Lesson Plans: Grades 9-12

Mapping Colonial New England: Looking at the Landscape of New England


The Lesson


A Dutch Map of the English colonies in North America around 1685 with an inset  view of New Amsterdam.

A Dutch Map of the English colonies in North America around 1685 with an inset view of New Amsterdam.

Credit: Courtesy, American Memory at the Library of Congress.

[T]his remote, rocky, barren, bushy, wild-woody wilderness, a receptacle for Lions, Wolves, Bears, Foxes, Rockoones, Bags, Bevers, Otters, and all kind of wild creatures, a place never afforded the Natives better than the flesh of a few wild creatures and parch't Indian corn incht out with Chesnuts and bitter Acorns, now through the mercy of Christ become a second England for ferilness in so short a space that it is indeed the wonder of the world...

—Edward Johnson, The Wonder-Working Providence of Sion's Savior in New England, 1654, From EDSITEment reviewed website History Matters.

English migrants created the colony of Massachusetts Bay by constructing local institutions—families, farms, churches and towns. Puritan colonists brought their European political culture with them across the Atlantic, in the form of their cherished political doctrines and even their very own ways of mapping the world. However, native occupants and English migrants had very different ideas about the land and its uses. Two major events framed a long period of political and social development: the Founding of the colony in 1630 and the outbreak of King Philip's War in 1675.

In this lesson, students learn to interpret the built environment through text and image. They also study maps as a key way of shaping territory and transmitting cultural knowledge. This lesson explores the landscape of New England as a way of understanding the contrasting ways that the Europeans and Indians understood the land and how to use it. The lesson focuses on William Wood's 1634 and William Hubbard's 1677 maps to trace how the Puritans took possession of the region, built towns, and established families on the land. How did these New England settlers interact with the Native Americans, and how can we gain information about those relationships from primary sources such as maps?

Guiding Questions

  • How did English migrants and Native Americans view the land and its use?
  • How did local institutions such as towns and churches promote the success of the colony? How might some of the English have caused problems with the Native inhabitants?

Learning Objectives

  • Understand the similarities and differences between English and Native American conceptions of the land and town settlement
  • Understand how the colony of Massachusetts developed and expanded
  • Understand the causes of King Philip's War
  • Understand how maps can reveal the cultural assumptions of particular times and places


New England migrants colonized their region of North America by establishing towns. The Puritans embarked upon their migration with conservative intentions; they sought to preserve their customary way of life and to replicate a local, town-based culture based on English village life. However, they developed an adaptive process of town settlement in order to find their way in a new environment. Settlers quickly dispersed from the first towns. By the fall of 1630 seven separate settlements in Massachusetts Bay Colony ranged from Salem in the North to Dorchester in the south, with Boston, Medford, Charlestown, Roxbury, and Watertown lying between them. With the first generation living to an average age of 70, the population doubled about every 27 years, thus creating the need to settle new land and create new communities. The English looked inland for more land.

To the English, the "peopling" of New England meant planting towns and churches in the "vacant land." The English and the Indians held contrasting attitudes on the concept of land ownership; Europeans believed in abstract concepts of legal title while Indians focused on rights based on use.

English settlers who took up lands in the Northeast based their claims to the land on "discovery" by explorers and charters granted by the king to colonial corporations that established the actual colonies. Leaders of Massachusetts also argued that Native lands were vacuum domicilium, vacant land waiting to be improved. The land appeared "natural" and unimproved to the English because they had little or no understanding of the ways in which Native peoples manipulated and used their lands. To English eyes Native peoples' seasonal migration about their homelands to fish, farm, and hunt appeared to be no use at all since there were no fixed habitants or fenced fields, or in other words, no evidence of what the English saw as improvement. Only fields planted with crops which bore some resemblance to English land uses appeared to be occupied, but these were the lands that colonial farmers most desired.

—Kevin Sweeney, "European Land Use and the Transformation of the Northeast," from the EDSITEment reviewed 1704 Raid on Deerfield.

At first and indeed, for some time, the Native Americans and English Puritans occupied southern New England together; native communities lay in close proximity to Boston as late as the 1670s. But the dramatically different conceptions of land use and ownership along with the swelling numbers of English and their need to develop new sites for new towns brought the two peoples into conflict in New England by the beginning of the fourth quarter of the seventeenth century. Historical texts and historical maps offer a window into both English and Native American views, although the Native words are often transcribed by Englishmen.

Background Information Websites for Teachers

1. The following materials from EDSITEment-reviewed websites may be useful to teachers seeking advice on using maps.

2. The following materials from EDSITEment resources may be useful to teachers seeking advice about English and Indian settlement in New England in the seventeenth century.

