Essex Men Who Built the United States: Introduction Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything

Essex Men Who Built the United States: Introduction

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Essex Men Who Built the United States
Introduction | Virginia | Massachusetts | Connecticut
Rhode Island | Pennsylvania, Delaware and New Jersey
Georgia | The United States

Even a cursory look at the place names of the United States reveals that many of them refer to the mother country. More than a few take their names from towns and villages in the English county of Essex. A number of people from Essex played leading roles in establishing and governing the settlements and colonies of the east coast of North America which would go on to become the United States.

17th-Century Essex

In the early 17th Century, Essex was thriving. With bountiful farming land, its proximity to London and major ports at Tilbury and Harwich, many of its residents were doing well for themselves. The grain and cloth industries were bringing in large incomes to farmers, merchants and land owners. However, with the outbreak of the Thirty Years War in Europe in 1618, things became less rosy and the war cut Essex off from its overseas markets.

Further hardships ensued. Supposedly levied to fund coastal defences in 1634, the government of Charles I extended the Ship Tax, originally imposed only on coastal towns, so as to be charged to all towns: all this in the absence of any real national emergency. In addition, the Royal Forests, much of which had been sold off over the centuries, were extended back to their original boundaries and people living on these now had to pay the king.


For many Essex people, there were even bigger troubles on the home front. Many of the county's residents were Puritans, extreme Protestants who were dissatisfied with the state of the Church of England. Along with both noblemen and commoners, many clergymen of Essex were charged with being non-conformists. Various figures in authority, most notably William Laud, who had been Bishop of London before becoming Archbishop of Canterbury in 1633, tried to stop the spread of this new religious thinking. Laud's quest for conformity meant that many of Essex's clergy were suspended, arrested, or forced to live in the Netherlands, which became home to a large exiled community (out of the country, yet still relatively close by). Even in Europe the Puritans weren't safe and Laud successfully managed to get the English churches in the Netherlands to conform to Anglican ritual.

To these men and women, the opportunity to make a new life for themselves 3,000 miles away, free from the strictures imposed upon them by the Church of England, was a temptation hard to resist.

Into the New World

These Entries detail some of the residents of Essex who laid the foundations of the United States and assisted in the birth of a nation.

It might be worth warning readers at this point that people of the time were not the most imaginative when it came to Christian names and that fathers tended to name their sons after themselves. This will lead to confusion later on, but it can't be helped.

This series of Entries can be split into four historical sections. The first Entry concerns the first English colony in Virginia. Here, the colonists were not religious outcasts, but merchants and adventurers.

The second section, consisting of three Entries, covers the New England colonies of Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island, which were set up as territories where non-conformists could enjoy freedom of worship.

The third section, made up of two Entries, concerns the later settlements of Pennsylvania, Delaware and New Jersey and Georgia.

The final Entry tells of two people who were influential in the birth of The United States of America.

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