The Great Migration

Those who are descendants of the original New England colonists, and even those who are simply interested in the early history of this country and the people who settled here, should be interested in this piece about New England’s Great Migration. Posted at the website GreatMigration.org, it contains some good basic information about the subject.

These days the early Puritan colonists are generally in bad repute, for obvious reasons. The political left despises the White Anglo-Saxon roots of this country, and tries to downplay those origins when they are not affirming the origin by disparaging those ‘dead old White males’. Others loathe Puritans because the name ‘Puritan’ has been distorted to mean simply ‘Christian bigot’ or ‘judgmental prude’. Lately some historians have tried to lay the blame for today’s problems at the feet of the Puritan New Englanders, and this line has been uncritically accepted by many people.

It’s often been alleged by those wanting to defame the early colonists that they were ‘the scum of England’. I’ve read in Internet comments that ‘the Puritans were run out of England’ because they were allegedly such an undesirable element. These statements are just wrong, and it needs to be pointed out by someone.

First of all, they were not the dregs of society, not beggars or charity cases; rather they were  mostly middle-class people, and educated people.

As to their reasons for coming to the New World, their reasons were not mercenary as with some later waves of newcomers expecting streets paved with gold. They came in order to practice their religion freely, whereas they faced persecution and sometimes imprisonment in England for their dissident religious views. And contrary to what their critics say, their views were not fanatical nor were they a threat to any but to those who wanted to enforce a certain form of religion.

The peak years of the Great Migration lasted just over ten years — from 1629 to 1640, years when the Puritan crisis in England reached its height. In 1629, King Charles I dissolved Parliament, thus preventing Puritan leaders from working within the system to effect change and leaving them vulnerable to persecution. The Massachusetts Bay Colony, chartered in the same year by a group of moderate Puritans, represented both a refuge and an opportunity for Puritans to establish a “Zion in the wilderness.” During the ten years that followed, over twenty thousand men, women, and children left England to settle permanently in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. In 1640, when Parliament was reconvened, attention was redirected from the New World back to the old and migration to New England dropped sharply.”

As to their skills and qualifications:

Great Migration colonists shared other distinctive characteristics. New Englanders had a high level of literacy, perhaps nearly twice that of England as a whole. New Englanders were highly skilled; more than half of the settlers had been artisans or craftsmen. Only about seventeen percent came as servants, mostly as members of a household. In contrast, seventy-five percent of Virginia’s population arrived as servants. And in much greater proportion than the English population as a whole, New England settlers came from urban areas.

Unlike colonists of other regions, the Great Migration colonists were primarily middle class, and few were rich or poor.”

So much for the charges that they represented a class of undesirables who were expelled from their home country.

I have no ‘North vs. South’ axe to grind here; I am not interested in pitting one side against the other, ‘Yankee’ vs. Southron as in the case of many who discuss this subject. On one side of my ancestry I have Jamestown colonists, on the other, New England Puritan separatists who came here for religious reasons, primarily. I have no interest in caricaturing one side or the other. There are no doubt differences between the two groups of colonists, but those differences have been highly exaggerated in my lifetime, largely thanks to the bitter legacy of the War Between the States, manifesting in the Civil Rights coup of the 1950s-60s, and the festering social divides ever since.

For the record my sympathies and allegiances are decidedly Southern, when it comes to the issues that provoked the ‘Late Unpleasantness.’

The fact remains that the Puritans of New England and the Jamestown colonists were overwhelmingly English by blood and by culture. Both groups were overwhelmingly Protestant though the Anglican side was more ‘high church.’ The idea that the two groups were distinct peoples, different ethnic groups is an exaggeration. [See Kevin MacDonald’s discussion of the ethnic/genetic difference idea here]. Not all New Englanders were from East Anglia as David Hackett Fischer suggests. I know my New England ancestry very thoroughly, and they hailed from different regions of England, not just East Anglia. Not all my Southron ancestors came from the South or West of England either; a good few came from Yorkshire in the North, for example.

Oversimplifications and generalizations harm more than they help here.

But back to the much-maligned Puritans: they were a remarkably fertile and healthy population.

Another aspect of life in New England proved noteworthy: the remarkable health and longevity of the population. Many colonists lived to the age of seventy, and a substantial number lived to be eighty. Both male and female settlers in New England lived significantly longer than their English counterparts. This longevity is no doubt due to a variety of factors: dispersed settlement patterns, lack of epidemic disease, the healthful effects of a “little ice age,” clean air and water, possibly a better diet, and the original good health of most immigrants. Also, infant and childhood mortality rates were lower in New England, and the settlers produced large and healthy families — most having seven or more children. Accordingly, New England experienced  tremendous population growth within the lifetime of first generation settlers”

I can vouch for this in my family. New England as a region kept very complete records regarding births, deaths, causes of deaths, and more. There is a great deal of information out there to be found by those who have family ancestry there. In my own family tree there were a lot of long-lived people, hardy people, and they lived under very spartan conditions that would seem real hardships to us: extremes of climate living in drafty houses, scarcities of everyday necessities, the threat of Indian attacks, and the occasional deadly epidemic. Yet as the article says, they seemed to thrive and multiply in spite of that. In my family tree there were many couples with 6 or 8 children, sometimes more.

In that respect they were similar to the Southron side of my family; as they too were Christian people who saw children as a gift from God, family sizes were large. Early death was always a presence but widowed spouses usually remarried and had ‘blended’ families with the new spouse.

This was true in the wealthy families as often as in the middle-class families. My ‘planter’ class Southron ancestors had large families also.

The point about large family sizes and the great fertility of the early colonists is important, because modern-day propagandists tell us that this country ‘needed’ mass immigration to populate a big, empty continent. If that is the case, if immigration on that scale was necessary to the ‘Manifest Destiny’ mission, then we might have been better off without expanding over the whole continent. But with natural increase being what it was, the original-stock Americans might have eventually populated the whole continent without importing millions upon millions of incompatibles, thus leading to the ‘Proposition Nation’ Babel scenario of today.

It’s worth following the links at the Great Migration website. There is considerable reading material there.

 

 

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