Leaving England: Essays on British Emigration in the Nineteenth Century

By Charlotte Erickson | Go to book overview

CHAPTER ONE
Agrarian Myths of English Immigrants

Every immigration to America, wrote Carl Wittke, "has included men and women who dreamed of building a Utopia on the prairies of mid-America. In the spirit of Rousseau's 'free and noble savage' they entertained romantic but unrealistic notions about carving a home out of the primeval forest, where they might live according to their heart's desire."1 Among English immigrants, such notions were not confined to the educated who had read Rousseau or James Fenimore Cooper. The lure of an idyllic existence on a pioneer farm penetrated deep into the social structure of this industrializing country in the early nineteenth century.

The evidence lies in the private letters of English immigrants in the United States. A large proportion of the slender remains of such correspondence came from settlers on the land who emigrated during the generation following the Napoleonic Wars. Although these immigrants came to the United States at a time when opportunities to enter agriculture on the basis of the family farm were still abundant and not so costly as they were later to become, one cannot fail to be impressed in reading these letters by the absence of superlatives for or against America or particular parts of America. Their tone was usually more cautious than that of emigrant letters, including English ones, which were printed in newspapers or pamphlets shortly after they were written. Although they subscribed to the universal view that an industrious man could not fail to

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1
Carl Wittke, Refugees of Revolution: The German Forty-Eighters in America ( Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1952), p. 111.

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