The founding of Rhode Island

After being hounded out of Massachusetts and helped by sympathetic American Indians, Roger Williams fled to what would become the colony of Rhode Island (1636) in the midst of a bitterly cold winter. He built his own church and established complete religious freedom of thought, even for Catholics and Jews (an unusual position at the time). Nobody had to believe a fixed creed; no one had to go to church or pay taxes to support a state religion. These freedoms sound normal now, but they were rare at the time.

Rhode Island was also the first to embrace universal male suffrage: Any man could vote. This right was limited later, but from the start, Rhode Island was a progressive beacon in an already freedom-loving country. The colony grew with people who didn't fit in, in other locations, including Anne Hutchinson and her family. Critics from other colonies called it Rogues' Island. Originally highly unofficial, Rhode Island somehow managed to win a charter from Parliament in 1644; a statue of the Independent Man sits atop its statehouse.

The Connecticut colony

The Connecticut River valley is one of the few really fertile spots in New England. A mass migration of Puritans from Boston settled near the river, and some Dutch and English immigrants followed. In an open meeting, the new colony drafted the Fundamental Orders (1639), the beginning of a modern constitution. So-called "substantial citizens" were to democratically control the new government. The Connecticut colony was soon joined by another attempt at godly government in New Haven. Together, these colonies mark the small beginning of the migration of American settlers to the west.

Dutch colonies in New York and New Jersey

The practical Dutch actually got where everybody else thought they were heading: to the East Indies in Asia. For 300 years, the Dutch had that profitable colony on the other side of the world. When they considered land just across the Atlantic, they sent Henry Hudson (1609) to explore the great Hudson River and eventually Hudson Bay. While Hudson started up what would later be called the Hudson River, his navigator wrote down the American Indian name for an extended island they passed. The American Indians called it "island of many hills," or Manhattan. Later, the Dutch bought the island from the American Indians, thinking they'd made a great deal. The American Indians, however, had the last laugh because they didn't really own Manhattan; they'd just stopped by to fish.

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