1603-1640: THE GREAT MIGRATION
Every life writes its own Work of Fiction (anonymous)
From 1602 to 1620 when the Mayflower sailed, 81 ships (probably more, but those are the ones that have been recorded) crossed the Atlantic, some to found settlements there; most of these failed and the passengers either died or managed to return home. Many of those to make these first journeys were single men. For example, the Concord left Falmouth, England on May 15, 1602 but carried no settlers. In 1603, the Speedwell and the Explorer left for the territory known as Virginia to evaluate its commercial potential. They arrived instead on the coast of Maine in June of that year, were attacked by Indians, and returned to England by October. In 1606, the Richard left Plymouth in August also heading for the North Plantation of Virginia with supplies; they returned in March of the following year without ever having made it to their destiny. This is just a sample of what would turn into an incredible criss-crossing of the Atlantic Ocean.
Saturday, December 30, 1606, 150 passengers left Blackwell, London in three ships: the Susan Constant, the Goodspeed and the Discovery. After 6 weeks at sea they landed in Cape Henry in Virginia and were attacked by Indians. It was the 105 survivors of the original 150 men and boys that founded Jamestown in May of 1607. Of that group, only 38 or 40 would survive to see the second landing in January of 1608. This ship arrived carrying only 100 of the 120 original settlers that had set out from England.
In the late summer of 1609, 200-300 more colonists disembarked at Jamestown, many of them women and children. The death rate in the colony had risen to 70% by this time. But mortality due to disease and starvation was to go higher, reaching almost 80% during the winter following their arrival, a period that came to be known as the “Starving Time”. Scientific proof has been found that the colonists –during this time- even resorted to cannibalism eating the flesh of those who had died before them in order to survive.
In May of 1611, the Starr left England headed for Virginia, accompanied by the Prosperous and the Elizabeth. Amongst them they carried 300 people, much needed supplies and horses, cows, goats, rabbits, pigeons and chickens. The men aboard were listed as “honest, sufficient artificers, carpenters, smiths, coopers, fishermen, tanners, shoemakers, shipwrights, brickmen, gardeners, husbandmen and laboring men of all sorts.” Jamestown was being seriously populated and every kind of artisan and builder was needed to insure its growth.
And so it went: the Treasurer sailed in 1613; the Blessing with 100 passengers in March of 1614; the John and Francis in the first week of November 1614 with 34 men and 11 women and other necessaries for the rest of the Colony. The George departed in December of 1617 and took five months to reach Virginia with its supplies mostly lost and some 400 men, women and children in a sorry state. In 1618 a ship called Gift from God sailed to Virginia with 250 settlers. About 180 to 200 people crossed also in 1618 aboard the William and Thomas and some 30 to 130, according to varying reports, died on the way. The Bosa Nova and the Diana both sailed in 1619 carrying 120 persons and 100 children between them; only 80 children survived the crossing. And more, the Margaret of Bristol and the Sampson sailed in 1619 carrying 36 and 50 settlers respectively. In 1620 there were several trips over, all to Virginia, carrying more settlers in what was by then the most important colony in the New World.
In that same year, the Mayflower set sail from Harwich, England on the 6th of September and arrived on the 11th of November in Plymouth Harbor. During the crossing, two people died and one baby was born (it died shortly after landing). Of a total of 102 passengers, 54 either died on board over the first winter when the harsh weather obliged them to stay on the ship, immediately after gaining land or over the first year. At the end of that period, only 45 survivors were counted in the budding Plymouth Colony. The Mayflower was but the first ship to take emigrants to what would later be Massachusetts and it therefore has been marked as the signal founding voyage of the future New England.
Between the Mayflower and the Winthrop fleet, 66 other recorded ships made the crossing, founding settlements in Plymouth, Braintree, New Amsterdam, Salem and Charleston bringing the grand total of known crossings to 147 ships with varying numbers of passengers and rates of mortality. These were not pleasure cruises and one can barely begin to imagine the courage it took to embark on them.
Many of the travellers on these first voyages returned with tales of their hardships, but also with stories of the unimaginable extensions of choice land to be had for the wanting, of the possibility of founding communities based on their dreams and of the freedom from tyranny. In 1630, right before the departure of the Winthrop Fleet, the Mary and John sailed with approximately 140 passengers from Dorchester, Dorset, England that arrived at Nantasket Point and, just a few months before the founding of Boston, founded one of the first New England towns: Dorchester, Massachusetts; three years later, on the 8th of October, the first town meeting in America was celebrated there. Dorchester would later become the home of Baker’s Cocoa, which has formed a part of almost every American child’s diet since then. It was annexed to Boston in 1870.
