It is interesting to know the ‘whys’ of those traveling on the Mayflower and its ultimate outcome on the formation of our country. To understand the purposes and motivations, one must consider economics as a driving force to settle in the New World. The Puritans, comprising approximately one-third of the passengers, were motivated by religious freedom and expression of their faith in addition to the economics.
The English surpassed other nations in its business practices. English merchants had eclipsed their Spanish and French rivals in preparing for successful colonization through adoption of the joint-stock company as a form of business.1 Merchants who dissented from the Church of England were also willing investors in New World colonies. There were plenty of Puritans who had the necessary capital, and with the Catholic-leaning Stuart monarchs assuming the throne the Puritans’ motive to move became stronger.
With an excess landless population to serve as workers, and motivated, adventurous, or devout investors, the joint-stock company became the vehicle by which England finally settled the Western Hemisphere.
This starkly contrasted with Spanish and French settlements. New Spain and New France were developed by their kings. The English colonies were developed by their people. Many historians argue that the primary reason the relatively small and late English colonization effort ultimately outlasted its predecessors was because individuals had a true stake in its success.2
Indeed, the English respect for property rights soon eclipsed other factors accounting for England’s New World dominance. Born out of the fierce struggles by English landowners to protect their estates from seizure by the state, by the 1600s, property rights had become so firmly established as a basis for English economic activities that its rules permeated even the lowest classes in society. English colonists found land so abundant that anyone could own it. When combined with freedom from royal retribution in science and technological fields, the right to retain the fruit of one’s labor-even intellectual property-gave England a substantial advantage in the colonization process over rivals that had more than a century’s head start.37 These advantages would be further enhanced by a growing religious toleration brought about by religious dissenters from the Church of England called Puritans38.3
There were two groups of Puritans; one believed they could reform the [Anglican] Church from within, and the second group did not. They second group were called “Separatists.” The Separatists favored leaving England, disobeyed royal decrees and English law that brought persecution and death. That led to 125 of them moving to Holland. Holland, although offering freedom, did not satisfy what the group was looking for. This led to negotiations that gave them the British King’s assurances they could exercise their faith and views freely. With that, they started negotiations with one of the proprietors of the Virginia Company about obtaining a grant in Virginia. They raised capital employing the joint-stock company structure, which brought several non-separatists into the original band of settlers. This led to the journey on the Mayflower, heading for the Hudson River, at that time the most northern tip of the Virginia Company charter territory.
The Mayflower was blown off course and never reached the Hudson. In the next blog, we will continue the story and consider the Mayflower Compact.
1 Larry Schweikart and Michael Allen, A Patriot’s History of the United States, From Columbus’s Great Discovery to the War on Terror; (Sentinel, Published by the Penguin Group, © Larry Schweikart and Michael Allen, 2004, All Rights Reserved) p15
2 Britain in the New World, U.S. History, Pre-Columbian to the New Millennium (©2008-2011 ushistory.org Independence Hall Association in Philadelphia, founded 1942); http://www.ushistory.org/us/2b.asp
3 Larry Schweikart and Michael Allen, A Patriot’s History of the United States, From Columbus’s Great Discovery to the War on Terror; (Sentinel, Published by the Penguin Group, © Larry Schweikart and Michael Allen, 2004, All Rights Reserved) p16
37 Footnote in quote from above: David S. Lanes, The Unbound Prometheus: Technical and Change and Industrial Development in Western Europe from 1750 to the Present (Cambridge University Press, 1969); Nathan Rosenburg and L.E. Birdsell Jr., How the West Grew Rich: The Economist Transformation of the Industrial World (New York: Basic Books, 1986); and Larry Schweikart, The Entrepreneurial Adventure: A History of Business in the United States (Fort Worth: Harcourt, 2000)
38 Philip F. Gura, A Glimpse of Sion’s Glory: Puritan Radicalism in New England, 1620-1600 (Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 1984)
Previous blogs on the Mayflower may be found at: