Disclaimer: I purchased all three of these books and have received no material consideration of any kind from authors or publishers.
In the past, I’ve written book reviews about Albion’s Seed: Four British Folkways in America by David Hackett Fischer and Puritan Pedigrees: The Deep Roots of the Great Migration to America by Robert Charles Anderson, FASG.
Both of these books give a fascinating insight into all the influences – political, social, economic, religious and cultural – on the first emigrants from England to the fledgling colonies.
Else Churchill, a speaker at RootsTech 2019 from England, recommended a third book by James Evans – Emigrants: Why the English Sailed to the New World,which I ordered online while sitting in her session.
I thought I knew quite a bit about American history. Being a product of U.S. public schools and having had several classes through the years on the thirteen colonies, I knew “all about” the usual historical subjects like the arrival of the Mayflower, Jamestown and Pocahontas in Virginia and the expansion of the colonies until they became the United States of America.
As a genealogist, I learned much more about the colonial era because the ancestors went traipsing from one location to the next and I tracked them as they migrated to the north, south and west of their original settlements.
Reading Albion’s Seed: Four British Folkways in America a couple of years ago was the first eye-opening experience that I had. Emigrants from England to the colonies were all just people who left home because of religious and/or economic reasons until being introduced to the British folkways. New England was settled by a very different group of people compared to Virginia. Scots-Irish, who arrived later, were happy on the frontier for a reason. American vocabulary today is still influenced by those four folkways Fischer described.
After that, I felt I had a much better handle on understanding the lives of our founding fathers. That is, until Robert Charles Anderson published Puritan Pedigrees: The Deep Roots of the Great Migration to America in January 2019. I was well aware of the FAN club concept in genealogy long before reading Anderson’s book. Yet, I was still amazed reading about the tangled and complicated relationships between the clergy and lay of England, many of whom became New England’s Puritan settlers. Although this book had its focus on New England, the same concepts could be applied to Virginia settlers and even those in the mid-Atlantic colonies, although settlers in this region had much more of an ethnic mix with the Dutch, Swedes and Germans besides the English.
Lastly, when Else Churchill recommended James Evans’ book, Emigrant: Why the English Sailed to the New World, I was surprised once again. Evans is English and the story is told from an English point of view. There are but seven chapters, plus a conclusion:
II. Gold and Smoke
III. Equality Before God
Fish never once crossed my mind when thinking about all I had ever learned on the subject of settling the colonies. Yes, I knew there were fishermen, but I didn’t know that England was getting overcrowded by the 1600s and that the waters around Britain had been depleted of fish. Neither did I realized that Virginia was originally settled with the thought of striking it rich through the discovery of gold and finding the elusive passage to Asian riches, nor did I know the huge part John Rolfe (yes, of Pocahontas fame) played in hooking the world on tobacco. There was so much more to the whole story of colonization.
I just can’t explain in how much I enjoyed reading these three books and how together they expanded the depth of my knowledge about colonial America. I loved, loved, loved all of these books, written in very different styles, but each amazingly detailed. For any serious researcher, reading all three of these books – a terrific trio – is highly recommended.