The Great Migration in Vita Brevis

St Bartholomews Groton
St. Bartholomew’s Church, Groton, Suffolk

Over the last five months, Vita Brevis has featured a number of blog posts about the Great Migration Study Project and related subjects. Robert Charles Anderson, the project’s director, has written on the topic, as have Alicia Crane Williams and Roger Thompson. Bob’s posts tend to focus on his continuing research in this area, whether it is his trips to Salt Lake City to review a thorny question about identity or the latest literature on the subject as he prepares to write a book tentatively entitled Puritan Pedigrees: The Deep Roots of the Great Migration to New England. Other blog posts have delved into some of the larger issues and trends of the Great Migration: the populations that chose to travel across unwelcoming seas to an uncertain future in New England, and the waning importance of a “top-down” model of financing migration as a popular “bottom-up” model took its place.

Alicia’s work on the Early New England Families Study Project means that she is constantly considering the makeup of the Great Migration generation (1620–1640) in relation to the group (often including the offspring of the Great Migration passengers) that is the focus of her work: those people who married between 1641 and 1700. She has also written an introduction to the Great Migration project, one pointing out the rationale for including one member of a couple in one project or the other: the husband arrived in 1631, and so belongs to the Great Migration Study Project; the wife outlived her husband, remarried a man who arrived in 1642, and had a second family – they belong to the Early New England Families Study Project. Thus far she has three women who, while treated with a husband in the earlier series, merit inclusion – and their own entry – in her study project.

Roger – the author of several books on seventeenth-century New England towns – writes about the settlement of Charlestown during the 1630s, pointing out the way that the origins of the early settlers shaped their choices. As so many of them came from Stepney and Southwark, and belonged to trading families very much at home on the high seas, Charlestown residents remained connected to family networks in England in a way that many New Englanders did not. He points to three other places of origin for the first generation of Charlestown settlers: Dorset, Gloucestershire, and Bedfordshire, each with its own local culture transported bodily across the Atlantic.

I have written about my reading of the Winthrop Papers as I prepare to write a new genealogy of the Winthrop family. My blog posts have touched on Winthrop family dynamics, from AdamA Winthrop’s diary to Thomas Fones’ despairing account of his headstrong daughter Bessy’s dalliance with her cousin Henry2 Winthrop. Edward Howes’ charming letters to his college chum John2 Winthrop shrink the Atlantic, the Winthrop women (and their kinsmen) advertise for “serviceable” maidservants, and Lucy2 Downing flirts outrageously with Thomas Eyre, William Norton, and John Harwood, much to her parents’ bemusement. My most recent post looks at the long life of Governor Winthrop’s sixth son, Deane2 Winthrop (1623–1704).

About Scott C. Steward

Scott C. Steward was the founding editor at Vita Brevis; he served as NEHGS Editor-in-Chief 2013-2022. He is the author, co-author, or editor of genealogies of the Ayer, Le Roy, Lowell, Saltonstall, Thorndike, and Winthrop families. His articles have appeared in The New England Historical and Genealogical Register, NEXUS, New England Ancestors, American Ancestors, and The Pennsylvania Genealogical Magazine, and he has written book reviews for the Register, The New York Genealogical and Biographical Record, and the National Genealogical Society Quarterly.

4 thoughts on “The Great Migration in Vita Brevis

  1. I look forward to reading “Puritan Pedigrees: The Deep Roots of the Great Migration to New England.” This is because the Gates and Wilder lines in my maternal grandmother’s pedigree is (thus far in my research) 100% Puritan. It is looking like Grandma was the first person to marry someone who was not a descendant of one of the 17th century Puritan immigrants. She tainted her 100% Puritan pedigree in 1915 when she married a Scot who arrived here in 1883. Lately I’ve been saying I am researching my ‘Purely Puritan Pedigree’. Is that too much alliteration?

  2. Scott —
    I have been looking at some of my immigrant families headed by women and trying to determine when they came over. One is Margaret (Reade) Lake and her two daughters. I would have guessed they came over in 1635 either with her brother-in-law John Winthrop Jr. or with her step-father Hugh Peter. But they don’t appear in GM 2nd, so I assume no evidence has been found.

    Louis De Forest in Ancestry of William Seaman Bainbridge writes (p. 106) that the earliest she has been recorded in New England is in a lettter from Hugh Peter dated Dec. 26, 1639 to John Winthrop, Governor at Boston. I have found an earlier letter from Rev. Peter at Salem dated vlt. Sept. 1638 to John Winthrop, Jr. He seems to be suggesting that Mrs. Lake could come be with Winthrop’s wife — I assume his wife is due to give birth. And I assume this means that Mrs. Lake is at Salem, either with him or with her brother, Thomas Reade.

    I wonder if in your study of the Winthrop papers or anything else, have you found any evidence that she was in the New World earlier than this?

    1. In reading past VB entries that, for some reason, I hadn’t read, I came across your post on Margaret (Reade) Lake, If you have not already looked her up in the GMD (2015), she is on p. 201 as:

      LAKE, MARGARET: North Benfleet, Essex; 1638; Salem, New London, Ipswich [WP 4:63, 165; Bethia Harris Anc 53-56].

      Her brother is on p. 279.

      As has been pointed out to me, these citations are NOT inclusive of all source materials that might be available on an individual. 1638 as “the latest year she may have arrived” likely refers to the Peters letter you note above [WP 4:63?]. Depending on the date of that letter, per Anderson’s own evaluative standards, she may have arrived no later than say the fall of 1637. Research in Essex County, England records may be the only way to confirm that or an even earlier arrival date.

      As MRL falls into the 1636-1640 not-yet-written camp, you might consider doing the writing up of the lady and her daughters. No point in waiting 25 years to see if anyone else does it.

  3. I did not know many people in Charlestown were from Stepney. My ancestor Samuel Pell, a shipwright from Stepney, was in Harlem on Manhattan by 1673–I always wonder if he had relatives who settled in New England. His wife’s name is usually given as Deborah Williams or Willjams, because that is the way it appears in Dutch records. However I found a shipwright named Samuel Pell marrying a Deborah Crips at Holy Trinity Minories in London in 1658, and I wonder if her surname was actually Crips.

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