Free and Coerced Migrations from
the Old World to the New
AGAINST THE BACKDROP of a steady inter- and intra-continental swarming of people since homo sapiens left Africa, transatlantic migration from the sixteenth down to the mid-nineteenth century was strikingly unusual in three ways. First, prior to this era, whether it was the initial peopling of the Americas millennia ago, the settling of central Europeans in Asia thought to have occurred three thousand years ago, or the Bantu migrations which reshaped West Africa, movement and settlement had not been accompanied by continuing and intensive contact between the source society and the migrant society. 1 Where migrants did maintain contact with those that stayed home, it was only at the level of the elite. The migration of peoples normally changed the immigrant more than the emigrant society, and unless the number of migrants was large, the region of departure would be unaffected. The Vikings who went to Skraeland and the Maoris who went to what became New Zealand could have left no qualitative impact on the lands they left behind. In the early modern Atlantic, however, for the first time in human history there appeared a hemispheric “community.” Community in the sense used here means that everyone living in it had values that if they were not shared around the Atlantic were certainly reshaped in some way by others living in the Atlantic basins, and, as this suggests, where events in one geographic area had the potential to stimulate a reaction—and not necessarily just economic—thousands of miles away. Second, the migration was both ocean-borne and part of a larger expansion movement that saw Europeans and to a lesser extent Africans move east by land as well as west by sea. Tundra to the north and Islam to the south ensured the directions of the European thrust.