3. The following materials might be useful for students preparing to interpret primary documents

4. The following materials might be useful for students seeking background on seventeenth-century New England

Preparation Instructions


Download or bookmark the materials that you plan to use for the activity. If you choose to use the 1677 Map in its interactive form, check your computer for the necessary Quicktime plug-in. Nota Bene: Many of these links and resources are available for classroom group exercises in Student Launch Pads.

Activity 1:
Activity 2:

In addition, you may want to use the National Archives' document analysis worksheets for maps and for written documents that prompts students to seek important information in the primary source and consider questions of audience, motivation, etc.

Lesson Activities

Activity 1. Crisis in the Colonies: King Philip's War, Bacon's Rebellion, and the Pueblo Revolt

1. European colonists in North America experienced a dramatic expansion in the seventeenth century. Coastal outposts along the Atlantic moved inland; those in New Spain inched northward into New Mexico. Still, in 1670 no sharp boundaries separated Indian lands and colonial settlements; Boston, for example, was only fifteen miles from an Indian village. But the continued expansion of European settlements caused great alarm in Indian communities and by the 1670s led to Native American efforts to restrict or remove European settlement.

2. Divide students into three groups on New England's King Philip's War; Virginia's Bacon's Rebellion, and New Mexico's Pueblo Revolt. Ask each group to read the background essay on their particular conflict: New England's King Philip's War; Bacon's Rebellion and the Pueblo Revolt of 1680, a link on Digital History.

3. Have students work in their groups to review primary documents from one of the three conflicts to understand what issues arose between colonist and Native American, and what some of the experiences were during the conflict and its aftermath.

Student LaunchPad Links to texts and images:

4. Ask students to report orally about the experiences of Europeans and Native Americans during their conflict. The class should discuss.


  • How did the three conflicts differ? How were they the same?
  • What role did religion play in each conflict?
  • How did conflicts between English settlers in coastal regions and those living in newer frontier regions to the west contribute to tensions with Native Americans?
  • How did the author's perspective (background, experience, interests, values, etc.) influence his/her record of events?
Activity 2. Mapping New England

1. The teacher can model how historians interpret and learn from primary source maps by interpreting the seventeenth-century John Smith map (see EDSITEment lesson on Images of the New World—Activity 2).

Questions to consider include:

  • Look at this map and list everything you see.
  • Describe in detail the use of titles and names, symbols, ornaments, illustrations and captions, scale, and legend.
  • Why would there be prominent images of Native Americans on the map? Direct the students to look at the upper left image of Powhatan. How is the Indian leader Powhatan represented? Why is he depicted in royal regalia?
  • How is information organized? What do the crosses scattered throughout the interior mean? Look at the upper right legend where it says "to the crosses hath bin discovered what beyond is by relation."
  • How are places named? Why is the river by Jamestown called the "Powhatan flu" but later becomes the James River?
  • What is the significance of the instrument at the bottom center (a decorative compass)?
  • Who made the map and why was it made? Why would authorship matter?
  • How do cultural assumptions influence the process of mapping?

You may want to use the Digital Classroom's Map Analysis Worksheet for map exercises. You can look at History Matters' Making Sense of Evidence materials on working with maps as historical evidence. You can also find an annotated version of Smith's map of Virginia (Folger Library, a link on EDSITEment's Link: National Park Service). Several articles on Smith's map and the Founding of Jamestown can be accessed from the Commentary Link on the Texts of Imagination and Empire (Move mouse to Commentary text on the top of page and the list of essays will fold down).

2. Have students read the following background about the development of English towns and their expansion in Massachusetts in the seventeenth-century. (Available in the Student LaunchPad)

On the settlement of towns:

These towns were a product, not of long continuous development, but instead, of a rapid process of town planning which was not constrained by existing physical structures and property lines of previous European settlement. The tightly clustered settlements of large and small land holders living adjacent to one another were focused on the meetinghouse and maintained a high degree of internal social order and self-maintenance. Attendance at religious worship and at town meetings was obligatory and enforced by town meeting. There was a strong sense of interdependency and community early on and on a daily basis. The nucleated village, one of many forms present in England during the medieval period, is associated with attempts to reorganize and control agricultural production and to facilitate control over the village's population through an emphasis on ordered land use and face-to-face observation of each villager's daily activities.

—Susan McGowan, "The Landscape in the Colonial Period"

On the changes in towns and Indian relations between the 1630s and the 1670s, you can use Digital History's Dimensions of Change in Colonial New England.

