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Emigration To America In The 17th Century History Essay

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Published: Mon, 5 Dec 2016

During the seventeenth century, the mass emigration to America created two regions, Chesapeake and New England. The majority of the people who emigrated to New England came from southern England, Suffolk having the most with five hundred and forty four emigrants. [1] They emigrated believing in the opportunity to find gold, and the luxury life it would bring with it. However, this was not the case and living conditions were very different between England, Chesapeake and New England. Richard Archer states that New England’s life expectancy was higher than the Chesapeake’s and similar to that of England’s, furthermore New England actually had a lower infant mortality rate than both the Chesapeake and England. [2] The Chesapeake’s diet would not suggest a lower life expectancy as food was abundant. Lois Green Carr states a colonial born soldier in 1760 measured on average three inches taller than his English counterpart because of a more nutritional diet. [3] Although this is looking at soldiers in the eighteenth century, it would have taken a few generations for the nutritional diet and increase in height to take effect. The lower life expectancy was a result of disease and the strenuous work conditions on the plantations. The living conditions such as availability to consumer goods and housing were also inferior to that of England. Carr points out that the standard of housing was far from English houses and the many lacked basic furniture such as bed, table and chairs. [4] 

Week 2: 17th Century Chesapeake

The Chesapeake’s high mortality rate is usually thought to be a result of disease, malnutrition and lethargy. Karen Ordahl Kupperman says, “Clearly, malnutrition was directly or indirectly the leading cause of death” [5] . I agree with Kupperman that malnutrition is likely to be the leading cause of death because it is the most realistic and likely explanation to what some describe as death by laziness or lethargy. If the person were badly malnourished, they would be lacking energy to move or work, which is where some colonists may have got the idea that people were dying form laziness. The idea that colonists were malnourished contradicts Lois Green Carr’s view that there was ample food and “evidence of improved nutrition over that of England” [6] . I would agree more with Kupperman’s suggestion that many of the Chesapeake’s were in fact malnourished, for the reason that it explains the likely cause of death by lethargy and because many of the original colonists were gentry who had no idea how to farm and provide food for themselves. Captain John Smith, the first real established leader in Chesapeake, claimed that once he forced his men to work, he lost far fewer lives. [7] Many of the gentry lacked experience of hard work, they emigrated believing in the myth of America, vast supplies of gold and a comfortable life, this was not the reality though and life was hard work to make ends meet which lowered morale and likely caused this lethargic attitude.

Money was the key incentive to emigrate, to the point that survival itself was worthless without it. On arrival, no farming was done because of an obsession to find gold, but when they realised there was none and discovered tobacco, it became there gold in another form and all of a sudden farming and hard work became meaningful. “They suddenly became ardent and successful agriculturalists when tobacco growing became profitable” [8] .

Despite the malnutrition and laziness being the main cause of death, they were not the main reasons behind the high mortality rate. The colonies had a ratio of four men to one woman [9] . This imbalance and poor planning is what I believe was the fundamental reason for causing the high mortality figures in the Chesapeake. The first one hundred and forty four people in the colony were all men and boys; the obvious problem being that reproduction was impossible which distorts the mortality rate to show such a high death to birth ratio and a large percentage decrease in the population.

Week 3: 17th Century New England

New England’s style and standard of life differed greatly from that of the Chesapeake’s. Firstly the mortality rate was significantly lower than the Chesapeake’s; “prior to 1660… Their average age at the time of their deaths was 71.8” [10] . This information is specifically relevant only to the town of Andover though and cannot be taken as a representation of New England as a whole. The main reason for this low mortality though was the lack of epidemics to hit Andover. In other parts of New England, such as Boston, the mortality rate is likely to be lower because they were not so lucky to avoid disease. “Boston, which evidently suffered from smallpox epidemics throughout the seventeenth century.” [11] On a whole, the average age of death in New England between 1620 and 1650 was only about forty-two years old [12] , significantly lower than Andover but still higher than the Chesapeake. “The average life span for the 118 men who survived to at least age 20 was only 39.9 years” [13] . Considering this statistic of the Chesapeake does not take into account anyone who died before the age of twenty, you can expect the average lifespan to be considerably lower, especially because the Chesapeake had a very high infant mortality rate. The reason for Chesapeake’s lower life expectancy is most likely down to the laziness of farming and consequently being malnourished compared to New England. Despite Andover’s low mortality rate and exceptionally high average lifespan in the seventeenth century, it did not continue to surpass the Chesapeake through the eighteenth century. During the middle of the eighteenth century, due to a throat distemper, the Andover mortality rate fell almost too the levels of the Chesapeake [14] .