In spite of the fact that so many had already made the crossing, the so-called “Great Migration” began in honest in 1630 when the Winthrop Fleet of 11 ships gathered and crossed the Atlantic carrying more than a thousand emigrants, mostly families, to the future ‘New England’. The Fleet consisted of ships named the Arabella, the Ambrose, the Charles, the Hopewell, the Mayflower (a different one), the Jewel, the Success, the Trial, the Whale, the Talbot and the William and Francis. It landed near what would later become Salem, Massachusetts during the year of 1630 and constituted the first mass exodus of Puritans from England. Their dream, expressed by their leader, John Winthrop, was to found “a city on the hill” so that in sight of all who saw them they would be a model of goodness and light lived on this earth. Of the thousand settlers in that first group, two hundred died that winter and two hundred more returned to England the following spring. But, over the next ten years, more than 20,000 persons –mostly from East Anglia (Suffolk, Essex and Norfolk) in England and mostly of the Puritan philosophy– migrated to America to form the backbone of New England.
The difference between this migration and previous ones is the fact that it was realized by whole families who –pulling up their roots, selling or giving away or storing with others everything they had, saying goodbye to whatever family stayed behind perhaps to never be seen again– packed in grand trunks what necessary possessions they could not make anew on the other side (the metal parts of farming instruments, for example, a small store of pots and pans, the family bible, basic linens) and set out on an adventure that they couldn’t even begin to imagine. Most of them had never been aboard a ship before; some had never even seen the sea. Perhaps, if the real hardships of the trip and the new settlements had been known, the colonization effort might have been set back for many decades. But news did not travel fast then, mostly it did not travel at all and what ill tidings did manage to reach the coast of England, rarely continued inland or, if they did, were promptly overridden by dreams of barely imagined possibilities. The stories of over 100 acres of land being allotted to each settler; of communities making their own laws and governing themselves in a new and freer way, of prayer and religious gatherings being held in what for them was the true way… all this told of a ‘new beginning’ where anything was possible.
The East Anglian families that made up the bulk of those crossing in the 1600’s were not starving, uneducated people. Most of them had good schooling for the times; they were established artisans in their communities; some owned houses and land which they sold to pay for the trip. A few could afford servants and often took them along, paying for their passage as well. Some, however, were yeomen, tenants subservient to the nobility who had little hope of ever owning their own land. Most of these could not afford the cost of passage for themselves and their families so they became indentured servants during the trip and upon arrival until that time when they could repay their debt and become freeman. And then, of course, there were the adventurers and the restless, men who travelled alone seeking fortune. There was even an occasional single woman hoping, perhaps, to form a family with one of so many single men. But for the most part it was families that crossed. The long lists of passengers –saved over time so that today we may read them in wonder on Google- include families called Abbot (10), Barnard (6), Belcher (4), Cheesebrough (6), Dudley (8), Gardner (4), Greene (6) … Hawes (5), Kemball (13), Longe (13), Swayne (6) and so on. These were whole families pulling up their roots, leaving forever the known and moving to a new land. 
On the Planter, for example, that made the voyage in 1635, there were 118 passengers registered before boarding. The roll does not necessarily mean everyone on it boarded the ship or arrived in America: “Some may have decided not to sail; some servants may have run away. And there usually was some loss of life among the passengers from disease and malnutrition during the passage.” Among those registered to board, the eldest is a man 70 followed by a woman 65 (not related) and another unrelated man of 65; there are 11 passengers in their 40s, but most are in their 20s and 30s. 53 of the passengers are under 17; the youngest is 3 months old, Thomas Tuttell who, at least, would have been assured of his food as long as his mother survived. The incredible thing about these passenger lists is they speak not of strong seamen, foolhardy adventurers or rough-and-tough men of the world, but of simple, everyday families. William Beardsley, for instance, was a 30 year old mason travelling with his wife, Mary, who was 26 and his three children –Mary, John and Joseph- aged 4, 2 and 6 months; Thomas Olney, shoemaker, 35 and his wife Mary, 30, took two children: Thomas 3 and Etenetus whose age is not registered. Also on board there were several husbandman (free tenant farmers or small landowners), 2 shoemakers, 3 tailors, a linen weaver, 2 curriers, 2 glovers, a carpenter, a hostler (one who looks after the horses), a couple of millers and 2 sawyers. 9 men and 3 women identify themselves as “servants” and travel attached to one of the families. In other words, these were not sea-people. They had lived in towns, they had worked on land, they had housed their families in nice cozy houses, everything they knew was solid and controllable. Nothing jumped about and possibly sank the way a small ship in a storm was apt to do. So, what drove them to the sea, to the unknown, to the dangers and the possible death during the journey or in the new land?
