During the period of 1620–1640, thousands of English-speaking people immigrated to America.
Initially, the “Puritan Migration” was the result of people fleeing from violence in their own country of birth. In consequence, they settled the first permanent English Colony in 1620 located in an area that is now modern-day Plymouth, Massachusetts.
It’s a matter of record that most of their compatriots in England treated pilgrims and puritans as outcasts. As for the latter, the word “puritan” was a derogatory term coined by the English to insult that group’s members for not complying with the teachings of the Church of England. To escape such persecution, their journey was not necessarily a direct trip from England to Massachusetts. Rather, many had moved to The Netherlands before boarding the Mayflower and making their way to America. Either they stayed in Europe under increasing brutality, or they took flight to America. Many opted to seek the latter.
More than likely, the frightened souls were plunged into a tempest of emotions. Fear, pain, heartache, and hunger were present most of the days and nights. Alas, as happens during voluntary or forced mass migrations, some never fulfilled that shared dream, because they lost their lives along the way. However, constant prayer must have also assured these spirited folks renewed faith and hope toward the future and a better life.
In his book “The Oxford History of the American People”, author Samuel Eliot Morrison describes puritans as “poor in worldly goods” who were guilty only of having dreams of starting their lives in a new land. Interestingly, Admiral Morrison refers to these refugees as “dreamers” who only desired to work and live in peace.
In fact, for millennia, a dream of a better life has inspired and compelled immigrants of diverse backgrounds throughout the globe to relocate to a safer environment, regardless of the consequences. Thus, it’s important to examine the reasons for the Great Migration a bit further.
Clearly, Europeans left their place of birth to avoid hostility. To be sure, they didn’t have it easy establishing themselves in what’s now the U.S. east coast. First, due to bad weather, the wanderers arrived at the wrong site. Second, they arrived on the Massachusetts coast in 1620 as “undocumented” residents, meaning that they were “without papers” in America. Thus, they set out to rightfully stake their claim to live in a new land.
Hence, they fabricated a governing document called the Mayflower Compact. It was a social agreement wherein (in their view) they would legitimately claim their new home, promising to be good citizens and pledging an oath of allegiance.
Yet, the English landing has a darker perspective, as well. Readers must note that “undesirables” were also passengers in the over-crowded ships arriving in 16th – 19th Century America.
However, it was not of his/her own choice. That’s because England didn’t at first necessarily consider America as the land of opportunity, but rather as a dumping ground. Thus, they used America as a place to ship unwanted poor folks, social misfits, as well as criminals condemned to a penal colony (Georgia, for example).
In effect, the Mayflower Compact clearly set the standard for the several waves of European immigrants landing later at Ellis Island. Said another way, the many thousands of English people didn’t all come to America as settler pioneers, but as indentured servants, forced laborers, and prison inmates. Sufficient to say that the first English roots in the U.S. were planted by people that today would be called illegal (undocumented) immigrants.
By the way, in recording their genealogy, some Puritan Migration and Ellis Island descendants do take care to combine both the sweet and sour flavors of the fruit of their family trees. In fact, that’s the way it must be to ensure a true picture of immigration.
Whether it was (l) religious groups looking for freedom to worship God in their own terms; (2) pioneers, indentured servants, and penal colony inmates, or (3) countless economically deprived people processed at Ellis Island, most U.S. citizens trace their roots as essentially immigrants “without papers”.
There’s a big exception, though – Native Americans. They had the horrid experience of watching from the shoreline as uninvited invaders (white European immigrant Mayflower passengers) disembarked, pushed them aside, and took over their land. Native Americans don’t need to rely on the guarantees of the Mayflower Compact to prove they belong in America. After all, they are the First Americans.
In summary, from the beginning of U.S. history, Mayflower descendants have been held as the standard bearers for “legal” U.S. immigrants. Yet, it’s clear that their claim rests on the Mayflower Compact, forged immigration papers their English ancestor immigrants wrote themselves. In their defense, the document’s objective was to make their legal residency dreams come true and live in a country that was not of their birth.
Coincidentally, that’s precisely the end goal of modern-day immigration aspirants called DREAMers. Residing in our country in an undocumented status, they have earned the same courtesy as that employed for European Great Migration and Ellis Island refugees. Plus, most are direct descendants of Native (First) Americans who have every right to call the U.S. “home, sweet home”. That’s the bottom line.