THE NATURE AND ORIGINS OF
EMIGRATION TO AMERICA
By CECIL HUMPHERY-SMITH
Today's Americans are among the most avid ancestor hunters in the world. Some for religious or social motives, some for the sense of security created by roots-in-the-past, some for pride, a few for gain, others out of curiosity spend vast sums in efforts to trace their immigrant ancestors. A great deal of good common sense has been written both by American and by European authors on how to go about this difficult task. All agree that the start must be made by collecting every available shred of evidence on the direct lineage in the New World before attempting to make any genealogical links with the Old. One of the most lucid and helpful essays on the subject written by the late Mrs Harry J. Morris and appeared in the March/June 1963 double issues of the publication of the local History and Genealogical Society, 6840 Lakewood Boulevard, Dallas 14, Texas, U.S.A. This is a real instructional guide. A more modest but useful introduction is Chapter 13 of G.H. Doane's Searching For Your Ancestors (University of Minnesota Press, 3rd Edn 1960), entitled "Getting Ready to Cross the Atlantic" and in the other extreme, there is that splendid joint production of several fellows of the American Society of Genealogists Genealogical Research: Methods and Sources.
As I have attempted to impress in other writings, the study of social background is essential to the genealogist. It is imperative that it should be fully understood by anyone attempting to trace his or her ancestors in another country. The Englishman attempting to trace his ancestors in India must no more assume that they were "army people" than they were "gentry". It is as likely that the American's ancestor was transported for vagrancy as that the Englishman's was chained in the scuppers of an East India man. All pride, all imagination, all wishful-thinking must be laid aside in the study; the historical facts must be faced and scientific genealogical methods applied. Only then will the real ancestors be found without being insulted by false claims to unrelated lines of the same name.
Our chief concern here is the nature and origins of the English settlement of the American colonial territories. It would be presumptuous for an Englishman to attempt to discuss that of other European nations. The Spanish, French, Dutch, Scandinavian and others had different though not dissimilar causes for leaving their native countries for the New World.
Following the centuries of internal wars and struggles which culminated in the Wars of the Roses and finally in the establishment of the Tudor dynasty, England was a struggling nation. It was torn by social and religious upheaval and was faced by powerful enemies overseas; not infrequently by attacks. Henry VIII's Dissolution of the Monasteries took away much employment from the poor and effectively also their welfare system that had provided, medical, hospital, social care and schooling largely for the poor and those of the precarious peasant economy. Disease, extreme poverty and starvation were soon to rack a war-scarred nation. Under Queen Elizabeth I, there came a spirit of adventure that was the inevitable human reaction to mental and material imprisonment and poverty, a restlessness that required satisfaction and action to subdue. The nouveau-riches merchants and landed gentry who had supported the Tudors derived their wealth from the plunder and sale of lands and properties released to them by those persecuted for adhering to the old Faith, and also from purchasing the estates of the dissolved monasteries and religious houses. Their funds were made available for investment in lawful and unlawful trading ventures.
Freebooting expeditions led by such men as Raleigh, Drake, Hawkins and Morgan were just such enterprises. These and others plundered the Spanish Main and the French, too. They ventured into the Mediterranean Sea and the coasts of Africa in attempts to save the tens of thousands taken, shackled and in chains, each year from the coastal towns of Europe to satisfy the great demand for slaves. The Turks, Egyptian Arabs and the Bey of Tunis were particularly cruel to Greek and Latin Christians, using indescribable means of torture and means of killing on those who dissatisfied them. Women were especially maltreated and abused. Descendants of those raped were themselves enslaved from childhood.
Our English privateers soon learnt the slave trade from the Arabs and purchased from tribal chiefs, or stole whole populations of natives from the coastal villages along the Niger coast. At first these were brought into the ports of Europe. Many of these privateers demonstrated a new sea-power and were soon provided with official licenses to continue their piracy. Gradually, freebooting became a trade. The desire to plunder the Spanish treasure-ships and to establish a naval reserve for the nation was a stimulus to the foundation of permanent settlements on the coast of the New World. Trade, however doubtfully trade, was the first and most important motive for the creation of English settlements and though the Americans had been known to the English for more than a century, such settlement had not previously been an economic possibility.
