Sunday, August 13, 2017

Out of twenty-one thousand, sixteen million

From Albion's Seed by David Hackett Fischer. Page 14.
Most of Arbella’s passengers were families of lesser rank, but very few of them came from the bottom of English society. Their dress and demeanor marked them as yeomen and artisans of middling status. Their gravity of manner and austerity of appearance also said much about their religion and moral character.

Below decks, the great ship was a veritable ark. Its main hold teemed with horses, cattle, sheep, goats, pigs, dogs, cats and dunghill fowl. Every nautical nook and cranny was crowded with provisions. In the cabin were chests of treasure which would have made a rich haul for the Dunkirkers who preyed upon Protestant shipping in the English Channel.

The ship Arbella was one of seventeen vessels that sailed to Massachusetts in the year 1630. She led a great migration which for size and wealth and organization was without precedent in England’s colonization of North America. Within a period of eleven years, some 80,000 English men, women and children swarmed outward from their island home. This exodus was not a movement of attraction. The great migration was a great flight from conditions which had grown intolerable at home. It continued from 1629 to 1640, precisely the period that Whig historians called the “eleven years’ tyranny,” when Charles I tried to rule England without a Parliament, and Archbishop William Laud purged the Anglican church of its Puritan members. These eleven years were also an era of economic depression, epidemic disease, and so many sufferings that to John Winthrop it seemed as if the land itself had grown “weary of her Inhabitants, so as man which is most precious of all the Creatures, is here more vile and base than the earth they tread upon.”

In this time of troubles there were many reasons for leaving England, and many places to go. Perhaps 20,000 English people moved to Ireland. Others in equal number left for the Netherlands and the Rhineland. Another 20,000 sailed to the West Indian islands of Barbados, Nevis, St. Kitts, and the forgotten Puritan colony of Old Providence Island (now a haven for drug-smugglers off the Mosquito Coast of Nicaragua). A fourth contingent chose to settle in Massachusetts, and contributed far beyond its numbers to the culture of North America.

The seventeen vessels that sailed to Massachusetts in 1630 were the vanguard of nearly 200 ships altogether, each carrying about a hundred English souls. A leader of the colony reckoned that there were about 21,000 emigrants in all. This exodus continued from 1630 to the year 1641. While it went on, the North Atlantic Ocean was a busy place. In the year 1638, one immigrant sighted no fewer than thirteen other vessels in midpassage between England and Massachusetts.

After the year 1640, New England’s great migration ended as abruptly as it began. The westward flow of population across the Atlantic suddenly stopped and ran in reverse, as many Massachusetts Puritans sailed home to serve in the Civil War. Migration to New England did not resume on a large scale for many years—not until Irish Catholics began to arrive nearly two centuries later.

The emigrants who came to Massachusetts in the great migration became the breeding stock for America’s Yankee population. They multiplied at a rapid rate, doubling every generation for two centuries. Their numbers increased to 100,000 by 1700, to at least one million by 1800, six million by 1900, and more than sixteen million by 1988—all descended from 21,000 English emigrants who came to Massachusetts in the period from 1629 to 1640.
There was a lot of toing and frowing back then despite the hazards of an ocean voyage. One of my forebears crossed in that first wave and settled in Massachusetts. When Oliver Cromwell came to power, he sailed pack to serve in Cromwell's army in Ireland. Wounded there, he eventually married his nurse and they returned together to the British colonies.

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