Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Mrs. Gallop, Dorset, England, 1632

The stories of those who left England during the Great Migration are familiar to historians, but those who stayed behind also exercised agency. In a letter to John White on July 4, 1632, John Winthrop recounted the story of a Dorset woman who refused to come to America despite relentless pressure from her husband and other powerful men:
I have much difficultye to keepe John Galloppe heere by reason his wife will not come. I mervayle at the womans weaknesse, that she will live miserably with her children there, when she might live comfortably heere with her husband. I praye perswade and further her comminge by all meanes: if she will come let her have the remainder of his wages, if not, let it be bestowed to bring over his children, for he so desires it: it would be above 40 li losse to him to come for her.
While withholding her husband’s wages from a woman and threatening to take away her children seems to merit a stronger verb than “perswade,” it is clear that Mrs. Gallop was asserting her own wishes in the face of enormous obstacles. Perhaps she did not wish to part from family members, perhaps she feared the crossing or the prospect of starving, freezing, or being killed by Native Americans. Whatever her reasons, Mrs. Gallop shows that ordinary people exercised their own will when it came to emigration.

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