One can imagine the compliment of each trading ship: a captain, a merchant in his own right or in the commission of another, one or two junior officers and skilled navigators probably from the adventurous spirits of the gentry or impoverished nobility, a doctor, perhaps a displaced monk or priest, and for the rest lowly sailors, unsuccessful fisherman, impoverished peasantry from along the coasts of England outnumbering those whose names might appear in the Heralds' Visitations ten to one. These were the first to settle.
The first attempt to establish a settlement on what is now United States soil was at Roanoke (an island off what is now North Carolina) by Sir Walter Raleigh in 1585. Raleigh and Sir Richard Grenville among others made several attempts in the following years to promote settlements, but these all failed except that for the first time the English discovered some of the natural resources of America and hence cause for trade more legitimate than privateering. The settlement was not strengthened for some 18 years.
Early in the reign of King James I , the London, later the Virginia, company was formed by a number of wealthy London merchants to carry on trade in North America. It was given a charter by the King in 1606. This Patent empowered the colonists to settle a vast area, much larger than the present Virginia. The possibility of gold and other mineral deposits and sources of good return attracted investors and in 1606 the London Company put three ships to sea. They arrived in America in April 1607 with 105 out of 120 men who left these shores. They built the settlement called Jamestown. Disease, malaria, starvation and trouble with the Indians led to the virtual collapse of the settlement, but it survived under the strong government of Captain John Smith and more settlers joined in 1608 and 1609. Women from England took the perilous journey for the first time and three survived to reach America. It is unknown how many had preceded them under Government schemes to clear the poor from this country. Up to this time there is no record of women in the settlements. The daughters of friendly Indians had provided the only female company for the settlers; it has been unknown if descendants of their unions survived, until recent DNA testing among families sustaining legends of Indian blood..
The first officially-appointed governor of the colony, Lord Delaware, arrived with food and provisions in 1610 and practically saved the colony. From then on the Virginia Company developed. Tobacco, in spite of the views of the King, became its most important crop and export. Since it took five or six weeks for the journey to London, the Company knew little of the Colony's struggles so in 1619 a representative assembly of burgesses of Jamestown took control. Five years later the Company handed over the Colony to the Crown.
Virginia was founded in order to make trading profits. The bulk of the leading settlers were adventurers, younger sons of English merchants and landed gentry, even of peers; but - and this is so often what is forgotten - for each one of this class of settler there were, perhaps, a dozen who had been menials or poor labourers back in England. These were they who had joined the bank of emigrants, with promises of a wonderful new life, as servants and workmen; these were they who had to undertake the hard work of building the colony for the profit and enjoyment of the "gentlemen". For many years neither group enjoyed it much and all had to struggle for very existence.
By the early 1620s another settlement had arisen from those who wished to escape from religious persecution. Many of the so-called puritans had fled from the land to Holland after 1603 but later returned to England hoping to find ships to take them to the New World. They found the London merchants ready to finance another trading venture and in September 1620, 102 such "Separatists" set sail from Plymouth in the "Mayflower". They with 28 women survived the journey arriving at Plymouth Rock on Christmas Day. This was but one of many expeditions at the time. The New Plymouth colony was established.
D. Kenelm Winslow in his delightfully readable book Mayflower Heritage describes the historical origins of the venture, and something of the lives of the settlers. The Mayflower did not reach Virginia as was hoped, but had to set up in what is now Massachusetts. Here the settlers had to face the privations and sufferings of a North American winter. Large-scale colonisation began with the foundation of a wealthy group of Puritans who started the settlement in Massachusetts Bay. In 1628, they had obtained their charter and by then there were about 2,000 inhabitants of the colony. By 1643, there were over 16,000, the majority making good progress as farmers and merchants. Within this colony there was religious persecution similar to that which the settlers had hoped to leave behind in England and break-away groups from Puritan strictness and lack of toleration led to the establishment of further colonies along the coast. Dutch, Swedes and Finns had also built trading stations along the same coasts and some problems were caused by their presence, but the ultimate permanent establishment of the English colonies was not impaired. New Plymouth became Massachusetts, and with New Hampshire, Vermont, Connecticut and Rhode Island, these settlements formed the New England States. Maine became independent in 1820.
