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BOUT twenty-two thousand emigrants, or four thousand families, came from old England to New England, in one hundred and ninetyeight ships, between the landing of the Pilgrims in 1620 and the revolutionary period at the commencement of the civil strife in 1640.* The emigration was rapid during these twenty years, but almost ceased when the war began and was never renewed to any great extent. It is doubtless true that the chief motive that impelled most of these emigrants to leave the land they loved so well, and to venture upon the untried hardships of a new country, was " Freedom to worship God." Yet the religious and political motives were as one motive, as we can hardly distinguish between the religion and the politics of the Puritan, and there were other reasons, likewise, that had weight in determining not only the yeomanry, but the cultured classes accustomed to the refinements of London life, to brave the dangers of the seas and of the wilderness in securing new homes. All the political influences in England during the reign of Kings James and Charles I. and II. were favorable to colonization to a new land where men might enjoy some freedom from the restraints that were so galling to independent spirits. Holland had been tried by the Pilgrims, but there were strong objections to remaining where the atmosphere was so un-English. Their children were in danger of losing their national feeling with their national language by remaining there. America afforded the longed-for asylum, and moreover was happily separated by the width of the Atlantic Ocean from the persecuting power which had embittered the happiness of so many who desired religious freedom. The young and sympathetic, especially, could hardly brook delay till the year of their majority should be reached when they might secure the privilege of seeking a " New World," where a freer atmosphere might be breathed, and even those more advanced in life, tired of the struggle with despotism, were ready to abandon all the endearing associations of home.
* Bancroft, vol. I, p. 468.
The poet Dyer says, —
"Can ye lead out to distant colonies
Besides the religious, there was a politico-economic motive connected with their desire to emigrate. England was overflowing with inhabitants. Virginia (which for many years was the term applied quite indefinitely to the whole coast of North America), and later the Maryland, Plymouth, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and New York colonies, afforded room for the expanding population of the Old World. Men were strongly impressed with the idea that they could do better to strike out for a new quarter of the globe where there were larger chances to improve their condition by the accumulation of property and the attainment of a better social state. As long as they could carry with them the blessings of a Christian civilization and reestablish their liberties, which had been so imperilled under the dominion of the house of Stuart, through the generous provisions afforded to settlers in the colonial charters, they could afford to take the risks of removal. Withal there was a spice of romance and adventure in the new life, with all its vicissitudes and dangers, which fired the ardor of youth and even stirred the blood of those in mature life.
The process by which the early colonists accomplished their purpose of leaving England, in spite of frequent opposition and hindrances from the government which, however persecuting, was, after all, loath to lose so many good citizens, was after this fashion. Each emigrant must be furnished with a certificate of his loyalty to the king and state, and conformity to the national church, which was obtained from some minister of the Established Church, doubtless on payment of a fee, and was duly exhibited to the officials who granted permits to emigrate. From the rolls of emigrants who came to this country has been compiled a very valuable book furnishing a copy of these "Original Lists of Persons of Quality, emigrants, religious exiles, political rebels, servants, apprentices," from 1600 to 1700*
The cost of a passage from England to Virginia, in the year 1649, was ^5 Ios-, or extra if the vessel stopped at St. Catherine's for five or six weeks. Many of the early settlers came by the way of Barbadoes. Probably for a passage direct to New England an emigrant expended as much as £5, besides the cost of his living on the way.
The first emigrant from England to this country of the name of Steere
• In John Camden Hotten's Our Early Emigrant Ancestors.
