Title: Voyagers to the West: A Passage in the Peopling of America on the Eve of Revolution
Author: Bernard Bailyn
Categories: Migration, Atlantic World, Economic History, Quantitative History, Spatial History
Place: Atlantic World
Time Period: 1773-1776
Bailyn examines a narrow frame of migration to British America between 1773-1776, during which approximately 9,000 English and Scottish emigrated whose details were recorded in a Registrar of Emigrants kept by the British state in response to growing anxiety about losing population to the Americas. Bailyn uses quantitative analysis to examine the Registrar and draw out patterns. He concludes that there was, in fact, a "dual migration".
First, a "metropolitan" migration originated in southern England and consisted of often young, male servants and laborers employed as craftsmen and artisans. These young men most often ended up emigrating and serving their indentured terms in the middle colonies and Virginia, and were recruited by an aggressive network of middlemen that were trying to meet the strong demand for labor in the colonies. Bailyn characterizes their motivations as being more driven by hope rather than despair (pull rather than push).
Second, a "provincial" migration originated in northern England and Scotland and consisted of farming families who were facing disruptions in the agricultural economy and changing patterns of land-holding in Britain. These families more purposefully emigrated to peripheral backcountry of the Americas, in New York and North Carolina and were recruited by land speculators who were hoping to make their new land holdings in the backcountry more profitable through farming and family settlement. These areas constituted a large "arc of peripheries" stretching between coastal points of Nova Scotia and Florida (which he uses as illustrations of frontier peripheries) and sweeping inland between them. In this area, Bailyn argues that migration did not just have a net impact on a broad demographic surge in North America, but in particular in the directed growth on the frontier. It was in the frontier that Bailyn gestures towards one of his side paradoxes of the project: the tension between civility and the savagery/violence of frontier life (to which he doesn't give a concrete explanatory answer but instead illustrates how the two sides operated concurrently).
Bailyn's analysis takes a two-sided approach summarized by his metaphor of looking at a painting. In the first half of the book he employs pages and pages of graphs, figures, and maps in a quantitatively-driven approach that bores down at higher and higher resolution looking at the complex painting. In the second half, he reverts to a narrative-driven approach that pulls out specific illustrative aspects of the painting.
Key Themes and Concepts
- Dual migration thesis based on 1. labor demand and 2. land speculation, creates a "southern" vs. a "northern" stream, or "metropolitan" vs. "provincial", with young, male, servants/labor force from London and South England and more family-unit, purposeful migration from northern England and Scotland
- Arc of peripheries stretching between coastal Nova Scotia and Florida and sweeping in an arc into the inland backcountry
- Not the poorest of the poor
- Tension or paradox between civility and sophistication vs. barbarity, violence of frontier life
U.S. History Qualifying Exams: Book Summaries
by Cameron Blevins
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