Category: Emigration

Massachusetts Bound: The Winthrop Fleet

The English Puritan population grew steadily throughout the early 1600s. They disagreed strongly with the Church of England, and struggled for many years to bring reform in the practices of the state church. They were strongly opposed to the Roman Catholic Church and felt that many of the religious rituals practiced by the Church of England too closely mirrored those of the Catholics.

Depiction of John Winthrop landing at Salem in...
Depiction of John Winthrop landing at Salem in 1630. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

King James I struggled furiously to suppress the growing movement among the Puritans and to quell the ongoing rebellion against the established Church. Despite his best attempts, the Puritans soon were in the majority among the Members of Parliament.

The situation became even more volatile in 1624, when King Charles I ascended the throne and married a Roman Catholic. Charles viewed the Puritans as a direct threat to his rule and was determined to suppress them once and for all. After temporarily dissolving Parliament in 1626, and again in 1627, he finally abolished Parliament once and for all in March of 1629.

Charles declared Personal Rule, naming himself the sole authority over England, Scotland and Ireland. This period between 1629 and 1640 soon became known as the Eleven Years’ Tyrrany, as Charles ran roughshod over the population, exacting exorbitant fines and taxes to fund his government.

Knowing full-well Charles’s sentiment toward their beliefs, the Puritans began to view their future in England with a growing sense of dread. Many turned their eyes to New England as a potential haven.

A wealthy group of Puritan leaders began discussing plans for a settlement in the New World. This group of Puritans became major shareholders in a commercial company, first called the New England Company, and later the Massachusetts Bay Company.  Through this venture the investors were able to acquire a land grant for the territory between the Merrimack and Charles Rivers.

Almost immediately a small fleet of ships set off for New England under the direction of John Endecott. The ships carried 300 colonists who were charged with preparing the way for a larger Puritan migration.

The remaining Puritan leaders began planning and preparing for the successful colonization of New England. The leaders plotted out a careful course of action, and throughout the following winter, they began selecting a large group of Puritan families who would make the voyage to the New World. They hand-picked all manner of skilled laborers from a wide variety of trades to ensure a successful and self-sustaining colony.

John Winthrop, a wealthy Puritan lawyer, was elected to be the Governor of the fleet and eventually of the new colony. Winthrop was seen as the best candidate because of his extreme dedication to the cause of a safe haven for the Puritan faith. He worked tirelessly with other company officials to procure a transport fleet and the multitude of supplies needed for a successful migration. He was also a key recruiter for the skilled tradesmen and pastors that the colony would require.

Finally, the ships were procured and all was ready for the Great Migration. On April 8th, 1630, the first four ships of the Winthrop Fleet set sail from Yarmouth, on the Isle of Wight. John Winthrop sailed aboard the Arabella, the flagship (or “Admiral”) of the fleet. He was accompanied by his two young sons, Samuel and Stephen.

In all, seven hundred men, women, and children made the voyage on the eleven ships of the Winthrop Fleet. Winthrop made note in his journal of the ships that were under his command:

–          The Arabella, as we mentioned, was the “Admiral” of the fleet.

–          The Talbot was named “Vice Admiral” and carried John Winthrop’s son Henry.

–          The Ambrose, the “Rear Admiral” of the fleet.

–          The Jewel, designated “Captain”

–          The Mayflower (not to be confused with the Pilgrims’ ship)

–          The Whale

–          The Success

–          The Charles

–          The William and Francis

–          The Hopewell

–          The Trial

The voyage was a success, and was fairly uneventful aside from occasional adverse weather or wind delays. Many were sea sick, and the children were often cold and bored; however, due to the careful planning and preparation of the fleet, all arrived safely in Salem, Massachusetts that June.

The new colonists were warmly welcomed to Salem by John Endecott; however, John Winthrop and his deputy Thomas Dudley quickly discovered that Salem was inadequate for the needs of the new arrivals. They set off immediately to survey the area, first settling at Charlestown, but quickly moving the group of colonists to the Shawmut Peninsula. There they founded what has become the modern city of Boston.

The early months were a dire struggle for the colonists. As many as 200 settlers – including young Henry Winthrop – succumbed to disease and other factors.

The colonists refused to sit idle, however. According to one account of the day, “there was not an idle person to be found in the whole plantation.” Houses were built and businesses were opened. Winthrop himself built his house in Boston where he worked a fairly large plot of land.

Owing to the great success of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, many more flocked to New England. Throughout the 1630s, approximately 20,000 people had migrated to New England. This “Great Migration” carried on until the advent of the English Civil War in the early 1640s.

Indentured Servants to the West Indies

English: Oliver Cromwell dissolving the Long P...

