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America - Our Foreigners

( Originally Published 1921 )


LONG before men awoke to the vision of America, the Old World was the scene of many stupendous migrations. One after another, the Goths, the Huns, the Saracens, the Turks, and the Tatars, by the sheer tidal force of their numbers threatened to engulf the ancient and medieval civilization of Europe. But neither in the motives prompting them nor in the effect they produced, nor yet in the magnitude of their numbers, will such migrations bear comparison with the great exodus of European peoples which in the course of three centuries has made the United States of America. That movement of races first across the sea and then across the land to yet another sea, which set in with the English occupation of Virginia in 1607 and which has continued from that day to this an almost ceaseless stream of millions of human beings seeking in the New World what was denied them in the Old has no parallel in history.

It was not until the seventeenth century that the door of the wilderness of North America was opened by Englishmen; but, if we are interested in the circumstances and ideas which turned Englishmen thither, we must look back into the wonderful sixteenth century and even into the fifteenth, for it was only five or six years after the great Christopher's discovery, that the Cabots, John and Sebastian, raised the Cross of St. George on the North American coast. Two generations later, when the New World was pouring its treasure into the lap of Spain and when all England was pulsating with the new and noble life of the Elizabethan Age, the sea captains of the Great Queen challenged the Spanish monarch, defeated his Great Armada, and unfurled the English flag, symbol of a changing era, in every sea.

The political and economic thought of the sixteenth century was conducive to imperial expansion. The feudal fragments of kingdoms were being fused into a true nationalism. It was the day of the mercantilists, when gold and silver were given a grotesquely exaggerated place in the national economy and self-sufficiency was deemed to be the goal of every great nation. Freed from the restraint of rivals, the nation sought to produce its own raw material, control its own trade, and carry its own goods in its own ships to its own markets. This economic doctrine appealed with peculiar force to the people of England. England was very far from being self-sustaining. She was obliged to import salt, sugar, dried fruits, wines, silks, cotton, potash, naval stores, and many other necessary commodities. Even of the fish which formed a staple food on the English workman's table, two-thirds of the supply was purchased from the Dutch. Moreover, wherever English traders sought to take the products of English industry, mostly woolen goods, they were met by handicaps tariffs, Sound dues, monopolies, exclusions, retaliations, and even persecutions.

So England was eager to expand under her own flag. With the fresh courage and buoyancy of youth she fitted out ships and sent forth expeditions. And while she shared with the rest of the Europeans the vision of India and the Orient, her "gentlemen adventurers" were not long in seeing the possibilities that lay concealed beyond the inviting harbors, the navigable rivers, and the forest-covered valleys of North America. With a willing heart they believed their quaint chronicler, Richard Hakluyt, when he declared that America could bring "as great a profit to the Realm of England as the Indes to the King of Spain," that "golde, silver, copper, lende and perales in aboundaunce" had been found there: also "precious stones, as turquoises and , emauraldes; spices and drugges; silke worms, fairer than ours in Europe; white and red cotton; infinite multitude of all kind of focales; excellent vines in many places for wines; the soyle apte to beare olyves for oyle; all kinds of fruites; all kindes of odoriferous trees and date trees, cypresses, and cedars; and in New-foundelande aboundaunce of pines and firr trees to make masks and deale boards, pitch, tar, rosen; hempe for cables and cordage; and upp within the Graunde Baye excedinge quantitie of all kinde of precious furres." Such a catalogue of resources led him to conclude that "all the commodities of our olde decayed and daungerous trades in all Europe, Africa and Asia haunted by us, may in short space and for little or nothinge, in a manner be had in that part of America which lieth between 30 and 60 degrees of northerly latitude."

Even after repeated expeditions had discounted the exuberant optimism of this description, the Englishmen's faith did not wane. While for many years there lurked in the mind of the Londoner, the hope that some of the products of the Levant might be raised in the fertile valleys of Virginia, the practical English temperament none the less began promptly to appease itself with the products of the vast forests, the masts, the tar and pitch, the furs; with the fish from the coast waters, the abundant cod, herring, and mackerel; nor was it many years before tobacco, indigo, sugar, cotton, maize, and other commodities brought to the merchants of England a great American commerce.

