American History | Modul 2 | Wissen | Migration | ◻◻ mittel | ca. 20 min | optionale vertiefende Aufgabe: 20 min
Although scientific evidence proves that Scandinavian settlers reached North America long before and the indigenous population had been living on the continent for millennia, the discovery of the Americas is attributed to Christopher Columbus. His voyages were of great importance since they initiated the exploration and colonization of the American continents – the New World.
In the 17th and 18th centuries, many thousands of people decided to leave their home countries and build up a new life in the New World. What were their reasons to do so, and how was their emigration organized?
M1 | Darstellungstext | Reasons for emigration
The early 17th century marks the beginning of a great migration movement from Europe to North America that lasted more than three centuries. This movement grew from a few hundred colonists in the early colonization period up to a million immigrants per year at its peak. While America was already inhabited by native people, the colonists built a new civilization in North America.
Most settlers left Europe for greater economic opportunity, to escape political oppression or to seek religious freedom. Due to economic difficulties many people in England could not find work. Even skilled craftsmen had problems earning the money they needed to make a living. Living standards dropped drastically because of increasing living costs and declining wages. Moreover, bad harvests and food shortages brought widespread misery. In the 1640s, the arbitrary rule by Charles I. caused the English Civil War. After the triumph of Charles’ opponents under Oliver Cromwell and the execution of the King, many people left England to try their luck in the New World, where they hoped to find gold and adventure.
In addition to poverty and the hope for better living conditions, religious persecution played a particularly important role for emigration. During the religious upheavals of the 16th and 17th centuries, a group called the Puritans wanted to reform the Church of England from within. The Puritans, who were English Protestants, sought to “purify” the Church of England and to separate it from the Roman Catholic Church. They demanded simpler forms of faith and worship. This implied, for example, that church services as well as the church buildings themselves had to be simple and plain. Some Puritans thought that they could express their religious belief best by living a simple life. However, the Puritans were hindered from changing the Church of England, and laws restricted them from practicing their religion in their own way. Opposing those laws, some men and women were even sent to prison. Many Puritans left England in 1630 to settle in Massachusetts Bay Colony.
In contrast to the Puritans, the Pilgrims separated from the Church of England believing that it would never be reformed to their liking. Since the Pilgrims as well were not allowed to practice their religion freely, a group of 125 people left England for Holland at the beginning of the 17th century to escape persecution and to find more tolerance. They settled in the city of Leiden, but concerned with losing their cultural identity the Pilgrims eventually looked for a new place to live. They decided to imigrate to the New World in 1620 where they hoped to finally find religious freedom and a better life.
Vertiefende Aufgabe | optional | Dauer: ca. 20 min
M2 | Darstellungstext | Setting up colonies
After the Spanish had started to explore the New World, the English followed soon after. Some tried to make a fortune as pirates or traders, whereas others left England altogether to establish new colonies overseas. Unlike other countries with heavily invested colonization policies, the English government did not sponsor the establishment of colonies in North America to a great extent. Thus, especially rich men, whose chief motive was profit, invested in setting up the English colonies. They hoped to make profits by shipping supplies (clothes, tools, building material, seed, guns etc.) the settlers needed overseas. The investors made additional profit by shipping goods manufactured by the settlers back to England.
Not all colonists had enough money to pay the expenses of transportation and maintenance necessary for making a start in the New World. In this case, agencies like the Virginia Company and the Massachusetts Bay Company paid the settlers’ costs. Besides those kinds of colonizing companies, proprietors and individual families also made contracts with potential settlers. In exchange, the settlers had to work for the agencies or a contract holder as contract workers for a fixed period of time which usually lasted four to seven years. During this period, the masters provided food and shelter for their servants. After the servants had completed their contractual obligations, they received a payment known as ‚freedom dues‘. The freedom dues usually included small pieces of land, supplies or money and helped the settlers to set up their own homestead.
The colonies of Virginia and Massachusetts were established by chartered companies which were provided with a royal charter. This was a royal document confirming that the companies were allowed to colonize pieces of land in North America. The funds of the companies, provided by diverse investors, were used for the colonists’ equipment, transportation and maintenance. Other colonies such as New Hampshire, New Jersey or Pennsylvania initially belonged to proprietors who were members of the English gentry or nobility. One exception to this is the New Haven colony which was settled by colonists who were rich enough to pay the costs of their families’ and servants’ transportation and equipment themselves.
Historians estimate that half the settlers, especially from the Southern Colonies, came to Colonial America under the system of indentured servitude. Many of the indentured servants became subject to violence at the hand of their contract holders. Moreover, given the high death rate, many servants did not live to the end of their terms. Indentured servitude was a major element of colonial labour economics. After the American Revolution, the numbers of indentured servants dropped to a minimum.
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