Since 1633, another English colony called Maryland had grown up as a Catholic refuge. Charles I gave Lord Baltimore, a Catholic, the ownership of the Chesapeake Bay area and Baltimore leased land to settlers in return for rents. There was never a large Catholic population as is often supposed. However, after the Maryland assembly passed a Toleration Act in 1649, the colony attracted numerous settlers. Exact figures are lacking, but as early as 1640 there were about 14,000 in Massachusetts, 1,500 in Maine and New Hampshire, 300 in Rhode Island and 2,000 in Connecticut. Of these New Englanders only about 4,000 were Puritans. Between 1620 and 1642, 1,500 English settled in Maryland and 8,000 in Virginia. The rest, and a few other Britains, were scattered at various small settlements on the continent. The population of English in the West Indies also increased, Nevis received 4,000, St Kitts 12,000 to 13,000 and Barbadoes 18,000 between 1620 and 1640. After 1640, Civil War, the regime of Cromwell and the restoration of the Stuarts sent a more or less steady stream of emigrants to the New World from these shores and by 1689, New England had about 80,000 people, Maryland, Virginia and the Carolinas slightly more and in all, excluding the Indies, there were some 200,000 on the mainland of America of English origin. By 1720, the number of English had risen to 339,000 (with about 25,000 negro slaves to do much of the labouring that had previously been undertaken by English under similar duress).
There were many causes for emigration from England to America by this time. Most were social, many political, a few religious and a great number compulsory. Usually the difficulties in finding the English origins of an immigrant to America after the middle of the seventeenth century are not quite so great as they are before. One of the most useful aids in this connection is A Bibliography of Ship Passenger Lists 1534-1825, compiled by Harold Lancour and now in its third edition revised and enlarged by Richard J. Wolfe (published by the New York Public Library, 1964). Many of the lists referred to in this important work have been printed in various editions and through the enterprise of the Genealogical Book Company (521-23 St Paul Place, Baltimore, Maryland 21202, U.S.A.) those out of print are being reproduced by photolithography and on CD-Rom.
For those who have decided on the identity of the immigrant and need guidance for their attach on English records there is a very helpful and encouraging essay, "Genealogical Research in England" by C.D. Banks. This first appeared in the Boston Evening Transcript in 1928. It is reprinted in the author's Topographical Dictionary of 2885 English Emigrants to New England 1620-1650, edited by E.E. Brownell (Baltimore 1957). The splendid works of Peter Coldham can be added to the catalogue. Expert research assistance is available from Achievements Ltd the company of professional supporting The Institute of Heraldic and Genealogical Studies. (Contact email@example.com)
The chief interest in this article is with the population of America before 1650; who they were, how they came to be in America and where they came from. Americans have been tempted to assume that they were mainly rich men and nobles, members of gentry or yeoman families. In the past there have been some genealogists who have supported this assumption of their clients for clearly mercenary reasons. In so doing, they have quoted the very book that tells most strongly against them, John Camden Hotten's Original Lists of Persons of Quality; Emigrants etc…to the American Plantations 1600-1700. It was not until 1637 that Thomas Mayhew was appointed for a term of twenty-one years to keep a record of all those persons who left England "to passe into forraigne partes" but all that remains of his lists are fragments covering a few months. Hotten's lists are very far from complete. They hardly give even an indication of the numbers of early emigrants from England and, on his own admission, cannot contain any record of the thousands who must have left these shores secretly. The slight but clear evidence remaining to us indicates that some emigrants were adventurers, some were speculators and a few were nobles and gentlemen. The vast majority were poor people grasping at a chance of improving their lot in a land of promise. A fair number were traders in fur or tobacco, in spirits or ships' stores. Such as these had their crew, servants and labourers. Some were undoubtedly, according to the standards of the times, criminals and felons.