The first attempts to found colonies in the country by Sir Humphrey Gilbert and Sir Walter Raleigh were pitiable failures. But the settlement on the James in 1607 marked the beginning of a nation. What sort of nation? What race of people? Sir Walter Raleigh, with true English tenacity, had said after learning of the collapse of his own colony, "I shall yet live to see it an English nation." The new nation certainly was English in its foundation, whatever may be said of its superstructure. Virginia, New England, Maryland, the Carolinas, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Georgia were 'begun by Englishmen; and New England, Virginia, and Maryland remained almost entirely English throughout the seventeenth century and well into the eighteenth. These colonies reproduced, in so far as their strange and wild surroundings permitted, the towns, the estates, and the homes of English-men of that day. They were organized and governed by Englishmen under English customs and laws; and the Englishman's constitutional liberties were their boast until the colonists wrote these rights and privileges into a constitution of their own. "Foreigners" began early to straggle into the colonies. But not until the eighteenth century was well under way did they come in appreciable numbers, and even then the great bulk of these non-English newcomers were from the British Isles of Welsh, Scotch, Irish, and Scotch-Irish extraction.

These colonies took root at a time when profound social and religious changes were occurring in England. Churchmen and dissenters were at war with each other; autocracy was struggling to survive the representative system; and agrarianism was contending with a newly created capitalism for economic supremacy. The old order was changing. In vain were attempts made to stay progress by labor laws and poor laws and corn laws. The laws rather served to fill the highways with vagrants, vagabonds, mendicants, beggars, and worse. There was a general belief that the country was over-populated. For the restive, the discontented, the ambitious, as well as for the undesirable surplus, the new colonies across the Atlantic provided a welcome outlet.

To the southern plantations were lured those to whom land-owning offered not only a means of livelihood but social distinction. As word was brought back of the prosperity of the great estates and of the limitless areas awaiting cultivation, it tempted in substantial numbers those who were dissatisfied with their lot: the yeoman who saw no escape from the limitations of his class, either for himself or for his children; the younger son who disdained trade but was too poor to keep up family pretensions; professional men, lawyers, and doctors, even clergymen, who were ambitious to become landed gentlemen; all these felt the irresistible call of the New World.

The northern colonies were, on the other, hand, settled by townfolk, by that sturdy middle class which had wedged its way socially between the aristocracy and the peasantry, which asserted itself politically in the Cromwellian Commonwealth and later became the industrial master of trade and manufacture. These hard-headed dissenters founded New England. They built towns and al-most immediately developed a profitable trade and manufacture. With a goodly sprinkling of university men among them, they soon had a college of their own. Indeed, Harvard graduated its first class as early as 1642.

Supplementing these pioneers, came mechanics and artisans eager to better their condition. Of the serving class, only a few came willingly. These were the "free-willers" or "redemptioners," who sold their services usually for a term of five years to pay for their passage money. But the great mass of unskilled labor necessary to clear the forests and do the other hard work so plentiful in a pioneer land came to America under duress. Kidnaping or "spiriting" achieved the perfection of a fine art under the second Charles. Boys and girls of the poorer classes, those wretched waifs who thronged the streets of London and other towns, were hustled on board ships and virtually sold into slavery for a term, of years. It is said that in 1670 alone ten thousand persons were thus kidnaped; and one kidnaper testified in 1671 that he had sent five hundred persons a year to the colonies for twelve years and another that he had sent 840 in one year.

Transportation of the idle poor was another common source for providing servants. In 1663 an act was passed by Parliament empowering Justices of the Peace to send rogues, vagrants, and "sturdy beggars" to the colonies. These men belonged to the class of the unfortunate rather than the vicious and were the product of a passing state of society, though criminals also were deported. Virginia and other colonies vigorously protested against this practice, but their protests were ignored by the Crown. When, however, it is recalled that in those years the list of capital offenses was appalling in length, that the larceny of a few shillings was punishable by death, that many of the victims were deported because of religious differences and political offenses, then the stigma of crime is erased. And one does not wonder that some of these transported persons rose to places of distinction and honor in the colonies and that many of them be-came respected citizens. Maryland, indeed, recruited her schoolmasters from among their ranks.

Indentured service was an institution of that time, as was slavery. The lot of the indentured servant was not ordinarily a hard one. Here and there masters were cruel and inhuman. But in a new country where hands were so few and work so abundant, it was wisdom to be tolerant and humane. Servants who had worked out their time usually became tenants or freeholders, often moving to other colonies and later to the interior beyond the "fall line," where they became pioneers in their turn.

The most important and influential influx of non-English stock into the colonies was the copious stream of Scotch-Irish. Frontier life was not a new experience to these hardy and remarkable people. Ulster, when they migrated thither from Scotland in the early part of the seventeenth century, was a wild moorland, and the Irish were more than unfriendly neighbors. Yet these transplanted Scotch changed the fens and mires into fields and gardens; in three generations they had built flourishing towns and were doing a thriving manufacture in linens and woolens. Then England, in her mercantilist blindness, began to pass legislation that aimed to cut off these fabrics from English competition. Soon thousands of Ulster artisans were out of work. Nor was their religion immune from English attack, for these Ulstermen were Presbyterians. These civil, religious, and economic persecutions thereupon drove to America an ethnic strain that has had au influence upon the character of the nation far out of proportion to its relative numbers. In the long list of leaders in American politics and enterprise and in every branch of learning, Scotch-Irish names are common.

