For Kids - The New England Colonies
The New England colonies were composed of the colonies of New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Connecticut, and Massachusetts.
In the New England colonies, land was given to a colony by the crown (the king or queen of England.) In these early days of settlement, a colony was not a state. A colony was a business. Each colony was in the business of sending riches back to England in exchange for money, tools, and supplies they needed in their colony. Each colony had a central government. The central government of each New England colony divided their own colony into pieces called towns.
Towns varied greatly in size. But the average town was about 100 square miles (10 miles long and 10 miles wide). Towns were populated by assignment at first - the central government of the colony not only assigned a site for the town, they also assigned a group of people to that town. This initial group was made up of about 30 or 40 households, or about 150-200 people. Most of the people in a group knew each other, and had a common lifestyle back in England or in another settlement. This was done to keep arguments at a minimum. It was also done to keep control. People in a town had the freedom to govern themselves as long as they understood that the colony was in charge of all the towns, and the king of England was in charge of all the colonies; this was understood.
The core of the "town" was the village. There was one street that ran down the middle of the village, with houses on either side. There was a "green", a central park, in approximately the middle. The green held the meeting house, which was also the church in most towns. The militia (the men of the village) gathered to practice on the green. People gathered on the green to chat. Each villager owned the plot of land that held their house. They also owned a plot of land, or several plots scattered about, in the land that surrounded the village. They could sell the land or all their "holdings" (which included their house in the village), as long as the villagers found the new owner acceptable.
The poor were assigned the worse farm plots and lived at the edge of the village. The rich were assigned the best plots and lived near the meeting house. But for the most part, people in a town shared good and bad fortune. They worshiped together. They governed together. They tried to regulate everything, from what a craftsman could charge to the amount of the fine for using bad language. They did not appreciate interference from other towns. A town was a unit. Each town had its own character.
The "town" approach did continue into the early 18th century, but it never got much beyond the New England colonies. The New York colony had town meetings, but it was voluntary. In the New England colonies, town meetings were required forms of government.
The tight hold the New World towns initially held on the early settlers through the establishment of colonial central government approved "towns" soon disappeared. Three things made a huge difference - an abundance of wood, countless fresh-water streams, and seemingly endless land. Slowly, people started to expand beyond the towns. If they didn't like the way they were treated, they could leave, as their courage and other town boundaries allowed.