What would the Puritans likely have experienced during the "Great Migration" of the 17th Century?
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The Puritan migration to North America certainly involved its share of hardships in addition to the enormous transition they would have experienced upon landing in current-day Massachusetts. Their journey, of course, began with a voyage across the North Atlantic Ocean, known for rough waters, which ensured that the travelers would experience considerable sea spray and wind. One description of the voyage across the Atlantic was referenced by Puritan leader William Bradford, who kept meticulous journals of the Puritan experience:
“There was a proud and very profane young man [aboard the Mayflower], one of the seamen . . . he would always be condemning the poor people in their sickness, and cursing them daily with grievous excretions, and did let to tell them, that he hoped to help cast half of them overboard before they came to their journey’s end, and to make merry with what they had . . .”
While Bradford did go on to mention that young seaman’s premature death aboard ship on account of disease, he does nevertheless indicate that the crossing of the ocean was anything but pleasant, with seasickness and other forms of illness a continuing problem on top of the hardships associated with traveling aboard 17th Century vessels.
Once arrived at what became New England, the real sensory experiences would begin, with the familiar – coastlines not entirely dissimilar from those of the England and Holland they left behind – and the unfamiliar, especially the indigenous peoples they encountered and wih whom they would try and coexist. Again, Bradford described his initial observations:
“Being thus arrived in a good harbor and brought safe to land, they fell upon their knees and blessed the God of heaven, who had brought them over the vast and furious ocean, and delivered them from all the perils and miseries thereof, again to set their feet on the firm and stable earth, their proper element . . . But here I cannot but stay and make a pause, and stand half amazed at this poor people’s present condition . . .”
Similarities between northern Atlantic coastlines aside, the Puritan migration involved exposure to sights and sounds to which they were not accustomed. In addition to the not inconsiderable presence of the native peoples (“they [the Pilgrims] were assaulted, about break of day, by these Indians, with great clamor loud, whose arrows fell, like to a dropping cloud”), the migrants would have experienced forms of vegetation not previously seen and to crops maintained by the natives to which they were not accustomed. Bradford refers to “wheat and rye, barley, oats, beans . . . parsnips, carrots, turnips . . .” and so on.
The Great Migration involved the exposure of European people to the sights, sounds, and tastes associated with an entirely different environment than that to which they were accustomed. That they were not the first to arrive upon North American shores with the intention of settling there is, of course, a matter of historical fact. That they encountered new experiences, however, is also a matter of historical fact.
[Quotes from William Bradford’s journals are from a number of on-line websites, including www.ofplymouthplantation.wordpress.com/journal-entries/ and www.beliefnet.com/resourcelib/docs/149/Diary_of_William_Bradford_1.html]
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