English Emigration

English Emigration

In the 16th century English explorers were sent to the New World to seek a passage to the Indies. However, gradually the government became more concerned with establishing overseas colonies. It was hoped that these territories would provide an outlet for her surplus population, a source of raw materials for her expanding industries and a market for its manufactured goods.

In 1607 James I granted permission for a group of merchants to establish a permanent English settlement in America at Jamestown, Virginia. John Smith was elected president of the Virginia Colony in 1608 and soon afterwards explored the coast of New England. At first the venture attracted adventurers who hoped to make their fortunes in the colonies. The idea also appealed to people who were being persecuted for their political and religious beliefs.

In 1620 John Carver, William Bradford, Edward Winslow and other Puritans from England who had been living in Holland decided to emigrate to America. One hundred and two people boarded the Mayflower in Delft Harbour and after crossing the Atlantic settled at a place they called Plymouth in Massachusetts Bay. The Separatists established their own government and Carver was elected governor of the colony. The plan was for the pilgrims to live on fish caught from the sea. However, they were not very successful at this, and by the spring of 1621 half of them had died of starvation or disease.

In 1628 a group of Puritans, led by Thomas Dudley and John Winthrop persuaded Charles I to grant them an area of land between the Massachusetts Bay and Charles River in North America. That year the group sent John Endecott to begin a plantation in Salem.

The main party of 700 people left Southampton in April 1630. The party included Thomas Dudley, John Winthrop, William Pynchon, Simon Bradstreet and Anne Bradstreet. Before they left John Cotton gave a sermon where he emphasized the parallel between the Puritans and the God's chosen people, claiming it was God's will that they should inhabit all the world.

John Winthrop was the first governor of Massachusetts Colony. He chose Boston as the the capital and the seat of the General Court and the legislature. Thomas Dudley was appointed his deputy and on four occasions served as governor. Dudley and Winthrop did not always agree about the way the colony should be ruled. Whereas Winthrop was tolerant and liberal, Dudley favoured the expulsion of any person he considered to be a heretic.

During the 1630s over 20,000 people emigrated to Massachusetts. This included Thomas Hooker who took a large group to Connecticut in 1636 and founded the town of Hartford. Later that year Roger Williams was banish from the Massachusetts Colony. Williams established a democratic society and a haven of religious toleration on Rhode Island and admitted Jews and Quakers into the colony. Anne Hutchinson, who had also been expelled by John Winthrop from the Massachusetts colony, also joined Williams on Rhode Island.

In 1628, George Calvert, first Lord Baltimore, decided to create a safe haven in the New World for Roman Catholics being persecuted for their religious beliefs in England. Calvert and his son, Leonard Calvert spent the summer in Newfoundland but its severe winter encouraged him to sail south in search of better land. He landed in Virginia but the English colonists rejected him and he went back to Ireland.

In 1632 Calvert sent Leonard Calvert and 300 settlers back to America. However, he died before his son established a new colony, Maryland, at the mouth of the Potomac River. Calvert became Maryland's first governor and although he retained ownership of the land he agreed to make laws only after consulting the freemen of the colony.

Knighted by Charles I in 1639, William Berkeley was appointed as governor of Virginia. The arrival of people from England grew steadily and by 1650 the population of Virginia had reached 15,000. Settlements spread from the banks of the James River to the York and Rappahannock Rivers. Others decided to leave the coastal regions and move inland.

During the English Civil War he declared his support for the king. When Oliver Cromwell achieved power William Berkeley was forced into retirement and until 1660 concentrated on developing his plantations in Virginia.

Berkeley started a second term as governor of Virginia after the restoration of the monarchy in 1660. William Berkeley led the military against the colony's remaining Native Americans. He also organised the defence that prevented a Dutch landing on the Virginia coast in 1673. Berkeley appointed Nathaniel Bacon to his governing council but the two men soon fell out about the development of the colony. Berkeley favoured a policy of containment, whereas Bacon wanted to expand into areas controlled by Native Americans.

