The Dominion Of New England: Definition & Overview

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Amy Troolin

Amy has MA degrees in History, English, and Theology. She has taught college English and religious education classes and currently works as a freelance writer.

The Dominion of New England integrated the colonies of New England into a single administrative unit to restrict their freedom and trading. Discover the definition of The Dominion when it was established and an overview of its existence and downfall. Updated: 09/14/2021

What Was the Dominion?

The Dominion of New England was an English governing organization that united the New England Colonies into a single administrative unit from 1686 to 1689.

At its outset, the Dominion encompassed the Massachusetts Bay Colony, the Plymouth Colony, the Province of New Hampshire, the Province of Maine, and Narraganset County. On September 9, 1686, the Dominion expanded to include the Rhode Island and Connecticut Colonies. Later, in 1688, New York, East Jersey, and West Jersey were also added to the Dominion's territory.

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  • 0:01 What Was the Dominion?
  • 0:31 Before the Dominon
  • 1:13 Why the Dominion?
  • 3:13 The Dominion in Action
  • 5:48 The Dominion's Downfall
  • 7:41 Lesson Summary
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Before the Dominion

The Dominion was something unfamiliar in New England. Before 1686, most New England colonies operated under individual charters that allowed each colony a good measure of self-government. The colonists, who were mostly Puritans, were used to organizing their affairs as they pleased. They elected their own councils, made most of their own laws, enforced local regulations as they saw fit, and resented English interference. A few of the colonies had formed the New England Confederation for a mutual defense, but for the most part, each colony was independent and looked out for its own interests.

Why the Dominion?

Unfortunately for the colonists, this arrangement no longer suited England. The English government wanted to tighten control over its colonies, especially in the area of trade. It had passed Navigation Acts in 1651, 1660, 1663, and 1673 that strictly limited foreign trade, clamped down on colonial imports and exports, and increased taxes. All imported and exported goods, according to the Acts, had to ship through England in English or colonial ships. The colonies could no longer trade with foreign nations, who had been their best customers prior to the Acts. Needless to say, the colonists were not pleased. Smuggling flourished as colonial merchants, especially in New England, made deals with foreign traders and illegally welcomed foreign ships into colonial ports. England decided it was time to crack down on this disobedience.

England was also eager to limit colonial manufacturing. New England was beginning to develop textile, iron, and leather industries, which meant that colonists no longer needed to import as many of these goods from England. English manufacturers worried about losing one of their primary markets.

There were other things about New England that the English government wanted to change. New England, the mother country decided, was too much controlled by Puritans. It was time to increase religious freedom, at least for members of the Church of England, who should be able to take a more active role in government and colonial life without Puritan discrimination. Colonial land titles were just plain messy, the English felt, and they needed to be better regulated. Of course, there was always the issue of defense. Several colonies working together would provide a better line of defense against French and Indian attacks than individual colonies working alone.

For all these reasons, then, England determined that the New England colonies would trade in their individual charters for a new, united government, the Dominion of New England.

The Dominion in Action

The English government commissioned Joseph Dudley as the first President of the Council of New England. Dudley took control over the Dominion on May 25, 1686, setting up his headquarters in Boston.

Overall, Dudley's time in office was unsuccessful. The colonists simply would not work with him. Each colony was supposed to elect representatives to serve on the Dominion's new council, but most of the colonies either refused to elect anyone, or those elected refused to serve. Dudley tried to introduce the Church of England into the Dominion but met with resistance everywhere. He tried to enforce the Navigation Acts, but again, the colonists would not cooperate. He wanted to raise money through taxes, but according to his commission, he didn't have that power. All Dudley really managed to do was appoint a few judges.

Clearly, the Dominion needed a leader with a heavier hand. Sir Edmund Andros received his commission as President in June but didn't assume power until December 20, 1686. Andros was a hard-liner. He believed that the colonists had left their rights behind when they left England. The mother country should have total control over her colonists, Andros thought, and the colonists would just have to get used to it.

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