Set Their Feet On The Firm And Stable Earth

“Princes’ don’t immigrate” opined the 19th Century American magazine, Puck. The subject of the quote concerned the multitudes of immigrants flooding both American coastlines. Newcomers hailing from Asia and Southern Europe had alarmed American Nativists who considered the influx as nothing more than riffraff, and a danger to good order. Unfortunately this view of the foreign-born still endures today.

News footage over the last few years has chronicled the plight of the dispossessed amassing along southern tiers of both Europe and the US. Frequently victims of repressive governments, criminals, and crippling poverty, risk dangerous journeys, refugee camps, and even cages to escape hardships.

The earliest immigrants to American shores shared similar pressures, escaping the unacceptable familiar for an unknowable future. A brief look at the American Colonial period illustrates this enduring dynamic.

16th and 17th Century England targeted dissident groups in much the same way; exiling nonconformists, petty criminals, while others were lured by the hope of riches and a fresh start.

These emigres shared one common thread-remaining in England was not an option.

Religious challenges to the Catholic Church set in motion a veritable exodus of refugees fleeing England. As the Protestant Reformation blazed from Europe to the British Isles, the bloody transformation of the English Church began. In the 1535 English Reformation, King Henry VIII cut ties with the Vatican, naming himself as the new head of the English Church. This decision triggered a religious earthquake.

The Church still closely resembled Catholicism, and the disaffected pressed for deeper reforms, earning the title, “Puritans.” Ensuing religious struggles were long, bloody, and complicated. Ultimately the discord culminated in the violent repression of Puritans.

Two phases of reformed believers departed Great Britain for the New World. First was a small sect of Separatists led by William Bradford. These Protestants believed England to be damned beyond redemption. This band of the faithful washed their hands entirely of the mother country. Settling first in Holland, Bradford and other leaders solicited funding for a journey to Massachusetts Bay. Americans remember these religious refugees as Pilgrims.

Nearly a decade later another, larger faction of Puritans followed, making landfall near Boston. More a tsunami than a wave, the Great Puritan Migration, brought thousands across the Atlantic, nearly all seeking sanctuary in New England.

Lord Baltimore was granted a haven for persecuted English Catholics when that faith fell under the ever swinging pendulum of religious clashes. Maryland aimed for religious toleration and diversity, though that ideal failed in practice.

The Society of Friends, or Quakers, made up another sect hounded out of England. Britain’s enforcement of social deference, and class distinction, ran counter to this group’s simple belief in divine equality. Quakers, for example, refused to fight for the crown, nor swear oaths, or remove hats encountering their ‘betters.’ That impudence made the faith an unacceptable challenge to the status quo.

William Penn (Jr.) became a believer in Ireland, and determined the Crown’s treatment of Quakers unjust. After a series of internal struggles, King Charles II removed this group by granting Penn a large tract of land in the New World. Settling in the 1660’s, “Penn’s Woods,” or Pennsylvania settled the colony upon the egalitarian principles of Quakerism.

Scot settlers, known as Scots-Irish had resisted British hegemony for . . ., for . . ., well forever. (Think of Mel Gibson in Braveheart.) First taking refuge in Ireland, this collection of hardy individualists, made their way to America. Not the most sociable, or friendly bunch, these refugees ventured inland, settling along the length of the Appalachian Mountains. Tough and single-minded, this group transformed from British outcasts to self-reliant backcountry folk.

Virginia, the earliest chartered colony, advanced in a two-fold way; as an outpost against Spanish and French incursions, and to make money. At first a decidedly male society cultivated tobacco, rewarding adventurers and their patrons back home by generating enormous profits. Ships sailed up the James and York Rivers depositing scores of indentured servants, not only to empty debtors prisons, but to alleviate poverty and crime prevalent in English cities.

Transporting criminals across the Atlantic grew popular. The Crown issued a proprietary charter to James Oglethorpe, for Georgia. Oglethorpe, a social reformer, envisioned a haven for criminals to rehabilitate themselves, and begin anew.

