Samuel P. Orth.

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_1920, by Yale University Press_




















Long before men awoke to the vision of America, the Old World was the
scene of many stupendous migrations. One after another, the Goths, the
Huns, the Saracens, the Turks, and the Tatars, by the sheer tidal
force of their numbers threatened to engulf the ancient and medieval
civilization of Europe. But neither in the motives prompting them nor
in the effect they produced, nor yet in the magnitude of their
numbers, will such migrations bear comparison with the great exodus of
European peoples which in the course of three centuries has made the
United States of America. That movement of races - first across the sea
and then across the land to yet another sea, which set in with the
English occupation of Virginia in 1607 and which has continued from
that day to this an almost ceaseless stream of millions of human
beings seeking in the New World what was denied them in the Old - has
no parallel in history.

It was not until the seventeenth century that the door of the
wilderness of North America was opened by Englishmen; but, if we are
interested in the circumstances and ideas which turned Englishmen
thither, we must look back into the wonderful sixteenth century - and
even into the fifteenth, for; it was only five or six years after the
great Christopher's discovery, that the Cabots, John and Sebastian,
raised the Cross of St. George on the North American coast. Two
generations later, when the New World was pouring its treasure into
the lap of Spain and when all England was pulsating with the new and
noble life of the Elizabethan Age, the sea captains of the Great Queen
challenged the Spanish monarch, defeated his Great Armada, and
unfurled the English flag, symbol of a changing era, in every sea.

The political and economic thought of the sixteenth century was
conducive to imperial expansion. The feudal fragments of kingdoms were
being fused into a true nationalism. It was the day of the
mercantilists, when gold and silver were given a grotesquely
exaggerated place in the national economy and self-sufficiency was
deemed to be the goal of every great nation. Freed from the restraint
of rivals, the nation sought to produce its own raw material, control
its own trade, and carry its own goods in its own ships to its own
markets. This economic doctrine appealed with peculiar force to the
people of England. England was very far from being self-sustaining.
She was obliged to import salt, sugar, dried fruits, wines, silks,
cotton, potash, naval stores, and many other necessary commodities.
Even of the fish which formed a staple food on the English workman's
table, two-thirds of the supply was purchased from the Dutch.
Moreover, wherever English traders sought to take the products of
English industry, mostly woolen goods, they were met by
handicaps - tariffs, Sound dues, monopolies, exclusions, retaliations,
and even persecutions.

So England was eager to expand under her own flag. With the fresh
courage and buoyancy of youth she fitted out ships and sent forth
expeditions. And while she shared with the rest of the Europeans the
vision of India and the Orient, her "gentlemen adventurers" were not
long in seeing the possibilities that lay concealed beyond the
inviting harbors, the navigable rivers, and the forest-covered valleys
of North America. With a willing heart they believed their quaint
chronicler, Richard Hakluyt, when he declared that America could bring
"_as great a profit to the Realme of England as the Indes to the King
of Spain_," that "_golde, silver, copper, leade and perales in
aboundaunce_" had been found there: also "_precious stones, as
turquoises and emauraldes; spices and drugges; silke worms fairer than
ours in Europe; white and red cotton; infinite multitude of all kind
of fowles; excellent vines in many places for wines; the soyle apte to
beare olyves for oyle; all kinds of fruites; all kindes of odoriferous
trees and date trees, cypresses, and cedars; and in New-founde-lande
aboundaunce of pines and firr trees to make mastes and deale boards,
pitch, tar, rosen; hempe for cables and cordage; and upp within the
Graunde Baye excedinge quantitie of all kinde of precious furres_."
Such a catalogue of resources led him to conclude that "_all the
commodities of our olde decayed and daungerous trades in all Europe,
Africa and Asia haunted by us, may in short space and for little or
nothinge, in a manner be had in that part of America which lieth
between 30 and 60 degrees of northerly latitude_."

