Skip to main content
Report this ad

See also:

The Pioneers: Who They Were and How They Lived: Part 2 of 3

The question of exactly who the Pioneers of America were and where they came from can be answered precisely. Everyone who has had an American history lesson knows that the majority of the first settlers to America were from England, but it may surprise some to find out that the fabric of America was actually contrived of a much more diverse heritage and it was that way from the very beginning.

The first settlement in Jamestown, Virginia was made up of all men from England who were funded by the Virginia Company of England to start the settlement in exchange for a portion of the future crops and goods. Virginia is a name that was devised to honor Elisabeth I who was at the time called "the Queen Virgin". In Virginia, the first "pioneers" of the New World had thought they came prepared for the challenges they would face. They were sorely mistaken. Half of the men were wealthy prospectors who would have never survived the harsh living conditions of the new land had it not been for the other half of men who were the artisans, the craftsmen, the soldiers, the laborers, and two very valuable surgeons. They all underestimated the difficulties that would lie ahead for them. After only eight months, only 60 of the 214 settlers had survived. That did not stop the tenacious settlers who fought disease and famine. They were helped by the Algonquian Indian tribe the first few years but after more settlers arrived, the Algonquian Chief, Powhatan, realized that white settlement only meant that his lands would eventually be taken over entirely so he began attacking the settlers. Powhatan's rage had cooled some years later when his daughter, Pocahontas married John Rolfe, a tobacco farmer. Life was hard. It was savage. Yet, the first pioneers of America were determined to survive.

Many may be surprised to know that it was in the Jamestown settlement that in 1619 a Dutch slave trader traded his cargo of captive Africans for food. These first Africans became indentured slaves who worked in exchange for food, shelter, and their eventual freedom. It would be long after that, in 1680, when "racial" slavery was a common occurrence. We can conclude from this that our nation was, from the very beginning, a capitalist society that had its opportunities and its fallacies.

Another set of pioneers in America was the Pilgrims of Plymouth, Massachusetts. This group, discussed earlier in Part 1
sailed to America for a very different reason than the Jamestown group. The Pilgrims were seeking freedom from religious persecution. The Plymouth Bay Colony they had established was during a time when England was in turmoil and economic decline. It was this group of settlers who began the large-scale immigration from Europe. In Europe, this was later termed "The Great Migration".

The Pilgrims exiled from England to Holland and were later given approval by King James I to relocate to America. They returned to England briefly before departing for America with the financial backing of the London Virginia Company, a group of speculators who were asking for a share of all future American crops that they would produce. The Pilgrims actually landed on Cape Cod and settled a month later at Plymouth Bay. They had extreme difficulties getting established. As with Jamestown, the local Natives helped the Pilgrims and shared the bounties of the land thus we now have Thanksgiving to commemorate that time of thanks. It was that harmony with the Natives that was paramount in the survival of the Plymouth Bay Colony who became one of the bases of the new American population.

Like the Pilgrims, a third group left England to escape religious persecution. They were called "Puritans". The Puritans contributed even greater numbers towards the American population. This group was called puritan because they wanted to purify the established Church of England which they felt had become morally corrupt. England at that time was particularly tumultuous and King Charles I was trying to rule without parliament approval. The Puritans were discriminated against and had asked to be granted lands in America. This was awarded in order to prevent all out war. So in 1630, 17 Puritan ships sailed for America. Tensions in England remained high throughout the 1630's despite the separation of people and Civil War broke out in England in 1651. It was during those years between 1630 and 1640 that America became especially attractive to the people who wanted to flee the conflict and many as 20,000 immigrants poured onto America soil seeking peace and prosperity. The land granted to them by the King was just north of the Plymouth Bay Colony and would be known as "The Massachusetts Bay Colony" in which the two major centers would be Boston and Salem.

In the south, the Virginia Colony began to rapidly expand as the Great Migration had begun to wind down. What started out as a colony of just 8000 ended up with 30,000 people by 1660. This was due to Sir William Berkley, the governor of the Colony. Berkley campaigned heavily in England to draw some of the more elite of citizens to come to America with promises of more wealth and status. His campaign was successful as Puritans rose to power in England and executed the King in 1649. The elite became nervous and fled amidst the civil conflict. This was important to the future American Government as many descendants of those wealthy early pioneers became our nations future leaders during the Revolutionary War.