In 1676 Bacon organized his own expedition. Fearing a large-scale war with Native Americans, Berkeley turned his forces against Bacon and his men. Bacon captured Jamestown and Berkeley was forced to flee to the Eastern Shore. However, when Nathaniel Bacon died of fever in October, 1676, the rebellion quickly collapsed. Berkeley took revenge by hanging all the leading figures. This upset Charles II who had padoned the men and William Berkeley was recalled to England.

William Penn, a wealthy Quaker, purchased a large area of land in America from Charles II in 1681. Penn saw the venture as a "holy experiment" and hoped he would be able to establish a colony where people of all creeds and nationalities could live together in peace. The first settlers began arriving in Pennsylvania in 1682 and settling around Philadelphia (the city of brotherly love) at the junction of the Delaware and Schuylkill Rivers.

The early British arrivals in America were known as colonists or settlers. The term immigrant was first used in 1787. However, it was argued at the time that there was a difference between the colonists who "established a new new society, and those foreigners who arrive only when the country's laws, customs and language are fixed."

In 1798 Thomas Malthus published his Essay on the Principles of Population. In his book, Malthus claimed the population of Britain was growing faster than food production. Malthus predicted that unless something was done about this, large numbers of people in Britain would starve. His book created panic and for the first time in history, the government agreed to count the number of people living in Britain. The 1801 census revealled that Britain had a population of 10,501,000. It was estimated that the population of Britain had doubled since 1750.

The move towards large-scale scientific farming greatly increased output but made many agricultural workers redundant. Some moved to the fast-growing industrial areas in search of work, whereas others decided to emigrate to Australia, New Zealand, Canada, South Africa and the United States.

After 1830 the numbers of people leaving Britain increased dramatically. This was particularly true of those farmers and labourers who had lived in counties that had been hardest hit by the agricultural depression such as Kent, Sussex, Hampshire, Dorset, Cornwall, Yorkshire, Derbyshire, Cheshire and Cumberland.

Liverpool now became the most popular emigrant port in Europe. In 1830 around 15,000 people sailed from this port to North America. By 1842 this had reached 200,000, which accounted for more than a half of all emigrants leaving from Europe.

Unlike other groups of emigrants such as the Irish and Italians, a large number of the English people who went to America stayed in agriculture. A census in 1890 revealled that 90,000 farmers and well over 100,000 farm labourers in the United States had been born in England.

The United States also attracted people from England with technological skills. Samuel Slater, who had learnt his trade under Jerediah Strutt and Richard Arkwright, pioneers of the revolution in textile machinery, arrived in the United States in 1789. Four years later Slater established America's first cotton factory at Pawtucket, Rhode Island.

Andrew Carnegie, the son of a handloom weaver, from Dunfermline, Scotland, was another successful businessman in the United States. In 1870 Carnegie erected his first blast furnace where he used the ideas being developed by Henry Bessemer in England. Others followed and by 1874 he opened his steel furnace at Braddock. The Carnegie Steel Company continued to expand and between 1889 and 1899 annual production of steel rose from 332,111 to 2,663,412 tons, and profits increased from $2 million to $40 million. In 1901 Henry Frick joined with J. Pierpont Morgan to purchase the Carnegie Company for $500,000,000 and established the U.S. Steel Corporation that was valued at $1.4 billion. Carnegie himself now had a personal fortune of $225,000,000.

By the time Andrew Carnegie died he had given away $350,000,000. A further $125 million was placed with the Carnegie Corporation to carry on his good works. Samuel Milton Jones a successful inventor and businessman in Ohio, was an immigrant from Wales. A generous employer who held socialist views, Jones introduced a profit-sharing scheme, an eight-hour day, a forty-eight hour week, paid holidays and free recreational facilities. He also campaigned for the public ownership of utilities, free parks and playgrounds, and an end to corruption in city government. When he became mayor of Toledo (1887-1904) he was able to introduce many of these reforms.