Even after repeated expeditions had discounted the exuberant optimism
of this description, the Englishmen's faith did not wane. While for
many years there lurked in the mind of the Londoner, the hope that
some of the products of the Levant might be raised in the fertile
valleys of Virginia, the practical English temperament none the less
began promptly to appease itself with the products of the vast
forests, the masts, the tar and pitch, the furs; with the fish from
the coast waters, the abundant cod, herring, and mackerel; nor was it
many years before tobacco, indigo, sugar, cotton, maize, and other
commodities brought to the merchants of England a great American

The first attempts to found colonies in the country by Sir Humphrey
Gilbert and Sir Walter Raleigh were pitiable failures. But the
settlement on the James in 1607 marked the beginning of a nation. What
sort of nation? What race of people? Sir Walter Raleigh, with true
English tenacity, had said after learning of the collapse of his own
colony, "I shall yet live to see it an English nation." The new nation
certainly was English in its foundation, whatever may be said of its
superstructure. Virginia, New England, Maryland, the Carolinas, New
Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Georgia were begun by Englishmen; and New
England, Virginia, and Maryland remained almost entirely English
throughout the seventeenth century and well into the eighteenth. These
colonies reproduced, in so far as their strange and wild surroundings
permitted, the towns, the estates, and the homes of Englishmen of that
day. They were organized and governed by Englishmen under English
customs and laws; and the Englishman's constitutional liberties were
their boast until the colonists wrote these rights and privileges into
a constitution of their own. "Foreigners" began early to straggle into
the colonies. But not until the eighteenth century was well under way
did they come in appreciable numbers, and even then the great bulk of
these non-English newcomers were from the British Isles - of Welsh,
Scotch, Irish, and Scotch-Irish extraction.

These colonies took root at a time when profound social and religious
changes were occurring in England. Churchmen and dissenters were at
war with each other; autocracy was struggling to survive the
representative system; and agrarianism was contending with a newly
created capitalism for economic supremacy. The old order was changing.
In vain were attempts made to stay progress by labor laws and poor
laws and corn laws. The laws rather served to fill the highways with
vagrants, vagabonds, mendicants, beggars, and worse. There was a
general belief that the country was overpopulated. For the restive,
the discontented, the ambitious, as well as for the undesirable
surplus, the new colonies across the Atlantic provided a welcome

To the southern plantations were lured those to whom land-owning
offered not only a means of livelihood but social distinction. As word
was brought back of the prosperity of the great estates and of the
limitless areas awaiting cultivation, it tempted in substantial
numbers those who were dissatisfied with their lot: the yeoman who saw
no escape from the limitations of his class, either for himself or for
his children; the younger son who disdained trade but was too poor to
keep up family pretensions; professional men, lawyers, and doctors,
even clergymen, who were ambitious to become landed gentlemen; all
these felt the irresistible call of the New World.

The northern colonies were, on the other hand, settled by townfolk, by
that sturdy middle class which had wedged its way socially between the
aristocracy and the peasantry, which asserted itself politically in
the Cromwellian Commonwealth and later became the industrial master of
trade and manufacture. These hard-headed dissenters founded New
England. They built towns and almost immediately developed a
profitable trade and manufacture. With a goodly sprinkling of
university men among them, they soon had a college of their own.
Indeed, Harvard graduated its first class as early as 1642.

Supplementing these pioneers, came mechanics and artisans eager to
better their condition. Of the serving class, only a few came
willingly. These were the "free-willers" or "redemptioners," who sold
their services usually for a term of five years to pay for their
passage money. But the great mass of unskilled labor necessary to
clear the forests and do the other hard work so plentiful in a pioneer
land came to America under duress. Kidnaping or "spiriting" achieved
the perfection of a fine art under the second Charles. Boys and girls
of the poorer classes, those wretched waifs who thronged the streets
of London and other towns, were hustled on board ships and virtually
sold into slavery for a term of years. It is said that in 1670 alone
ten thousand persons were thus kidnaped; and one kidnaper testified in
1671 that he had sent five hundred persons a year to the colonies for
twelve years and another that he had sent 840 in one year.

