The Settlement of the First New England Colony
In order to teach visual depictions of the colonial period, it is necessary to provide some historical background, beginning with the settlement of the first New England Colony.
The first successful English settlement was established in 1607 in Jamestown Virginia. Prior attempts by Sir Walter Raleigh of England had failed and led to the mysterious disappearance of the Roanoke Colony in 1587. But the English were determined to succeed believing that America had an abundance of wealth in the form of gold and land. It was also believed that America had a large population of Native Americans who had knowledge of the land and climate. Believing they were superior to the Native Americans, the English settled in Jamestown assuming they could intimidate and physically force the enslavement of the Native Americans. However, the English were unsuccessful due to a lack of missionary and political force. The English not only did not find gold, but they discovered a laborious life that depended on farming the land for survival and overcoming disease, famine, and the long treacherous winters. Although many of the first settlers to Jamestown did not survive, the few that did eventually became more adept at farming the land. This was a result of their manipulation of the Native Americans into teaching them how to sow the land and their arrogance in forcefully moving into the Native American territories and farming on land previously sown by the Native Americans. Thus, the conflict between the English and the Native Americans during this time ensued (Ginn, 78-79)
Simultaneously in England, there was an uprising among various religious sectors because of the demands made by the Church of England and James I. The Puritans were most affected by these demands and believed the Church of England did not recognize nor adhere to the dictates of the Bible. They believed the interpretation of the Bible by the Church of England was both sacrilegious and indecent; Puritans did not believe the religious realm should include playing cards, dancing, or flamboyant services. A minority of Puritans hoped that England would allow them to dissociate themselves with the Church of England and form their own sect known as the
while other Puritans aspired to change the Church and cause a reversion back to a more literal and less elaborate interpretation of the Bible. James I, however, rejected their visions and punished them for rebelling against the Church of England by imprisonment and daily hardships. Subsequently, in 1608, the
decided to leave England for the Netherlands. Students will discuss the motivating factors that caused the English to leave their homeland of England in pursuit of a different life in America. In this unit students will become familiar with the Church of England and the role King James I played in contributing to this migration to a new and unknown frontier. Students will be able to discuss their views on freedom of religion and how they would react if they were forced to obey a certain church or religious order
Unhappy, with the Dutch customs and culture, the separatists returned to England only to board the Mayflower, along with others seeking a better life. Having left Plymouth, England in 1620, the 101 inhabitants of the Mayflower became known as the Pilgrims. Their destination was to be Virginia where the colony of Jamestown was now prospering. Surprisingly, however, they landed on the coast of New England and became the settlers of the first New England Colony, Massachusetts. Although there were varying ideals and beliefs among the inhabitants of the Mayflower, they recognized that they needed to establish a set of rules by which this colony could adhere; these rules were to become known as the
Mayflower Compact (Ginn 94-95)
. It is my intention that my students will be able to use this information to participate in a whole class discussion about the hardships of traveling by the ocean and the difficulties faced by the pilgrims: disease, starvation, climate. Additionally, students will discuss the importance of the Mayflower Compact and how this signified the beginning of the first form of self-government; students will be asked how the Pilgrim’s compilation of rules and laws differed from those of England.
John Heaton’s Visual Journey of a Colonial Town
A comprehensive artistic example of daily life in Colonial America is the
Overmantel from the Martin Van Bergen House
, c. 1732-33, which was believed to have been painted by John Heaton, who was influenced by the Dutch. Heaton created a wonderfully detailed depiction of the Van Bergen farm geographically located in the forefront of the Catskill Mountains. The painting conveys the laborious activities of daily life, including slaves working the field. Additionally, the details of the horse and buggy, stone house, fields, horses, and farm workers enhance the ambiance of this homestead. The Dutch influence, a direct correlation to the migration of the Dutch into New York many years earlier, is evidenced by the “steep pitched roof with dormer windows and the chimneys in the end walls…characteristic of the Dutch farmhouse (Pohl, 64).”
Students should be able to answer the following questions: who is in the painting? who would have been doing any of the manual labor, explain? what can you figure out was the family’s source of income or wealth? using observations from your viewing, what predictions can you make about life in colonial America? Additionally, students will be asked to discuss how the roles of men, women, and children are conveyed in this work.
Thomas Smith and John Singleton Copley: Depictions of Colonial New England
Thomas Smith and John Singleton Copley were two artists whose works were representative of this time period in Colonial New England. Their paintings clearly depicted the class distinctions that existed among the colonists during this time.