Apart from the first settlers, the average age of marriage was also higher in New England than the Chesapeake, though this is linked with the longer life span. Generally, marriage depended on the ability to be independent and this required land and/ or wealth, usually gained through inheritance. The longer life expectancy in Andover over the Chesapeake meant the age at which second generation sons inherited land from their fathers was significantly higher in Andover. The difference in farming between the two also likely had an effect on marriage age as well; the Chesapeake had slaves helping with work, where as New England farming was very much done by the family. For this reason, I believe the fathers seemed reluctant to part with their sons help on the farm, which rose the average marriage age for males. The average age of marriage for second-generation males in Andover was 27.1 [15] . The second generation of the Chesapeake males had an average marriage age of 26, the females is considerably lower at only 19 though [16] .

Week 4: Women in early American society

A women’s role and treatment in early American society varied between the Chesapeake and New England, and changed quite a lot between mid seventeenth century and mid eighteenth century. In New England, the strong patriarchal ideas of England were noticeable, especially when compared to the Chesapeake. From a marital and household freedom point of view, I would say that the Chesapeake was the preferred place to live for women, a view shared by Lois Green Carr [17] . The patriarchal rule in New England meant strict rule where the husband’s authority was absolute. On the other hand, the higher ratio of men to women combined with higher death rate and change in family members in the Chesapeake meant the women had more choice over whom to marry, and it made it harder for fathers to establish a firm control. Furthermore, the women of New England had to contend with the church as well as strong patriarchal rule [18] . Although religion was far from absent in the Chesapeake, it was not as strong an enforcer as in New England. The very reasons that created a less patriarchal rule in the Chesapeake such as high mortality are just as much a positive thing for women in New England as they are to the Chesapeake in my point of view. Generally, it meant a healthier, longer life and marital stability for New England, with the majority of women unlikely to remarry [19] . What’s more, the strict church that New England women had to contend with, still allowed for greater religious expression than the Chesapeake. Based on living standards, again New England would be considered superior. Houses were bigger, better and more equipped inside with domestic amenities [20] .

Between the seventeenth and eighteenth century, significant transformations were made in women’s roles, as for which region was better for women to live; I believe this remained as New England. The Chesapeake though made more improvements for women and the gap in standard of life between the two regions was reducing. Late seventeenth century brought harsh persecution on women in both regions, convictions for numerous sexual offences, of which most men involved escaped prosecution [21] . New England was the worse of the two for unfair persecution though, principally because of witchcraft accusations that saw a peak in 1692 in Salem. Going into the eighteenth century both severely decreased the amount of prosecutions made against women as well as the severity of punishment, the Chesapeake are likely to have started this change earlier than New England though [22] . Chesapeake women enjoyed greater economic freedom too, as domestic manufacturing and trade links between women developed [23] . On top of these changes, the mortality rate for the whole Chesapeake was also declining and family stability was on the rise. Consequently, though, by mid eighteenth century the patriarchal rule in the Chesapeake was able to increase whilst New England’s was decreasing [24] .

Despite all the differences between the two regions, a women’s role was still very similar in both societies. Regardless of region, women were still viewed as an inferior addition to their husband, and her principal role was still mistress of his house. I do believe women were better off living in New England in early American society, but I think this period, whichever colony you lived in, was far from what some coined as ‘a golden age’ for women.

Week 5: Sexuality in early America

The difference in attitudes and treatment towards sex, between male and female, was vastly different in early America. When referring to sexuality in early America, the majority of sources are from New England as the Chesapeake has very little record on the topic. This is not to say that the information is not relevant to the Chesapeake, but the colonies cannot be summarised as one because they usually have many differences. Males were able to get away with sexual acts, which if committed by a female, would have been considered an offence. “Fornication was decriminalized for men, but not for women.” [25] The one area I believe females were let off more lightly was under the rules of sodomy. New England’s and new havens law both categorised sexual acts between men and between women as sodomy, yet in the only two cases that women were tried for sexual acts between one another, neither were classed as sodomy [26] . Apart from escaping prosecution of sodomy, women were a lot more harshly prosecuted and punished for sexual offences. The reason being, I believe, was the male dominance in marriage as well as males feeling they had sexual superiority. Ruth H. Bloch states male dominance was present not only in marriage, but also in many romantic books of the seventeenth century because it was male sexual fantasy [27] .

