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The Great Migration - Colonial America

Updated: Mar 22, 2021

Early settlement of the English and Europeans in America was only made after several failed attempts starting as early as 1584. These were ambitious men who petitioned for the necessary charters, giving them permission to explore or occupy new colonies. The brave men landed their ships on the shores of an unknown land, facing many potential threats. Hostility from the native people, wild animals, and inclement weather were a few of the major obstacles they faced. They left the safety and conveniences of their well established cities and boarded wooden vessels sailing across the waters of the mighty Atlantic Ocean for a chance at a better life.

The first few attempts, which failed, were business ventures. The colony lost at Roanoke in 1584, for example, consisted of men in search of silver and gold - a hope which was dashed when they found none. They had such a rough time that they retreated back to England empty-handed. The next year another group sent to Roanoke vanished completely. The next attempts were in 1607 when the Popham Colony in Maine came and went and another group arrived at Jamestown (Virginia). After suffering many losses Jamestown finally started to gain stability in 1610. The groups that came after were mostly Puritans, Pilgrims, Baptists, Protestants and Quakers - all Christian denominations. They were seeking life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness - God given rights, the reformers proclaimed, quoting scripture. What a vision and what a tremendous accomplishment to have laid the foundations for exactly what they had hoped and prayed for. Four centuries later, America continues to prosper, blessed with more luxury and freedom than any of the "First Comers" could have hoped for. In hindsight, let us not forgot the example they sought to make, as evidence for all the world to see how greatly blessed a nation that honored and obeyed God and His Word would be, and warning that God would turn his back on a nation that turned it's back on him.

Known attempts by the English and Dutch at settling North America, with a summary of their expeditions.

Source information is listed below. Your comments, corrections, or additions are welcome in the comments below. This page may be updated periodically as new resources are discovered. You will be able to find it in the Immigrants to America category in Free Genealogy Resources.

1584 | The Lost Colony of Roanoke (North Carolina)

In June of 1584, Sir Walter Raleigh sent two ships across the Atlantic in search of land England could claim. They landed on Roanoke Island off the coast of North Carolina and found it suitable for conquest and colonization, so Queen Elizabeth granted permission for about 100 men to sail over to form a colony. The group failed and returned to England within a year. Raleigh gathered another group of 120 men, women, and children willing to try again. The ship dropped them off and returned to England for supplies but when they returned to Roanoke, the settlement was in ruins and there was no sign of the colonists. The names of these lost colonists can be found here.

1607 | Jamestown (Virginia)

The first permanent English settlement in the New World was organized by a group of entrepreneurs, "The Virginia Company of London", who sent three ships to "James Fort" (present-day Jamestown, Virginia), arriving on May 13, 1607, under the command of Capt. Christopher Newport. The smallest ship, "Discovery", was left behind for the group's use, led by Captain John Smith. The group consisted of 104 men and boys. Captain Newport went back to England and returned to Jamestown to deliver 100 new settlers in January of 1608. To his disappointment, he found that only 38 of the 104 men and boys survived and, to make matters worse, one of the new arrivals accidentally started a fire that destroyed the entire colony's living quarters. Captain Newport went back to England again in April of 1608 and returned that October with eight German and Polish settlers and the first two women, Mistress Forrest and Anne Burras, her maid. Then, on June 2, 1609, Capt. Newport commanded the flagship "Sea Venture" and eight other ships full of supplies and 500 new settlers destined for the Virginia Colony. The convoy was split up when a severe three-day storm wreaked havoc on the seas. Many supplies were lost and one ship returned to England, but 200-300 settlers made it to Jamestown. The Sea Venture, however, was shipwrecked off Bermuda. Some of them attempted to sail Sea Venture's longboat to Virginia, but were never seen again. Other survivors on Bermuda salvaged parts of the Sea Venture to build two smaller ships, Deliverance and Patience. Under the command of Sir Thomas Gate and Sir George Somers, they sailed successfully to Jamestown, arriving on May 23, 1610. Expecting to find a thriving settlement of about 500 people, they were shocked to find only about 60 remained and many of those were sick or dying. On June 7, 1610, the remaining settlers boarded the ship with the intention of returning to England. As they sailed down the James River, they were intercepted by Lord Delaware and three ships bound for Jamestown, containing supplies, food, colonists, and a doctor. They were ordered to return to their settlement at Jamestown on June 9, 1610. With renewed hope and supplies, they were able to build the foundations for a successful colony. In 1699, however, the colonial capital was moved to Williamsburg, bringing and end to the settlement at Jamestown, which to this day remains an archaeological site and historic park. It wasn't until August of 1619 that a ship containing 20 of the first African slaves from Angola arrived near Jamestown.