Immigrants with the skills developed in the English textile industry tended to settle in mill towns in Massachusetts such as Fall River, New Bedford and Lawrence. Established by a group of capitalists in Boston in 1845, Lawrence was especially popular with the English. One visitor noted that so many of the manager, loom-fixers, wool-sorters, shopkeepers and saloon owners spoke with a Yorkshire accent that he felt he was still in England. By 1860 one-third of Lawrence's 18,000 inhabitants were employed in the textile industry and the town had become known as the "Bradford of America".

With the decline in mining industry in Cornwall, a large number of men from this county emigrated to the United States. Settlements of people from Cornwall were established in the lead-mining regions of Illinois and Wisconsin and the iron and copper ranges of the Michigan upper peninsula. A popular saying in the middle of 19th century was that if there was a hole in the ground in America, someone from Cornwall would be found at the bottom of it.

Some trade unions in Britain helped to pay for members to emigrate to America. Union leaders thought that by reducing the number of workers available, they could increase wage-rates of those still in England. The Iron Founders' Union paid the fares of over 800 men who wanted to emigrate. The National Union of Mineworkers tended to concentrate on sending men who had been blacklisted for union activities and were having difficulty finding work in England.

British immigrants became involved in the early days of the trade union movement. The first president of the United Mine Workers of America, John Rae, was originally from Scotland and the first secretary, Robert Watchorn, came from Derbyshire in England. Samuel Grompers had arrived from London in 1863 and he eventually established the American Federation of Labour, an organisation was based on the structure of the Trade Union Congress in Britain.

In 1890 there were large numbers of English born immigrants in the states of New York (144,000), Massachusetts (76,000) and Illinois (70,000). There were also significant communities in New York City (36,000), Chicago (28,000) and the textile town of Lawrence (5,000).

After 1890 there were fewer opportunities for skilled artisans and emigration from England declined. Between 1820 and 1920 over 2,500,000 people emigrated from England to the United States. Only Germany (5,500,000), Ireland (4,400,000), Italy (4,190,000) and Austria-Hungary (3,700,000) contributed more people.

© , September 1997 - April 2014

Primary Sources

(1) John Smith wrote about discovering Virginia in his book, The True Travels, Adventures and Observations of Captain John Smith (1630).

Till the third day we saw not any of the people, then in a little boat there of them appeared. One of them went on shore, to whom we rowed, and he attended us without any sign of fear; after he had spoke much though we understood not a word, of his own accord he came boldly aboard us. We gave him a shirt, a hat, wine and meat, which he liked well; and after he had well viewed the barks and us, he went away in his own boat; and within a quarter of a mile of us in half an hour, had laden his boat with fish, with which he came again to the plot of land, and there divided it in two parts, pointing one part to the ship, the other to the pinnace, and so departed.

The next day came many boats, and in one of them the king's brother, with forty or fifty men, proper people, and in their behaviour very civil; his name was Granganameo, the king is called Wingina, the country Wingandacoa. Though we came to him well armed, he made signs to us to sit down without any show of fear, stroking his head and breast, and also ours, to express his love. After he had made a long speech unto us, we presented him with many toys, which he kindly accepted.

He sent us every day a brace of bucks, conies, hares and fish, sometimes melons, walnuts, cucumbers, peas and many roots. Their corn grows three times in five months; in May they sow, in July reap, in June they sow, in August reap; in July sow, in August reap. We put some of our peas in the ground, which in ten days were fourteen inches high.

The soil is most plentiful, sweet, wholesome, and fruitful of all other; there are about fourteen several sorts of sweet smelling timber trees; the most parts of the underwood, bays and such like, such oaks as we, but far greater and better. This discovery was so welcome into England that it pleased her Majesty to call this country of Wingandocao, Virginia.