All of these migrants risked dangerous Atlantic crossings for the same reason. Parliament and the Crown considered the Colonies as a giant flushing toilet. England’s solution to socially unacceptable populations, was expulsion to the New World.

Caution ought to guide current politicians eager to vilify and frame immigrants as sinister and disruptive. No one lightly pulls up roots, leaving behind all that is familiar. (Consider the human drama on April 1, 2021 where two toddlers were dropped over a border wall from the Mexican side).

Americans today view our 17th Century forebears as larger than life heroes, but their oppressors saw these same people as vermin–as dispensable troublemakers who threatened good social order. This human condition remains timeless, and loose talking politicians and opportunists must bear in mind the story of the nation they wish to govern.

*The Middle Passage was the glaring exception of those wishing to emigrate.

Gail Chumbley is the author of the two-part memoir, River of January, and River of January: Figure Eight. Both titles available on Kindle.

gailchumbley@gmail.com

Englishman’s Foot

Englishman’s Foot is a non-native plant introduced by English settlers to the New World. The plant sprouted from the manure, dropping from the equally non-native cattle. It spread unabated throughout New England, and metaphorically named by the native people.

The story is a familiar one. Dissenters of the Church of England, disciples of reformer John Calvin, departed for Holland, washing their hands of what they viewed as English apostasy. After a time among the Dutch, these expatriates watched in horror as their children came of age in the secular world of the Continent. Alarmed, William Bradford and other Separatist leaders determined to leave Holland as well, to take their chances in the New World. 

Bradford, later explained this decision in On Plymouth Plantation, deciding it was better to lose their offspring to the tomahawk than to lose their mortal souls to God. 

You know the next part of this story. 

Pilgrims, The Mayflower, Plymouth Rock, Samoset, Squanto, Corn, Thanksgiving, shoe buckles, etc . .

But this story concerns those already inhabiting the New World, the indigenous peoples of America. In truth, white men had been poking around the shores of early America well before the Mayflower sailed. Explorers, trappers, and fishermen had already encountered native people, trading goods, microbes, cultural practices, and language. Some indigenous folk spoke a bit of English, or the French they had acquired from couriers du bois.

In 1621, the Pokanoket peoples of the Wampanoag Confederacy observed the arrival of the Pilgrims to Massachusetts Bay. Their sachem, or leader, Massasoit, made the decision to cautiously welcome these newcomers, rather than force them back to the sea.

Dispatching the English-speaking native, Samoset, Massasoit hoped to learn the intentions of these outsiders. His own people weakened, especially by small pox, and perpetual warfare, influenced his decision to feel out an alliance with these gun-toting English settlers. In particular, against the Narragansett of nearby Rhode Island. Massasoit’s peaceful reception forged an uneasy pact that helped the Separatists survive their “starving time.”

After Massasoit’s death in 1661, followed by his eldest son soon after, King Philip, became the new sachem of the Wampanoag.

Philip’s time witnessed a massive expansion of British New England. Ships from East Anglia seemed to appear daily on the horizon, emptying thousands of new settlers to the Bay Colony. Plymouth Separatists welcomed a massive influx of Puritan dissenters under Governor John Winthrop. The Massachusetts Bay Colony pressed hard on native lands. It wasn’t long until Philip’s tolerance for the English reached a breaking point. By 1675, King Philip determined to take the action his father had avoided-force the English back into the sea.

It was a forlorn hope, and Philip met his end at the hands of a fellow-Wampanoag, an informer. The sachem’s corpse was mutilated, his torso drawn and quartered, and his head posted on a pike in Plymouth as a warning. Philip’s head remained on that pike for decades. 

In the end, and it truly was the end, Philip’s wife and son were sold into slavery in the Caribbean.

Gail Chumbley is the author of “River of January,” and “River of January: Figure Eight,” a two-part memoir. Both titles are available on Kindle.

gailchumbley@gmail.com

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