1607 | Popham Colony (Maine)

Later in 1607, the Virginia Company of Plymouth attempted to establish The Popham Colony (or Sagadahoc Colony) in present day Phippsburg, Maine. The colony was abandoned after one year, but it was there that the first ship built by the English in the New World was made. The ship, "Virginia of Sagadahoc", was one of the nine ships led by Capt. Newport in the flagship Sea Venture during the fateful and stormy voyage of 1609.

1609 | Exploration of the Hudson River (New York)

In 1609, the Dutch East India Company of Amsterdam commissioned Henry Hudson to explore in search of a Northeast Passage around Russia and Scandinavia whereby trade between Asia and Europe would be easier than it was in the dangerous waters off the coasts of Africa. In the Flyboat "Halve Maen", Hudson was forced to turn around when arctic ice blocked his path. Undeterred, he opted to try to find a Northwest Passage and before long, he was exploring the east coast of America. He entered into the Narrows, which had been discovered in 1524 by Giovanni da Verrazzano, and continued into Upper New York Bay and northward up the river that is named after him to this day, the Hudson River.

1613 | New Netherland (New York City)

The Dutch established a settlement in present-day New York City as early as 1613. The Dutch Colony of New Netherland was founded by the Dutch West India Company in 1621 and became a province of the Dutch Republic in 1624. Thirty families came over on the ship New Netherland, landing at Governor's Island and Fort Orange in May of 1624. Then, in June of 1625, another 45 people arrived. They were primarily Walloons and French Huguenots and 11 of them were African slaves or indentured servants. There was little contact between New Englanders and New Netherlanders during the first decades of settlement. In 1664, four English frigates appeared in New Amsterdam's harbor, demanding surrender. After crippling losses in the Indian Wars, surrender came easy. Nine years later though, in August of 1673, a 21-ship fleet of Dutch ships recaptured New Netherland, only to finally cede it to the English in November of 1674 with the Treaty of Westminster. At the time, there were 7,000-8,000 people in New Netherland and only half of them were Dutch. They were mostly European colonists, American Indians and African slaves. Note: New Amsterdam refers to the southern tip of Manhattan. It was the capital and seat of New Netherland's colonial government from 1625 until 1664, when the English conquered the Dutch and renamed it New York City.

1620 | Plymouth Colony (Massachusetts)

The first English settlement in New England took place in 1620 when the Pilgrims of the Leiden Congregation and London Merchant Adventurers crossed the Atlantic on the Mayflower and formed the Plymouth Colony at Plymouth, Massachusetts. See my interactive Mayflower database and illustrations here. The second ship to arrive was the Fortune in 1621, followed by the Anne & Little James in 1623.

"Let the Lord have ye praise; who is the high preserver of men."

1623 | Nantasket Beach

Located on a peninsula southeast of Boston is Nantasket Beach, in the town of Hull, Massachusetts. In 1623/24, Roger Conant, arrived from London to the Plymouth Colony, but soon after, he moved with his family to Nantasket. About a year later, the Conants moved again, this time up to Cape Ann, discussed next.

1623/24 | Cape Ann (Massachusetts)

"The Essex Colony" at Cape Ann was attempted in 1623. The region had been mapped in 1609 by explorer, John Smith (1580-1631), after he helped establish the settlement at Jamestown, Virginia. The books and maps Smith printed inspired and encouraged settlement in New England in the years following. In 1623, two ships carrying 32 people with the Dorchester Company, led by John Tylly and Thomas Gardner arrived to start a fishing plantation. Cape Ann lies in Essex County, about 47 miles from Plymouth Colony by sea, or 83 miles by land. Disputes over patents arose between the settlers at Cape Ann and those at Plymouth, resulting in the Dorchester Company relocating to Naumkeag (Salem) and some returning to England. After this attempt, some of the investors formed the Massachusetts Bay Company. Roger Conant was governor of Naumkeag until Endicott's group arrived in 1628. From Wikipedia: "According to the Essex Institute, the list of old planters, in 1626, who were in Cape Ann before the move were as follows: Roger Conant - Governor, John Lyford - Minister (went to Virginia, instead of Naumkeag), John Woodbury, Humphrey Woodbury, John Balch, Peter Palfray, Walter Knight, William Allen, Thomas Gray, John Tylly, Thomas Gardner, Richard Norman (and his son), William Jeffrey, and Capt. William Trask".

