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A New Life in the Colonies

A Comparison of Migration to America

Aaron Fogleman’s Hopeful Journeys and Virginia Anderson’s New England Generation provide comprehensive factual accounts of immigration to America during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The authors give vivid details and provide actual immigrant testimonials to depict the struggles and successes of those who made the journey from Europe. Both books reveal intricate details that make a distinction between the immigration of the Germans and the Great Migration. In the following paragraphs, I will discuss and contrast the factors that brought German and English immigrants to America, make a comparison between how and where they chose to settle, and demonstrate the similarities and differences in the social structure as illustrated by Fogleman and Anderson.

One could say that the reasons why emigrants moved to the colonies are indicative of who they are and had a direct result on what they became in America. There were three key reasons why settlers migrated to the United States desire for religious freedom, poor economic circumstances, and encouragement by propaganda. For many, religion was a key aspect in their decision to come to Colonial America in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. However, Fogleman believes that religious freedom has been overemphasized as a motivation for German emigrants. While many emigrants believed that they would be escaping religious persecution, Fogleman points out that many European countries were actually far more tolerant than the British, who still ruled Colonial America during this time period. Catholicism was publicly banned in the colonies, whereas general religious tolerance was promised in many eastern European countries. In sharp contrast to Fogleman’s views, in his book, Anderson states that religious freedom was a key motivator during the Great Migration. While the economic situation in New England could not be completely promising to immigrants, many trusted that they would find religious salvation in America. The Puritan movement was extremely prevalent during the seventeenth century, as many sought release from the corrupt England. Many of those migrating to New England went as missionaries, in hopes of spreading their Christianity and pure beliefs. Anderson indicates, “this shared commitment to Puritan principles…became the common thread that stitched individual emigrants together into a larger social and cultural fabric” (Anderson, p. 40). Puritanism no longer would face opposition, but would now become the foundation for growing colonies.

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The economic situation in the colonies was another undeniable factor for immigration according to both Fogleman and Anderson. In Germany, the economic circumstances were increasingly negative. Population size was vastly increasing, and as a consequence both land and employment were becoming scarce. Germans saw bright opportunities in America, and were willing to take the awful journey across seas for economic opportunity. According to Fogleman, “not only was land abundant and affordable, but taxes were low and the ‘freedoms’ available to the general population were generous” (Fogleman, p. ). Land seemed unlimited in the colonies, and was there for the taking at little cost or restriction. For many, it was far worth the risk to experience the wealth and freedom of the colonies. On the contrary, Englanders had a lot more to risk by migrating. The economic state in England was not that bad, although there were concerns of overpopulation and employment. However, Anderson points out that those who chose to emigrate were not doing so as much for economic needs, but more to build a new society in a wild frontier. Anderson notes, “the social and economic backgrounds of the would-be colonists suggest that they had much more to lose than to gain from migration” (Anderson, p. 8). Emigrants to New England were not extremely wealthy, but most were far from poor. The majority traveled as families, even bringing servants, which was quite expensive; the sum amounted to a year’s rent of a family farm. New England emigrants came from both urban residences and rural villages, where they all had “a range of economic choices and relative freedom of individual behavior,” (Anderson, p. 1) leaving many to wonder the nature of their true motivation. As far as the economic situation, it is obvious that the Germans took a much more sensible chance by coming to America. Anderson makes it obvious to the reader that it was almost irresponsible for Englanders to attempt to come to America when their economic status in Europe was certainly satisfactory. It is impossible not to admire the courage of these immigrants leaving everything behind for hopes of a better life in a land that they had only heard about.

Propaganda was another common practice used to woo emigrants to the colonies. I was amazed by the true impact of propaganda, specifically religious propaganda on emigrants to leave behind everything they have ever known with no guarantee of having anything, or even making it to the New World. Through the use of literature, private letters to family members and friends, and advertisements, interest was received. Fogleman describes how letters from those who emigrated, along with returned visitors, spread the word of the prosperity witnessed in the colonies. Letters sent back to Germany, describing the difficult journey, but ending success were powerful forces in attracting emigrants. A letter from a relative can be a powerful force in making one’s decisions. Most families, if they have any sort of choice, choose to be together. Fogleman recounts the story of Gottlieb Mittelberger, who tells a horrific story of his trek across the sea, but in the end proclaims that he has no regret. In fact, he describes Pennsylvania as “a place of abundant land, wildlife, and liberties” (Fogleman, p. 4) � what Fogleman says is exactly what Germany was lacking. Anderson also points to prevalent propaganda as a cause for the Great Migration. However, the propaganda aimed at Englanders was not intended to encourage people by describing wealth and success. Instead, it criticized those who valued material possessions more than religious ideals. This propaganda offered religious prosperity rather than financial gain for those migrating to New England. It was common for religious gurus to entice potential emigrants with the idea of savior and criticize any emigrant moving for their own personal needs. Anderson refers to Reverend John White, a founder of the Massachusetts Bay Company who declares in The Planter’s Plea that “the most eminent and desirable end of planting Colonies, is the propagation of Religion.” (Anderson, p. 8) This is a clear example of how promoters of New England attracted new emigrants and spread the word about the colonies. From this evidence, it is undeniable that religion and propaganda, two attracting forces to the New World, were directly intertwined.