Transportation of the idle poor was another common source for
providing servants. In 1663 an act was passed by Parliament empowering
Justices of the Peace to send rogues, vagrants, and "sturdy beggars"
to the colonies. These men belonged to the class of the unfortunate
rather than the vicious and were the product of a passing state of
society, though criminals also were deported. Virginia and other
colonies vigorously protested against this practice, but their
protests were ignored by the Crown. When, however, it is recalled that
in those years the list of capital offenses was appalling in length,
that the larceny of a few shillings was punishable by death, that many
of the victims were deported because of religious differences and
political offenses, then the stigma of crime is erased. And one does
not wonder that some of these transported persons rose to places of
distinction and honor in the colonies and that many of them became
respected citizens. Maryland, indeed, recruited her schoolmasters from
among their ranks.

Indentured service was an institution of that time, as was slavery.
The lot of the indentured servant was not ordinarily a hard one. Here
and there masters were cruel and inhuman. But in a new country where
hands were so few and work so abundant, it was wisdom to be tolerant
and humane. Servants who had worked out their time usually became
tenants or freeholders, often moving to other colonies and later to
the interior beyond the "fall line," where they became pioneers in
their turn.

The most important and influential influx of non-English stock into
the colonies was the copious stream of Scotch-Irish. Frontier life was
not a new experience to these hardy and remarkable people. Ulster,
when they migrated thither from Scotland in the early part of the
seventeenth century, was a wild moorland, and the Irish were more than
unfriendly neighbors. Yet these transplanted Scotch changed the fens
and mires into fields and gardens; in three generations they had built
flourishing towns and were doing a thriving manufacture in linens and
woolens. Then England, in her mercantilist blindness, began to pass
legislation that aimed to cut off these fabrics from English
competition. Soon thousands of Ulster artisans were out of work. Nor
was their religion immune from English attack, for these Ulstermen
were Presbyterians. These civil, religious, and economic persecutions
thereupon drove to America an ethnic strain that has had an influence
upon the character of the nation far out of proportion to its
relative numbers. In the long list of leaders in American politics and
enterprise and in every branch of learning, Scotch-Irish names are

There had been some trade between Ulster and the colonies, and a few
Ulstermen had settled on the eastern shore of Maryland and in Virginia
before the close of the seventeenth century. Between 1714 and 1720,
fifty-four ships arrived in Boston with immigrants from Ireland. They
were carefully scrutinized by the Puritan exclusionists. Cotton Mather
wrote in his diary on August 7, 1718: "But what shall be done for the
great number of people that are transporting themselves thither from
ye North of Ireland?" And John Winthrop, speaking of twenty ministers
and their congregations that were expected the same year, said, "I
wish their coming so over do not prove fatall in the End." They were
not welcome, and had, evidently, no intention of burdening the towns.
Most of them promptly moved on beyond the New England settlements.

The great mass of Scotch-Irish, however, came to Pennsylvania, and in
such large numbers that James Logan, the Secretary of the Province,
wrote to the Proprietors in 1729: "It looks as if Ireland is to send
all its inhabitants hither, for last week not less than six ships
arrived, and every day two or three arrive also."[1] These colonists
did not remain in the towns but, true to their traditions, pushed on
to the frontier. They found their way over the mountain trails into
the western part of the colony; they pushed southward along the
fertile plateaus that terrace the Blue Ridge Mountains and offer a
natural highway to the South; into Virginia, where they possessed
themselves of the beautiful Shenandoah Valley; into Maryland and the
Carolinas; until the whole western frontier, from Georgia to New York
and from Massachusetts to Maine, was the skirmish line of the
Scotch-Irish taking possession of the wilderness.

