The American Dream? Not for all the pilgrims

Thousands returned within a few years of crossing the Atlantic, academic reveals

The American Dream was fading almost before it began, says a study which shows a quarter of all pilgrims gave up on the New World to return to Britain.

The harsh realities of life in 17th-century Massachusetts, where disease was rife, the climate unforgiving and the economy stagnant for long periods, forced thousands to make the treacherous three-month voyage back across the Atlantic within a few years of arriving.

Dr Susan Hardman Moore, of the University of Edinburgh's School of Divinity, has painstakingly researched the immigration records of ordinary people who fled religious persecution before the English Civil War, along with their wills, diaries and letters. Her book, Pilgrims: New World Settlers and the Call of Home, estimates that up to 20,000 people set sail across the Atlantic during the 1630s and 1640s as the country was torn apart by political and religious differences under Charles I.

Those who remained in America set about building a powerful national story which fuelled notions of Manifest Destiny and helped turn the country into the world's greatest superpower, but the vast numbers who quit have long been underplayed by historians. Among those to sail back to Britain were significant sections of the colony's elite, including a third of religious ministers and half of the graduates from the newly established Harvard University.

"This is a story that has been overlooked on the whole by Americans who prefer to focus attention on the onward march of United States' history," Dr Hardman Moore said. "My book, in a quiet way, undercuts some of the grand American mythology of a city on a hill that everyone is going to look up to as a beacon."

But it was not just conditions in their adopted home that fuelled the return exodus, Dr Harman Moore says. The execution of the fiercely anti-Puritan Archbishop Laud signalled a sea change in religious attitudes in the home country, and Oliver Cromwell's new regime offered new openings for adventurers, particularly those ideologically committed to the Puritan cause. Their presence helped reinforce garrisons of Cromwell's forces from Cornwall to Scotland at a time when English Presbyterians were less than keen to engage in the brutal business of suppression.

"Cromwell's new regime needed a huge number of people to run it so there were a lot of new opportunities in employment, at a time when in New England there aren't that many jobs because immigration and expansion has dried up," said Dr Hardman Moore. "England, Scotland and Ireland offered better opportunities."

Crossing the Atlantic was a major undertaking even for those who felt their actions were determined by God. Apart from the obvious dangers of shipwreck and prospect of long months of sea-sickness, many borrowed heavily to make the voyage, which cost the equivalent of a year's income for a craftsman.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
people
News
A survey carried out by Sainsbury's Finance found 20% of new university students have never washed their own clothes, while 14% cannot even boil an egg
science...and the results are not as pointless as that sounds
News
Dominique Alderweireld, also known as Dodo de Saumure, is the owner of a string of brothels in Belgium
newsPhilip Sweeney gets the inside track on France's trial of the year
News
Cumberbatch was speaking on US television when he made the comment (Getty)
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Tom DeLonge, Travis Barker and Mark Hoppus of Blink-182 pictured in 2011.
musicBassist Mark Hoppus and drummer Travis Barker say Tom Delonge is 'disrespectful and ungrateful'
Sport
football
Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'
tvBroadchurch series 2, episode 4, review - contains spoilers
Sport
cyclingDisgraced cycling star says people will soon forgive his actions
News
Britain's Prince Philip attends a Garden Party at Buckingham Palace in London
people
Arts and Entertainment
Ed Sheeran will play three sell-out gigs at Wembley Stadium in July
music
News
i100
News
Lena Dunham posing for an official portrait at Sundance 2015
people
Arts and Entertainment
Under the skin: Sarah Kane in May 1998
theatreThe story behind a new season of Sarah Kane plays
Arts and Entertainment
Preening: Johnny Depp in 'Mortdecai'
filmMortdecai becomes actor's fifth consecutive box office bomb
Sport
Bradford City's reward for their memorable win over Chelsea is a trip to face either Sunderland or Fulham (Getty)
football
News
Lars Andersen took up archery in his mid thirties
video
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: International Customer Service Administrators

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join an awa...

Recruitment Genius: Warehouse Operations & Logistics Manager

£38000 - £42000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the UK's best performing...

Recruitment Genius: GeoDatabase Specialist - Hazard Modelling

£35000 - £43000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our award-winning client is one...

Recruitment Genius: Compressed Air Pipework Installation Engineer

£15000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This leading provider of Atlas ...

Day In a Page

Woman who was sent to three Nazi death camps describes how she escaped the gas chamber

Auschwitz liberation 70th anniversary

Woman sent to three Nazi death camps describes surviving gas chamber
DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

The inside track on France's trial of the year

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
As provocative now as they ever were

Sarah Kane season

Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea