America’s Great Westward Migration
The personal initiative and ambition that propelled the Jamestown explorers from England to America was also the singular force that drove their Virginian descendants farther to seek land, new prospects and lives. Their confidence and resolve to do so sprang from their security in their capacity to gain title to their own property and ability to freely buy and sell it, both confirmed by their ancient planter ancestors.
Just as meaningful for today’s Americans is those Virginian pioneers’ legacy of the great westward migration that spread a new American nation to the far edge of the continent. In Bound Away: Virginia and the Westward Movement, Fischer and Kelly describe exactly how the Virginia Diaspora of the 18th and 19th centuries became the American westward pioneering movement. The settlement of America’s west had many of the same adventuring characteristics as those of the founding of Jamestown in seventeenth century.
In 1803, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and other settlers’ descendants managed the greatest expansion of our new country with the Louisiana Purchase, to the distress of many New Englanders and other Americans who felt that America was then big enough. One reason, economic historians Gary Walton and Hugh Rockoff tell us, was that, “In New England, immigration virtually halted after 1640, and natural causes became the source of population growth after 1650.” The halt was caused, Hinderaker and Mancall add, by “…the English Civil War; rather than emigrate to America, English Puritans stayed home and supported the revolutionary regime of Oliver Cromwell and the protectorate government.”
Fischer and Kelly also inform us, “The Jeffersons, Randolphs, Merriweathers, Lewises and Clarks had been part of Virginia’s westward movement…for as many as five generations before 1803.” Virginians Lewis and Clark (who was a descendant of Jamestown early settlers) then led their famous exploration of the nation’s new acquisition to help open the way for settlement of the lands in the vast Mississippi, Missouri and Columbia River basins. Fischer and Kelley go on to say, “The Louisiana expedition of 1804-6 was the culmination of a long historical process of expansion in Virginia”.
They also tell how we have taken the Jamestown colonists’ intrepid vision to the far corners of our continent in pursuit of land, opportunity and fortune. Their descendants moved on to create new states and governments modeled on what their ancestors had devised and established, and, joined by immigrants from other states, lands and cultures, they merged diverse traditions and customs to seek economic and social betterment. Historian William Shade tells us, “By 1850 nearly 400,000 Virginians had been attracted to more fertile soils and opportunities in other states”. That year, the Commonwealth’s population was just over 1.4 million, including almost a half million slaves.
The economic motivations and goals of the Jamestown settlers have continued to resonate across four centuries in the migrants and homesteaders that pushed out America’s frontiers, generation by generation, first from Virginia to the Carolinas, Georgia and Alabama, to Tennessee, Kentucky and Ohio, and then on to Illinois, Missouri, Oregon, Texas, and, finally, California.
The headrights’ legacy was once again evident in the 1862 Homestead Act that would accelerate the settlement of the new American West with land grants for individual farms and ranches. It was the same economic incentive principle innovated by the Virginia Company, expanded on a monumental scale. By 1934, over 1.6 million homestead applications had been processed and more than 270 million acres – 10 percent of all U.S. lands – passed into private individual ownership.
In Bound Away, Fischer and Kelly also tell us that a significant number of California’s own pioneers, 1840-1860, were native Virginians. Several (and probably many more) had ancestors who were among the Colony’s ancient planters and early settlers. Virginians and their descendants among other southerners had extraordinary influence on California politics and government during those years, and they nearly succeeded in splitting the state in two in 1860.
Countless thousands among the California settlers that followed during the next five to ten decades undoubtedly carried that same ancestry and initiative. As Fischer and Kelly also say, “Thus the ghosts of Virginians past also migrated to California and took up residence on the Pacific Coast.”
Jamestown’s Most Important Legacy
Viewing Jamestown through a 21st century California prism, one might also see that the 1849 Gold Rush probably was, ironically, the ultimate and successful, albeit belated, achievement of an early major goal that was set for the Virginia Company’s explorers and settlers. However, the most important of their legacies was their determination to succeed. With that fortitude, they and their descendants also forged the unique and enduring element of our American culture: a persistent striving for the freedom to better ourselves with property, innovation and enterprise.
This is the Jamestown legacy that has become our American credo and is the real meaning of its founding. Its first seeds were sown there over 400 years ago and today all Americans enjoy its fruits. This is why Jamestown remains relevant and significant for each and every one of us, and we should forever remember its founding as the seminal incident that introduced the opportunities for the economic and political innovations and enterprise that have made our nation what it is.
Our American heritage of initiative and improvement has come down to us from that Jamestown adventure. It is where a new people – who many of us (and more than most of us realize) have as ancestors – learned to govern themselves and determine their (and our) destiny. We should appreciate its lessons and legacies and that many of our personal and national aspirations for independence, private property, self-governance and empowerment were formed there during its nine decades of existence.
This is the ninth and final part
These are some of sources and references used for Beyond Its Beginning:
Billings, Warren M.:
A Little Parliament; The Virginia General Assembly in the Seventeenth Century; (Richmond, The Library of Virginia, in partnership with Jamestown 2007/Jamestown Yorktown Foundation. 2004)
Sir William Berkeley and the Forging of Colonial Virginia; (Baton Rouge, Louisiana State University Press 2004)
Jamestown and the Founding of the Nation; (Gettysburg, Thomas Publications, for the Colonial National Historical Park and Eastern National Park & Monument Association 1991);
Editor: The Old Dominion in the Seventeenth Century; A Documentary History of Virginia, 1606-1700, Revised Edition; (Chapel Hill, University of North Carolina Press, for the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture at Williamsburg, 2007.)
Sir William Berkeley; (Jamestown Interpretive Essays, Virtual Jamestown, Virginia Center for Digital History, University of Virginia at http://www.virtualjamestown.org/essays/billings_essay.html)
Dorman, John Frederick (Editor):
Adventurers of Purse and Person Virginia 1607-1624/5; Fourth Edition; 3 v. (Baltimore, Genealogical Publishing Company, 2004-7).
Elson, Henry William, and Leigh, Kathy (editor);
History of the United States of America; (New York, The MacMillan Company, 1904.) as adapted for History of the USA:
Fausz, J. Frederick:
The First Act of Terrorism in English America; (History News Network, January 16, 2006) –
Jamestown at 400: Caught Between a Rock and a Slippery Slope; (History News Network, May 7, 2007) –
Fischer, David Hackett:
Albion's Seed; Four British Folkways in America; (Oxford and New York, The Oxford University Press; 1989)
Fischer, David Hackett, and Kelly, James C.:
Bound Away: Virginia and the Westward Movement; (Charlottesville, The University Press of Virginia; 2001.)
Greene, Jack P.:
Peripheries and Center: Constitutional Development in the Extended Polities of the British Empire and the United States, 1607-1788; the Richard B. Russell Lectures, Number Two. (Athens, Georgia, The University of Georgia Press, 1986).
Roundtable: Colonial History and National History: Reflections on a Continuing Problem.
The William and Mary Quarterly 64.2 (2007):
29 pars. 1 Mar. 2008
The Quest for Power; The Lower Houses of Assembly in the Southern Royal Colonies 1689-1776; (Chapel Hill, the University of North Carolina Press for the Institute of Early American History and Culture at Williamsburg, Virginia, 1963.)
Heinemann, Ronald L., Kolp, John G., Parent, Anthony S. and Shade, William G.:
Old Dominion, New Commonwealth: A History of Virginia, 1607-2007; (Charlottesville and London, University of Virginia Press, 2007.)
Hinderaker, Eric and Mancall, Peter:
At the Edge of Empire; The Backcountry in British North America; (Baltimore and London, The Johns Hopkins University Press; 2003)
Horn, James P. P:
Leaving England: The Social Background of Indentured Servants in the Seventeenth Century; (Jamestown Interpretive Essays, Virtual Jamestown, Virginia Center for Digital History, University of Virginia at http://www.virtualjamestown.org/essays/horn_essay.html)
Artifacts Rewrite Jamestown's History, (Chronicle of Higher Education May 4, 2007)
Kelso, William M.:
Jamestown; The Buried Truth; (Charlottesville, The University Press of Virginia; 2006.)
Seizing Destiny; How America Grew from Sea to Shining Sea; (New York, Alfred A. Knopf, 2007.)
Kupperman, Karen Ordahl:
The Jamestown Project; (Cambridge MA, Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2007.)
America's Founding Fictions; Washington Post, Sunday, May 13, 2007;
(Editor); Major Problems in American Colonial History (2nd edition), (Boston and New York, Houghton Mifflin Company, 2000)
Captain John Smith; A Select Edition of His Writings; (Chapel Hill and London, UNC Press, for the Institute of Early American History and Culture, Williamsburg; 1988.)
Mancall, Peter C.:
(Editor) The Atlantic World and Virginia, 1550-1624; An anthology of essays from an international conference entitled “The Atlantic World and Virginia 1550-1624”, held at Williamsburg, Va., Mar. 4-7, 2004 (Chapel Hill, The University of North Carolina Press for the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture, 2007).
Hakluyt’s Promise; An Elizabethan’s Obsession for an English America; (New Haven and London, Yale University Press, 2007)
(Editor) Envisioning America; English Plans for the Colonization of North America, 1580-1640; (New York: Bedford Books of St. Martin’s Press. 1995.).
Mapp, Alf J., Jr.:
The Virginia Experiment: The Old Dominion’s Role in the Making of America; 1607-1781; 3rd Edition (Lanham, MD, Hamilton Press. 1987 – Reprinted as 4th Edition, Lincoln, Nebraska, An Authors Guild Backprint.com Edition, iUniverse, 2006)
McCartney, Martha W.:
Virginia Immigrants and Adventurers, 1607-1635: A Biographical Dictionary;(Baltimore, Genealogical Publishing Company. 2007)
A Study of the Africans and African Americans on Jamestown Island and at Green Spring, 1619-1803; (Williamsburg, Colonial Williamsburg Foundation – prepared for the Colonial National Historical Park, National Park Service U.S. Department of the Interior Cooperative Agreement CA-4000-2-1017; 2003.)
Morgan, Edmund S.:
The First American Boom: Virginia 1618 to 1630; The William and Mary Quarterly, Third Series, Vol. 28, No. 2 (Apr., 1971), pp. 170-198; Published by: Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture. Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1917308
Nugent, Nell Marion:
Cavaliers and pioneers; abstracts of Virginia land patents and grants, v. 1: 1623-1666; (Baltimore, Genealogical Pub. Co., 1969)
Richards, Leonard K.:
The California Gold Rush and the Coming of the Civil War; (New York, Alfred A. Knopf, 2007)
Richter, Daniel K.:
Facing East from Indian County; A Native History of Early America; (Cambridge, Harvard University Press, 2001)
Smith, John (author), and Barbour, Philip L. (editor):
The Complete Works of Captain John Smith; at Shifflett, Crandall: (Virtual Jamestown; Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University Research Project, and the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities and Public Policy) 2007.
Whittenburg, James P.:
After the Fort: Jamestown, circa. 1620-1699; (Jamestown Interpretive Essays, Virtual Jamestown, Virginia Center for Digital History, University of Virginia at http://www.virtualjamestown.org/essays/whittenburg_essay.html)
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