The rebellions of the Pretenders in Scotland in 1715 and 1745 and the
subsequent break-up of the clan system produced a considerable
migration to the colonies from both the Highlands and the Lowlands.
These new colonists settled largely in the Carolinas and in Maryland.
The political prisoners, of whom there were many in consequence of
the rebellions, were sold into service, usually for a term of fourteen
years. In Pennsylvania the Welsh founded a number of settlements in
the neighborhood of Philadelphia. There were Irish servants in all the
colonies and in Maryland many Irish Catholics joined their fellow
Catholics from England.

In 1683 a group of religious refugees from the Rhineland founded
Germantown, near Philadelphia. Soon other German communities were
started in the neighboring counties. Chief among these German
sectarians were the Mennonites, frequently called the German Quakers,
so nearly did their religious peculiarities match those of the
followers of Penn; the Dunkers, a Baptist sect, who seem to have come
from Germany boot and baggage, leaving not one of their number behind;
and the Moravians, whose missionary zeal and gentle demeanor have made
them beloved in many lands. The peculiar religious devotions of the
sectarians still left them time to cultivate their inclination for
literature and music. There were a few distinguished scholars among
them and some of the finest examples of early American books bear the
imprint of their presses.

This modest beginning of the German invasion was soon followed by more
imposing additions. The repeated strategic devastations of the Rhenish
Palatinate during the French and Spanish wars reduced the peasantry to
beggary, and the medieval social stratification of Germany reduced
them to virtual serfdom, from which America offered emancipation.
Queen Anne invited the harassed peasants of this region to come to
England, whence they could be transferred to America. Over thirty
thousand took advantage of the opportunity in the years 1708 and
1709.[2] Some of them found occupation in England and others in
Ireland, but the majority migrated, some to New York, where they
settled in the Mohawk Valley, others to the Carolinas, but far more to
Pennsylvania, where, with an instinct born of generations of contact
with the soil, they sought out the most promising areas in the
limestone valleys of the eastern part of that colony, cleared the
land, built their solid homes and ample barns, and clung to their
language, customs, and religion so tenaciously that to this day their
descendants are called "Pennsylvania Dutch."

After 1717 multitudes of German peasants were lured to America by
unscrupulous agents called "new-landers" or "soul-stealers," who, for
a commission paid by the shipmaster, lured the peasant to sell his
belongings, scrape together or borrow what he could, and migrate. The
agents and captains then saw to it that few arrived in Philadelphia
out of debt. As a result the immigrants were sold to "soul-drivers,"
who took them to the interior and indentured them to farmers, usually
of their own race. These redemptioners, as they were called, served
from three to five years and generally received fifty acres of land at
the expiration of their service.

On the revocation of the Edict of Nantes by Louis XIV in 1685 French
Protestants fled in vast numbers to England and to Holland. Thence
many of them found their way to America, but very few came hither
directly from France. South Carolina, Virginia, New York, Rhode
Island, and Massachusetts were favored by those noble refugees, who
included in their numbers not only skilled artisans and successful
merchants but distinguished scholars and professional men in whose
veins flowed some of the best blood of France. They readily identified
themselves with the industries and aspirations of the colonies and at
once became leaders in the professional and business life in their
communities. In Boston, in Charleston, in New York, and in other
commercial centers, the names of streets, squares, and public
buildings attest their prominence in trade and politics. Few names are
more illustrious than those of Paul Revere, Peter Faneuil, and James
Bowdoin of Massachusetts; John Jay, Nicholas Bayard, Stephen DeLancey
of New York; Elias Boudinot of New Jersey; Henry Laurens and Francis
Marion of South Carolina. Like the Scotch-Irish, these French
Protestants and their descendants have distinguished themselves for
their capacity for leadership.

