Coming to America

Christopher Columbus

Yesterday was Columbus Day, the day we celebrate Christopher Columbus coming to America.  Columbus came in 1492, but it was only after 100 years and more that settlers began consistently coming to America to make a new home.

In my own family, the earliest arrivals I can confirm come from the 1620s and 1630s.  Many times the evidence is shaky, trying to connect the dots back over four centuries to the early 1600s.  Often the details of lives have been lost, but sometimes there’s enough to build a story.

Edmund Hinchman arrived at Charlestown, Massachusetts with his wife Elizabeth and three young sons in 1637.  Charlestown was a town along the Charles River that became the original capital of the Massachusetts Bay Colony.  Most likely Edmund and his wife were Puritans.

From 1630 to 1640 over 20,000 men, women and children migrated from England to America.  The dissolution of Parliament in 1629 by King Charles I had left England’s Puritans with no opportunity to voice their concerns.  Over the next ten years, Puritans endured much pressure and persecution.  Many chose to leave England for America, Ireland or the Caribbean.

The Puritans who travelled to America founded Massachusetts Bay Colony.  Many were hoping to help establish the “City on a Hill” that John Winthrop spoke of when he led a ship full of settlers from England to America in 1630.

John Winthrop

The families who came generally gave up economic stability and relative prosperity in England for the opportunity to found a commonwealth based on their own religious principles in America.  Most men and women were in their 30s, with multiple small children and more on the way.  Many were highly literate and worked in skilled professions.

After staying in Charlestown for several years, Edmund moved to Marshfield, Massachusetts, where he lived from 1652-1660.  Then to Scituate, then to Chelmsford (now Lowell), both also in Massachusetts.  There he died on October 27, 1668.

Edmund’s son John, my eight-times-great grandfather, was born in 1631 in England.  After traveling to America at age six with his parents and moving with them to various towns in Massachusetts, he ended up marrying Elizabeth Emmons in Boston on August 10, 1660.

John was a soldier in the British expedition from Boston against the Dutch in New York in 1664.  Charles II had sent Royal Commissioners to Boston to raise volunteer troops from Massachusetts to help confront the Dutch and drive them from New York.  One historian reports that “the Royal Commissioners, when they left Boston, were accompanied by representatives from Massachusetts, and the Dutch did not venture to resist the force which shortly afterward appeared before the little fort on Manhattan Island.  The Dutch settlements came under English control.”

John became a patentee of Flushing, Long Island in February 1666 and again in March 1685.  In 1675 he is listed on a tax assessment roll as having twenty-five acres of land, a negro servant, two horses, four oxen, four cows, two colts, and forty sheep.

Long Island in the 17th century

Many of those who moved from Massachusetts to Long Island were seeking religious freedom from the strict Puritan structures of New England.  Individuals who converted to the Quaker faith (or, really, anybody who didn’t practice Puritanism in its purist form) were persecuted in Massachusetts as described by Edward Burrough in 1661 in a book called, A Declaration of the Sad and Great Persecution and Martyrdom of the People of God, called Quakers, in New-England, for the Worshipping of God.  Flushing, Long Island, in particular, ended up having a large Quaker community.

John’s son, also named John, married Sarah Harrison, the daughter of Samuel Harrison who was also one of the earliest settlers of Long Island.  Sometime before 1699, they moved to Gloucester County, New Jersey.  During the last few decades of the 17th century, West New Jersey had become a popular place for Quakers to settle–both those fleeing England and those who were coming from other areas of the New World, looking for a place to live in peace.

On July 29, 1727, John and Sarah’s daughter Letitia married Thomas Thorne, a grandson of William Thorne who was one of the original patentees of Flushing in 1648.  William Thorne and his son both signed the Flushing Remonstrance of 1657 to seek the freedom to worship as Quakers in Dutch-controlled Long Island.

These families–Hinchman, Harrison, Thorne, and many others–were all driven by the same desire for the freedom to practice their religion the way they wanted to.  As Puritans, they came to America to escape the persecution of Puritans by the established church in England in the 1630s.  Then in the 1640s, 50s and 60s, they moved to Long Island and New Jersey and turned to Quakerism to escape oppression by the Puritans in Massachusetts and New England.

My own ancestors from these families would make their way westward from Long Island and New Jersey to Ohio and eventually Indiana.  They may have been drawn that direction by the possibility of economic advancement or the excitement of the frontier, but I have no doubt that the lure of a free and open territory where they could practice their religion and establish their churches anew played a significant part in their decision to pack up and move their families into a land with unbroken forests, uncleared fields and sometimes hostile Natives.

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4 Responses to Coming to America

  1. mirroredImages says:

    Nice post! Three infant sons??? Yikes.

    • Thank you! I changed “infant” to “young.” I had carried the verbiage over from an antiquated source I was using. But dragging three young sons (or really three sons of any age) across an ocean to a new and relatively uncharted land is still a pretty impressive feat. Yikes, indeed.

      Maybe we should drag our not-so-young sons to some new and uncharted territory…

  2. bronxboy55 says:

    What an exciting and terrifying time it must have been. I’d give anything to have just a glimpse of what New York looked like back in the 1600s.

    By the way, no matter where you live, raising young boys is uncharted territory. But you already knew that.

    • It is amazing to think how the landscape of our country has changed. No place has changed as much as New York. As I drive from Ohio to Indiana–over much of the same land that my ancestors travelled and settled–I have thought that if they were to return to life today, they would have at least some sense of where they were. A 17th century New Yorker who showed up today would likely think he was on some other planet.

      New York is definitely a special place.

      Thanks for reading and commenting!

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