Much of the romantic Literature from seventeenth century was based around the themes of love and marriage [28] . The eighteenth century brought a change to this and the view of sex, and women’s status associated with sex. In the seventeenth century, sex was a result of love and marriage. Eighteenth century literature mocked love and marriage [29] . Greater emphasis was put on reasons such as financial status being a key motive to marry a particular male. In my view, Eighteenth century literature shows greater reality of sex and marriage at the time. Despite the strict religious influences in America, in my opinion they do not seem to implement the same strictness when it comes to sexuality, particularly for men.

Week 6: Witchcraft

Witchcraft in my opinion came about as a reason to explain happenings that the colonial people had no answer to. Illness or disease which caused fits or seizures, or the recent smallpox epidemic had no medical explanation, likewise the effects of some of the colonists bread that had mould growing on it, containing bacteria that had similar properties to that of LSD. Many factors such as Native attacks and economic crisis had a part to play in creating the witchcraft mania. The lack of education and medical knowledge was the main cause of the witchcraft frenzy in my opinion though; but it was religious beliefs that fuelled the obsession.

Church and religion held significant power and respect in the colonies, beliefs and attitudes were swayed by what the church believed. Mather cotton, reverent of Salem village, was a strong believer in witchcraft and the devil, and Salem suffered the most witchcraft accusations. Most of which had no grounds and were based solely on spectral evidence, people who did not confess could not be tried [30] . Robert Calef offers a different view that if you did not confess then you were in fact executed, and if you did confess, you escaped execution. Six confessors were brought to trial, only one was executed and he renounced his confession [31] . Regardless of which is correct, it is clear that the emphasis was on forcing a confession because there was no evidence of witchcraft. The fact that a religious man like Mather suggests the idea of witchcraft though means the whole village gets behind him and fuels the obsession.

The main group accused of witchcraft was women between the age of forty and sixty and under the age of twenty [32] . Of the women accused, the majority were the poorer people in the village. Males were only usually accused if they were a husband or close friend to a female witch [33] . The fact that it was mainly poor women and ones that had no fixed residence being accused would suggest that the accusers targeted the weak. The only inconsistency to targeting the weak in society was that a greater percentage of women accused were married. If it were the weak being targeted surely the single women would be more appropriate because they had no husband to protect or support them. I believe, because most of the people were being indicted without reason and the weak were not always the target, that the main motive for accusation was revenge for a personal grudge, or just simply accusing someone so that you were not accused yourself.

Week 7: Slavery in early America

The first thing to note about slavery in early America is that that it was a lot more apparent in the Chesapeake than it was in new England, initially at least. The scale of slavery and the effects of this increase are the two areas I will be looking at. New England’s economy for most of the colonial period was based around small-scale agriculture, so demand was for unskilled agriculture labour, which was usually met by free hired labour or indentured servants. [34] At the start the Chesapeake also relied on indentured servants but they gradually switched to black slaves as the white servants became more skilled and thus expensive, and the cost of black slaves decreased as the black population increased. Black slaves were later trained in skilled jobs and crafts as well. By the end of the eighteenth century, the ratio of whites to black was as marginal as 43,091: 42,681 [35] . The new strict laws on blacks such as the ban on inter racial marriage came about at the same time as the huge influx of black slaves, a link which I believe is deeply entwined through the white peoples fear of becoming overwhelmed by black slaves. With the introduction of strict laws and population figures so similar, you would expect slaves to rise up more often against their masters; in fact, there were very few protests or riots. Jean Butenhoff Lee states that they showed “their resistance to the slave labour system, if only in lyrical satire” [36] . As well as having no weapons to riot or defend themselves, my belief for why there were limited encounters between the whites and the blacks is because the slaves were widely dispersed and had very limited interaction with fellow slaves. Kulikoff argues that by the 1780’s Gentleman with large plantations owned more than a hundred slaves and had quarters with thirty to fifty slaves [37] . He also mentions that by 1790 communities of black people had been established inside the plantations. This was rare though, only one in ten families owned more than twenty slaves [38] . And the opportunities to interact were for the most part likely to be limited to the slaves own plantation. Kulikoff is right that communities and families must have been established though. “Children below age sixteen, who in 1755 slightly outnumbered their elders.” [39] For children to outnumber adults, couples and families must have been giving birth at a faster rate than slaves were being imported; even with slaves making up forty four percent of net migration to the Chesapeake in the 1680’s [40] .

It can be concluded then that the scale of slavery, although originally low, by the late seventeenth century it was progressing rapidly due to the appearance of cash crops such as tobacco. The effect on America was for the most part positive, exports increased and they caused very little disturbance to society.

