The Trip From England
©Joe M. Newton
As a result of an civil war in England during the middle of the 1600's a flood of immigrants came to the America and in particular, Virginia. Like many conflicts, the underlying causes for this war were complex. However, in sample terms the English Parliament and the King Charles I had come to an impasse over the issue of taxation and royal finances. The King attempted to force loans from the recalcitrant gentry and commercial class. When the gentry refused, the King became desperate for money. On 3 November 1640, what has become known as the Long Parliament convened and repudiated the King's concepts of absolutism and rule by Divine Right. Parliament demanded greater freedom and religious tolerance. The English Puritans, seeing an opportunity to increase thier political clout, joined with the anti-monarchial parliament forces.
The Royalists, those who supported the King, were recruited from the Cavaliers. The Cavaliers were mostly wealthy landowners and Roman Catholics whereas most of the anti-monarchial forces (i.e., Puritan) were drawn mostly from the common people. While this conflict raged from 1642 to 1649, many Puritan and Royalist left England for the America. However, when Cromwell defeated the King's forces and beheaded the King in 1649, a large migration of Cavaliers left England for Virginia. After 1649 the Puritans were in control of the English Parliament and it was declared to be an act of high treason to recognize Charles II or to attempt to "restore" him to the throne. Therfore, America and, in particular, Virginia appeared to be the only refuge for supporters of the monarchy since they were certainly not welcome in Puritan New England. Also, in Virginia, the Cavaliers found a social and economic system which was already similar to that of the English gentry. Large tobacco plantations were the outgrowth of the earliest settlements. In time these plantations took on the aura of the English estate.
The Enlish colony in Virginia Colony had a significant population of gentry. Many of these were the younger sons of the English landed families that had been driven to the colony by the docture of primogeniture. Primogeniture was the legal doctrine of inheritance of the estate by the eldest son. Because of this docture younger sons often found themselves without any financial support once they were grown and emigration to Virginia offered them a ready opportunity for employment and the chance of achieving high social standing.
While Virginia represented a land of opportunity for many it developed an undeserved reputation as a "land of death" to others. This reputation was so intense in England to some prisoners in English jails, when given the choice of go to Virginia instead of being hanged, chose the latter. Therefore, many people that came to early Virginia, from England, were forced to come. Vagrants, paupers, thieves, prisoners of war were all deported to Virginia so they would be out of the way of decent folk and could do no harm except to each other. But these were outnumbered by those that just wanted to make a new start and those that saw America as a tremendous economic potential. Most of the visions of easy riches in gold or silver quickly evaporated but were replaced by other opportunities like cod-rich waters of Massachusetts Bay, tobacco in the southern colonies, furs, and new ports for trade up and down the virgin coastline. While the riches of America accrued mostly to the mercantilists, riches of a different sort was available to the common man.
Since furtile land was abundent every person could easily find a place to settle and thirve. Even those that became indentured servants in order to get to the New World would be free in a short period of time (usually 4 years). In addition, when his indenture was over, he was given clothing, a gun, tools, a little money, and many time 50 acres of land; and in most cases he had learned a useful trade. This was not a bad price to pay for such a great opportunity.
In spite of all the dissimilarities in their backgrounds and reasons for coming, all early immigrants had one experience in common: a long, dangerous, and extremely unpleasant voyage across the Atlantic. In 1902 Henry F. Thompson read a paper before the Maryland Historical Society in Baltimore entitled "An Atlantic Voyage in the Seventeenth Century." It gives an absorbing account of exactly what such a journey entailed.
The vessels which were in use in the seventeenth century were small, when judged by the ideas of sea-going ships of the present day, for there were few over two hundred tons, as an inspection of the few returns (which are extant) of the naval officers of the Patuxent and Potomac Rivers will show. Although a few ships were from three hundred to five hundred tons, the greater number of them were from one hundred and fifty to two hundred and fifty, and more were under than over two hundred.
They were broad in the bow, the forecastle and the poop were raised high above the main deck, the mainmast was placed in the middle of the ship, the foremast as near the bow as possible and the mizzen where the builder thought fit. The books on navigation and shipbuilding, all speak of top gallant masts and sails but in no one of the logbooks is there any mention of a sail above the topsail, although, of course, they speak of making and taking the sails as well of sending down topmasts and yards. They were but slow sailers an although instances occur of as much as eight mile an hour being made, it was when there was a fair wind, and with a smooth sea, but at no time was the rate kept up for twenty-four hours. When the wind was ahead, but slow progress was made, for no ship could sail "close to the wind," and often four or five miles was all there was to show for a whole day, and there were even times when they were further from their destination at the end of twenty-four hours than they were at the beginning. Rather than keep on against a head wind they would "heave to" or "try" as they said in those days. The Bristow arrived in York River on 8th March 1701, having left London on the 22nd October, and her Master writes "a more terrible passage has hardly been known by man. I have been on this coast near twelve weeks within forty or fifty leagues by all estimation." He had become separated from the fleet, for although the Gloster did not arrive until the day after the Bristow, the latter found on her arrival several vessels which left London with her, but which had been in port eight or nine weeks.