It wasn't the wealthy that contributed to the largest group of immigrants to America in those early days. West Africans were brought to serve as indentured servants to those wealthy settlers. The idea was to work not for wages but for passage to America with food and shelter provided until the individual debt was paid for in months, weeks , or years after which the servant would gain his or her freedom to become a full citizen of the New World. The idea of indentured servitude was accepted by both the English and Africans but it made Virginia a highly unequal society. The rest of the story was yet to be written.

The Quakers, a "Society of Friends" had also broken off from the Church of England by the mid seventeenth century. It's leader, William Penn, created a region in America to which the English members were encouraged to migrate. There was a large scale migration in 1675 arriving in Salem and Delaware Bay. So many came to America that by 1750 they were the third largest religious group in America. Penn had secured a charter from King Charles II to obtain 45,000 square miles of land for his people. The king called this land "Pennsylvania".

In the westernmost regions of the time, people from Northern England, Scotland, and Northern Ireland had settled into the rugged mountainous landscape of the Appalachians. This early immigration took place between 1715and 1775. The Northern Ireland group was actually Scotch-Irish immigrants who didn't fit in back home in Scotland nor Ireland.

North England's crop failures during the years 1727, 1740, and 1770 were reason enough to leave England for the rich backcountry soil of America.

The Scotch-Irish, the Scottish, and the Northern England immigrants complied 90% of the settlers in the Appalachian region of the New World having arrived late after the eastern coastal lands had already been settled. These staunch individuals were the original frontiersmen and women of early America.

As news of freedom and prosperity in the New World was spread throughout Europe, more and more Europeans decided to take a chance and came for the opportunities as advertised. The Dutch, the Swedish, and the Germans came looking for their dream as well. New Netherland was founded by the Dutch in the late 1620's. It's capital was then called New Amsterdam which was actually made up of only half Dutch; the other half were Belgian. The British took over this colony in 1664 and changed New Netherland to a new name that remains today- New York.

The Swedes arrived in 1637 and founded Delaware Bay. This new colony called New Sweden included areas of modern-day New Jersey, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Delaware and was settled primarily along the Delaware River. The Dutch had disputes with the Swedes and took over their colony in1654 but allowed the Swedes to continue to govern their own territory. However in 1681, the British took over all of the Colonies in the Northeastern lands which ended the Swedish control of the region.

Up until the American Revolution, German immigration was steady and had become the second largest group of Immigrants to America by the War. One key year was 1709. This year the largest majority of Protestant Germans fled to America from the Palatine region of Germany. They first traveled to Holland, then to England where they boarded a ship to America. So many came to escape political unrest and economic hardship that in one year alone (1709-1710) , 2,100 Palatine Germans arrived and settled in New York. Other Germans had settled in Virginia, the Carolinas, Massachusetts, and Pennsylvania where the Quakers had tolerance for German Lutherans. By 1775 an estimated 84,500Germans lived in the original thirteen colonies.

One group of immigrants not often talked about is an obscure topic in America today. It is the group that consisted of West Africans who immigrated to the New World. What most people do not know today is that this group of pioneers consisted of both voluntary and involuntary immigrants. The idea of indentured servants was to provide a passage to America in exchange for food and shelter for a period of time after which the indentured servant would be freed to do as he or she pleased. It was a way to find a solution to the agricultural needs of the New World especially in the south where tobacco and rice were the main crops of the early days (cotton would come along somewhat later). There were not enough people willing or able in the beginning to provide the labor needed to succeed in America at the time and indentured servitude had been common in Europe for centuries. It was a natural solution but it would also prove to be a fallacy that cast a dark shadow on American History as indentured servants became fewer and racial slavery became more common in later years. Therefore, servitude or slavery was brought over from Europe from the very first colonization efforts in America making West Africans one of the largest groups of immigrants to America in American History. By 1775, just a year before our independence from England, 278,400 Africans had been imported making up one-fifth of the entire population in the New World at that time.

In Part 3: A discussion of who eventually immigrated to South Bend, Indiana and how they lived and survived the wilderness

Report this ad