As the sugar and tobacco trade developed in the West Indies, English plantation owners were in dire need of manual laborers to work in the fields and harvest the crops. The native Caribbean people had been suppressed, thus, planters were forced to look further afield for the needed workers.

Thus began the (often forced) migration of Irish and English workers to the island plantations of the West Indies. In the brief period between 1652 and 1659, tens of thousands of men, women and children were transported to British colonies in Antigua, Montserrat, Barbados, and other locations throughout the Caribbean Islands.

Some of the migrants were willing participants in the process, and worked as indentured servants on the island plantations. They sold their labor for periods of five to ten years, and in return received ownership of a small plot of land.

These indentured workers signed unique legal contracts. Terms of agreement were written up in duplicate on a single sheet of paper, and then cut with a jagged edge (thus, the term “indenture”). One half was given to the laborer and the other was held by the owner. At the end of the agreed-upon term of service, the two parts of the contract would be brought together and matched to prove authenticity.

The practice of indentured servitude was widely used throughout the plantations in the West Indies, and many chose it of their own free will. However, while there were many “freewillers” who willingly sold their service for a chance at a new beginning, others were sadly exploited. “Redemptionists” were duped into signing a contract of indentured service; yet on arrival, they were sold into slavery. Still others were simply “spirited” to the Caribbean by gangs in Ireland. The kidnapped workers would be loaded onto slave ships in Bristol or Liverpool and shipped off to plantations on the islands.

Unfortunately, whether they served by choice or not, the conditions endured by the Irish workers were appalling. They were regarded as property, and were bought, sold, traded, and mistreated at the whims of their owners. In fact, throughout much of the 17th century, the white slaves were inexpensive compared to their black counterparts; thus, they were considered a practically disposable commodity, and were often subjected to inhumane working conditions and exceptional cruelty.

A chilling account was recorded by the governor of Barbados in 1695. He describes the labor of the slaves, “in the parching sun, without shirt, shoes or stocking,” detailing how they were, “domineered over and used like dogs.”

In many cases, white workers were supervised by black or mulatto overseers, who treated the slaves with particular cruelty. Overseers used their whips liberally to reinforce the “slave” status of the workers. Rape was common – and even encouraged by plantation owners, who saw the unwilling union as opportunity to breed future generations of slave labor free of charge. An estimated 50% of the Irish workers died before finishing their terms of servitude.

Many of the first workers were sent or sold to plantations in Antigua or Montserrat in 1632. By 1660, between 50,000-100,000 Irish workers had been sent to work on the islands. Most of those had not chosen a life of servitude, but had been forcibly sold into slavery.

At the same time, the British Civil War had just come to a close and Oliver Cromwell was in power. Cromwell saw the British sugar trade as a practical solution following his great land clearances in the 1640s. Cromwell deported many thousands of Irish slaves to Barbados, which was a hub of British sugar production at that time.

The Barbados Irish soon became known as “Red legs” – a racial slur resulting from the constantly sunburnt legs of the pale-skinned Irish workers. By the mid-1600s, Irish slave workers made up nearly 70% of the population. Eventually, however, black slave labor increased, and the white population of the islands began to dwindle due to high rates of Irish death and racial intermixing.

Today there remains a tiny population of approximately 400 souls descended from the Irish slaves. The modern Red Legs have vigorously rejected racial mixing, and carry the Celtic names of their ancestors. Unfortunately, this small community lives in deep poverty, scratching out a living from fishing and subsistence farming.

The Great Migration

In the 17th century, the religious climate in England was in serious decline. Puritan clergy had adopted strict Calvinism, and were severely opposed to any rituals or religious practices that in any way mirrored the Roman Catholic Church. The growing reforms in the Church of England resulted in alienation of the Puritans.

The political climate was in an extremely volatile state as well, with constant, vicious struggles between Parliament and King Charles I. Parliament – which was predominantly Puritan – consistently opposed the King, challenging his decisions and his authority.

Because the religious and political climate in England was so volatile, a huge number of Puritans migrated to the New World in search of political and religious freedom. To fully understand their reasoning, however, we must look back at the root of the struggle between Charles and the Puritans.

Deutsch: John Winthrop (*12. Januar 1588; † 26...
John Winthrop (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In 1603, King James I ascended the throne of England. As Queen Elizabeth had died leaving no heir, her throne fell to the son of Mary Stuart, the Catholic Queen of Scotland. had been executed some years previous at Elizabeth’s command; however her son remained, and was the only viable successor to the throne.

When James I was crowned as king of England and Scotland, he came to believe that he was appointed to the throne by God, and as such, was above the laws of man and answerable only to God. He stood staunchly behind the Church of England, and passed laws requiring all English subjects to attend services, pay taxes, and unquestioningly accept the beliefs put forth by the Church of England. Those who deviated risked harsh punishment.

