The first New England colonies, which included Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island and New Hampshire, were all founded in the 17th century, beginning with the Pilgrims at Plymouth in 1620. All but New Hampshire were founded as havens for various religious groups, including Puritans, Separatists, and Quakers. New Hampshire, on the other hand, was distinctive because it was formed primarily for economic reasons.

Pilgrims and Puritans in Massachusetts

In 1620, the Pilgrims first came to the Plymouth Colony to establish their own religion. As Separatists, their goal was to follow the teachings of John Calvin and separate from both the Anglican and Roman Catholic churches. Later, a similar religious group -- the Puritans -- sought refuge from the harassment they also experienced in England. In 1630, more than 1,000 Puritans arrived just north of Plymouth and established the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Unlike the Pilgrims, the Puritans merely wanted to "purify" the Anglican church, not separate from it.

Thomas Hooker's Puritans

The Puritans were not a uniform group of religious, and within a decade a separate group of Puritans settled the Connecticut Colony south of Massachusetts Bay. Founded by the Rev. Thomas Hooker, the Connecticut colony allowed non-Puritans to vote in elections. This was different from Massachusetts, where Puritan Church membership was a requirement for the franchise. Connecticut enacted its constitution, the Fundamental Orders of Connecticut, in 1639. The orders allowed voters to elect both legislators and the colony's governor, which created a highly democratic society.

Rhode Island Dissenters

Unlike Connecticut, Massachusetts Bay and Plymouth, Rhode Island was founded by people who did not come directly from England. In 1636, Roger Williams was banished from Massachusetts for his unorthodox beliefs -- religious tolerance, separation of church and state, and opposition to stealing American Indian lands. Once banished, Williams founded Providence, Rhode Island, and was granted a colonial charter 1663. Williams' ideas were to turn Rhode Island into a tolerant and multicultural place that quickly became a home to dissenting Puritans, Baptists, Quakers and Jews.

New Hampshire's Fisheries

In 1623, the English government authorized explorers to investigate the fisheries off the coast of modern-day Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Between 1623 and 1679, explorers such as Thomas Hilton and David Thomson cleared the land, built houses and prepared the colony for defense before the region was even officially a colony. The primary purpose of their efforts was to export wood and fish for economic gain. In 1679, the colony was granted a royal charter, but in 1698 was absorbed by Massachusetts, where it sat until 1741, when it regained its own status.