Very many emigrated as "indentured servants" paying for their passages by promising to work for some landowner in the colonies often for a number of years. The captains of ships who took them over acted as agents in the business and were paid in cash when they landed the servants. This system was very close to slavery and is described in m ore detail in an essay published in 1947 entitled Colonists in Bondage; White Servitude and Convict Labor in America 1607-1776. This work has a most useful bibliographical appendix on pages 397-417. Among those who went in this way were many children, servant-girls and street urchins, orphans in the care of poor relations, of parishes or cities, and some were kidnapped by unscrupulous sea-captains and their agents. There were also convicts who had been offered an alternative to imprisonment. . The numbers condemned under the harsh English penal code to transportation was much greater than is admitted. Nearly all were petty thieves, men, women and children guilty of offences trifling by modern standards. These, the outcasts of English society thrown aside by the conditions of the times, made up the mass of the early settlers in America.
There is an order of James I dated 1603 concerning banishment of "rogues" to places "beyond the seas" and another dated 1637 against "the disorderly transporting His Majesties Subjects to Plantations within the parts of America", clearly implying that this was something which had been going on for a long time and on a scale large enough to cause concern. So much concern, indeed, that a broad-sheet was published on the matter. [These were the subjects of two important broadside proclamations sent for sale at Christie's by Sir Charles Ponsonby on 19th July 1961].
There is no evidence to suggest that the acts of 39 Elizabeth I, c.4. (1597) whereby dangerous rogues were to be banished out of the realm, the order of James I (1603), of Charles I (1625), 13 & 14 Charles II, c. 23 (1662) which authorised justices to transport such rogues, vagabonds and sturdy beggars as should be duly convicted and adjudged incorrigible, to any of the plantations beyond the seas and the like were not enforced and responsible for supplying a very large number of emigrants to America in the early 17th century. There is evidence that they were. It is scanty evidence simply because so much has been lost and destroyed and a great deal may never have been put on record, especially during the Civil War period.
The numbers transported from various counties as determined by examination of Quarter Sessions material, most of which is incomplete and, unfortunately unpublished, provide sufficient evidence to support the contention that thousands of poor persons, landless, homeless, vagabonds unable to support themselves, pushed willy-nilly by the conditions of the time to steal to live, excused flogging, branding, maiming or even hanging - the usual penalties - to take a chance to find a new life and new hope of existence on equal terms with other men in the New World, were shipped out of this country to America every year from early in the seventeenth century, if not before. No account has been taken of the other records of other courts, particularly local ones such as the Leets of the manors from which thousands of poor persons guilty of no offence against society but the accident of birth were persuaded to take the same chance or be hounded from parish to parish and manor to manor in search of work, succour and shelter. These unfortunate folk resulted largely from the dissolution of the monasteries and the decay of feudalism.
This contention, that the majority in the English settlements in the New World in seventeenth century were, as since, from the humbler and poorer sections of our community - who circumstances had made outcasts of society - was hotly contested in the pages of The Genealogists' Magazine, and chiefly by those who should have known better. In a review of a Family History, the compiler of which assumed that his immigrant ancestor descended from a well-known family of English gentry, I commented that the ship in which his ancestor is supposed to have left this country was also used to transport felons. In fact, within four years of the supposed date of his ancestor's arrival in America the vessel was lying in the Thames under arrest, having aboard a number of felons from the Fleet prison who had elected to be transported. I continued in my review, pointing out that "Records of the period will show how few prisoners in England were either political or religious. Except for the few, the greater numbers of settlers were made up from the outcasts of British society sent from these shores for their offences against society, to help boost the manpower of the English settlement. It is not until after the Restoration, in the second half of the seventeenth century, that any real emigration takes place from these shores of the adventurers". I might have gone on to say that even such adventurers would have taken with them a large number of persons of lower social standing to do the labouring for them, and to act as servants and helpers in the establishment of the colonies. While the bulk of the documentary evidence for the early period has been destroyed, sufficient remains to confirm this opinion. Again, we need to look at the facts to find support for the statements, but readers may welcome a summary of the correspondence referred to.
