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January 20, 2013

GENEALOGY: English immigration to Chesapeake Bay area

TERRE HAUTE — English immigration to the Chesapeake Bay area of the North American colonies took place mainly between the years of 1641 and 1675, and involved the colonies of Virginia and Maryland.

Jamestown was the first settlement in Virginia. In 1642, Sir William Berkeley arrived in Jamestown to serve as Virginia’s governor. Berkeley set about creating a system to attract new settlers to Virginia, based on his convictions and values, which were related to what was going on back in England.

England was a country that based its inheritance laws on the notion of primogeniture; that is, the first son inherits all of the father’s property. This practice keeps the estates intact through the generations. But for the other sons, there wasn’t really any land to buy, and consequently they had no claim to property. They usually joined the military or entered the ministry. These so-called “second sons” were well-educated “cavaliers,” accustomed to a lifestyle of wealth and privilege, but without the promise of owning land.

Berkeley set about recruiting the second sons to settle in Virginia with the promise of something they could never have back in England – land. Not only did he offer land to the cavaliers for transporting themselves to Virginia, but he offered more land to them for transporting indentured servants to Virginia. And finally, he gave land to the servants as soon as their period of indenture was up.

During the 1650s, England experienced a civil war between the supporters of the king and supporters of parliament (many of whom were Puritans). Those supporting the king were called Royalists and maintained the Anglican faith. Berkeley was an Anglican and a Royalist, and the cavaliers he recruited to Virginia were the same. Most of the “ruling families” of Virginia can trace their ancestors back to those cavalier immigrants who came over between the years of 1645 and 1665; and they can tie their ancestry back to the elite ruling families of the West Country in England.

A very similar scenario was going on in the adjoining colony of Maryland. There, Lord Baltimore of the Calvert family was the Maryland governor, and he sat up a similar situation, offering land to immigrants and their imported servants. One difference in Maryland was that Calvert was Catholic, and he extended religious tolerance to those who settled in his colony.

Life in Virginia and Maryland reflected the life of the rural landed gentry back in England (which its settlers brought with them). Rather than building towns and cities, the settlers created large plantations (hundreds or thousands of acres in size) that were scattered across the landscape. The plantations were virtually independent; they grew and produced virtually everything they needed., and they required a large number of indentured servants (and later slaves) to run them. The colonies of Virginia and Maryland also imported the English custom of primogeniture, the difference being that the second sons in the colonies could buy land or move west and settle elsewhere.

Most of the cavalier immigrants and their servants came from two areas of England. Prior to 1850, most of the settlers came from counties in a 60-mile radius around London, not including the East Anglia region (where the Puritans came from). More than 50 percent of the servants came from the London suburbs. The other 50 percent came from the western counties of Middlesex, Buckinghamshire, Surrey, Berkshire, Oxfordshire, Warwickshire and Northhamptonshire.

After 1650, those who emigrated came from a 60-mile radius around the port city of Bristol, including the counties of Devon, Sommerset, Dorsett, Wiltshire, Gloucestershire, Worcestershire, Herefordshire, and also including the southeastern counties of Wales.

Knowing this information can help you locate your Virginia or Maryland ancestor.

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