E/MS Unit II

Activity 1: Creating Big Maps Showing Early Towns

It is important that students understand that English colonists did not arrive in an uninhabited land. Begin this lesson by mapping the areas where the Wampanoag, Massachusett, Nipmuc, and other native tribes lived before England established colonies in Massachusetts. [See Unit I, Activity A for instructions.]

Read aloud or share key points from the Mass Moment essay on John Winthrop and the first Puritans to settle Massachusetts.

Print out and distribute copies of the excerpts from Winthrop’s journal that mention the settlement of towns. Have students use different colors to map the towns that were settled in 1630, between 1631 and 1640, and each decade up to 1675.

Note: The excerpts in Winthrop’s journal include just a few of the early towns. Also, students need to be careful about not jumping to conclusions. The journal entries for 1631 and 1632 show that Dorchester and Medford existed by this date. They do not tell us when they were founded. To get a complete picture, students should consult the list of early Massachusetts towns in the Materials Bank.

Ask students:

  1. Where did the English Puritans establish their first settlements in 1630? Why?
  2. On what Indian tribes’ lands were these settlements located? [Unit I focuses on this issue.]
  3. If Winthrop does not mention a date for when a town was settled, how can we find this information?
  4. Where did Englishmen settle in the period 1630 to 1675? Why?
  5. What was the pattern of settlement?
  6. What areas remained unsettled by the English in this period? Why might this have been so?

Read aloud the Mass Moment essay about the founding of Cambridge and then have students read William Wood’s description of Newtowne.


  1. What made Newtowne (later Cambridge) a good site for a town but not for the capital?
  2. What was the purpose of the fence? What does that tell us about the Cambridge area at the time it was settled?
  3. Why might settlers have been prohibited from building “beyond the palisade”?
  4. In 1635, the General Court passed a law that “no new building should be built more than half a mile from the meeting-house in any new plantation.” What purpose would this regulation have served? How would this law affect the layout of a new town?

Ask students to make a sketch or map of what they think Newtowne looked like in the 1630s.

Read aloud the Mass Moment that tells the story of the settlement of Springfield.


  1. What about this location would have appealed to Pynchon? How was his choice similar and how was it different from that of earlier town founders?
  2. How did Agawam (later Springfield) differ from other Puritan towns?
  3. Use the Big Map the class has created to examine how English settlement of the Connecticut Valley progressed once Springfield was founded.
  4. In what parts of Massachusetts did the English not establish towns in the seventeenth century? What reasons might they have had?

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