appears to have been one Robert Steere, aged seventeen years, who was one of the passengers for Virginia, embarked in the Assurance from Gravesend, July, 1635. Following him, and bound also to Virginia on board the Constance, October 24th, the same year, was Richard Steere,* aged twenty-four. It is not improbable that these two coming in 1635 belonged to one family, the throng of persons starting in that period of exodus from English persecution rendering it impossible for this family to embark together in one vessel. What became of Richard and Robert Steere is not known. They may have been swept away by the flood of epidemics which prevailed among the new settlers in certain years, or they may have returned speedily to their former home, preferring luxury to freedom. Diligent search has been made for their names in the early colonial records of the different colonies, in hopes of finding some trace of these individuals among the first settlers, and a possible connection with John Steere, who became a settler in Rhode Island, but the most careful investigation has failed to find the slightest trace of the presence of any of the name until John Steere of Providence appears upon the Rhode Island records in 1660, and later a second Richard Steere, from London, born in 1643, appears upon the annals of New London. It might be imagined that there was some relationship between these two, but there is no evidence whatever to be found. Richard Steert of New London, "citizen and cordwainer," came there about 1700, married, first, Elizabeth, the widow of Mr. John Wheeler, and was associated with her in the management of her husband's property, which amounted to ^1382 3s. yd., a large sum at that day, and also aided her in the care of her six children by her first husband. She died previous to 1714, when he married, second, Bethia Mapes, who was previously the widow of Thomas Goldsmith. He removed to Southold, Suffolk County, Long Island, where he is spoken of as merchant, and died June 20,1721, aged 78. Richard Steere's will is on record in the city of New York (Southold being then in that probate district), and is dated March 29, 1721. In this instrument, evidently written by himself and in beautiful even handwriting, he makes provision for his step-children by his two wives, Elizabeth and Bethia, and for his wife Bethia. He makes no allusion to any children of his own or to any relatives. He was decidedly a man of genius and of liberal ideas, as may be seen by his protest addressed to the Connecticut legislature, attacking in vigorous language the government and the colony on behalf of the " Rogerines," or John Rogers and his followers, who were somewhat violent in their enthusiasm against the established church of the colony.
* See "Original Lists of Emigrants," etc., in Hot- family till the third generation. Thomas Steere, son
ten's Our Early Emigrant Ancestors, p. 136. of John, senior, of Providence, married Mary, daugh
t The name Richard Steere was not uncommon in ter of Richard Arnold, and, as was general custom,
England, as several wills have been found in Sussex called a son after him, Richard Steere, who became
and Cornwall in which this name appears, but it does the noted town clerk of_Glocester.] not seem to have entered into the Rhode Island
He charged the government with "persecution of dissenters, narrow principles, self-interest, and a spirit of domineering," and argued that "to compel people to pay for a Presbyterian ministry is against the laws of England, is rapine, robbery, and oppression. At a special court held January 20, 1694-95, the subscribers to this paper were fined £5 each, and appeal from this decision followed appeal.
He was the author of a book of original poetry entitled, "The Daniel Catcher: the Life of the Prophet Daniel," and other poems, a very scarce book published about 1700.* From this unique volume of early American poetry we extract the following verses : —
ON A SEA-STORM NIGH THE COAST.
All round the Horizon black Clouds appear:
A storm is near:
The Winds are high;
The Weighty Seas are rowled from the Deeps
In mighty heaps,
To Kiss the Skies:
Now did the Surging Billows Fome and Rore
Against the Shore,
And it Devour;
The Earth did Interpose the Prince of Light
'Twas Sable night,
And Light the Sky,
THE AUTHOR'S OPTION.
O Thou, who Alpha, and Omega art;
The spring, & root of all Created things;
Fit my immortal Part with Holy Wings
That I mayyJWthat Life, sure hid with Christ in God.
* There is a copy of this rare book in the Public Library of Boston, belonging to the Prince Collection, which is sacredly guarded.
During the earlier half of the next century another branch of the Steere family emigrated from the north of Ireland to Pennsylvania. The members of this branch belonged to the Society of Friends, as appears by the Friends Records in Pennsylvania. Isaac and Ruth Steer (as then spelled by this branch) and daughter Catherine came from County Antrim, Ireland, their certificate being dated 5th mo. 7, 1736, received at New Garden, Pa., 6: 27, 1736. Three sons, John, Joseph, and Nicholas, preceded their parents, and settled in the same State. John Steer's certificate was from Ballendery, Ireland, dated 2:11, 1728. He married Rachel Evans 2:21, 1732, at Laycock Meeting (since called Lampeter). Joseph married, 3 mo. 1746, at Sadsbury, Lancaster County, Pa., Grace Edgerton, widow of Joseph Edgerton, and daughter of H. and Abigail Varman. Nicholas Steer's certificate was from Lisburn Meeting in the north of Ireland, and was dated 3:23, 1734. From Isaac and Ruth Steer have descended quite a progeny, who are found in the Middle and Western States. The name of this branch of the family was changed from "Steer " to " Steere" within the last century.''
* Mr. Isaac Steere Russell, of New Market, Md., is preparing a record of the descendants of Isaac Steer for publication.