The Jews came early to New York, and as far back as 1691 they had a
synagogue in Manhattan. The civil disabilities then so common in
Europe were not enforced against them in America, except that they
could not vote for members of the legislature. As that body itself
declared in 1737, the Jews did not possess the parliamentary franchise
in England, and no special act had endowed them with this right in the
colonies. The earliest representatives of this race in America came to
New Amsterdam with the Dutch and were nearly all Spanish and
Portuguese Jews, who had found refuge in Holland after their wholesale
expulsion from the Iberian peninsula in 1492. Rhode Island, too, and
Pennsylvania had a substantial Jewish population. The Jews settled
characteristically in the towns and soon became a factor in commercial
enterprise. It is to be noted that they contributed liberally to the
patriot cause in the Revolution.

While the ships bearing these many different stocks were sailing
westward, England did not gain possession of the whole Atlantic
seaboard without contest. The Dutch came to Manhattan in 1623 and for
fifty years held sway over the imperial valley of the Hudson. It was a
brief interval, as history goes, but it was long enough to stamp upon
the town of Manhattan the cosmopolitan character it has ever since
maintained. Into its liberal and congenial atmosphere were drawn Jews,
Moravians, and Anabaptists; Scotch Presbyterians and English
Nonconformists; Waldenses from Piedmont and Huguenots from France. The
same spirit that made Holland the lenient host to political and
religious refugees from every land in that restive age characterized
her colony and laid the foundations of the great city of today.
England had to wrest from the Dutch their ascendancy in New
Netherland, where they split in twain the great English colonies of
New England and of the South and controlled the magnificent harbor at
the mouth of the Hudson, which has since become the water gate of the

While the English were thus engaged in establishing themselves on the
coast, the French girt them in by a strategic circle of forts and
trading posts reaching from Acadia, up the St. Lawrence, around the
Great Lakes, and down the valley of the Mississippi, with outposts on
the Ohio and other important confluents. When, after the final
struggle between France and Britain for world empire, France retired
from the North American continent, she left to England all her
possessions east of the Mississippi, with the exception of a few
insignificant islands in the Gulf of St. Lawrence and the West Indies;
and to Spain she ceded New Orleans and her vast claims beyond the
great river.

Thus from the first, the lure of the New World beckoned to many races,
and to every condition of men. By the time that England's dominion
spread over half the northern continent, her colonies were no longer
merely English. They were the most cosmopolitan areas in the world. A
few European cities had at times been cities of refuge, but New York
and Philadelphia were more than mere temporary shelters to every
creed. Nowhere else could so many tongues be heard as in a stroll
down Broadway to the Battery. No European commonwealths embraced in
their citizenry one-half the ethnic diversity of the Carolinas or of
Pennsylvania. And within the wide range of his American domains, the
English King could point to one spot or another and say: "Here the
Spaniards have built a chaste and beautiful mission; here the French
have founded a noble city; here my stubborn Roundheads have planted a
whole nest of commonwealths; here my Dutch neighbors thought they
stole a march on me, but I forestalled them; this valley is filled
with Germans, and that plateau is covered with Scotch-Irish, while the
Swedes have taken possession of all this region." And with a proud
gesture he could add, "But everywhere they read their laws in the
King's English and acknowledge my sovereignty."

Against the shifting background of history these many races of diverse
origin played their individual parts, each contributing its essential
characteristics to the growing complex of a new order of society in
America. So on this stage, broad as the western world, we see these
men of different strains subduing a wilderness and welding its diverse
parts into a great nation, stretching out the eager hand of
exploration for yet more land, bringing with arduous toil the ample
gifts of sea and forest to the townsfolk, hewing out homesteads in the
savage wilderness, laboring faithfully at forge and shipyard and loom,
bartering in the market place, putting the fear of God into their
children and the fear of their own strong right arm into him whosoever
sought to oppress them, be he Red Man with his tomahawk or English

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Online LibrarySamuel P. OrthOur Foreigners A Chronicle of Americans in the Making → online text (page 1 of 14)