sending children to virginia -- 5/8/17

Today's selection -- from Indigenous London by Coll Thrush. In the 16th and 17th centuries, London was crowded, polluted and plague ridden with no relief in sight. With the "discovery" of the new world, a solution was soon presented -- colonization:

"In the late sixteenth century, though, a new rationale for colonialism came to the fore. Between 1500 and 1600, London exploded in population, from perhaps seventy-five thousand to almost a quarter million. The vast majority of this burgeoning originated not from natural growth -- indeed, deaths far outpaced births in the plague-ridden city -- but rather from immi­gration, as enclosure, famine, rural economic stagnation, and the discharge of soldiers from ventures in Ireland and Europe unmoored thousands upon thousands of men, women, and children. Most of these people headed for London, and the result was a growing elite discourse of urban anxiety. In 1587, John Howes decried the 'caterpillars of the commonwealth ... lustie roges and common beggers ... cometh hither to seke relief ' The city, he wrote pointedly, 'can not releve England.' Parliament and the Crown made unsuccessful attempts to curb the bewildering speed and chaotic form of the city's expansion. In 1580, for example, Queen Elizabeth made a decree intended to halt the uncontrolled construction at the edges of the city, but this had little or no effect; indeed, in the time of Elizabeth's successor, James I, one observer described the 'great concourse of all sorts of people drawing near unto the City,' often forced to live in sheds and crowded tenements. In places like Wapping, Limehouse, and Southwark, plague, pollution, and sheer population tested the ability of London's elites to manage their city.

"For at least some Londoners, one solution seemed clear: coloniza­tion. Sending the city's excess population across the ocean became one of the primary justifications for colonial ventures, often expressed with at least as much urgency as the drive for profit or the call to spread Christianity. Richard Hakluyt was among the first to explicitly make the case, writing that the 'idle persons . . . having no way to be sett on worke be either mutinous and seeke alteration in the state, or at least very burdensome to the common wealthe and often fall to pilferage and thevinge and other lewdness.' His gesture toward the threat of social unrest was tempered by a humanitarian impulse regarding his fellow citizens who, 'for trifles may otherwise be de­voured by the gallows.' In a sermon in 1622, clergyman and satirist John Donne made a similar point, arguing that colonization 'shall redeeme many a wretch from the Jawes of death, from the hands of the Executioner.' Oth­ers, like Thomas Churchyard, warned that the 'lustie Bodies' invading the city might be 'ready too spoyle and cut the throates of the welthy and ritch.' In 1583, soldier and naval commander Christopher Carleill argued that colo­nization could provide hope to English men and women who 'fall into son­drie disorders, and [are] ledd on, to one shamefull ende or other.' By the early seventeenth century, colonization had become an accepted response to urban problems.

"In October of 1618, John Chamberlain recorded in a letter that 'The City is now shipping thither an hundred young boys and girls that lay starving in the streets, which is one of the best deeds that could be done with so little charge, not rising to above £500.' Edwin Sandys, a member of Parliament and one of the founders of the Virginia Company, announced in 1619 that one hundred children of whom 'the Citie is especially desirous to be disburdened' had been identified for transportation to Virginia. Noting that many of the children were 'ill disposed' to go, he hoped that 'vnder severe Masters they may be brought to goodness.'"

Indigenous London by Coll Thrush is the first book in a new book club from BackStory and called BookStory.

Are you curious? Learn more about BookStory by clicking here.



Coll Thrush


Indigenous London: Native Travelers at the Heart of Empire


Yale University Press


Copyright 2016 Yale University


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