As more and more emigrants poured into the New World, settlements quickly formed and land was developed; this leads to another important comparison. Fogleman and Anderson give markedly different reasons for why early settlers chose to colonize where they did. These reasons are deeply rooted in the strong, but disparate belief systems of German emigrants and New Englanders. According to Fogleman, German settlers chose were to live in the New World based on ethnicity. German-speakers came from a wide range of regions and backgrounds in their native countries, however in the Americas, most had chosen to settle in regions where other German-speaking people lived. Their ethnic identity became the basis of their settlement. Germans continually settled primarily in the same areas of Pennsylvania, along with their fellow countrymen. While other factors were considered, such as “population pressure and the location of markets and political centers,” (Fogleman, p. 8) ethnicity far outweighed any of these other factors. It is also important to point out that Fogleman notes the fact that even those arriving later still established themselves in the same settlements or new settlements in the same areas of Pennsylvania.

Anderson claims that New Englanders chose their place of settlement for far different reasons. One important difference that was obvious immediately between those from Germany and those from England is their location of settlement. While the Germans chose to settle prominently in one colony, New Englanders were dispersed throughout many. Plantations were established where land was rich in resources and water transportation was most easily accessed. However, Anderson maintains that the emigrants’ main consideration for settlement was religion. “New England towns…existed above all to be secular counterparts of religious congregations there could be no town without its church and no church without its town.” (Anderson, p.) Anderson goes on to detail the process of colony establishment in four phases. The first phase involved preliminary procedures such as planning for and developing the land, with the designation of proprietors. The next phase was for the town to establish its shared norms and values based on Puritanism, to be upheld by the entire community. Thirdly, new settlers would arrive and inquire about these towns; if they were “well-behaved, God-bearing Christians,” they would most likely be accepted. The final phase was the arrival of latecomers who were rejected from existing communities and went on to establish their own communities. This is another notable contrast from the Germans, who chose to settle in the same areas, and accepted later emigrants into their communities.

Another notable comparison to make is the difference in structure within the immigrant communities. Both community structures were strongly influenced by religious, relational and most importantly, economic factors. The German community was very close and everyone knew everyone else. In Pennsylvania, German-speaking immigrants exhibited both collective and individualistic characteristics. Many Germans found that “the best way to succeed as individualists was to maintain extended-family and village connections.” (Fogleman, p. 80) Many were poor and needed the support and cohesiveness of a community. It was crucial for settlers to establish and maintain connections in order to prosper in Pennsylvania. Most Germans were active politically and shared the common goal of social and economic prosperity. An immigrant could be an individualist, but it was essential to remain a “community-oriented peasant” as well, working with others to make enough to survive. In New England, the society and land was much more extensive. However, the New Englanders had a more rigid and well-formed belief system to adhere to when choosing establishment. In the New England colonies, the land was divided up based on a head-right system, which allowed land to be allocated based on the number of members in a family. The plots of land were quite spread out, and settlers only came to know each other little by little through “marriage, mutual interdependence and economic exchange.” (Anderson, p. 0) While New Englanders did form communities with common values and religious beliefs, the settlers were much more individualistic and maintained a higher degree of economic interdependence. New England became a “labor-maximizing population,” where families co-existed peacefully, and servants and young workers began to marry and start their own families (Anderson, p. 6). Both communities were certainly driven by economic factors. However, while there was no denying the Germans were driven mainly by economic motivation, the English tried to base their community more on religion. However, in my opinion, it is almost impossible to ignore economic motivation, even in the most religious of environments.

Fogleman and Anderson adequately portrayed the accounts of immigrants’ lives, allowing the reader to draw clear parallels and differences among those who came from Germany and those who came from England. While there are many clear differences between the immigrants from Germany and England, there is one characteristic that every single immigrant had in common the dream of a better life in America. Some who made the journey had a lot more to lose than others. Some brought their families, some came to meet their families, and some came to start over on their own. But each one of them had goals to accomplish, dreams to discover, and in the end, a unique story to tell.

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