The late Sir Anthony Wagner, Garter King of Arms, protested and asked for evidence, limiting his response to the above remark to the first half of the seventeenth century and to New England. As the reviewer, I had never intended such limitation. The librarian of the Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire joined in the reply accusing the reviewer of serious errors, and referring him to a number of printed works including Sir Anthony Wagner's English Genealogy. Once more remarks were limited to New England. Donald L. Jacobus of the American Genealogist abused the reviewer and in the detail of his reply accidentally added a great deal of support to the contentions he was actually attacking. The famous genealogist, G. Andrews Moriarty and Mr Noel Currer-Briggs joined in the attack on the review. These writers changed the word "outcast" to "felons", as interpreted by the editorial heading to Sir Anthony Wagner's reply. Mr Moriarty made a further change to "criminals". These terms had not been used in my review. I had simply described those who had been "banished out of the realm" as "outcasts".
Anthony J. Camp joined in with reference to an article by himself, which was an extraction of transportations from the 10 volumes of printed and indexed Hertfordshire Quarter Session records, taken from a series of documents admitted to be incomplete in their early years. These were not, in fact, covering the period that was now in question. Mr Camp asked what are the facts, and quoted 39 Elizabeth I c. 4 (1597) whereby dangerous rogues were to be banished out of the realm, and he went on "but it was not until 13 & 14 Charles II, c. 23 (1662) that the word transportation appeared in any statute. By this latter, Justices were authorised to transport such rogues, vagabonds and sturdy beggars as should be duly convicted and adjudged incorrigible, to any of the English plantations beyond the seas. It was followed by 18 Charles II, c. 3 (1666) which gave a power to the Judges, at their discretion, either to execute or transport into any of His Majesty's dominions in North America, for life, the moss-troopers of Cumberland and Northumberland". But, writes Mr Camp of his own authority, "this mode of punishment was not brought into common operation until after the passing of 4 George I c. 2 (1717)….".
The survey made of the Quarter Sessions records published for the County of Hertford showed that of 99 persons sentenced - chiefly for larceny - to North America before 1775, nine were transported in 1646, the rest after that date. This analysis does not give the facts mentioned in the original publication. The evidences are far from complete, for the early period negligible. Furthermore, Hertfordshire was a county that produced less than 4% of the 3,000 named emigrants to New England known for the period 1620-50. What has been said above about completeness and 9% or 10% transportation in 1646 is ignored.
In 1966, C.J. Elwell wrote to The Genealogists' Magazine a letter in support of the review. He quoted from Moll Flanders, in which Daniel Defoe makes his heroine relate the following about the mother of her husband, a wealthy Virginian plantation owner, "she often told me how the greatest part of the inhabitants of that colony (Virginia) came thither in very indifferent circumstances from England; that, generally speaking, they were of two sorts, either (1) such as were brought over by masters of ships to be sold as servants; or (2) such as were transported after having been found guilty of crimes punishable with death….hence child, says she, many a Newgate bird becomes a great man, and we have several Justices of the Peace, officers of trained bands, and Magistrates of the towns they live in, that have been burned in the hand. She then showed her own hand, which had been branded, and repeated that some of the best men in the country are burned in the hand, and they are not ashamed to own it. "… there's Mayor - , he was an eminent pick-pocket; there's Justice Bar - he was a shop-lifter, and both of them were burned in the hand".
The conversation in which these remarks occur, states Mr Elwell, would have taken place about 1640. Moll Flanders and her last husband were themselves transported to Virginia, together with thirteen other convicts. Mr Elwell also brings Dr Johnson to support of the obvious interpretation of the situation: "Sir, they are a race of convicts, and ought to be thankful for anything we allow them short of hanging".
Archives of sea-ports, towns and cities contain considerable records of bonds returned by ships' masters, claiming payment for transportation of "felons" and indentures of those who could only pay for their passage by service, including the quayside slaves who might be those "sold as servants" mentioned above. When criminals were shipped from the ports, the shipper gave a bond to take them to the colonies and settlements, chiefly America and New England. An indenture was prepared for each transportee or group of them in the custody of the ship's master. He had a certificate of landing signed when they arrived at their destination. The master then returned with his ship to London, or from whichever other port he had obtained his human cargo, and handed back the certificate to the Justices or to their representative. Then, and only then, did he obtain his reward (usually £5) for transporting the "criminal". The masters would obviously be very careful not to lose the documents, as they were the only evidence on which they could obtain payment.