(2) In a letter sent to supporters in England, Thomas Dudley wrote about the Puritans arrival in Massachusetts in the summer of 1630.

In April 1630 we set sail from old England with four good ships. And in May following, eight more followed, two having gone before in February and March, and two more following in June and August, besides another set out by a private merchant. These seventeen ships arrived all safe in New England, for the increase of the plantation here, this year 1630.

Our four ships, which set out in April, arrived here in June and July, where we found the colony in a sad and unexpected condition, above eighty of them being dead the winter before, and many of those alive, weak and sick. All the corn and bread among them all hardly sufficient to feed them a fortnight, insomuch that the remaining of 180 servants we had the two years before sent over, coming to us for victuals to sustain them, we found ourselves wholly unable to feed them.

But bearing these things as we might, we began to consult of the place of our sitting down, for Salem, where we landed, pleased us not. And so to that purpose some were sent to the Bay to search up the rivers for a convenient place; who, upon their return, reported to have found a good place upon Mystic; but some other of us seconding these to approve or dislike of their judgment, we found a place we liked better, three leagues up Charles River.

It was decided, for our present shelter to plant dispersedly, some at Charlestown which stands on the north side of the mouth of Charles River; some on the south side, which we named Boston, some of us upon Mystic, which we named Medford; some of us westward on Charles River, four miles from Charlestown, which place we named Watertown; others of us, two miles from Boston, in a place we named Rocksbury; others upon the river of Saugus, between Salem and Charlestown; and the western men, four miles south from Boston, at a place we named Dorchester.

(3) Journal of the Massachusetts Bat Colony (1635)

Mr. Vane and Mr. Peter, finding some distraction in the commonwealth arising from some differences in judgment, and with some alienation of affection among the magistrates and some other persons of quality, and that hereby factions began to grow among the people, some adhering more to the old governor, Mr. Winthrop, and others to the late governor, Mr. Dudley - the former carrying matters with more lenity, and the other with more severity - they procured a meeting, at Boston, of the governor, deputy, Mr. Cotton, Mr. Hooker, Mr. Wilson, Mr. Winthrop, Mr. Dudley, and themselves.

Mr. Winthrop spoke, professing solemnly that he knew not of any breach between his brother Dudley and himself, since they were reconciled long since. Then Mr. Dudley spoke to this effect: that for his part he came thither a mere patient, not with any intent to charge his brother Winthrop with anything; for though there had been formerly some differences and breaches between them, yet they had been healed, and for his part, he was not willing to renew them again.

(4) William Bradford, History of the Plymouth Plantation (1651)

They (the Plymouth settlers) had no friends to welcome them, no inns to entertain or refresh their weather-beaten bodies, no houses or much less towns to repair to. The season was winter, and they that know the winters of this country know them to be sharp and violent, and subject to cruel and fierce storms, dangerous to travel to known places, much more to search an unknown coast. Besides, what could they see but a hideous and desolate wilderness, full of wild beasts and wild men.

(5) A supporter of Nathaniel Bacon wrote a detailed report of the rebellion but it was nor published in England until 1705. He was critical of William Berkeley who he believed did not do enough to stop attacks by Native Americans.

Frequent complaints of bloodshed were sent to Sir William Berkeley from the heads of the rivers, which were as often answered with promises of assistance. These at the heads of James and York rivers (having now most people destroyed by the Indians) grew impatient at the many slaughters of their neighbours and rose or their own defence, who choosing. Bacon for their leader, sent oftentimes to the Governor, humbly beseeching a commission to go against those Indians at their own charge.

Mr. Bacon, with fifty-seven men, proceeded until the fired the palisades, stormed and burned the fort and cabins, and (with the loss of three English) slew 150 Indians.

(6) Nathaniel Bacon was captured by William Berkeley but he escaped and raised another army to fight Native Americans.