Thomas Smith was a mariner and artist who arrived in New England around the year 1650. Presently there are six works attributed to Smith, the most famous of which is his Self Portrait, c. 1680. Thomas Smith’s self portrait embodies the image of a wealthy and confident man, as evidenced by his aristocratic attire and lace cravat which was influenced by the European baroque style. (http://www.worcesterart.org/Collection/
Early_American). This painting is introduced in my lessons as a representative of early colonial New England: the students will observe the central position of Thomas Smith in the painting, the skull which is placed upon a sheet of poetry and which he holds in his right hand, and the view of the sea in the background (which he would clearly see if he turned his head slightly to the right). Students should be encouraged to discuss the importance of the skull and the painting of the sea and predict that Thomas Smith was most likely a mariner who journeyed by boat over tumultuous seas (indicative of the appearance of the waves and tipping of one of the boats), one who enjoyed the more romantic literary genres (poetry) and one who has a connection and understanding of death (proven by the existence of the skull strategically placed upon the poem) (Pohl, 63).
John Singleton Copley, however, was born on July 3, 1738, in Boston, Massachusetts to Mary Singleton and Richard Copley. It was his stepfather, Peter Pelham, that first exposed John to the world of painting. His stepfather’s unexpected death at the age of 13, led John to dabble in printing and painting to help supplement the family income. Although, John preferred painting mythological and historical images, such as Watson and the Shark, c. 1778, he realized this was not a lucrative business. He began to paint portraits of the Boston mercantile elite, which were in high demand and proved to be profitable (http://www.suite101.com/article.cfm/12192/62107). By the age of 23, Copley became a renowned portrait artist in Boston; Copley completed
Governor and Mrs. Thomas Mifflin
(Boy with a Squirrel) in 1765, and
Mrs. Ezekiel Goldthwait (Elizabeth Lewis)
in 1777. However, it was the painting of his brother, Henry Pelham, which initiated Copley into London society; Copley came to be highly regarded and recognized internationally. It is Copley’s attention to detail and texture that makes his paintings enviable; the manner in which he conveys his brother’s thoughts through the exactitude of his facial expression is endearing. The contrast between the texture and fluency of the mahogany table, water, squirrel, and drapery emphasizes the various textures and 3-dimensional appearance of this portrait. It is also notable that he connects these objects by having Henry dangle a chain that is draped over the boy’s hand, directed vertically toward the water and then laying on the table at which point the squirrel grasps it to nibble on. Copley has created the illusion of the triangular shape existent between the boy’s gaze, the squirrel and the formation of the vertex by the boy’s elbow. Historically, the symbolism of the squirrel in this painting is relevant since it is believed to be an American flying squirrel. Interestingly, Copley uses the chain to connect this naturalistic representation of America with humanity (Pohl, 74-75).
Students might be asked to discuss the similarity and differences between these two paintings and to identify the images and elements that are representative of Colonial America. Students may be asked to focus on trades/hobbies that were relevant to this time period, as well as class distinction.
Journey to Religious Freedom: The Founding of Rhode Island
In 1630, more than 1,000 Puritans gathered together to form the Massachusetts Bay Colony which was governed by John Winthrop and established in Boston, Massachusetts. This colony differed significantly from the Pilgrims because they were still under the jurisdiction of the King of England who had established a charter, which supported and governed their colonization in America. Although the charter allowed the Puritans to elect their own government, there were still disputes regarding the interaction between church and state. The Puritans believed that it should be required by law to attend church, however they did not want a government reenactment of the control of the Church of England. Ironically only free white men who were accepted into, and regularly attended, the Puritan church had the ability to vote and actively participate in the governing. This obviously excluded women, Native Americans, indentured servants, and other ethnic groups. This association between church and state caused several to revolt, especially since they had left England seeking religious freedom. Roger Williams, a Puritan minister, disagreed with the dictate that only white men who attended the Puritan church could vote and revolted by founding his own colony in Rhode Island in 1635. In 1637, Anne Hutchinson rebelled against the Massachusetts Bay Colony’s charter that one must adhere to the beliefs of their minister. An independent thinker and seeker of religious freedom, Hutchinson was banished by the Massachusetts Bay Colony to become a resident of Rhode Island. Similarly, Thomas Hooker founded Connecticut in 1636, because he also questioned the bond between church and state (Ginn 96-96).
