Causes and Consequences of the Chesapeake Immigration Stream

Payton Rose

Nicolette Gable

History 216

20 July 2014

Contributions and Consequences of the Chesapeake Immigration Stream

Jamestown, founded in 1607 and named for King James I, was England’s first permanent colony in the New World. The crown presented the Virginia Company a charter with the goal of opening new economic opportunities for the fledgling empire. Colonizing the wilds of Virginia was not easy. The settlers faced environmental, intracommunal, and intercommunal challenges alike as they respectively toiled for years with poor resources, incompetent leadership, and threats from the local Indian population. Despite these numerous challenges, immigrants continued to flood into the new colony due to push-factors, including the absence of economic opportunities and alarming governmental instabilities in the homeland, along with pull-factors, such as the promise of new farmland and the potential for social mobility. While the stream evolved from middle-class entrepreneurs to a mixture of wealthy gentry and poor laborers, it allowed the Chesapeake colonies, in particular Virginia, to both persist in their infancy and burgeon once they became economically viable.

Potent among the immigration stream (or any) are the push-factors. In this case, the absence of economic opportunity and the unstable government propelled the immigrants across the Atlantic to Virginia. In England, the hierarchy and landed gentry ingrained themselves many centuries previously, leaving the lower and middle-classes and non-inheriting gentry with nowhere to go. (Breen, 4) Along with the scarcity of resources in the mother country, the instability in the government stimulated English immigration. In the Glorious Revolution, William and Mary nonviolently deposed King James II and reestablished the Anglican monarchy. The Anglicans’ reassumption of power over England compelled large numbers of Catholics to immigrate to the Chesapeake Bay area, away from the Anglican-controlled England and its Puritan-controlled ally. (Breen, 13) In the stream of English immigration to Virginia, push-factors including the potent hierarchy, which made social mobility and serviceable living impossible, and the unstable government, which was under the control of Anglicans, Puritans, and Catholics alike during the early Colonial Era and drove many of the other religions, especially the Catholics, to leave the mother country. These two push-factors worked in concert to create an ever-potent stream of immigration into the colony of Virginia, which allowed it to persist and flourish.

Along with the aforementioned push-factors, numerous pull-factors, including the advertised opportunity for land and perceived social mobility, contributed to the size of the English immigration stream. After the success of tobacco, the population in the Chesapeake colonies flourished, pushing the Indian nations back. (Jamestown Settlement Museum) As the colony became an economic force, poor workers under indentures comprised the better part of the immigrant pool rather than middle-class craftsmen and gentlemen. Landed gentry in Virginia referred to the new immigrants as the “giddy multitude.” (Breen, 1) Upon arrival, this “giddy multitude” found out that the crown had exaggerated about the opportunities in Virginia. The waves of immigrants quickly learned that the elites already owned much of the land. After seven years of indentured servitude, acquiring large amounts of farmland was but notionally possible, as acreage in Virginia grew unaffordable. (Breen, 16) Here ties in the myth of social mobility. Since John Smith ascended to leadership on merit, Virginia stabilized and social mobility stagnated. Unable to create a fortune under the hierarchical society in Virginia, poor freemen and former servants limited themselves to small farms capable of supporting, but not advancing their economic position. Until colonies in Carolina and Pennsylvania became viable, there were few options for new immigrants. (Breen, 16) Nonetheless, the crown advertised the colony as providing opportunities for success. Such opportunities were unavailable. These perceived opportunities played the role of pull-factors in the stream of English immigration, which aided in making the colony influential and potent.

Upon tobacco’s diffusion in Virginia, the immigration evolved from craftsmen and former soldiers with the mission of sustaining the colony to the select elites and landed gentry looking for new economic opportunities along with the “giddy multitude” hoping for social mobility. While the early immigration was less prolific, it managed to keep Jamestown from failure. The new wave of workers and supplies arriving in the Spring of 1610 after the Starving Time evidences this. When the handful of survivors of the previous winter embarked on a voyage back to England, they were yet to leave the Chesapeake Bay when they encountered additional settlers and supplies. (Horwitz, 339) These immigrants were no different from the previous waves, but they were able-bodies and helped support the colony for several more years. Virginia struggled for the next decade, putting forth a draconian legal code named Lawes Diuine, Morall and Martiall, which remained in effect until 1624, when the Virginia Company folded and the King assumed direct control. (Hermann, 67) Immigrants came in at enough density to cultivate a slow increase in population. (Earle, 119) By the late 1620s, tobacco became the sole pillar of the Virginian economy. While it lacked diversity, it cultivated a massive wave in immigration that quadrupled the population in ten years. (Earle, 120) Instead of the small numbers of adventurous craftsmen and soldiers immigrating to Jamestown, the landed gentry and “giddy multitude” flocked towards the Chesapeake Bay. Now that Virginia had made it through its growing pains, the economy and population flourished and the colony became a profitable venture, despite having a flawed system centered around one crop in tobacco and a reluctant labor force in the “giddy multitude.” Through the small group of settlers and supplies and their arrival in the Spring of 1610 along with the post-tobacco diffusion inundations of immigrants, it becomes evident that the immigration played a major role in both the stabilization and ascension of the colonies in the Chesapeake Bay area.

Like any wave of immigration, the causes of the English flocking to Virginia can be sorted into either push-factors or pull-factors. The push-factors include the absence of available farmland in England and the government’s instability, while the pull-factors consist of the apparent availability of farmland and the perceived social mobility. Before these factors came into effect, the immigration was limited to craftsmen and soldiers. After the discovery of tobacco, Virginia became an agricultural juggernaut that compelled the wealthy landed gentry and the “giddy multitude” of the poor to make the crossing. Because of this stream in immigration, Jamestown and Virginia managed to combat sky-high mortality rates in their infancy to become a powerful economic force in the British Empire with a rapidly-expanding population.

Works Cited

Breen, T.H. “A Changing Labor Force and Race Relations in Virginia 1660-1710.” Journal of Social

History, 1973. Print.

Earle, Carville V. “Environment, Disease, and Early Mortality in Virginia.” Journal of Historical

Geography, 5, 1979. Print.

Hermann, Rachael. “The “tragicall historie”: Cannibalism and Abundance in Early Jamestown.” William

and Mary Quarterly, 68, 2011. Print.

Horwitz, Tony. A Voyage Long and Strange: Rediscovering the New World. New York: Picador.

2008. Print.

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