General Bacon marched with 1,000 men into the forest to seek the enemy Indians; and, in a few days after, our next news was that the Governor had summoned together the militia of Gloucester and Middlesex counties, to the number of 1,200 men, and proposed to them to follow and suppress the rebel Bacon.

Bacon stormed it (Jamestown) and took the town, in which attack were twelve men slain and wounded, but Governor Berkeley, with most of the followers, fled back down the river in their vessels. Here, resting a few days, they agreed to the burning of the town. Mr. Lawrence and Mr. Drumond, owning the two best houses save one, set fire each to his own house, which example the soldiers following laid the whole town (with church and statehouse) in ashes, saying the rogues should harbor no more there.

Mr. Bacon returned from his expedition sick of a flux; without finding any enemy Indians, having not gone far by reason of the vexations behind him. Nor had he one dry day in all his marches to and fro in the forest while the plantations had a summer so dry as stinting the Indian corn and tobacco, etc. In a while Bacon died and was succeeded by his lieutenant general, Ingram.

(7) Edward Connor, an immigrant who had settled in Indiana, wrote a letter to his family in England in 1818.

We have plenty of game such as bears, wolves, deer, wild turkeys, pheasants, partridges, rabbits, wild pigeons in thousands. The land is upon a limestone-bed; and will grow anything. It has grown 200 bushels of potatoes per acre and here they use no manure. No land in England is to be compared with it. There is the sugar maple, which yields a great quantity of sugar. We can make our own candles and soap; and grow our own tobacco, in short, we can do anything.

(8) Edward Kershaw, a former weaver, emigrated to Lynnfield, Massachusetts in 1831. A few months later he wrote a letter to his wife still living in Rochdale, England.

I am between 20 and 30 pounds heavier than I was when I came to Lynnfield. Our common living would astonish you. Our breakfast is something like the old rush-bearing dinners in Rochdale. I never set me down to a meal but I think of the starving weavers of Rochdale.

(9) George Julian Harney, speech in London on emigration that was reported in the Northern Star (5th January, 1850).

George Julian Harney declared that he had no objection to emigration, providing the right persons were sent away - the idlers and the plunderers. But he strongly objected to the transportation of the industrious classes.

(10) Samuel Gompers and his family emigrated to the United States in the summer of 1863.

The Cigarmakers' Society Union of England, whose members were frequently unemployed and suffering, established an emigration fund - that is, instead of paying the members unemployment benefits, a sum of money was granted to help passage from England to the United States. The sum was not large, between five and ten pounds. This was a very practical method which benefited both the emigrants and those who remained by decreasing the number seeking work in their trade. After much discussion and consultation father decided to go to the New World. He had friends in New York City and a brother-in-law who proceeded us by six months to whom father wrote we were coming.

There came busy days in which my mother gathered together and packed our household belongings. Father secured passage on the City of London, a sailing vessel which left Chadwick Basin, June 10, 1863, and reached Castle Garden, July 29, 1863, after seven weeks and one day.

Our ship was the old type of sailing vessel. We had none of the modern comforts of travel. The sleeping quarters were cramped and we had to had to do our own cooking in the gallery of the boat. Mother had provided salt beef and other preserved meats and fish, dried vegetables, and red pickled cabbage which I remember most vividly. We were all seasick except father, mother the longest of all. Father had to do all the cooking in the meanwhile and take care of the sick. There was a Negro man employed on the boat who was very kind in many ways to help father. Father did not know much about cooking.

When we reached New York we landed at the old Castle Garden of lower Manhattan, now the Aquarium, where we were met by relatives and friends. As we were standing in a little group, the Negro who had befriended father on the trip, came off the boat. Father was grateful and as a matter of courtesy, shook hands with him and gave him his blessing. Now it happened that the draft and negro rights were convulsing New York City. Only that very day Negroes had been chased and hanged by mobs. The onlookers, not understanding, grew very much excited over father's shaking hands with this Negro. A crowd gathered round and threatened to hang both father and the Negro to the lamp-post.