A Conflict Painted: Resistance to Puritan Ideals Conveyed through Art
The artist of
Elizabeth Freake and Baby Mary
, c.1671-74, conveys this desire for a separation between church and state in his depiction of the Freake family. The darker, more pronounced details of the Freake family portraits clearly depict the conservative ideals of Puritan Boston. In these portraits, the artist relays an image of inapproachability and power which is emphasized by the “
rich velvet brown
” of his overcoat and accented by the white collar, cuffs, and gloves (which he interestingly is holding rather than wearing). John’s stance indicates one of pride and confidence; his arm is angled toward the center of his self, creating an image of distance and separatism from the viewer. However, in contrast the artist conveys John’s philosophical and political belief that the role of the Puritan minister should not extend into all areas of the colony by abandoning the symbolically typical black Puritan garb. In
Elizabeth Freake and Baby Mary
, there is an image of stoicism which is conveyed
is expressionless as she holds her baby, who glaringly appears to be stiff and unemotional. The lack of intimacy between mother and child is immediately evident upon viewing. However, the colorful palate with which it is drawn is a clear message of Elizabeth’s resistance to the Puritan style. Her attire is evidence of a European influence and a connection to her husband’s dedication to his merchant profession, the businessman demeanor, and their resistance to the restrictions placed on them by England (Pohl, 59-60)
Using Force: The Founding of Jamestown
As previously mentioned the colony of Jamestown was founded in 1607, yet did not immediately prosper due to the lack of farming skills, the laborious daily life, and disease. Yet in 1612, a man by the name of John Rolfe discovered that the climate of Virginia was conducive for growing tobacco crops. This became a lucrative business once the colonists began to annually export more than 3 million pounds of their product to Europe. But, growing and exporting tobacco in huge quantities required more labor than the settler could manipulate. The colonists physically fought for the Native American land, and won. However, the Native Americans, specifically the Algonquians, were unrelenting and unwilling to succumb to this European intimidation and successfully maintained their freedom. The colonists then sought indentured servants to sow the tobacco fields. The indentured servants, however, were unable to survive on minimal nourishment, a hot climate, the threat of disease, or the intensive labor required to maintain the crops. Thus, the colonists of Jamestown sought slaves from Africa to maintain the tobacco fields. The slaves were involuntarily and cruelly forced to leave Africa to work in the fields. The success of the tobacco fields and the Virginian colony led to the founding of the other Southern Colonies: Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia. As the southern colonies developed and grew, their reliance on farming and slavery intensified. Dependent on exporting products to Europe, and other colonies, led to the formation of considerably larger farms called plantations (Ginn 114-119).
Southern Extravagance and Affluence
Henrietta Deering Johnston portrayed affluent Southern society in her paintings,
Colonel Samuel Prioleau
, c.1715 and
Mrs. Samuel Prioleau
, c. 1715. In my unit students may be asked to view the Henrietta Deering Johnston paintings, which represent both the aristocratic south and extravagant wealth, and identify those elements that support this belief.
Henrietta Deering Johnston, the wife of a Church of England clergyman, arrived in South Carolina with her husband in 1708. Known for her use of pastels, Johnston’s depictions of
Colonel Samuel Prioleau
, c.1715 and
Mrs. Samuel Prioleau
, c. 1715, conveyed Charleston, South Carolina’s more affluent society. Samuel dons a flowing, golden wig and wears a white cravat while his wife’s wears a gown with a low neckline, or décolletage; both garments are evidence of a French aristocratic influence. The pastel yellows and blues that Johnston chooses to use in these portraits provide a relaxed and calming aura.
Penn Makes Peace with the Natives
In 1681, William Penn, a Quaker and member of the Society of Friends, founded the colony of Pennsylvania in the hope of creating an idealistic Quaker community. With the support of the King of England, who had been indebted to the Penn family, William Penn became the governor of Pennsylvania. Penn was not biased and encouraged all individuals of varying backgrounds to join his colony. His only request was that those colonists residing in Pennsylvania respect and treat everyone equally and fairly, including the Native Americans. In 1682, William Penn acquired the territory of Delaware because he needed an accessible passage to the Atlantic Ocean. The middle colonies also included New Jersey and New York, both founded in 1664 (Ginn 142-143). The founding of Pennsylvania is represented in Benjamin West’s:
Penn’s Treaty with the Indians When he Founded the Province of Pennsylvania in North America, 1771-72
. This painting is symbolic of the division between the settlers and the Native Americans and Penn’s attempt to join the sides together in an amicable agreement. The settlers are strategically painted on the left side of the frame, while the Native Americans are painted towards the right. Interestingly, the artist conveys the amicability of these two groups by having the European settler kneel as if respecting royalty. In addition, the settler appears to be offering the Native Americans a gift of cloth. Ironically, however, the Native Americans are dressed in their own traditional attire and the offerings from the settlers are very European. Significantly, is the relationship that Penn formed with the Native Americans and his Quaker belief that all men are equal regardless of religious affiliation (Pohl, 72).
