Interpreting Primary Sources
There is no commonwealth at this day in Europe, where in there is not a great store of poor people, and those necessarily to be relieved by the wealthier sort, which otherwise would starve and come to utter confusion. With us the poor is commonly divided into three sorts, so that some are poor by impotencies, as the fatherless child, the aged, the blind and lame, and the diseased person that is judged to be incurable: the second are poor by casualty, as the wounded soldier, the decayed householder, and the sick person visited with grievous and painful diseases: the third consisteth of the thriftless poor, as the rioter that hath consumed all, the vagabond that will abide no where...and finally the rogue and strumpet....
For the first two sorts...which are the true poor in deed, and for whom the word doth bind us to make some daily provision: there is order taken through out every parish in the realm, that weekly collection shall be made for their help and sustentation....The third sort...are often corrected with sharp execution, and the whip of justice abroad....
Some also do grudge at the great increase of people in these days, thinking a necessary brood of cattle far better than a superfluous augmentation of mankind.
William Harrison, 1586
We, for all the statutes that hitherto can be devised...cannot deliver our commonwealth from multitudes of loiterers and idle vagabonds. Truth it is, that through our long peace and seldom sickness...wee are growing more populous than ever heretofore; so that now there are...so many, that they can hardly live one by another....and often fall to pilfering and thieving and other lewdness....These petty thieves might be condemned for certain years in the western parties....in sawing and felling of timber...in the burning of the fires and pine trees to make pitch, tar, rosen, and soap ashes; in beating and working of hemp for cordage; and in the more southern parts, in setting them to work in mines....in planting of sugar canes...in dressing of vines....
This enterprise may stay the Spanish King from flowing over all the face of that land of America....How easy a matter may it be to this realm, swarming at this day with valiant youths, to abate the pride of Spain and of the support of the great Antichrist of Rome....
Richard Hakluyt, 1584
1. It will be a service to the church of great consequence to carry the gospel into those parts of the world...to raise a bulwark against the kingdom of AnteChrist which the Jesuites labor to rear up in those parts.
2. All other churches of Europe are brought to desolation and sins for which the Lord begins already to frown upon us and to cut us short, do threaten evil times to be coming upon us and who knows, but that God hath provided this place to be a refuge for many whom he means to save out of
the general calamity....
3. This land grows weary of her inhabitants...masters are forced by authority to entertain servants, parents to maintain their own children, all towns complain of the burden of their poor....
6. The fountains of learning and religion are so corrupted as...most children...are perverted, corrupted, and utterly overthrown by the multitude of evil examples....
John Winthrop, first government of Massachusetts Bay Colony, 1629
Questions To Think About
1. Why were the English interested in overseas colonizations?
2. What do these quotations indicate about English attitudes toward the poor?
Population in 1600: 3 million
|Real Wages in England, 1500-1700|
|Mortality, London, 1604-1661|
|Age||Number of Survivors|
Questions To Think About
1. How does the size of the English population in 1600 compare to the size of the English population today?
2. Did real wages in England rise or decline between 1500 and 1700?
3. How high was the death rate in England around 1600? At what ages did the largest number of Englishmen die? What might have been some of the social implications of this high death rate?