3. Ask the students to look at these two maps (Available in the Student LaunchPad)

The teacher may also do this step with the whole class by using a computer and digital projector or may download, print and distribute maps. Teachers and students may find it useful to consult a contemporary map of Massachusetts towns. Students should consider the following questions as they examine the maps. (Questions available in Student LaunchPad):

  • What information appears on each map? List some of the symbols and what you think they might mean.
  • How many English towns (represented by a small circle topped by a cross) are there in the 1630s? How many in the 1670s? Howmany Indian settlements (in Wood's map, represented by a small triangle for wigwam, sometimes palisaded) in the 1630s? How many in the 1670s?
  • How much of New England appears in each map? What are the blanks spaces? Looking at the 1630s map, are the blank spaces occupied? Who is occupying them?
  • Look at the place names. What do they tell you? What can you infer about the map's north/south orientation?
  • Why are maps made? Who makes them and for whom? What sort of "prospect of New England" is represented in these two maps?

Students should write a brief comparative paragraph about these two maps of New England for later reference in the activity. Or students might construct a chart before they write their paragraph; they could create their own list of items to compare and then fill in the information. In addition to the above questions, students should consider:

  • What does Wood's map tell about the settlement of New England in the 1630s?
  • What does Foster's map tell about the settlement in the 1670s?
  • What similarities and differences do you notice in terms of scale, orientation, place names, and the use and meaning of symbols?

4. Students read Edward Johnson's "Thus This Poore People Populate This Howling Desart": Edward Johnson Describes the Founding of the Town of Concord in Massachusetts Bay, 1635, and Metacom or King Philip, Metacom Relates Indian Complaints about the English Settlers, 1675. Each document has an annotated version in a PDF: Edward Johnson's "Howling Desart", and Metacom's account. The students should read the original version first and then the annotated one. Students should make a list of key concepts about how land was being used, how English towns grew, and areas of English-Native American disagreement and conflict.

For the Edward Johnson text, students should consider the following questions:

  • How does Johnson describe the role of the Indians in the settlement of New England?
  • How does Johnson explain the Divine role in the settlement of New England?

For the Metacom or King Philip text, students should consider the following questions:

  • What are some of Philip's complaints about the English settlers?
  • What is his account of the history of relations between the English colonists and the Indian villagers?
  • How would you describe the negotiations between the English officials and the Indian representatives?
  • Who recorded this statement? Why might that information be important?
  • In what ways has the passage of time been important in shaping the relations between the English and the Indians?

(See separate PDF document for excerpts and annotations )

5. Ask students to: go back to the maps after reading and discussing the texts as well as reviewing the key concepts. Choose one map to create a visual story.

First, the student should choose two or three details (symbols, names, or other features). Explain what those details tell us about English and Native American communities in New England in the 1630s or 1670s. Students should use information from the text documents as part of their annotation. After they have annotated two or three details they will have a map with several "balloons" around it that tell a visual story about the map's meaning.

Second, they should write a short paragraph that compares the map and the text as a view of English colonization in Massachusetts.


Students can take the role of an English settler or a Native American villager in the 1670s in Massachusetts Bay. They should write an appeal to the Governor of the colony stating their views about the two following issues:

  • Who owns the land and why?
  • Who was responsible for the growing conflicts in the colonies?

Extending The Lesson

  • Students could develop a fuller comparison of the two New England maps by writing an essay on the two maps as "windows" into the history of Massachusetts between 1630 and 1677.
  • The Library of Congress has an extended feature on the 1562 Map of America by Diego Gutierrez, a Spanish cartographer.
  • Historians also rely upon other visual documents that tell us about colonial New England. Students could interpret portraits as both household possessions and important family documents. Several seventeenth-century New England portraits survive of documented families. The De Young Museum's Teachers' Guide to American Art (link on EDSITEment's Learner.org) has a discussion of family portraits in colonial New England. The best known portrait is of Elizabeth Clark Freake and Baby Mary, ca 1661 with a full discussion of the portrait and even an X-ray analysis of how the unknown artist changes the portrait over time to reflect the changing fortunes of the Freak family.
Selected EDSITEment Websites

The Basics

Grade Level


Time Required

2 class periods

Subject Areas
  • Literature and Language Arts > Place > American
  • History and Social Studies > U.S. > AP US History
  • History and Social Studies
  • History and Social Studies > U.S. > Colonization and Settlement (1585-1763)
  • History and Social Studies > Place > The Americas
  • History and Social Studies > People > Native American
  • History and Social Studies > World > The Modern World (1500 CE-Present)
  • History and Social Studies > People > Women
  • History and Social Studies > Themes > Immigration/Migration
  • History and Social Studies > Themes > Religion
  • Critical analysis
  • Critical thinking
  • Gathering, classifying and interpreting written, oral and visual information
  • Historical analysis
  • Making inferences and drawing conclusions
  • Map Skills
  • Representing ideas and information orally, graphically and in writing
  • Using primary sources
  • Visual analysis
  • David Jaffee, City College of New York, CUNY (New York, NY)
  • David Gerwin, Queens College, CUNY (New York, NY)
  • Pennee Bender, American Social History Project, CUNY (New York, NY)