Chapter 16: Bay Watch Beginning

Winthrop Fleet: Arrival of the Winthrop Colony in Boston Author: W.F. Halsall, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Winthrop Fleet: Arrival of the Winthrop Colony in Boston
Author: W.F. Halsall, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

A total of seventeen wooden ships arrived at Boston in 1630. This was the Great Migration of the middle class seeking a better future in a new country with freedom “to worship and raise their families without government harassment.” That sounds familiar, but there are no new worlds for escape today.

The passenger lists of several ships are maintained on the website which estimates “perhaps 30,000 emigrants from England to New England before the English Civil War.” On this site, the passenger list for the Increase in 1635, includes Robert Nanney, listed as Robert Nancy age 22. Along with him came travelers who declared their professions as tailor, carpenter, fisherman, weaver, tanner, laborer, sawyer, glover, mason, shoemaker, servant, miller, ostler, and husbandman. A host of hopefuls.

An interesting aside is the relationship of the Nanney family to the religious and political intrigue brewing in Boston in 1634. Robert Nanney’s future wife Catherine was the daughter of the famous dissident preacher John Wheelwright. Her mother was Mary Hutchinson whose brother Will had married Anne Maybury, the daughter of a well-known Anglican minister, the Rev Francis Maybury. Mary also had a brother Richard Hutchinson, i.e. Catherine’s uncle, who may have been involved with Robert Nanney’s shipping company.

The Will Hutchinsons were fans of John Cotton, a popular preacher in England but his message to eliminate the ceremonial focus of worship was not received favorably by the Anglican Church. By 1600 there were several independent congregations “separating” from the church hierarchy which was not Cotton’s intent. However, he was asked to leave the country, and he did. In 1634, the Hutchinsons sailed to Massachusetts to follow Cotton. Anne Maybury Hutchinson immediately became a vocal force to minimize the role of orthodox clergy at a time when Governor Winthrop was trying to impose strict Puritan values. In front of large groups, Anne stressed grace not works. “Antinomianism.” (Still being preached today under different labels) Her opponents told her to go home and take care of her thirteen children. Both Anne Hutchinson and John Wheelwright were thrown out of the Massachusetts Bay Colony.

Drawing by Kmusser Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Drawing by Kmusser
Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

John went north with 37 of like-minded followers to establish the town of Exeter, New Hampshire. When they did not cut the strings to the Bay Colony leadership, he migrated to Maine. Eventually he again travelled to Boston to explain his position, and he was welcomed back. In fact his portrait still hangs in the Massachusetts State House in Boston. In 1655 he returned to England, where he was well taken care of by his college buddy Oliver Cromwell. Unfortunately Cromwell ran into a bit of trouble and died. Wheelwright’s supporter Sir Henry Vane, who lost to Governor Winthrop in a 1637 Massachusetts election and returned to England, was soon either executed or committed suicide. Stories vary. Regardless, Wheelwright returned to Massachusetts where he pastored a church in Salisbury for seventeen years, exhausted from his proximity to drama no doubt.

Things did not go as well for Anne Hutchinson and her family who retreated to Long Island in the area of present-day The Bronx, where they were massacred by Indians in 1643. Only daughter Susannah survived when she was taken captive. Oh, Susannah, how scary.

Understandably, many immigrants moved south to Virginia over the next generation for more land and more freedom. Dennis Yancey of Nanney ancestry wrote an excellent essay that remains on an old website. He credited a source for his musings: The Planters of Colonial Virginia by Thomas Jefferson Wertenbaker published in 1922 by Princeton Univ Press which I read with interest. Available free on line. Dennis now refers readers to

The main idea, I think, is that we can’t understand the development of the colonies, their successes, failures, and eventual revolt unless we understand the original mission of the sponsors, the men with the money. There was a breakdown of a common goal. The London Company had high expectations to compete in a growing industrial world that needed iron ore and glass and timber. Here was a bonanza of raw material for the taking, but there was no labor force.

The husband of Pocohontas, John Rolfe, was an original entrepreneur without including the Crown. He detested the taste of the weed smoked by the Indians but knew it was rude and hazardous to his life to reject a pipe offered in peace. In 1614  he produced tobacco that was more to his taste. Capitalists found a market.

Laborers first imported by the London Company were treated with respect and rewarded for their adventurous spirit. From 1623 to 1637, seventy-five percent of indentured servants were intended for tobacco fields. Some freemen who paid their own way could get a quick start to a new life, but the indentured were bound to the guy who paid for the ride. They had to work off the debt usually for four or five years, still a good deal because they were eventually free. A hard worker could make a living at farming tobacco on a small parcel of land. The newcomers were mostly young and healthy. Until they had to endure a year in the tidewater of marshy ground stocked with mosquitoes, under a foreign hot sun with questionable water supply. Not to mention occurrences of yellow fever, scurvy, and assorted plagues. Mr. Wertenbaker wrote, “At one time the mortality rate among settlers upon the James ran as high as seventy-five percent.”

Nevertheless, there were opportunities for many. Between 1629 and 1652, fifteen percent of the VA House of Commons had been indentured servants. Investigation of the tax records reveal hundreds of little farmers who paid taxes for themselves and only a handful of wealthy with servants and slaves. Lifestyles of all depended upon the price of tobacco, subject to regulation by the King.

Mr. Wertenbaker quoted a message from King Charles I to the Virginia Governor and Council of 1636, “The King cannot but take notice how little that colony hath advanced in Staple commodities fit for their own subsistence and clothing.” He suggested Virginia make an effort to produce cotton or wool like those in the West Indies.

First the rhetoric, then the law. The Navigation Acts starting in 1651 were intended to control the colonies’ exports by cutting out other countries. The loss of foreign business was a disaster for planters, and England could not handle the excess, so tobacco crops piled up in 1666. Their solution was to import cheap labor with slaves from Africa. Unlike the growing number of freed men who had worked off their bonds, slaves were unable to become part of the social structure because of race. Large plantations flourished because of forced dependence.

And the white yeoman felt the economic pinch. His parents had a comfortable 20×30 house with a chimney at both ends, a garden, barn, hen house, and maybe a milk house. Maybe a kitchen. Water was plentiful from natural springs or wells. And they never lacked fuel.

But many in the next generation felt limited and headed south or west to new frontiers.



Copyright November 12, 2014, Georgia Wilson


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