Indeed, there is nothing in which a voyage, two hundred years ago, differed more from one today, than in the great uncertainty as to the time which was to be spent in going form one port to another.
When a passenger started from London, he could not say within many weeks, how long he was to be on board the ship which was to take him to Maryland or Virginia, for, of the eleven voyages of which we have records, they were from forty-seven to one hundred and thirty-eight days from London to the Capes, and from thirty-two days to one hundred and thirteen on their way home. The same vessel varied from forty-seven days to one hundred and two days, in coming from London, and from thirty-two to fifty-two in returning home.
A ship would often be three of four weeks form London before she took her departure from the Lizard, detained in the Downs or some port by head winds or storms, and it must have been an inspiriting sight, after a storm, to see the numerous vessels getting under way from the Downs; for there would be hundred of vessels starting out for all parts of the world, the vessels bound for the Chesapeake Bay often numbering forty or fifty, as the captain of one of them says, "We Virginians keeping together," the name Virginian being often applied to all vessels bound in the Capes.
When the fleet was clear of the land, they steered for the Azores, and one or more ships generally sighted Flores and Corves, the most westerly of the islands. Then they steered for Cape Henry, and deviated as little as possible from a straight course, for their latitude they could find every day at noon, by means of their quadrants, but their longitude they could only estimate by calculating the distance ran and the course steered, making allowance for currents, leeway or a heavy sea knocking them off their course. Notwithstanding this rather uncertain calculation they were not far out of the way when they began sounding to find out if they were near land.
Although a large fleet of fifty or sixty vessels might leave England, they soon become more or less scattered, although there were some vessels always in sight of each other, and frequently in calm weather there were visits between the officers and passengers of the different vessels, who dined or spent whole days, of which custom the following extract from the logbook of the Johanna gives an example: "Mr. Baker hoysted out his boat and came on board us. We spared them some tobacco to pipe, for it was very scarce with them. About 5 oclocke they went aboard again: the master of her was sufficiently in drink before he went."
It may be supposed that the great uncertainty as to the duration of the voyage would have caused some trouble in providing sufficient food and water for so may person, but the food was composed principally of bread or ship biscuit, salt meat, peas and cheese, all of which would keep well for many months, and therefore it was only the space required for enough food and water that gave any trouble, and when it is recollected that it would be necessary to carry food and water for one hundred persons (including passengers and crew) for a voyage lasting perhaps five months it is evident that the provisions which were necessary would occupy a great deal of space.
In a contract made with the owners of the ship Nassau, of five hundred tons, to carry one hundred and fifty or more passengers to Virginia, the following stipulations were made in regard to food. The passengers to have the same allowance of food as the sailors, that is to say: "they were to have their allowance of bread, butter and cheese weekly, and the rest of the provisions were to be distributed daily: each passenger, one six years of age, was to have seven pounds of bread every week, each mess of eight to have two pieces of pork (each piece to be two pounds) with pease five days in the week, and on the other two days four pounds of beef with pease each day, or four pounds of beef with a pudding, with pease for the two days, and in case the kettle could not be boiled each passenger was to have one pound of cheese every day. Children under six years of age to have such allowance in flour, oatmeal, fruit, sugar and butter as the overseers of them shall judge fit."
There were in this ship one hundred and ninety-one passengers, of whom twenty-five were under twelve years of age, and although there were some of all ranks in life there seems to have been no difference made between them as to diet and lodging.
The ordinary price of a passage to Maryland or Virginia was six pounds, but for this large party the price was five pounds, for each person over twelve years of age, and half price for children under that age.
The ship Johanna was on her way form London to Virginia in March 1674, when the following incident occured, viz: "About 12 o'clock last night some of our people saw something walke in the shape of a dog and after that it was heard betwixt dix cry like a child and somtimes knocking without bord and the dog that belonged to the ship run whineing up and down and crept in among the passengers. I pray God dyliver us from all evil."
Nothing happened to them on the voyage, and they arrived in Virginia after a quick passage, and without any accident, but two years later on the same ship something happened which caused the death of two men, but what is was, is not very clear. "One of our servants was missing, judged he fell overboard and drowned: and another had his other leg cut ofe, his other being cut off sometime before -- they were boath Cap. Beales servants."
Joe M. Newton