One factor was religious persecution. East Anglia was, at the time, a hotbed of dissenters and, although not all of them were Puritans, all of them believed that theirs was the only true religion and the only road to salvation. They truly believed. Today, perhaps, we would find that kind of absolute belief only in the jihadists who fly planes into towers or blow themselves up in nightclubs or drive a ten-ton truck through a crowd of revellers. In those days, it probably could be found amongst most believers of any religion. After Charles I rose to power, religious persecution increased as the Established Church of England grew ever more intolerant of what they called “heresies”. It was, apparently, William Laud who –upon becoming Archbishop of Canterbury- tightened the laws against “deviations” and was not prepared to compromise on any aspect of his policy. He gave the Justices of the Peace authorization to arrest all non-conformists who met in private. The leaders of ‘deviant’ movements were forbidden to preach and often imprisoned. He made it a criminal offense to attend Puritan worship services in an attempt to squash any opposition to the Anglican Church.
When the Puritan dominated Parliament was closed by Charles I, the followers of Puritanism found all channels for change blocked. Believing that eventually God would smite England for its sins, they had no qualms about leaving the followers of the ever more “popist” Church of England to their fate and emigrating with their leaders to a land where they could worship as they saw fit. So, many of the trips over were commandeered by Puritan leaders wishing to establish the “true” religion in the New Land.
The Puritan dream was to reform human civilization through religion, to wipe out poverty, to allow women to be educated so that they too might read God’s Word and be saved, and to make a heaven on Earth in which everyone was free to discover God’s will for themselves. In this way, Puritans would be able to live exemplary lives in every respect so that everyone else would see God through them and be converted to their beliefs. Therefore many left England to preserve that faith and to create a place where Puritanism could thrive, grow strong and eventually –when England had been smote for its apostasy- re-establish Christian civilization
However, some economic reasons were just as compelling. The Crown, to support King Charles’ self-serving excesses, imposed heavy taxation and much of the countryside suffered. “We are being taxed into the alms house without so much as a voice,” said one such victim of injustice. East Anglia, already suffering because of the decline in wool trade, found itself doubly oppressed. Large and small freeholders became victims of taxation illegally laid on their holdings. Many in the region began suffering from severe poverty. Hardworking men could no longer see the benefits of the land that had birthed them. The stories that managed to filter back from the New World, spoke so gloriously of endless opportunities for land and betterment that the dangers and sacrifices involved in migrating must have seemed worth the risks. Even noble landowners such as John Winthrop found themselves taxed to such an extent that they feared the future of their families.
Fear of the plague was another incentive to get as far away as possible. Death was a possibility even in the homeland especially since the bubonic plague continued to claim lives. Although the devastating epidemic of the 14th century had not since been repeated, people continued dying in the thousands from this disease. In 1603, there had been 30,000 deaths in London, in 1625 more than 35,000 died and again in 1636 the deaths reached more than 10,000 individuals. Even though it was known to hit hardest in cities, the plague also spread to towns in rural areas. There are, obviously, no numbers for smaller urban areas. In the New World there were no overcrowded and filthy cities to attract the disease, and one could safely hope it would not find a way to propagate there.
And then there was just simply hope or greed. Among other restless spirits were those whose land hunger was not satisfied at home. They heard of the great continent across the Atlantic where a hundred acres would be given to each and every settler –an expanse almost beyond their conception of reality. Farmers who had long lived as tenants to landed gentry dreamed of finally being landowners themselves. Small landowners who envisioned their properties decimated amongst their many offspring, hoped to be able to allot to each child a just amount. And, for some –the young, the unattached, the endlessly curious- it was simply the spirit of adventure, the dream of a land where everything was yet to be done, the creative challenge of establishing the perfect society, the thought of freedom from all constraint and the need for doing everything anew that pushed them up the boarding plank onto the waiting ships.
The eleven ships of the Winthrop Fleet were followed by 40 more recorded ships between 1630 and 1634. Afterwards, from 1634 to 1639, 98 more registered ships sailed across the Atlantic to the New World. According to Anne Stevens, who has carefully researched the matter, over 7100 families on 290 ships went to America between 1602 and 1638. And, then, it was over. There was hardly any further migration into New England until after the Revolution. Virtually all growth of the colony after 1640 was by natural reproduction. Those who had gone and stayed were founding –without knowing it- a new and incredible nation that would eventually come to be the most powerful in the world.
 There is a TV miniseries called Saints & Strangers illustrating marvellously the struggles of these first settlers.
 Contentment, A Novel of New England’s Birth, Raymond E. Sullivan, 2006, IUniverse, Inc. USA.