1624 | New Amsterdam (Manhattan, NYC)

The Walloons were natives of the County of Hainaut, Belgium. Feeling unwelcome in Holland, they requested permission to settle in Virginia in 1621, while it was under British control, but their request was denied. Next they petitioned the Dutch West India Company for permission to settle in Dutch-controlled New Amsterdam, a request that was granted. They left Holland in March of 1624 and landed in New York on May 20, 1624. The One World Observatory allows you to see what Manhattan looked like when they arrived. See The Walloon Settlers, and the Netherland Monument here.

1628-1629 | Salem (Massachusetts)

A group of about 50 Puritans led by John Endicott left England aboard the ship, "Abigail", in June of 1628. They arrived at present-day Salem, then called "Naumkeag", after a local Indian tribe which had been virtually exterminated by war with another local tribe and a plague. The name of Naumkeag was changed to Salem in 1629. This was the first successful attempt at settlement by the Massachusetts Bay Company. Endicott served as governor and in other elected positions until his death, which occurred in 1664. He upheld strict Puritan values and was a Separatist opposed to the Anglican church.

Another group of six ships sent by the Massachusetts Bay Company, and carrying about 350 Puritans led by Francis Higginson arrived on June 29, 1629, and formed a settlement at Salem. They also brought hundreds of cows, horses, goats, oxen, and rabbits. The six ships were: Talbot, George Bonaventure, Lyon's Whelp, Four Sisters, Mayflower (not the Plymouth Pilgrim's ship by the same name), and the Pilgrim, which carried supplies only. A small group of settlers led by John Endicott welcomed them at the harbor. There were only six houses in Salem at the time. A portion of Higginson's diary can be found here. A list of residents in Salem up to the year 1651 is available at

1630-1631 | Boston (Massachusetts)

After Higginson's group landed successfully, another convoy of 11 ships led by John Winthrop arrived in the summer of 1630. The ships were: the Flagship Arabella, Talbot, Ambrose, Jewel, Mayflower (again, not the Plymouth Pilgrim's ship by the same name), Whale, Success, Charles, William and Francis, Hopewell, and Trial. Six other ships arrived in 1630, one presumably the "John and Mary" led by Capt. John Underhill. The Massachusetts Bay Company is said to have transported 20,000 colonists and settlers to the New World through the 1630s. See The Winthrop Fleet for more details.

The ship Lyon arrived near Boston on Feb. 5, 1631. On board was Roger Williams, a radical Puritan and proponent of separation of church and state. He was banished from Massachusetts for his radical views and he and his followers left and settled Providence, Rhode Island, in 1636. It became a sanctuary for religious dissidents. Williams's patent for the colony of Providence Plantations was obtained in 1644. More details can be found here.

God requireth not an uniformity of Religion to be inacted and inforced in any civill state…true civility and Christianity may both flourish in a state or Kingdome, notwithstanding the permission of divers and contrary consciences, either of Jew or Gentile. - Roger Williams, The Bloudy Tenent of Persecution, for Cause of Conscience, Discussed in a Conference Between Truth and Peace, 1644.

1632 | Baltimore (Maryland)

George Calvert arrived in Jamestown in the autumn of 1629. Being Catholic, Calvert and his family were not welcome and sought a settlement elsewhere. Although he had died in April of 1632, Lord Baltimore's charter granting him permission to establish a colony on either side of the Chesapeake Bay, in present day Maryland, was granted five weeks after his death, in June of 1632. His son, Cecil, inherited the land which became a place of refuge for Catholics.


Collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society, Vol. IX, p. 205; Chronological Table. [Link]

Popham Colony [Wikipedia]

Starving Time [Wikipedia]

Jamestown, Virginia [Wikipedia]

New Netherland [Wikipedia]

Cape Ann [Wikipedia]

Massachusetts Bay Colony [Wikipedia]

John Endecott [Wikipedia]

Francis Higginson [Wikipedia]

Roger Conant [Wikipedia]

Cape Ann [Wikipedia]

Old Planters [Wikipedia]

The Life of Francis Higginson, First Minister in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, by Thomas Higginson, 1891, p. 69. [Link]


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