The Calvinists, however, were a strong force in England as well, and preached purification of anything that mirrored the beliefs or practices of the Catholic Church. They shunned the Church of England as they felt that it was too similar to the Roman Catholic Church. Their doctrine of “purification” led to the adoption of the name “Puritans”.

The Puritans endlessly petitioned King James, pressing him to change his laws pertaining to the church. King James refused, leading to an intense strain between the two factions. As the situation grew ever more precarious, some Puritans took refuge in Holland, while others went further still, founding the Plymouth Colony in the New World.

While King James I did eventually make attempts to reconcile with the Puritan clergy, the situation took a drastic downturn when Charles I ascended the throne in 1625. Charles also believed that he possessed the Divine Right of Kings, and used it to his own gains and to pardon his own corruption. The predominantly Puritan Parliament consistently opposed Charles, creating an intense struggle between the two.

Finally, King Charles got rid of Parliament altogether in a quick power grab, and for the next eleven years, he ruled as an Authoritarian. During this time, he viciously persecuted the Puritans, who he saw as a direct threat to his authority.

Soon the situation was so precarious that the Puritans had no choice but to look for freedom elsewhere. John Winthrop, a Puritan lawyer, began to discuss the idea of a Puritan colony in New England, following the example of the Pilgrims of Plymouth Colony. For two years, Winthrop discussed his ideas and plans within his social circle.

In March, 1629, King Charles granted the land for the Massachusetts Bay Colony to the “Governor and Company of the Massachusetts Bay in New England” – a company that was owned almost entirely by Puritan stockholders. It’s highly possible that Charles was unaware that the group was formed of Puritans, and he likely assumed that the venture was purely commercial. Whatever the case, the land was granted.

Winthrop set sail for New England in 1630. Eleven ships, known collectively as the Winthrop Fleet, carried 700 colonists toward the New World. Their goal: to become a “City upon a Hill” – an example to the countries of Europe as a fully reformed Christian commonwealth.

Thus, the Great Migration began, as over the next 13 years, approximately 21,000 Puritans fled England in search of religious freedom. Some struck out toward colonies in the West Indies; however most headed for New England in America.

The Petworth Project: Emigration to Upper Canada in the1830s

As the Napoleonic Wars drew to a close in 1815, British soldiers began returning home. The male population was severely reduced, and those who returned assumed that life would be better. They expected better living conditions and higher wages due to the sacrifices they had made; however, they quickly became disillusioned by conditions at home.

English: Major-General Sir John Colborne, GCB,...
English: Major-General Sir John Colborne, GCB, GCMG (Baron Seaton) – British field marshal, Lieutenant Governor of Guernsey, Lieutenant Governor of Upper Canada, founder of Upper Canada College, Commander-in-Chief of the British armed forces during the Rebellions of 1837 in the Canadas, Acting Governor of British North America, Commander-in-Chief of Ireland (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Farmers who had been raking in tremendous profits on corn throughout the war saw an immediate and steady decline. To add insult to injury, the farmers were then forced to contribute an ever increasing amount of corn to the poor via the “Poor Laws.” This not only hurt the farmers, but it trickled down to the farm workers as well, who saw their wages reduced dramatically.

Conditions deteriorated over the next 15 years. Farm workers were laid off as farmers introduced heavy machinery. Poverty was widespread and workers were angry. It wasn’t long before the “Swing Riots” began.

Throughout 1830-31, landowners began receiving threatening letters from the mythical “Captain Swing”. The name was meant to conjure the image of swinging from the gallows, and the intent was to pressure the wealthy land barons into complying with the demands of the laborers. Protests soon followed as workers turned to strikes, arson, mass demonstrations and machine breaking.

Anxious to alleviate the suffering of the angry masses, a few people in power conceived the idea of shipping the poor off to Canada. George Wyndham, Earl of Egremont, Reverend Thomas Sockett, and Sir John Colborne believed that the social unrest could be diminished by providing the unemployed with a fresh start in Canada. Thus, the Petworth Project was born.

George Wyndham owned much of the land around Petworth (where there was much civil unrest) and provided the financial backing for the project. Thomas Sockett was the principal organizer and founder of the Petworth Emigration Committee. Sockett truly deserves the lion’s share of the credit for the success of the project as he not only chartered the ships, recruited emigrants and oversaw the process, but he carefully monitored the adjustment of the emigrants as they settled into their new life in Canada.

From 1832 to 1837, the Petworth Project provided for 1,800 men, women and children to undertake the voyage from Portsmouth, England to Upper Canada. The Emigration Committee instructed the emigrants regarding what they could expect upon reaching Canada, as well as what provisions they would need to bring with them. The Committee provided a list of tools and supplies needed, as well as recommendations for clothing, including warm coats and multiple pairs of stockings in preparation for the biting Canadian winters.

