Because of the generally poor soil, agriculture was never a major part of the region's economy. However, excellent harbors and nearby shallow banks teeming with fish made New England a fishing and commercial center. Shipbuilding was important until the end (mid-1800s) of the era of wooden ships. During the colonial period the region carried on a more extensive foreign commerce than the other British colonies and was therefore more affected by the passage of the British Navigation Acts. New England was the major center of the events leading up to the American Revolution, particularly after 1765, and was the scene of the opening Revolutionary engagements.
The return of peace necessitated a reorganization of commerce, with the result that connections were made with the American Northwest and China. The War of 1812 had an adverse effect on the region's trade, and opposition to the war was so great that New England threatened secession (see Essex Junto; Hartford Convention). After the war the growth of manufacturing (especially of cotton textiles) was rapid, and the region became highly industrialized. A large part of the great migration to the Old Northwest Territory originated there. Agriculture dwindled with the growth of the West.
After World War II the character of New England industry changed. Traditional industries (e.g., shoe and textile) have been superseded by more modern industries such as electronics. Tourism, long a source of income for the region, remains important throughout the year. There is also stone quarrying, dairying, and potato farming. Boston has long been the chief urban center of New England; corporate activity, however, has sprung up in many of the smaller cities and suburbs.
New England has long been a leading literary (see American literature) and educational center of the country. Prior to the Civil War the region furnished many social and humanitarian leaders and movements. The area abounds with educational institutions, having some of the foremost universities in the United States.
See the works of V. W. Brooks, P. Miller, and S. E. Morison; J. T. Adams, The History of New England (3 vol., 1923-27, repr. 1971); J. Hale, Inside New England (1982).
Originally, two English joint-stock companies had been created to settle North America, then known as Virginia. The London Company was given a charter for a swathe of the continent south of that given to the Plymouth Company. Both companies established settlements in 1607 (the London Company in Jamestown. Although its settlement was soon abandoned, and its charter eventually taken over by the London Company, thenceforth, the territory included in the Plymouth Company's charter was defined as New England. The term Virginia came to refer only to that part of North America covered by the London Company's original charters. The third charter, of 1612, extended its territory far enough across the Atlantic to include the Somers Isles (named for Admiral of the Virginia Company, Sir George Somers), or Bermuda, which the Virginia Company had been in unofficial possession of since the 1609 wreck of the Sea Venture.
Following his return to England, John Smith fell out of favour with the directors of the Virginia Company. Despite this, he wrote a series of publications about the English colonial effort in North America, although, in his accounts, he marginalised the Company's involvement. The Generall Historie was based in large part on information he was given by others, as he had not personally witnessed what had happened in the years between his leaving Virginia and publishing the book. He had never visited Bermuda, which had been separated from Virginia to be managed by the Somers Isles Company (formed in 1615 by the shareholders of the Virginia Company). His information on Bermuda may have come from the then Governor, Nathaniel Butler, who probably provided the drawing which was the basis of the engraving printed in the Historie, a map, and illustrations of important sites in that colony (fig. 2).
The Generall Historie of Virginia, New-England, and the Summer Isles was first printed by I.D and I. H. for Michael Sparkes in 1624. Other editions followed in 1625, 1626, 1627, 1631, and 1632.