There had been some trade between Ulster and the colonies, and a few Ulstermen had settled on the eastern shore of Maryland and in Virginia be-fore the close of the seventeenth century. Between 1714' and 1720, fifty-four ships arrived in Boston with immigrants from Ireland. They were care-fully scrutinized by the Puritan exclusionists. Cotton Mather wrote in his diary on August 7, 1718: "But what shall be done for the great number of people that are transporting themselves thither from ye North of Ireland?" And John Winthrop, speaking of twenty ministers and their congregations that were expected the same year, said, "I wish their coming so over do not prove fatall in the End." They were not welcome, and had, evidently, no intention of burdening the towns. Most of them promptly moved on beyond the New England settlements.

The great mass of Scotch-Irish, however, came to Pennsylvania, and in such large numbers that James Logan, the Secretary of the Province, wrote to the Proprietors in 1729: "It looks as if Ireland is to send all its inhabitants hither, for last week not less than six ships arrived, and every day two or three arrive also." These colonists did not remain in the towns but, true to their traditions, pushed on to the frontier. They found their way over the mountain trails into the western part of the colony; they pushed southward along the fertile plateaus that terrace the Blue Ridge Mountains and offer a natural highway to the South; into Virginia, where they possessed themselves of the beautiful Shenandoah Valley; into Maryland and the Carolinas; until the whole western frontier, from Georgia to New York and from Massachusetts to Maine, was the skirmish line of the Scotch-Irish taking possession of the wilderness.

The rebellions of the Pretenders in Scotland in 1715 and 1745 and the subsequent break-up of the clan system produced a considerable migration to the colonies from both the Highlands and the Lowlands. These new colonists settled largely in the Carolinas and in Maryland. The political prisoners, of whom there were many in consequence of the rebellions, were sold into service, usually for a term of fourteen years. In Pennsylvania the Welsh founded a number of settlements in the neighborhood of Philadelphia. There were Irish servants in all the colonies and in Maryland many Irish Catholics joined their fellow Catholics from England.

In 1683 a group of religious refugees from the Rhineland founded Germantown, near Philadelphia. Soon other German communities were started in the neighboring counties. Chief among these German sectarians were the Mennonites, frequently called the German Quakers, so nearly did their religious peculiarities match those of the followers of Penn; the Dunkers, a Baptist sect, who seem to have come from Germany boot and bag-gage, leaving not one of their number behind; and the Moravians, whose missionary zeal and gentle demeanor have made them beloved in many lands. The peculiar religious devotions of the sectarians still left them time to cultivate their inclination for literature and music. There were a few distinguished scholars among them and some of the finest examples of early American books bear the imprint of their presses.

This modest beginning of the German invasion was soon followed by more imposing additions. The repeated strategic devastations of the Rhenish Palatinate during the French and Spanish wars reduced the peasantry to beggary, and the medieval social stratification of Germany reduced them to virtual serfdom, from which America offered emancipation. Queen Anne invited the harassed peasants of this region to come to England, whence they could be transferred to America. Over thirty thousand took advantage of the opportunity in the years 1708 and 1709.: Some of them found occupation in England and others in Ireland, but the majority migrated, some to New York, where they settled in the Mohawk Valley, others to the Carolinas, but far more to Pennsylvania, where, with an instinct born of generations of contact with the soil, they sought out the most promising areas in the limestone valleys of the eastern part of that colony, cleared the land, built their solid homes and ample barns, and clung to their language, customs, and religion so tenaciously that to this day their descendants are called "Pennsylvania Dutch."

After 1717 multitudes of German peasants were lured to America by unscrupulous agents called "new-landers" or "soul-stealers," who, for a commission paid by the shipmaster, lured the peasant to sell his belongings, scrape together or borrow what he could, and migrate. The agents and captains then saw to it that few arrived in Philadelphia out of debt. As a result the immigrants were sold to "soul-drivers," who took them to the interior and indentured them to farmers, usually of their own race. These redemptioners, as they were called, served from three to five years and generally received fifty acres of land at the expiration of their service.

