in the fast-growing English markets in the Americas.
The outbreak of the English civil war in the 1640s gave them their chance and the Dutch moved to take over these markets.
Since English shipping was disrupted and the price of English goods rose sharply because of the fighting, the Dutch were able to undersell their competitors.
Within a few years, operating with impunity on the high seas, the Dutch managed to displace the English in several colonial markets.
Dutch dry goods, hardware and beer outsold English products in New England and Virginia.
By 1643, Dutch money was used in Virginia, and a decade later, it was common currency in other colonies as well.
The Dutch took control of the trade in the English sugar islands and replaced the English as financial agents in Barbados.
By 1655, four of every five trading ships engaged in African and American trade were Dutch.
Oliver Cromwell, who had led the victors in the civil war, attempted to meet the Dutch challenge.
London’s Puritan merchants now had strong representation in government, and they meant to use it to drive the Dutch from the high seas.
One indication after 1649, of the new temper of the times, was a sharp rise in ship construction.
Another was passage of the mercantilist-inspired Navigation Acts of 1650 and 1651, which prohibited any foreign nation from trading with England’s American colonies.
Other restrictive legislation followed.
Cromwell tried to avoid antagonising the Dutch unnecessarily, for, after all, they were Protestants like him and might be a useful ally in his planned attack on Catholic Europe.
After passage of the Navigation Acts, Cromwell attempted to placate the Dutch merchants by negotiating a Protestant League, in which they would control the East Indies trade while England took North America and all of South America except Brazil, and the two to unite in plundering Africa.
But the Dutch, recognising their strength, rejected this offer, insisting free trade with North America and the Caribbean islands.
Negotiations stalled and, by 1651, anti-Dutch Puritans in Parliament passed a new Navigation Act that denied foreigners the right to carry goods between England and other nations.
In effect, the only trade the Dutch were permitted with the English was carrying their own manufactured goods to English ports (but not to those of the colonies).
The Act was tantamount to a declaration of trade war and, in 1652-1653, was followed by a brief Anglo-Dutch naval war.
The New England Confederation planned to attack the Dutch possessions to the south, but at the last moment, the Dutch agreed to respect the Navigation Acts and enter into a defensive alliance with Cromwell.
It was clear at the time, however, that the Netherlands was not only England’s equal but also wealthier, better prepared for war, and more aggressive.
In addition, it was more advanced in the area of finance.
The Northern climate and soil were not suited for sugar and tobacco, no gold was found there and there was little need for slaves.
Settlers expected marginal existences as farmers, but they also hoped to find products to sell so they could use the funds obtained to purchase needed supplies.
In addition, as in England, farmers required the services of specialists and of certain manufacturers of needed goods.
All of these factors led the northern colonists down economic paths that differed from those of the southern colonies.
Dr Michelina Andreucci is a Zimbabwean-Italian researcher, industrial design consultant and a published author in her field. For views and comments, email: firstname.lastname@example.org