Wikiquote:Transwiki/American History Primary Sources Establishing the 13 Colonies

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What Kind of People Came to America?

1600s. Unruly gallants packed thither by their friends to escape ill destines,... condemned wretches, forfeited by law,... strumpets and bawds, for the abomination of life spewed out of their country,... poor gentlemen, broken tradesmen, rakes and libertines, footmen and suchothers fitter to spoil or ruin a commonwealth than to help raise and maintain one. Seventeenth-century English summary of those who left for America.

Why did Settlers Come to America?

1600s My dear wife much longed to see me settled there in peace, and so put me to it. One clergyman’s reason for coming.

1600s The hopes of having land of their own and becoming independent of landlords is what chiefly induces people to America. An early immigrant to New York.

1600s [A farmer with] fifty acres of land may afford to give more wood for timber and fire, as good as the world yields, than many noblemen in England can afford to. Anonymous



1585 The soil is the most plentiful, sweet, fruitful and wholesome of all the world. Captain Arthur Barlowe, report on his exploration of Roanoke Island, site of the first settlement in the Virginia Colony (now in the state of North Carolina).

1586 On August 18 a daughter was born to Elinor,... wife of Ananias Dare.... The child was christened on the following Sunday and was named Virginia because she was the first Christian child born in Virginia. John White, father of Elinor Dare, from an account of events in the failed colony of Roanoke.

1607 It is... reported that the French intend to inhabit Virginia. Reasons for Founding Colonies, London.

1607 There were never Englishmen left in a foreign country in such misery as we were in this newly discovered Virginia. Remarks of a Virginia colonist.

1608 Our men were destroyed with cruel diseases such as swellings, flixes, burning fevers, and by wars, and some departed suddenly, but for the most part they died of mere famine. There were never Englishmen left in a foreign country in such misery. George Percy, one of the few survivors of the settlement of Jamestown in 1607.

1609 [Many settlers] never did know what a day’s work was..... He that will not work shall not eat. Captain John Smith to lazy colonists in Jamestown, Virginia, after assuming command of the colony.

1609 “Why do you take by force what you may obtain by love? Why will you destroy us who supply you with food? What can you get by war?... We are unarmed, and willing to give you what you ask, if you come in a friendly manner.” Chief Wahunsonacock to the settlers of Jamestown, who attacked his villages to get food.

1619 “Prayer being ended, to the intent that we had begun at God Almighty so we might proceed with awful and due respect toward his lieutenant, our most gracious and dread sovereign [King Charles I], all the burgesses were entreated to retire themselves into the body of the church....” John Pory, Proceedings of the First Meeting of the Virginia House of Burgesses, the first representative assembly in the future United States.

New England

1620 Having undertaken for the glory of God, and advancement of the Christian faith and honor of our king and country, a voyage to plant the first colony in the northern parts of Virginia, do by these present, solemnly and mutually, in the presence of God and one of another, covenant and combine ourselves together in a civil body politic, for our better ordering and preservation and furtherance of the ends aforesaid.... From the Mayflower Compact, in which the settlers of Plymouth agree to establish a majority-rule government.

1621 [The Pilgrims] were not acquainted with trade nor traffic... but only had been used to a plain country life and the innocent trade of husbandry. Governor William Bradford of Plymouth, on how the Pilgrims were ill-prepared for the demanding life in New England.

1622 Squanto... was a special instrument sent of God for their good beyond their expectation.... He directed them how to set their corn, where to take fish, and to procure other commodities, and was also their pilot to bring them to unknown places.... What could now sustain them but the spirit of God and His grace?...

       So they began to think how they might raise as much corn as they could and obtain a better crop than they had done, that they might not still thus languish in misery.  At length, after much debate of things, the governor (with the advice of the chief among them) gave way that they should set corn, every man for his own particular, and in that regard trust to themselves....  

Governor William Bradford, Of Plymouth Plantation 1620 - 1647, on how Plymouth gave up having all farmers work for the Company, letting them instead work their own land in order to prevent renewed starvation.

1630 The Lord will be our God and delight to dwell among us as His own people.... The Lord will make our name a praise and glory, so that men shall say of succeeding plantations: ‘The Lord make it like that of New England.” For we must consider that we shall be like a City upon a Hill; the eyes of all people are on us. Massachusetts Bay Colony as the New Israel, in John Winthrop, A Model of Christian Charity.

1639 [W]here a people are gathered together the word of God requires that... there should be an orderly and decent government established according to God, to order and dispose of the affairs of the people... as occasion shall require. From the Preamble of the Fundamental Orders of Connecticut, considered the first constitution in the future United States.

1647 Forasmuch as the good education of children is of... benefit to any commonwealth, and whereas many parents and masters are too indulgent and negligent of their duty in that kind: It is ordered that the selectmen of every town... shall have a vigilant eye over their brethren and neighbors to see, first, that none of them shall suffer so much barbarism in any of their families [by failing] to teach, by themselves or others, their children and apprentices so much learning as may enable them perfectly to read the English tongue, and knowledge of the capital laws; upon penalty of 20s. For each neglect therein. Massachusetts Bay Colony School Law, known as “The Great Deluder Law,” in order to hinder “the chief project of that old deluder, Satan, to keep men from the knowledge of the Scriptures.”

1650 If any man have a stubborn and rebellious son of... sixteen years of age, which will not obey the voice of his father or the voice of his mother, and that when they have chastened him will not hearken unto them, then may his father and mother... lay hold on him and bring him to the magistrates assembled in Court, and testify that their son is stubborn and rebellious and... lives in sundry notorious crimes, such a son shall be put to death. Connecticut Legal Code.

c. 1650 Disorders may be prevented, and ill weeds nipped before they take too great a head. Massachusetts law requiring town officials to inspect families to determine if there were problems with them requiring correction.

New Netherland

1609. The land is the finest for cultivation that I ever in my life set foot upon, and it also abounds with trees of every description. The natives are a very good people; for, for when they saw that I would not remain, they supposed that I was afraid of their bows, and taking the arrows, they broke them in pieces and threw them into the fire. Henry Hudson, from his description of his voyage up the Hudson River

1624. Whosoever shall settle any colony out of the limits of Manhattan Island shall be obliged to satisfy the Indians for the land they shall settle upon.... From the Charter of Freedoms and Exemptions of New Netherland.

1643 On the island of Manhattan, and in its environs, there may well be four or five hundred men of different sects and nations: the Director General told me that there were men of eighteen different languages; they are scattered here and there on the river, above and below, as the beauty and convenience of the spot has invited each to settle. Report on New Amsterdam by French Father Isaac Jogues, who was later murdered by the Mohawks.

1647 I shall govern you as a father his children. Peter Stuyvesant, to the people of New Amsterdam upon arriving there as Director General (Governor) of New Netherland.

1664 Powder and provisions failing, and no relief or reinforcements being expected, we were necessitated to come to terms with the enemy, not through neglect of duty or cowardice.... but in consequence of an absolute impossibility to defend the fort, much less the city of New Amsterdam, and still less the country. Peter Stuyvesant, account of the surrender of New Netherland to the English.

Settlers and Indians

1600s Many ways hath their advice and endeavor been advantageous to us, they being our first instructors for the planting of their Indian corn, by teaching us to cull out the finest seed, to observe the fittest season, to keep distance for holes and fit measure for hills, to worm it, weed it, to prune it, and dress it as occasion requires. Farmer on how Indians showed settlers how to grow corn. 2000s People are still living there happily.