At the Guildhall Library of the City of London, there have survived 170 such bonds, each covering the transportation of between 1 and 50 felons, and they date from 1667 to 1670, 1680, 1698 and 1715 to 1775. This collection is far from complete. It is worth remembering, in respect of the quantity that would be involved, that at the Public Record Office only 700 out of 4,000 books which existed for the Port of the City of London between 1565 and 1697, have survived. Further evidences of such transactions as reflect upon the argument are to be found in the Session records, where these have survived. A series of bonds, again incomplete, for the period 1618 to 1635 were at Bristol, and no doubt other ports once had their own bundles of such documents. Those for London from the earlier years have not survived.
There is much evidence of the social backgrounds of the settlers in the early seventeenth century English colonies in America to be found in Volume 1 of The Calendar State Papers, Colonial series, 1574 to 1660. This is a publication well worth studying and reading carefully, from the point of view of the origins of the English in America. Many shipping lists do remain preserved, to show that a large number went to the American colonies voluntarily, paying their own way, or working their passage for the balance. Most of these were substantial yeomen or tradesmen. Some fair number, even when not of gentry descent (which undoubtedly some were) have been traced with proper evidences for several generation sin England, and many were husbandmen, blacksmiths, millers, carpenters, shoe-makers, small tradesmen, craftsmen and unskilled labourers.
In 1640, 140 men and women, who had reached Bermuda from England in bond, were transferred to serve in the Virginian colony. Later in the same year, another ship took 150 of them. Year after year the story goes on in the official records (Calendars of State Papers, Colonial). Earlier, in December 1617, only 7 reached the colony of a shipload of undesirables from London. In 1618 loads of 150, 300 and 15 survivors were delivered from London alone. In 1619, the total of such transport of people from England to Virginia to work in the companies' plantations was 1,261.Very many, not unnaturally, died on the journey from sickness or disease.
In October 1618, "The City of London is now shipping thither (to Virginia) 100 young boys and girls who lay starving in the streets". Again, in 1620, "Young boys and girls….appointed….from their superfluous multitude". Between 1610 and 1626, more than 2,500 unnamed children left London in this way. Others are named. Thousands more were shipped from other ports, and one wonders quite what the proportion of recorded to unrecorded deliveries may be. So far as records have survived, we see that the records represent but a very small fraction to account for those who left this country under bond, or to relieve the authorities of their social responsibilities.
At Netheham, Somerset, in 1621, a man was apprehended before the Justices of the Peace for pressing young maidens to be sent to Bermuda and Virginia, "40 are reported to have disappeared from but one parish alone". Of those who moved out of London aboard emigrant ships, not more than 1,500 names are to be found between 1574 and 1640, during which time the English population had swelled, in spite of enormous losses from disease, starvation and Indian massacres, to nearly 60,000. 6,000 had been transported into "more than Egyptian cruelty and Scithian cruelty…during Sir Thomas Smythe's government" states a letter signed by Sir Francis Wyatt, Captain Francis West and 32 other gentlemen complaining to the King from Virginia in 1623, about the misuse of the "pressed" labour being transported from England. What else were they but "slaves" or "outcasts" who came to compose the early population of the rightfully proud colony.
In order to relieve the parishes of their poor, James I, in 1602 permitted the London Company to dispose of 3,000 poor annually in Virginia and New England, and there is every indication that this was done; for, in spite of tales throughout the relevant public records, of the large losses of labour and good men, women and children through disease and starvation in the early decades of the colonies' existences, the number continued to increase.
"Outcasts", therefore, does not necessarily mean criminals by modern standards, and is clearly an accurate general term for the mass of early settlers. Indeed, Sir Anthony Wagner, in English Genealogy (e.g. page 257) provides support by referred to specific cases and freely admitting to dealing with (at the most) only about 13% to 14% of settlers in a restricted area. Sadly, like the other writers who attacked the review, he had patrons to satisfy as to the quality of their ancestors. Perhaps, today, with the advent of family history studies replacing "pedigree work" such snobbery has been largely overcome in the context of the task of finding the origins in Britain or Europe of early settlers.
