It’s been a long dry spell in my family search. Some days I feel as if I’ve seen all there is to see on the internet. Everything. I can’t seem to prove that the man I thought was my immigrant ancestor is really related to me. And if he is not, I can’t connect the man I thought was his son to any other person of record.
So I left that line of research and went on to the man and family members I could trace back to Pennsylvania/Virginia immediately before they traveled to Kentucky. Turns out, he didn’t do much that was worthy of record either.
Then one day, I stumbled onto a document that stopped me cold. I’ve made no secret of the fact that I love the stories I’m discovering whether they contribute to my family story or not.
So imagine my delight when I came across a publication (from 1874) with the fascinating title: “The Original Lists of Persons of Quality; Emigrants; Religious Exiles; Political Rebels Serving Men Sold for a Term of Years; Apprentices, Children Stolen; Maidens Pressed; and Others Who Went from Great Britain to the American Plantations, 1600-1700”
Now how could I resist? Of course, I quickly did a search to see if any of my ancestors were listed. When I found no family names, I couldn’t just leave it alone, I had to dig further. The lists were just too fascinating.
I can absolutely identify with the reason John Camden Hotten stated for pulling together all this data. In the introduction, he states:
“Of the history of the Colonies, and the eventual establishment of Independence, I have nothing to say. My object is simply and briefly to point out some of the causes which contributed to the early emigration of English families to America; and then to estimate the practical value of the contents of the present volume as a means of assistance in making genealogical researches in the mother country.”
Somehow, he knew that one day, it would be important to be able to read when, how, and why our ancestors arrived in this country.
And the “why,” of course, was both economic and political.
Sometime around 1625, Charles the First, King of England began levying taxes on the country without the permission of Parliament. Charles believed in the divine right of kings and was determined to govern according to his own conscience. As with all political acts by a leader, the lawmakers and citizens quickly chose sides. Some said he was the leader, and it was perfectly okay for him to do as he saw fit. Others saw his actions as arrogant, unlawful, and a dangerous precedent.
Strangely familiar, isn’t it? His acts triggered a civil war from 1642 to 1645, at which time he was defeated and in 1648 executed for high treason.
Through these years, those who strongly opposed his arrogance were very vocal in their resentment. It’s not a good idea to resist a king who believes he has a divine right because, after all, he does hold power.
One of the king’s critics, Lord Say and Sele stated: “I would rather lose half my estate than risk the impoverishment of my posterity by the establishment of so dangerous a precedent as a loan without the sanction of Parliament.”
This uproar set the stage for both voluntary and involuntary emigration to the New World “beyond the seas.”
The lists of people leaving for the New World and the notes made on the lists, while in no way complete, caught my attention for several days.
Probably of enormous interest to genealogists is the list of passengers aboard the Mayflower in 1620. The notes on these passengers are heartrending as the listmaker also recorded their fates. Here are some samples:
- Mr. John Carver, chosen as the first Governor upon arrival, died during the first spring. Katherine, his wife, died a few weeks after her husband.
- Roger Wilder, a servant, died in the “first sickness.”
- William Butten, a servant, died on the passage.
- Mr. Christopher Martin and his wife died soon after arrival, as did Solomon Prower and John Langemore, servants.
- John Tillie and his wife both died soon after they came ashore. Their daughter Elizabeth survived and went on to marry John Howland.
- Digerie Priest died in the “general sickness.” His wife and children came afterward. I can’t help but wonder if she knew her husband had died when she set sail to follow him. I imagine she came ashore expecting to see him and the home he had prepared for the family only to learn she was a widow with no resources.
It was recorded that there were 100 souls on the Mayflower. During the voyage there one child was born, and one passenger died, so 100 immigrants arrived on the shores of the New World.
Of those 100 souls, 51 died during the first year. Think about those numbers—over half the new citizens didn’t survive a year in the New World.
The writer of this particular list doesn’t mention any cause of death other than “general sickness” or “during the first sickness.” I didn’t see any accidents with axes or barroom fights or any other cause of death. One has to wonder if these travelers were prepared for what they had undertaken. Did they expect a paradise, a land of richness and gentle weather? Did they realize they would have to construct shelter and plant food crops very quickly? Did they even know how hard the journey itself would be? Did they know the passage would leave them weak from seasickness and poor nutrition at the time they needed to be at their most robust?
They fled political turmoil, ethnic and religious conflict, and poverty to come to a land that promised to solve all their problems. This New World may not have been the promised land they expected, but look at what we, their children, have accomplished.
Maybe that’s a bigger picture we should be trying to see today.