In viewing this painting, students may be asked to notice the images, make connections to historical events, discuss the motivating factors for William Penn to found the colony of Pennsylvania, and to discuss how Penn’s religious and political philosophies concerning equality are conveyed in West’s painting.
Daily Life in Colonial America
As a Colonial American you had a significant role within your community and relied on family to survive and succeed. In the New England colonies it was believed that only families could acquire land. If you were single, it was believed that you would eventually cause turmoil within your community and could not be trusted. Colonial women were in charge of the household and raising the children. Since illness was a common threat during this time period, the mother’s role was to care for her children and protect them from disease. The father’s role was to control the household finances, manage the farm, and make decisions concerning his daughter’s marital future. Colonial children also had a role that was necessary to the success of the family. Girls were taught to cook, prepare, and preserve food, clean, milk cows, sew, and care for their siblings by the young age of 7, while the boys labored in the fields, mended fences, planted, took care of animals, chopped wood, and helped harvest crops. Often, the older children became apprentices to learn the skills and knowledge necessary to become a carpenter, silversmith, or other skilled profession. Most children were home-schooled by their father to read and write so they could study the Bible (Ginn 102).
Fun and Games
The children played games that relied on skills that they would use later in life. These simplistic games were always handmade and readily accessible for entertaining. Puzzles,
Blind Man’s Bluff
, pick up sticks (or
), hopscotch, leap frog,
(a colonial version of badminton) are a few of the games played by colonial children. Often the games were made from left over supplies and wood that were no longer of any use. For example, a spinning top could be made from a small piece of wood and string while an old barrel could be used for racing. The girls sewed or tied old rags or cornhusks together to make humble dolls with which they could play. In addition, children entertained themselves by reciting nursery rhymes, riddles, and tongue twisters (http://www.ctstateu.edu/noahweb/games.html).
The Representation of Puritan Children in Colonial America
The Mason Children: David, Joanna, and Abigail, 1670, is a painting of three children of a wealthy Bostonian family: Arthur Mason, a baker, and his wife, Joanna. The painting clearly captures the role, attitude, and demeanor of children during the colonial period. The three children are situated in descending order by height and age, David, the oldest at age 8, Joanna, and Abigail. The children are representative of how children were
perceived during Puritan America. The children are dressed in typical black and white Puritan garb, however, the existence of lace, ruffles, frills, and
on their clothing indicates a wealthier and aristocratic upbringing. Interestingly, Massachusetts’s law prohibited the adornment of this extravagant attire unless the family earned a yearly income of at least 200 pounds. Daily life for these young children would have consisted of family duties and responsibilities that in modern society would have been indicative of adulthood. It was a Puritan belief that children were to be mature and obedient and this was accomplished by raising them in a strict and religious household, where they would not be tempted or provided with the opportunity to behave like young, untamed creatures.
This philosophy is conveyed through the artist’s rendering of these children as much older than their actual ages; students should notice their facial expressions and stoicism are indicative of adulthood and a sign of maturity. In addition to their appearance, the children each grasp a different object. David owns a “silver topped cane and gloves” which is indicative of adulthood, Joanna is painted with a fan which is a necessary object for young ladies entering society, and Abigail holds a red rose to signify her youth and innocence. In addition to these objects, each girl is adorned with red necklaces, a color believed to prevent disease. (http://www.thinker.org/fam/education/publications/guide-american/slide-1.html).
It is significant when analyzing this painting to note and direct the discussion to include the Puritan beliefs that children should be responsible for adult chores and duties at a relatively young age and that unruly or childlike behavior was not tolerated. Ask the students how this philosophy is conveyed through the painting of these three children.
Representations of Affluence and Slavery in American Art
Henry Darnall, III as a Child
, c.1710 is the painting of two boys: one black boy (the servant) and one white boy (the master). This class distinction is evidenced by the black servant’s positioning in the painting in contrast to that of the white master who is centered and whose posture is very straight and pronounced. Additionally, it is important to compare and contrast each of the boy’s garments: the white boy is elaborately dressed in regal attire with a lace cravat and extravagant green material flowing like a shawl around his left arm. In contrast the servant is dressed in a simple white shirt with a silver collar (an indicator of servitude) and a simple orange coat; more importantly the viewer is unable to see the servant’s lower body because it is hidden by the balustrade. The balustrade also should be noted that it separates the two boys by class distinction and race.