Week 8: C18th Migration

The major difference between seventeenth century migration and eighteenth century is the increase in ethnic diversity. During the seventeenth century, the majority of immigrants were English, in the eighteenth century their percentage of total immigration decreased due to the increase of western European immigrants. Farley Grubb implies the largest group of immigrants in the eighteenth century came from England, but according to Aaron Fogleman it was the Germans by fourteen percent to eight percent. [41] Fogelman also states that the Africans, if taken as one, made up triple the amount of immigrants as the largest European immigrant country, Germany. This topic has not been extensively covered which could explain the disparities in data. The impact of this influx of German immigrants on American society will be the main theme looked at.

The Germans mainly populated the middle colonies, the highest density being in Philadelphia. [42] During the last quarter of the eighteenth century, almost seventy percent of English immigrants were under twenty-five, compared to only about forty percent of Germans. [43] The older German population is likely to be a key reason for the larger proportion of families and family size as well as the superior skill levels over the English. Being older meant they had probably been married longer and thus had more children. The Germans though also had a lot more of a balanced ratio of men and women, which also will have increased the number of families and their size. In the latter part of the eighteenth century, the ration of English women and children to men was about 0.25 compared to German immigrants 1.35. [44] The higher literacy and skill level is apparent by the greater percent able to sign their name on their oath on arrival to Pennsylvania. The occupations of the immigrants also portrays greater skill, Germans may have made up a greater percentage of farmers but when other unskilled jobs such as labourer are accounted for the English make a higher percentage, the Germans also had more tailors, bakers, butchers and doctors. [45] 

It can be established then that the effect of German immigrants on American society was for the most part positive, they were more skilled and grew the population quicker than the English due to a more balanced sex ratio, and thus more married couples with children. I believe that the German influence in American society was that large that they could have competed as the dominant settlers. Ignoring the possibility of the superior British army intervening, if the Germans had settled earlier in similar numbers to England then they would have likely out populated and out skilled the English to become the dominant colonists.

Week 9: The Backcountry

The backcountry gained a reputation for brutal fighting or ‘rough-and-tumbling’ for no reason other than that the people were just plain uncivilised savages. I do not agree that they were savages; however, I do believe that they were uncivilised due to later colonial development and thus they were still in the more primitive stages of establishing a civilised society. The backcountry was made of many ethnicities but “the Scots-Irish brought their reputation for ferocity to the backcountry” the most out of all the people. [46] 

The first point to consider is that in some areas of the backcountry, no law or court had originally been set up, which meant disputes had to be settled in other ways such as fighting. This was not true for all areas of the backcountry and is important note that the backcountry cannot be defined as one. It varied between social classes as well geographically, many of the upper class duelled with guns instead of gouging out eyes, which occurred in many of the lower classes fights. By 1743, Governor Gooch of Fredrick County Virginia commissioned for the first country court and soon to follow was a jail, pillory, stocks and whipping post. [47] Family and economic structure was notably different between regions in the backcountry as well; Virginia, basis of the first colony and trading company set up in America, had economic links with northern colonies. “Winchester… was now located not only on the wagon road to Philadelphia but also at its junction with primary east-west routes linking Virginias western frontiers with Alexandria and Fredericksburg” [48] 

Georgia on the other hand being the last and most isolated colony had significantly less trade links. People here were a lot more self-reliant and instead of a market orientated economy, like what was appearing in Virginia, they were suited towards working as hunters, boatmen or herdsmen and thus “became especially known for the pugnacity” [49] . Their jobs meant they spent long periods away from their family and instead with other fellow male workers which resulted in weak family emotional ties and a need to receive recognition from other males. Consequently” a man’s role in the all male society was defined less by his ability as a breadwinner than by his ferocity” [50] . The root of the problem for Georgia’s colonists was their economical self-reliance and weak family which resulted in little societal structure and thus the primitive society and fighting. Frederick County, which was materialising into a capitalist region, meant that “few families were self-sufficient” and that reliance on other people created structure to society [51] . You could not just shut up shop for a fight in the street, which happened in the less developed backcountry, when you felt like it because suppliers and retailers had to intertwine for the society to work. Their closer family connections in Virginia were also linked to their economic style; in Winchester Virginia, their jobs were increasingly based around retail and trade, which meant they did not spend long periods away from family like boatmen from Georgia for example.

“As the market economy absorbed new parts of the backcountry, however, the way of life that supported rough-and-tumbling waned” [52] . The backcountry certainly had a history of brutality that other colonies did not, but as seen between Georgia and Virginia, it was a not a case that these people were savages who had no morals, it was a lack of foundation in societal structure and economic stability.

Week 10: C18th Societies

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