On the revocation of the Edict of Nantes by Louis XIV in 1685 French Protestants fled in vast numbers to England and to Holland. Thence many of them found their way to America, but very few came hither directly from France. South Carolina, Virginia, New York, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts were favored by those noble refugees, who included in their numbers not only skilled artisans and successful merchants but distinguished scholars and professional men in whose veins flowed some of the best blood of France. They readily identified themselves with the industries and aspirations of the colonies and at once became leaders in the professional and business life in their communities. In Boston, in Charleston, in New York, and in other commercial centers, the names of streets, squares, and public buildings at-test their prominence in trade and politics. Few names are more illustrious than those of Paul Revere, Peter Faneuil, and James Bowdoin of Massachusetts; John Jay, Nicholas Bayard, Stephen Delancey of New York; Elias Boudinot of New Jersey; Henry Laurens and Francis Marion of South Carolina. Like the Scotch-Irish, these French Protestants and their descendants have distinguished themselves for their capacity for leadership.

The Jews came early to New York, and as far back as 1691 they had a synagogue in Manhattan. The civil disabilities then so common in Europe were not enforced against them in America, except that they could not vote for members of the legislature. As that body itself declared in 1737, the Jews did not possess the parliamentary franchise in England, and no special act had endowed them with this right in the colonies. The earliest representatives of this race in America came to New Amsterdam with the Dutch and were nearly all Spanish and Portuguese Jews, who had found refuge in Holland after their wholesale expulsion from the Iberian peninsula in 149e. Rhode Island, too, and Pennsylvania had a substantial Jewish population. The Jews settled characteristically in the towns and soon became a factor in commercial enterprise. It is to be noted that they contributed liberally to the patriot cause in the Revolution.

While the ships bearing these many different stocks were sailing westward, England did not gain possession of the whole Atlantic seaboard without contest. The Dutch came to Manhattan in 1623 and for fifty years held sway over the imperial valley of the Hudson. It was a brief interval, as history goes, but it was long enough to stamp upon the town of Manhattan the cosmopolitan character it has ever since maintained. Into its liberal and congenial atmosphere were drawn Jews, Moravians,, and Anabaptists; Scotch Presbyterians and English Nonconformists; Waldenses from Piedmont and Huguenots from France. The same spirit that made Holland the lenient host to political and religious refugees from every land in that restive age characterized her colony and laid the foundations of the great city of today. England had to wrest from the Dutch their ascendancy in New Netherland, where they split in twain the great English colonies of New England and of the South and controlled the magnificent harbor at the mouth of the Hudson, which has since become the water gate of the nation.

While the English were thus engaged in establishing themselves on the coast, the French girt them in by a strategic circle of forts and trading posts reaching from Acadia, up the St. Lawrence, around the Great Lakes, and down the valley of the Mississippi, with outposts on the Ohio and other important confluents. When, after the final struggle between France and Britain for world empire, France retired from the North American continent, she left to England all her possessions east of the Mississippi, with the exception of a few insignificant islands in the Gulf of St. Lawrence and the West Indies; and to Spain she ceded New Orleans and her vast claims beyond the great river.

Thus from the first, the lure of the New World beckoned to many races, and to every condition of men. By the time that England's dominion spread over half the northern continent, her colonies were no longer merely English. They were the most cosmopolitan areas in the world. A few European cities had at times been cities of refuge, but New York and Philadelphia were more than mere temporary shelters to every creed. Nowhere else could so many tongues be heard as in a stroll down Broadway to the Battery. No European commonwealths embraced in their citizenry one-half the ethnic diversity of the Carolinas or of Pennsylvania. And within the wide range of his American domains, the English King could point to one spot or another and say : "Here the Spaniards have built a chaste and beautiful mission; here the French have founded a noble city; here my stubborn Roundheads have planted a whole nest of commonwealths; here my Dutch neighbors thought they stole a march on me, but I fore-stalled them; this valley is filled with Germans, and that plateau is covered with Scotch-Irish, while the Swedes have taken possession of all this region. And with a proud gesture he could add, "But everywhere they read their laws in the King's English and acknowledge my sovereignty."

Against the shifting background of history these many races of diverse origin played their individual parts, each contributing its essential characteristics to the growing complex of a new order of society in America. So on this stage, broad as the western world, we see these men of different strains subduing a wilderness and welding its di-verse parts into a great nation, stretching out the eager hand of exploration for yet more land, bringing with arduous toil the ample gifts of sea and forest to the townsfolk, hewing out homesteads in the savage wilderness, laboring faithfully at forge and shipyard and loom, bartering in the market place, putting the fear of God into their children and the fear of their own strong right arm into him whosoever sought to oppress them, be he Red Man with his tomahawk or English King with his Stamp Act.

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