Though the intentions of the Emigration Committee weren’t entirely humanitarian, they did, nonetheless provide amply for those making the trek. Conditions on the ships were significantly better than those on other emigrant ships of the day. Upon arriving in Canada, Sir John Colborne ensured the safety of the emigrants as they travelled across the country to their final destinations. Though the trip was by no means easy, it was free and well-paid work was guaranteed at the end of the journey.

Very soon, the idea caught on in other regions as well. In fact, in 1834, 31,000 emigrants had made their way to Canada. They came not only from Petworth, but they flooded in from Hampshire and Norfolk, as well as from Munster and Leinster in Ireland.

The emigration continued until 1837, when Sir John Colbourne was replaced by Sir Francis Bond Head, who was instead interested in supporting the questionable principles of the “Poor Law” in England.

Off to Patagonia in the Morning – Welsh Migration to Argentina


Each year, flights arrive in London carrying Welsh-speaking passengers bound for the National Eisteddfod. These aren’t Welshmen returning home, however. These visitors speak little to no English, yet they are able to communicate freely once they have crossed the border into Wales.

English: Bodiwan, Bala At one time this was th...
Bodiwan, Bala At one time this was the home of Michael D. Jones 573337who had to sell it because of financial losses incurred in the establishment of a Welsh colony in Patagonia. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

They have come from Patagonia, nearly 8,000 miles away in Argentina. The story of how this Welsh outpost has survived in a Spanish speaking country is quite a fascinating one, and it begins in the early 1800s.

In the early 19thcentury, Wales was becoming increasingly uncomfortable for the Welsh. Much of the land was owned by the English, and the rich landowners were trying to impose change on the Welsh culture and religion. The Welsh heartlands were being rapidly given over to industry. The Industrial Revolution was in full swing, and Wales was a source of much iron, steel, slate, and coal. Little by little, rural communities dwindled away as burgeoning industrial centres took over.

This civil unrest (likely combined with the allure of the new world) caused a considerable Welsh migration to the Americas and Australia. Welshmen and women set out to establish communities across the Americas. Some of the most notable settlements were in Utica, New York and Scranton Pennsylvania.

While a few communities were somewhat successful, many Welsh immigrants found that they were generally under great pressure to learn the English language and integrate into the American way of life. If they hoped to be accepted into the community or find gainful employment, being able to speak and understand the English language was crucial. Thus, much of their native culture and language was lost over time.

Welsh patriots were concerned about this. They wanted a place where they could be isolated enough to retain their native language, culture, traditions, and beliefs – and the United States didn’t seem to be an option. In 1961, a group of men met at the north Wales home of Michael D. Jones (a staunch nationalist) to discuss what could be done. For a time they discussed the possibility of Vancouver Island; however, it soon became apparent that Patagonia in Argentina held all the elements they were searching for in a true Welsh promised land.

Michael Jones corresponded for a time with the Argentine government about settling on a tract of land called Bahia Blanca. Due to an ongoing dispute with Chile regarding this bit of land, the Argentine government was only too happy to have the land settled by the Welsh. They allowed the Welsh to freely colonize the area, and gave them the freedom to live however they wanted.

In May of1865, the first group of 163 Welsh natives set out from Liverpool aboard the tea-clipper, Mimosa. In eight short weeks, the ship arrived at Puerto Madryn, Argentina.

While the natives of Patagonia were welcoming and assisted the Welsh migrants as they settled in the territory, the land wasn’t the fertile, friendly terrain the settlers had expected. The land was barren with no water, little food, and few materials available for building shelter.

The Welsh migrants founded their first settlement on the banks of the river Camwy in the Chubut valley. The colony suffered fiercely during the early years, and nearly failed due to lack of food. Finally, through much backbreaking labor, the settlers were able to irrigate the land with a water management system, utilizing the occasional flooding of the Camwy. This ultimately saved the settlement.

The colony succeeded and thrived with more settlers arriving from Wales and Pennsylvania in the following years. By late 1874, the population exceeded 270 souls. The fresh blood brought new life and energy to the settlement, and farms and colonies began to emerge along the banks of the river Camwy.

When the Argentine government officially granted the land to the Welsh settlers in 1875, many new settlers began to make their way to Patagonia. Great depressions in the coalfields of Wales brought several large influxes of settlers in the late 1800s and early 1900s. All of these settlers made further irrigation of the Chubut valley possible, and the Welsh had soon transformed the arid wasteland into one of the most fertile spots in all of Argentina.

For many years, the Welsh had their utopia. Welsh was the language of home, church, school and government. In time, the Argentine government stepped in and enforced Spanish as the language of school and government; however, Welsh continued as the language of home and chapel. The community continues to thrive to this day, celebrating their proud heritage in language and custom.




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