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Great Migration (Puritan)

The origins of the Great Puritan Migration come from the time when King James I of England (1603-1625), who was a Roman Catholic, determined to oppose the growing Puritan population of England. The Puritans opposed the practices of the Anglican Church, viewing the traditions as retaining too much of its Roman Catholic roots. James viewed this as little less than treason, and made the lives of the Puritans miserable.

King Charles I of England (1625-1649) succeeded his father in 1625 and exacerbated this conflict. By this point, Puritans controlled Parliament and posed a serious threat to the King's authority. In 1629, Charles dissolved Parliament entirely, in an ill-fated attempt to neutralize his enemies. This decision made the religious and political climate so hostile to the Puritans that many wished to leave the country, and they did.

"In this period, so notable for change as well as stability, the English often found themselves frustrated and desperate: to most of them "Merrie England" was but an empty phrase. In the countryside, large numbers of people had been deprived of their ancient rural security; they had no land to cultivate; unemployment threatened the agricultural laborer and village artisan most of the time; at best their housing was inadequate; in cold or wet weather, fuel was scarce, costly, and often unobtainable. Undernourishment and unbalanced diets sapped the strength of thousands of the lower orders, and many fell victims to disease, notably tuberculosis. Periodically the plague decimated whole country villages. In the hearts and minds of respectable, if impoverished men, the payment of ship money, impressment, billeting, and similar demands by government during the years of personal rule aroused bitterness and alienated not a few from the Stuart King. For human and often trivial offenses, the ecclesiastical courts meted out harsh punishments, but in spite of laws and sermons, people solaced themselves with drink, and, among the idle, bastards increased markedly. Approximately half of the peasantry lived in extreme poverty, and depressed conditions affected townsmen and city people everywhere from 1620 to 1642.

Helpless in the midst of the bewildering changes of an economy that never provided work for every man, beset by both private miseries and seemingly insurmountable public problems, the common folk had no ways for redressing matters because they did not rule. Looking upward and outward from their stations at the bottom of society, the invisible poor slowly began to realize that even with the vigorous enforcement of the poor laws by King Charles's ministers, the future held forth very little for them.

Between 1620 and 1642, close to 80,000, or 2 per cent of all Englishmen, left Britain."


         From "Vexed and Troubled Englishmen 1590 - 1642", by Carl Bridenbaugh (1968) pp394-5

About 198 ships made the journey to New England with about 100 passengers in each. There were perhaps 21,000 in all. The vast majority of immigrants were from the English middle class - yeomen, husbandmen, artisans, craftsmen, merchants and traders. Less than 25% were servants. Three quarters of male immigrants could sign their names; the average at the time in England was one third.

Once the King was forced to call Parliament in 1640 and the Puritan revolution began, immigration to New England came to a near-complete halt and did not resume on a large scale until the Irish in the 1840s. In 1652 Scottish prisoners were sent to Boston, in 1685 the Huguenots came to MA, and in 1719 the Irish Presbyterians went to Londonderry, NH area. Even so, in 1800 New England was still 98% English.

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Updated 10 January 2009.

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