The Great Migration

Ships to New England, 1633 - 1635

Our ancestor, Robert Abell, is believed to have arrived in America in 1630 aboard the Mary & John. While technically not a part of the Winthrop fleet, the Mary & John sailed at the same time and its passengers founded Dorchester, MA.

England in the 17th century was a land beset by religious strife. Unlike our country today, this strife was intertwined with the politics of the day and led to a rebellion and the beheading of a King.

The Puritans who landed in America were able to keep out of this strife. They were not involved with the "Separatists" who wished to break from the Church of England. They wished to reform the church from within, but found that the conservative elements were too entrenched and they were unable to make any significant changes. Realizing this they looked around for an alternative which would allow them to worship the way they would like to.

One alternative was the Massachusetts Bay Company. This company was one of many formed, and approved by the King, to settle and exploit the New World. While looking into this company, the Puritans found one significant item in the companies charter, which was invaluable to their aims. The Charter for the Massachusetts Bay Company did not specify where the Board of Directors would meet. Most, if not all other, companies charters called for their Board of Director meetings to be held in London where they would be under the direct influence of Parliament and the King. The Puritans realized that if they gained control of the Massachusetts Bay Company they would be able to use it to settle in the New World where, because of this omission, they would be able to effectively control their own destiny. They would in effect be able to rule the colony from the New World rather then from England with all of its politics and external influences.

The Puritans bought control of the Massachusetts Bay Company and began to plan for their religious colony in the New World. One thing they had to do was weed out any individuals wanting to go to the New World in a quest for financial gain rather then as a Puritan. John Winthrop was selected as the leader for this settlement.

On April 7, 1630 the first four ships left London for the New World. These ships were followed by a number of others over the next few months. These ships included the flagship "Arbella", the "Ambrose", the "Talbot", the "Jewel", the "Charles", the "Mayflower", the "William and Francis", the "Hopewell", the "Whale", the "John and Dorothy", the "Rose" and the "Success and Trial". About one thousand settlers left England for the Massachusetts Bay Colony.

The first winter proved to be exceedingly harsh as about two hundred persons died. It had been so bad that another two hundred opted to return to England in the following spring. The colony only survived due to the leadership of John Winthrop. Not only did he prove to be an inspired leader but he helped stave off starvation by buying supplies with his own money. This venture proved costly to John Winthrop both financially and personally. Three of his children died in the New World.

Despite these early problems the colony prospered and thousands followed the initial fleet to the Massachusetts Bay Colony. The Puritans were able to rule this colony themselves according to their religious tenants. While the Puritans eventually lost power, their influence has continued to affect not only New England but also the entire country.

Sources; The Planters of the Commonwealth by Charles Banks (Riverside Press, Boston, 1930), The Winthrop Fleet by Charles Banks (Riverside Press, Boston 1930).

The following material comes from the The Winthrop Society:

It an amazing story of God's Providence and the skill of English seamen that dozens of Atlantic ocean passages were made in little wooden ships bringing our Puritan ancestors to America almost without mishap in the 1630's; the unhappy exception being the harrowing story of the Angel Gabriel, 1635, which met a late-season hurricane and cast up on the coast of Maine with only a few survivors.

There were perhaps 30,000 emigrants from England to New England before the English Civil War. These folks were mainly from the English middle-class, self-motivated to find a place where they might live, worship, and raise their families without government harassment. This movement of people is called the Great Migration.

Their motivation was religious, political, and economic. The British church and government was becoming insufferably hieratic, tyrannical, and tax-hungry. Common resentment among the English people led soon to the English Revolution beginning in 1642, and eventually to the beheading of King Charles for treason in 1649, after agents intercepted his secret invitations to foreign kings and armies, that they invade England, crush Parliament and the English Constitution, massacre his English opponents, and restore Charles to his pretended "Dei gratia" royal privileges. Charles Stuart continued incorrigibly to hold his dynastic interest separate and above those of Parliament and the British people, and ultimately Parliament had no alternative but to end his conspiracies, par coup de hache.

The Great Migration ended at the start of the English Civil War. Then for a time in the 1640's was hope rekindled in the people that they might live in liberty in England, and the flow of emigrants ceased, in fact reversed. Many brave New Englishmen and their sons returned to fight in England to uphold Parliament and the Commonwealth. The true history of the British Commonwealth has been a forbidden topic in Britain since the restoration of monarchy, 1661. But that is another story...

And a brief description of the Winthrop Society:

Whereas, Governor John Winthrop and the Puritan colonists who came with him to plant the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1630 were the most important and influential single group of Europeans ever to arrive in North America, The Winthrop Society is dedicated to preserving their memory, philosophy and tradition and transmitting their example of courage, faith, civic duty and integrity.

These first settlers, numbering scarcely 1000, and mainly from the counties of Dorset, Essex and Suffolk, although of comfortable estate in England, abandoned their homes and farms, and made a perilous Atlantic passage to settle in an unknown wilderness. They were motivated only by their need to practice their religion free from the persecution of the Crown-Church of England. About one-third perished during or soon after their voyage and may be considered martyrs for their faith.

The Society means to document the lives and family histories of all these first settlers and their descendants to the fourth generation (to about the year 1700). Our scope of study is the Massachusetts Bay Colony, and not the Plymouth Colony, kindred spirits, already ably handled by The Society of Mayflower Descendants and others.

The Society is open to all men and women of good character and proven descent from one or more passengers of the Winthrop fleet, or of others who settled in the Bay Colony or down east before 1633.

For more information visit The Winthrop Society

Back to Our Mayflower Heritage

Back to Home