Tuesday, January 3, 2012

The birth of a nation, the old-fashioned way


© Christy K. Robinson

Family in a Landscape, ca. 1630-35,
National Gallery, London
Two centuries of under-population in England after the Black Death in 1348-51 were followed by the Little Ice Age which brought crop failure, famine, and waves of deadly epidemics. Then there were wars, foreign and domestic, that killed countless thousands of men in battle, not counting the women and children and old people left at home to starve, die of disease and accident, and become refugees when they were dispossessed or burned out of their farms.  The religious reformations with Catholic versus Protestant, Protestant versus new sects, all Christians versus suspected witches, Catholic versus Jews and Muslims—all brought economic and environmental disaster, fear, war, torture, and executions to millions and put them on the run, firstly around Europe, later to the Americas. Too often the religious wars were “cleansing” genocides as the world witnessed in Yugoslavia and various African countries in the 1990s and 2000s.

The Bartholomew family ca. 1605.
Two of the five boys emigrated to Massachusetts as adults.
Suddenly, there was a baby boom! In the last quarter of the 16th century, when William Dyer’s and Mary Barrett’s parents and the leaders of Massachusetts Colony were born in England, the population grew by more than 50 percent. More children were born than adults died. The average life expectancy of that quarter-century was only about 41 years of age, though the average sank to 35 in the 1660s (when Mary was executed at about age 49); and 31 years in the 1670s, when William died of unknown cause at age 67.  Even with Mary’s execution, they both beat the averages! So did the Hutchinsons, John Winthrop, Thomas Dudley, John Cotton, Roger Williams, and many others. http://publishing.cdlib.org/ucpressebooks/view?docId=ft096n99tf&brand=ucpress

Then all the babies from the boom of the late 16th century started having children—the strong-willed, strong-backed generation that would fulfill the dream of multiplying the faithful for the “New Earth.”

In Mary’s adult years, New England grew from less than 4,600 in 1630, to 26,600 in 1640 during the Great Migration, and then to 50,000 in 1650. England must have seemed to be emptying out in 1636, the peak of migration, when 21,000 people sailed into Boston. (Many thousands more poured into Virginia at that time.)

However, the numbers are only estimates, and highly variable between reports. Historian and author David Cressy, in Coming Over, wrote, “The white population of New England in 1630 has been estimated at 1,800, encompassing the Plymouth settlers, the Massachusetts Bay people at Salem and Boston, and other stragglers and interlopers farther north. By 1640 the population had grown to 13,500. What, then, had happened to the participants in the great migration? If 21,000 people came over in the 1630s but only two-thirds of that number could be found at the end of the decade we must assume that some of the remainder died and the rest moved on or went home.”

Population growth in the 1640s decade in New England was all about procreation, as few people emigrated from England during their Civil Wars, and some settlers seem to have sailed back to what they thought would be Puritan rule, but turned out to be a bloody war. Colonial Americans, those who stayed, often had large families. Getting married and having children, and raising them to be members of the spiritual community were strong beliefs of the puritan society. William and Anne Hutchinson, friends and mentors of the Dyers who were their parents' age, had 16 children starting in 1613. Mary and William Dyer had six children that lived to be adults. Reverend John Cotton and his second wife raised seven. Governor John Winthrop, through his successive four wives, fathered 16, though most of them did not survive infancy or childhood.

Herodias Long was the mother of 10 children. As her biographical-fiction-writer descendant, Jo Ann Butler said, “Herodias started bearing children far earlier than most of her contemporaries. She had her first child when she was about 14. Interestingly, her last child was born when Herod was only about 34 years old. Was it illness that ended Herod's fertility, or some other factor? She may have been grateful - if she had continued bearing children until menopause, Herod could well have borne 20 children! Another of my ancestors had 22, but she was most efficient - she had three sets of twins.”

In Bicknell's History of Rhode Island, Vol. 1, he wrote:  "William Coddington had 13 children; William Hutchinson, 7 [actually more, if you count those who died as children]; Joseph Clarke, brother of Dr. John Clarke, 10; Robert Carr, 6; Richard Borden, 10; Caleb Carr, 11; John Coggeshall, 11; John Briggs, 6; John Crandell, 9; John Cranston, 10; George Gardiner, 14; William Harris, 13; Randall Holden, 11; William Brenton, 8."

The early New England settlers built their society in spite of epidemic diseases, barbaric medical and surgical practices, starvation and famine, accident and injury, wars with the native Americans, and reverse migration.

They did it the old-fashioned way, in the way they believed they were bound by God’s first command to human beings: “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them. And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.”  Genesis 1:27-28  Adam slept with Eve his wife. She conceived and had Cain. She said, "I've gotten a man, with God's help!" Genesis 4:1

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