When Thomas and Anne Brownell came to America
in 1638 they were a part of the "Great Migration" of
English people to the New World. During the 1620's only about
1,800 immigrants arrived in New England. But from 1630 to 1640
over 21,000 left their homes in England and made the voyage to
New England. By the end of the 17th century, approximately 39,000
Englishmen had emigrated there. (A far greater number of English
emigrants, 341,000, settled in the Southern colonies and the
West Indies in the 1600's.)
Why did the Brownells and thousands of
their countrymen embark on a long, hazardous and unpleasant voyage
to begin a new life in America? What propelled them to give up
"civilization," to leave their homes, families and
all that was familiar to them for the prospect of an arduous
life in New England?
To understand the reasons behind this migration,
we must look at the political, social, economic and religious
forces that converged in the early 1600's, providing the motivation
for thousands to leave their homeland.
The religious wars brought about by the
Reformation were ending, although religious differences continued
to grow. After more than a hundred years of intermittent warfare,
the net result was that the ruler of each country or state would
decide the religious affiliation of his or her subjects-if the
king was Catholic, so too would be his subjects; if Protestant,
his subjects were forced to worship in the particular form he
espoused, whether it be Lutheran, Calvinist, Presbyterian, or
any other non-Catholic sect. Rather than international wars over
religion, the stage was set for internal fighting that sometimes,
as in the case of England, resulted in civil war. The Reformation
in England had not changed much in terms of the religious practices
of the people. King Henry VIII had merely placed himself in the
role of the head of the church rather than the Pope in Rome.
The religious hierarchy and the form of worship remained the
same except that English was substituted for Latin in the Liturgy.
In the latter half of the 16th century,
during the reign of Elizabeth I, there was a sentiment among
many Englishmen that reform had not gone far enough. These people,
primarily members of the middle and lower classes, wanted to
"purify" the Church of England by doing away with all
vestiges of Catholicism and returning to a simple and pure form
of worship. Furthermore, they wanted to eliminate the clerical
hierarchy as God's appointed representatives on earth with the
privilege of interpreting the word of God.
The Puritan concept of worship included
no dogma, no ceremony, no statuary and no formal Book of Prayer.
It disdained the vestments of the clergy and their ritualistic
services, and completely rejected the use of symbolism in the
form of Mass, Communion, Baptism, the Enthronement of Bishops,
and the Solemnization of Marriages.
The Puritans objected to being compelled to support the Church
through tithes, levies, and taxes. They preferred to worship
solemnly in humble surroundings and in direct communication with
God. They resented the Church's claim to infallibility and both
the Church and state's rejection of the right of any man to worship
in accordance with his own conscience.
These precepts put the Puritans on a collision course with the
King and government. The Anglican, or Established, Church of
England had the advantage of forming a vast network of communication
that reached into every corner and every home of the country.
Through the Church ran the authority of the law, the fear of
the hereafter and the knowledge that the priests employed by
it would take note of any "nonconformity" on the part
of the people.
Attendance at church services was compulsory and ensured that
the surveillance was total. The parish rolls prevented the citizens
from dispersing and so evading taxes, military service and their
"duty" to their masters. For those who failed to conform,
the penalties were severe.
As the Puritan movement grew stronger in numbers and determination,
so to did the opposition and repression of the King, the government
and the Church. Under the Stuart Kings, James I and Charles I,
the Puritans despaired of making any real change in the Church
and feared for their freedom and their lives if they continued
in their non-conformity. As religious tensions in England grew,
the New World was seen as a place of refuge where dissenters
could worship as they pleased.
Religious differences and the resulting political difficulties
were not, however, the sole reason for emigration to America
and may, in fact, have been a minor reason. In the early 17th
century, the economic and social lives of Englishmen were undergoing
dramatic changes. England's economy had for centuries been based
on agriculture. Ownership of land was not only a road to wealth,
but was the basis of one's social and political position. The
land hunger of both the gentry (land owners) and the tenant farmers
could not be satisfied on a small island governed by those in
favor of maintaining feudal rights. The gentry wanted more land
while tenant farmers wanted to own the land they worked and to
be free of the feudal restraints that still bound them.
By the beginning of the 17th century, land was becoming increasingly
scarce while the population was growing. England was, in fact,
overpopulated. At the same time, the woolen industry went into
a severe depression, partly a result of the tremendous inflation
caused by the great influx into Europe of gold and silver from
the New World. Prices on all goods were rising very fast. The
poor, laboring classes suffered most from this condition.
Thousands were thrown out of work and onto the poor-relief rolls
of the parishes. Rural laborers were also forced into idleness
by government policies which enclosed the previously open fields
of England in order to create land suitable, not for farming,
but for raising sheep to support the woolen industry.
Beggars were found in every town. In London the unemployed slept
in the streets. The problem was further compounded when Charles
I brought his armies home from Europe, swelling the already high
numbers of unemployed, and forced England's householders to provide
the troops with board and lodging.
Thus the New World and its opportunities began to seem more appealing
to the poor, the unemployed, and the younger sons of the gentry.
Seemingly limitless tracts of land and the potential for trade
and commerce offered possibilities for producing new wealth.
Finally, the English government encouraged emigration. In addition
to being a release-valve for her excess population, colonies
could become markets for her woolen goods. The English sorely
needed precious metals and hoped to find gold and silver in North
America as the Spanish had done in South America.
England wanted to become self-sufficient in terms of raw materials
such as ship timber, tar and cordage (ropes for ship's riggings)
and for products such as olive oil, currants and wine. If English
colonies could produce these goods, England would no longer have
to purchase them from the Baltic and Mediterranean countries.
While the English government did not support colonization financially,
it was quick to encourage private individuals and groups to establish
colonies in the New World. Charters for new colonies were somewhat
easily obtained and often contained concessions that were not
available to Englishmen at home. In a time when emigration without
royal permission was illegal, the Crown eagerly granted such
permission to groups like the Puritans and for almost 150 years
thereafter, allowed these colonies to grow and develop without
a great deal of interference.
Which of these reasons brought Thomas and Anne Brownell to America?
We will never know the true answer, but can guess it was a combination
of several. As a cloth worker in London, the depression in the
cloth industry must have affected Thomas and his chances for
economic advancement. As the son of a farmer, the large amount
of available land in America must have been attractive. And because
of the areas in which the Brownells chose to settle we can surmise
that they were of a liberal, non-conformist viewpoint. All these
factors together most likely brought the Brownells to the momentous
decision to emigrate to the New World.