In effect, the origins of some 12,000 English immigrants who were in Massachusetts, alone (for example) in 1640, is unknown! In other words, only 1 in 7 in Massachusetts' population in 1640 can be named. Much of the same argument applies to other settlements. C.E. Banks writes "it cannot be too strongly stated that the English emigrants to New England and Virginia in Colonial days came from the cottages and not the manor houses!". I would go further and say that the evidence which appears to have been almost wholly neglected by genealogists - either deliberately to flatter the vanity of their American clients, or for lack of looking at contemporary writings - suggests that most came from no homes at all. H.J. Carman, H.C. Syrett in A History of the American People, Columbia University (1964), write with reference to the social conditions in England that led to emigration "the towns and countryside swarmed with those unable to secure a livelihood, and the jails and almshouses were filled with beggars and those who had resorted to petty thievery to stay alive."
Carman and Syrett described the voluntary and forced emigration to the Colonies in more detail in pages 35 and 40 of their work, and quotes the statement of John Wynthrop, the emigrant Squire himself, who gives a good description of the causes of emigration and of the social nature of his companions in the New World: "this land [England] grows weary of her inhabitants, so as man is here of less price amongst us than a horse or a sheep. All towns complain of the burden of their poor, though we have taken up many unnecessary, yea unlawful trades to maintain them".
"Our Country", Sir William Pelham wrote, "was never in that want that now it is…. for there are many thousands in these parts who have sold all they have, even their bed-straw, and cannot get work to earn money. … Dogs' flesh is a dainty dish! ….. the unemployed ….were quick to heed the inducements offered by projectors of colonies, whether proprietors or trading companies. Often the Government authorities compelled the more timid to emigrate by authorising Colonial agents and patentees of land to seize for their uses men and women of the lower classes, especially paupers and prisoners. ….. A Commission of 1633, for example, was appointed 'to reprieve able-bodied persons convicted of certain felonies, and to bestow them to be used in discoveries and other employments'."
It is not suggested that the emigrants were necessarily scum, flotsam or jetsam of society, nor necessarily should one concur with Dr Johnson. I would not deny that, although the social and economic upheavals were far and away the largest cause of emigration, there were not other causes, such as the religious conflicts and the more human and enterprising reasons already given. Nevertheless, it is too late to excuse or to pretend that the social conditions and circumstances did not drive the poor of this land often to sell or to hire out their bodies to obtain passage for the New World; or that such poverty existed and was not exploited by the professional speculators. They undoubtedly did exist, and the unfortunate individuals who were exploited made up the bulk of the population of the early settlements in the English colonies in America.
For most of these emigrants, then, there is no way of discovering their pre-American ancestry. For the others, clues are to be found in the names of the townships in the Colonies, and in occupations, which may indicate whence the earliest inhabitants came in England. If the emigrant is associated, in some early record with a landowner of English gentry or yeoman stock, particularly as a servant, it may be possible to find his English origin in the parish or manorial records of the place of his master's origin. English Wills may also help, as will localisation through the use of hearth tax and other seventeenth century documentation of similar nature. Even, it may be said, that the Visitation records of the heralds could assist, for the remoter descendants of landed gentry and displaced families of gentry origin could well have forgotten their roots due to the vicissitudes of the hard times in which they had to live. C.E. Banks' essay "Genealogical Research in England", already referred to, will give the genealogist good guidance on the right road for tracing an immigrant ancestor, if it is at all possible to trace them.
Further useful information can be obtained in the following publications: Charles M. Andrews and F.G. Davenport, Guides to Material for American History up to 1783 in the Public Record Office, Minor London Archives, the British Museum and Libraries of Oxford and Cambridge (two volumes produced by the Carnegie Institution of Washington, U.S.A. 1912).
Guide to manuscripts relating to American History in British depositories (Library of Congress, Washington, 1946)
Guide to manuscripts relating to English History in British depositories by B.R. Crich and M. Alman (Oxford 1961)
Kingsbury records of the Virginia Company.
15 August 2005