Often, throughout America’s history, many of the absolute facts of our evolution as Americans have been misconstrued. This is not the case in a book by Virginia DeJohn Anderson. Anderson’s New England’s Generation: The Great Migration and the Formation of Society and Culture in the Seventeenth Century appears to be right on track with historical fact.
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Anderson gathers historical truths through the help of ancient journals and other documents. These journals illustrate the lives of nearly seven hundred early immigrants. These 698 immigrants arrived in New England in the 1630’s. This mainly Puritan group consisted of men, women, and children. These pilgrims were mainly amateur European farmers, who were looking for more religious and economic freedom. These were not yeoman farmers; these were the middle class European land owners that were really more interested in becoming artisans. Those who have decided to quit England would probably have been more likely to have had problems with the colonization process. Dangerous sea voyage in small ships, starvation and diseases which hostile natives could bring, various economics problems – this was the nearest perspective for those who challenged to move to the New World. Was the leaving from the established communities and the settled life justified? This is the author’s concern in the book.
Through the detailed analysis of the process of the Great Migration that took place in the seventeenth century the author claims that the first cohort of first settlers of New England deserves to be regarded as heroic ancestor figures. This argument is proved very effectively by the author. Anderson gets her arguments from the profound migration studies which enable her to get an unbiased view on the problem.
From the research conducted the author revealed that though there were some cases when unmarried people moved, the vast majority of emigrants to the New World were families. Most of them came from English villages where individual farms prospered.
At first sight these families’ decision to leave England seems striking and unreasonable. But the author’s in-depth study discovers the reasons for such actions. The settlers were seeking for the spiritual harmony rather than material wellbeing in the colonies. The life of modest, independent farmer was the ultimate record for those people. Anderson finds out: “What they sought in the New World was a material life that would support – not threaten – their spiritual goals. They knew only too well the dangers of wealth and covetousness, and scarcely wished to ride the proverbial camel trying to squeeze through the eye of the needle. But they also understood that the incessant demands of poverty would likewise undermine their capacity to concentrate on their spiritual duties. Most colonists therefore carefully chose a middle path, aiming for the modest prosperity that they called ‘competency’” (Anderson, New England’s Generation, p. 123).
This very purpose of the settlers makes them significant in the eyes of their successors. The descendents of the founders of New England named the migration of the seventeenth century a Great one thus paying homage to their forefathers. “Their ancestors, they believed, had fled to the New World for conscience’s sake… Though small in size, this migration was great in purpose” (Anderson, New England’s Generation, p. 16). This driving force that made the migration possible contributed to the fairy-tale status of the settlers.
In the seventeenth century a prosperous future of the New World settlers really looked like a fiction. The myth about the achievements that the settlers were not expected to match was imposed by the coming generations. But the reality of the lives of nearly 700 emigrants discussed in the book proved the opposite. Day by day, they approached the goals they set thus ruining the existing myth. Therefore, we observe that spiritual motives that the settlers were urged on served as a basis for religious, economic, social and political factors of their success.
We should admit the fact that most historians agree that this complex unity of spiritual motives and religious, economic, social and political issues not only made the English emigrate but affected the general quality of the settlers’ lives and all their followers.
The work of Anderson makes the reader look back and appreciate the contribution of the nation’s founders. At least by knowing our own history we can pay debt to our ancestors. Anderson’s book with its close examination of the settlers’ motives for leaving England, their voyage experience and attempts to gain economic security in the New World, along with the study of the settlers’ patterns of settlement is an effective tool for the one engaged in the research of the problem.
The author’s exploration of New England’s founding where both the lives of ordinary people and the meanings that these lives acquired are taken into account is a wonderful example of the transformation of a man’s dream into reality.
When one does not know how to turn fiction into the fact, he or she needs to resort to the New England’s Generation – all answers are obvious there.
Anderson, Virginia DeJohn. New England’s Generation: The Great Migration & the Formation of Society & Culture in the Seventeenth Century. NY: Cambridge UP, 1991.