Migration to the American Colonies

While family life remained stable in the Northern colonies during early settlement, the experience of colonization in the South initially served to upset family and household bonds. Only the wealthy were able to move their families to the Southern colonies as complete groups. Once there, the warm Southern climate proved disastrous for initial settlement, and mortality rates were far higher than in the Northern colonies. Only one in three marriages lasted more than ten years without one or both partners dying. Nearly a quarter of all children died before reaching the age of 1, and 50 percent died before age 20. By the 1680s, family life finally had begun to stabilize for wealthy Southern families. As the native-born population was better able to survive the Southern climate, both parents stood a better chance of surviving together. Like their Anglican counterparts in England, Southerners placed a strong emphasis on family bonds. They also emphasized the importance of hierarchy within the family, as well as in the larger realm of the household. Due to the isolation of Southern plantations, the Southern household became more important than the community even more so than in the more closely settled Northern colonies. Would-be colonists, too poor to afford the cost of passage, arrived as indentured servants, trading seven years of service for the journey to North America, a parcel of land, some tools and clothing, and sometimes dues in the form of cash. While most servants were free or enslaved single men and, in some cases, women, families occasionally agreed to take their chances with indentures. Once they had arrived, women were only allowed to keep children under the age of 2 or 3. Other children were taken as servants to separate plantations or farms. Unlike adults, their indentures could last anywhere from seven to twenty years, usually until they were adults. A woman who became pregnant while still indentured had few choices. Ideally, the father of the child would purchase the rest of her indenture, and they would marry. In most cases, however, the child’s father was either unable or unwilling to marry. The new mother’s indenture would then be extended for a longer period, and the child would also be indentured. Family life after an indentureship was again balanced between the ideal and reality. If a couple could acquire land of their own, they had the hope of raising a family and establishing a household. Most of these families settled in the backcountry regions of western Virginia, the Carolinas, Kentucky, and Tennessee. Colonists unable to obtain land of their own usually had no choice but to remain servants permanently. Whether or not they could raise families in this context was dependent on the willingness and generosity of the head of the household. Introduction to American Colonial History Early American Immigration U.S. Immigration Before 1965 – Facts & Summary – HISTORY.com

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