Why Did Early Settlers Emigrate to the New World?

        This is taken from an important new book of "Atlantic History" by historians Peter Linebaugh & Marcus Rediker:  The Many-Headed Hydra: Sailors, Slaves, Commoners, and the Hidden History of the Revolutionary Atlantic. (2000)
        The authors bring together material on lower-class resistance & revolt throughout the Atlantic region during the period of colonial expansion up to about 1800. (In fact, most of their evidence concerns England & its colonies in the New World, whereas they have relatively little on Spain, Portugal, or their colonies in Central & South America.) They thereby hope to put our understanding of particular instances of revolt (whether in North America, the Caribbean, or Europe itself; whether arising from slave or forced labour or free populations)  into the greater context of revolts throughout the region. This was, after all, the beginning of our "globalized" world, & news traveled around the circuits of the Atlantic as surely as did goods & people. Here's a piece of their description of their purpose:
        "Our book looks from below. We have attempted to recover some of the lost history of the multiethnic class that was essential to the rise of capitalism and the modern, global economy. The historic invisibility of many of the book's subjects owes much to the repression originally visited upon them: the violence of the stake, the chopping block, the gallows, and the shackles of a ship's dark hold. It also owes much to the violence of abstraction in the writing of history, the severity of history that has long been the captive of the nation-state, which remains in most studies the largely unquestioned framework of analysis. This is a book about connections that have, over the centuries, usually been denied, ignored, or simply not seen, but that nonetheless profoundly shaped the history of the world in which we all of us live and die."
        The book is almost a compendium rather than an argument, & it's written with a vividness & sense for anecdote & quote which can make it exciting to read. Mostly, though, their new contextualizing of often well-known material will lead you to a very different view of the history of the Atlantic region (especially England and its colonies) than you may have encountered before: the book opens central questions for examination, & I highly recommend it. In fact, it's hard to know which passage to excerpt for you. Here is one on the means used by England to deal with the problems of labour shortage in their new colonies. African slavery was the ultimate solution, but it was not the only one tried.
If the prison, house of correction, and gallows expressed one aspect of capitalism in England, military adventure, colonization, and plantation expressed another around the Atlantic. When Sir Humphrey Gilbert established the first English colony in the New World, in Newfoundland in 1583, the chronicler of the settlement compared it to the military adventures of Joshua, who conquered "strange nations", took their lands and divided them among God's people, and kept the vanquished at hand "to hewe wood and to carie water". Gilbert's hewers and drawers included not only "savages" but his own countrymen -- those men, women, and children who had "live[d] idly at home" and might now "be set on worke" in America, mining, manufacturing, farming fishing, and especially "felling... trees, hewing and sawing... them, and such like worke, meete for those persons that are no men of Art or science".  Both Gilbert and Richard Hakluyt, the main propagandists for English exploration and settlement, saw an advantage in England's late entry into the European scramble for New World colonies: the expropriations [of land in the British Isles] that coincided with colonization meant that England, unlike Portugal, Spain, the Netherlands, or France, had a huge and desperate population that could be redeployed overseas.

        Authorities emptied the jails for the Cadiz expedition of 1596 and again for Mansfield's army in 1624. According to the Beggar Act of 1598, the first-time offender for begging was to be stripped and whipped until his back was bloody; second-time offenders were banished from England, beginning the policy of transportation. Several thousand soldiers were recruited from London's Bridewell between 1597 and 1601, and in 1601 and 1602 four galleys were built and then manned by felons. After 1617, transportation was extended as a statutorily permitted punishment for felons; at each assize thereafter, half a dozen men were reprieved for galley service and ten conscripted for the army. Sir William Monson expressed the relationship among expropriation, theft, terror, and slavery when he wrote:
                "The terror of galleys will make men avoid sloth and pilfering and apply themselves to labour and pains; it will keep servants and apprentices in awe;... it will save much blood that is lamentably spilt by execution of thieves and offenders, and more of this kingdom than any other.... And that they may be known from others, they must be shaved both head and face, and marked in the cheek with a hot iron, for men to take notice of them to be the king's labourers, for so they should be termed and not slaves."
        Banishment legislation was aimed at the Irish, the Gypsies, and Africans after the 1590's.  The English conquest of Ireland in 1596 laid the material foundation and established the model for all conquests to follow. Land confiscation, deforestation, legal fiat, cultural repression, and chronic crises of subsistence caused the Irish diaspora, sending men and women in waves to England and America. In 1594 all native Irish were commanded to leave England. Ulstermen found in Dublin were shipped to Virginia as slaves, as were Wexford rebels in 1620. The Gypsies... offered an example of life lived without either landownership or master. By an Act of Mary, any Gypsy who remained in England longer than one month could be hanged; an Act of Elizabeth expanded the capital laws to include those who "in certain counterfeit speech or behavior" disguised themselves as Gypsies. In 1628 eight men were hanged for transgressing these laws, and their female companions transported to Virginia. In 1636 another band of Gypsies was rounded up; the men were hanged and the women drowned in Haddington. Africans, too, commanded the attention of Queen Elizabeth I, who in 1596 sent an open letter to the lord mayor of London and to the mayors and sheriffs of other towns: "Her Majesty understanding that several blackamoors have lately been brought into this realm, of which kind of people there are already too many here... her Majesty's pleasure therefore is that those kind of people should be expelled from the land." In the same year, she engaged a German slave dealer to confiscate black people in England in return for English prisoners of war. In 1601 she proclaimed herself "highly discontented to understand the great numbers of negars and Blackamoores which... are crept into this realm."
        Another part of the terror was forced labor overseas, a different kind of "going west." Through the transatlantic institution of indentured servitude, merchants and their "spirits" (i.e., abductors of children and adults) shipped some two hundred thousand workers (two thirds of all those who left England, Scotland, and Ireland) to American shores in the seventeenth century. Some had been convicted of crimes and sentenced to penal servitude, others were kidnapped or spirited, while yet others went by choice --often desperate choice-- exchanging several years' labor for the prospect of land and independence afterward. During the first half of the seventeenth century, labor-market entrepreneurs plucked up the poor and dispossessed in the port cities (London and Bristol especially, and to a lesser extent Liverpool, Dublin, and Cork) and sent them initially to Virginia, where the practices and customs of indentured servitude originated. In order to entice settlers to and secure labor for the infant colony, the investors of the Virginia Company of London fashioned a covenant between the company and the workers. Imperial and local rulers of other colonies, most notably Barbados, adapted the new institution to their own labor needs. Indentured servitude, Eric Williams has remarked, was the "historic base" upon which American slavery was founded....

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