New England Confederation

New England Confederation, union for "mutual safety and welfare" formed in 1643 by representatives of the colonies of Massachusetts Bay, Plymouth, Connecticut, and New Haven. They met in Boston and adopted a written constitution binding the colonies in a league as "The United Colonies of New England." The chief purpose of the league was coordination of defense and the settlement of boundary disputes; the internal affairs of each colony were to be left to its own management. The first experiment in federation in America, the league was based upon compromise. Its chief weaknesses lay in the inability of the commissioners to do much more than advise and in the petty rivalries among the colonies. Massachusetts Bay, having by far the largest population, had to furnish more fighting men and taxes than any other colony and felt aggrieved at not having more power in the confederation. In 1653, Massachusetts Bay flatly refused to undertake the war against the Dutch that the confederation planned. Maine and the Narragansett Bay settlements (Rhode Island) sought admission to the union but were refused on political and religious grounds. Shortly before New Haven was annexed (1665) to Connecticut, the regulations were changed so that the commissioners would meet once every three years, but the confederation gradually declined. It revived between 1675 and 1676 to undertake its most important task, completely breaking the power of the Native Americans of S New England in King Philip's War. With the revocation of the Massachusetts charter in 1684, the confederation was dissolved.

See H. L. Osgood, The American Colonies in the Seventeenth Century (3 vol., 1904–7, repr. 1957).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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