Tim Khan

February 19, 2018


            In the 1690s, Britain’s colonies in North America were still figuring out their identity. The main event characterizing this period of history for Europe was the Nine Years’ War, which took place on North America as King William’s War. Other important events included the Salem witch trials, the reissuing of the Massachusetts charter, and the writings of John Locke.

            The monarchs on the British Isles throughout this time were William III and Mary II. Mary was a Protestant daughter of the Catholic King James II, and her husband William of Orange was a Stadtholder or ruler from the Netherlands. They became king and queen in 1688 when the Glorious Revolution deposed her father. They ruled England (plus Wales), Scotland, and Ireland together until December 1694, when Queen Mary died from smallpox. King William then reigned alone until his own death in 1702. (Since they had no children, Mary’s sister would later succeed William as Queen Anne II.)

            The Whigs and Tories composed the two main political parties in Britain at this time. They argued originally in the 1670s and 1680s over whether or not to support James II and his Catholic kingship, but did not significantly fight in the 1690s under William and Mary. The two separated again under Queen Anne II after William died.[1] By May 1697 the English ministry was made up entirely of Whig members.[2]


            The Nine Years’ War, also called the War of the League of Augsburg, lasted from 1688 to 1697. France fought a coalition of her enemies called the Grand Alliance, led by the Holy Roman Empire. France’s king Louis XIV declared war on his first cousin the Holy Roman Emperor Leopold I in September 1688. Over the next two years, other nations joined by declaring war or by having war declared against them. Eventually the Netherlands, Spain, and the small Duchy of Savoy were also involved.[3] James II also became an ally of Louis XIV. (Both men were Catholic monarchs who believed in the divine right of kings, and James fled to France when William and Mary arrived in England.) King Louis armed James, who then went to Ireland in 1689.[4]

            In Ireland, supporters of James II called “Jacobites” rebelled against the rule of William and Mary. (James is the English version of the Greek and Hebrew name Jacob.) William came to Ireland in 1690 and succeeded in crushing the rebellion the following year.[5] Key battles occurred at Londonderry and Enniskillen in the north, where Catholics unsuccessfully attacked Protestant defenses; and at Boyne, Galway, and Limerick, where King William’s forces won victories. After losing at Boyne, James again fled to France.

            The English philosopher John Locke wrote three important political theory documents during this time. In An Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1690), he argued against Descartes that “ideas were not innate to the human mind but that the mind was a blank slate that acquired ideas as the product of sensory experience, which was not always accurate.” In his Two Treatises of Government (1690), he argued “against the divine right of kings,” because he believed men have natural rights including life, liberty, and property in the state of nature, before any king is present. In his Letter Concerning Toleration (1689-92), he argued “that religion was a matter to be decided by individuals” and that churches should be “voluntary associations.” Although his writings did not immediately become popular in America, they would later have a profound impact on political philosophy and the separation of church and state.[6]

            In eastern Europe during this decade, the Ottoman Empire was fighting three wars against European foes: the Hapsburg-Ottoman War (1683-1699), the Polish-Ottoman War (1683-1699), and the Russo-Turkish War (1686-1700).[7] For the purposes of this project, these wars are not of great importance: it is good to recognize, however, that Europe felt the presence of another religion and theocracy at this time.

New England

            In North America, King William’s War continued the trend of Louis’ Catholic forces fighting the Protestant British. It started in February 1690 when the French and their Indian allies started fighting British colonists at Schenectady, New York.[8] It ended in September 1697, just one week before the entire Nine Years’ War ended. The British colonists fared very badly in the war: their attacks on French forts were “hastily assembled and poorly planned,” New England’s debt rose after no victories (and therefore so did its taxes), and one thousand men died leaving behind orphans and widows.[9]

            Two other important events in New England during this time were the gaining of a new charter and the Salem witch trials. The Massachusetts Bay Company had originally been granted a royal charter in 1629. In 1683 King James decided to change things. He nullified the charter, and in 1686 sent Sir Edmund Andros as the governor of the new Dominion of New England. Andros was not accountable to any elected body of New Englanders and acted unfairly. This prompted Boston pastor Increase Mather to go to London in 1688 and lobby for his people. By the early 1690s Mather had come to be considered “the leading voice of American Puritanism.”[10]

            Mather returned in 1692 to Massachusetts to find the Salem witch trials unfolding. This event mars the memory of the 1690s in New England. Authorities in the town of Salem arrested people under suspicion of being witches. These people had supposedly made a covenant or pact with the devil.[11] At a time before the redefined separation of church and state, when covenant theology thrived in Massachusetts, such charges constituted a heinous and wicked crime. The accused seemed to have betrayed their families and communities with this demonic pact. According to Marsden, “by Edwards’ time witchcraft and the preternatural had almost disappeared from clerical attention.”[12]









Andrea, Alfred J. World History Encyclopedia. Volumes 12 and 13. Edited by Dane A. Morrison            and Alexander Mikaberidze. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, LLC, 2011.

Hall, Michael G. “Mather, Increase.” American National Biography. Volume 14. Edited by John A. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.

Marsden, George M. Jonathan Edwards: A Life. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003.

New Encyclopædia Britannica, 15th ed., s.v. “Whig and Tory.” Chicago: Encyclopædia    Britannica, 2007.

Ranlet, Philip. “A Safe Haven for Witches? Colonial New York’s Politics and Relations with       New England in the 1690s.” New York History 90, no. 1/2 (2009), 37-57.

Stout, Harry S. The New England Soul. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012.

Williams, Neville. Chronology of World History. Second edition, volume II. Oxford: Helicon      Publishing Ltd., 1999.

[1] New Encyclopædia Britannica, 15th ed.,s.v. “Whig and Tory” (Chicago: Encyclopædia Britannica, 2007), 620-621.


[2] Neville Williams, Chronology of World History, second edition, volume II (Oxford: Helicon Publishing Ltd., 1999), 484.

[3] Ibid., 464.


[4] Ibid., 465-467.


[5] Ibid., 470-473.

[6] Alfred J. Andrea, World History Encyclopedia, volume 12, ed. Dane A. Morrison and Alexander Mikaberidze (Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, LLC, 2011), 432-433.


[7] Ibid., volume 13, 649.


[8] Ibid., 470.


[9] Harry S. Stout, The New England Soul (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012), 120.

[10] Michael G. Hall, “Mather, Increase” in American National Biography, volume 14, ed. John A. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), 686-687.


[11] George M. Marsden, Jonathan Edwards: A Life (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003), 68.


[12] Ibid., 69.