New England Colonies Reading Passage for Secondary Students (Download Included)

If you’re looking for a brief (650ish words) summary on a topic in history you’re in the right place! You can find reading passages for U.S. History and World History topics and can download a PDF copy for yourself. If you need a digital copy there is a Google link provided as well.

This is an ongoing project, so stop back frequently and see what we’ve added. When I say “we” I mean my  brother and I. I have been teaching social studies for 19 years and my brother, Joe, is an historian. Between the 2 of us we create these reading passages. 


If you’re interested in some close read lesson ideas for teaching with this resource this article will help.


The New England colonies consisted of Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Connecticut. These were the northernmost English colonies in America.

The main motivation for the Puritans settling Massachusetts was religious freedom. Ironically, Connecticut was settled by exiles from Massachusetts because they wanted freedom from the Puritan religion.


The geography of an area, particularly in the past, dictated the economy. The New England colonies could not sustain plantations; only small farms existed that were not viable as a foundational market. Instead New Englanders took advantage of the abundant wood to become master ship builders. Their natural harbors allowed intercontinental trade.

The vast array of water sources provided fishermen with cod, mackerel, herring, halibut, hake,  bass and sturgeon. The most profitable fishing was whaling, which provided oil for lamps.

Some New England shipbuilders became wealthy through the slave trade. They would sell tools, gunpowder and rum in West Africa, buy slaves and sell them to the West Indies in exchange for molasses and sugar. This 3-way trading among continents became known as the triangular trade route.


As with the settlement of Jamestown, Virginia in 1607, the New England colonies practiced a democratic form of government. Ultimately, the British King had control over its colonies, but local decisions were made through consensus of elected settlers.

The first example of democratic or representative government is the Mayflower Compact. As the Pilgrims were approaching land in America they wrote and signed an agreement that decisions would be made together. The ship was called the Mayflower, hence the name of the agreement.

Life in the New England Colonies

Massachusetts was settled by a group of people called Puritans. These were men and women who wanted to “purify” the Anglican form of Christianity. They were persecuted back in England and as a result decided to create a colony in America. Between 1630 and 1640 over 20,000 Puritans came to America.

Religion was the basis of life in Massachusetts. Attendance at church was mandatory. Many of the rules they made for the colony were based upon their religious beliefs.

Some settlers who arrived in Massachusetts wanted to separate church and state. They did not want the Puritan religion to dictate all aspects of life.  This was not received well by the Puritans; they were intolerant of any beliefs that deviated from their own.

Roger Williams founded Rhode Island as a colony that accepted different religions. Refugees from Massachusetts settled there.

Education was an important part of the culture. New England boasted the only public school in the colonies. They were usually one-room schoolhouses. The motivation for educating young people was so that they could read the bible. The first American university, Harvard University, was established in Massachusetts in 1636.

Teach and Thrive

A Bronx, NY veteran high school social studies teacher who has learned most of what she has learned through trial and error and error and error.... and wants to save others that pain.

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