On the Way to the Big Woods: Part 1

This will be the first in a series of posts retracing the Ingalls family from their English origins to the Big Woods of Wisconsin where the Little House series begins. During my research, I was intrigued to find the Ingalls family moved back and forth across the American/Canadian border as French & British colonies developed into two distinct countries. Wisconsin was a perfect finished mirror for the Ingalls family of French Canadian culture and New England expansion. This exploration is very personal for me as I am navigating my own reverse Ingalls immigration from the United States up into Canada. I’m rethinking the North American history I understood and expanding my view on colonialism, the history it left behind and the cultures it created.

My research would not have been possible from the safety of the internet without the excellent works created by Charles Burleigh in 1903 and Walter Renton Ingalls in 1930 tracing the  family.  While Walter found the a record of the Ingalls family in 1384 in Lincolnshire, England our story starts closer to the 17th century when we can follow a direct line down to Laura. Henry Ingalls begins our family tree with records of his 1555 will. The family still residing in Skirbeck, Lincolnshire. His son Robert’s will 1617 is also documented. Which allows us to follow Henry to Robert to Edmond. It’s ultimately Henry’s grandchild Edmund who would brave the Atlantic crossing and eventually settle in Sargus (Lynn), Massachusetts.

What I found so extraordinary about Edmond’s voyage to the new colonies was his comfortable position in England. His grandfather, Henry, and father, Robert, owned land, livestock and gave money not only to their children but also servants. Edmond is not the traveler we were presented with in history books fleeing from England. He had five children, servants, disposable income and was not escaping from religious persecution. He was actually able to pay his way across the Atlantic which would lead to owning more land (then say a company sponsored man) in the new world using the headright system along with his brother.  The company that brought the Ingalls to the New World is a name that we are familiar with from elementary school: The Massachusetts Bay Company

Massachusetts was colonized around fisheries and England’s growing economy and food necessities. In 1623 of group of merchants in Dorchester England wanted to cut the costs  around the transatlantic fishing season in North America by leaving a group of men permanently in Cape Ann, Massachusetts . In theory, this band of fishing brothers would farm, hunt and trap year round and be available to assist during the fishing season with the yearly ships sent over by the merchants. The reality of the venture however is a lesson in hiring a proper project manager. No one realized that the high season for farming and fishing coincided. Two seasons did not see the returns the Dorchester Company expected and they offered to sail the original men back to England as the company was abandoning the venture. A few men decided to stay and led by Roger Conant took the remaining cattle and supplies from the Dorchester Company and moved south to Naumkeag (Salem) hoping that the farm land was better then Cape Ann had proved.

During this time back in England a new company was reforming around the idea of the settlements in Massachusetts. They would purchase supplies in England from the defunct Dorchester Co. and received an initial land grant; which must have been a surprise to Roger Conant and his group!  The shock would have doubled when they realized Roger would not continue to lead the settlement but that a man named John Endecott would arrive with new settlers and supplies on the Abigail (ship). Due to the conflicting, overlapping land grants and multitude of similar companies forming in England it was important to the new Massachusetts Bay Company to make this new land grant concrete. Luckily the new company was very well connected in Court (nepotism rules even then) and on March 4, 1629 the King would grant a royal charter: The Governor and Company of the Massachusetts Bay in New England.

 While Jamestown (Virginia) was the first permanent English settlement in 1607, the link between the Massachusetts Bay Colony and Lincolnshire would have pulled Edmond and Francis Ingalls north to Massachusetts when they decided to immigrate from England. In 1631 Thomas Dudley (then governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony) wrote to the Countess of Lincoln in March 1631 recounting the travelers directly from Lincolnshire “Touching the plantacon which wee here haue begun, it fell out tlit~s:-About the yeare 1627, some fi.iends beeing togeather in Lincolnshire, fell ints some discourse about New England”. The modern spelling errors aside, Dudley is recounting the close relationship between Lincolnshire and the members of the Massachusetts colony. This discourse of immigration and the Massachusetts Bay Company centered around Lincolnshire thanks to King Charles I. If Charles  hadn’t been a complete pompous ass, New England may have had slower start instead of the waves of immigrants they experienced.

Charles’ rule was plagued with confrontations with  Parliament regarding taxes, his perceived divine right as a King and his religious polices. Translation: he wanted to impose taxes whenever he wanted without consent *cough* Boston Tea Party*cough*, he believed God put him as King (try arguing with someone who believes God is on their side) and surprise surprise religion divided people. It’s these religious policies that echoed across Lincolnshire. The 4th Earl of Lincoln, Theophilus (how did that name EVER go out of fashion) Clinton, was a puritan and Lincolnshire would become the epicenter of the movement with several future key figures in the Massachusetts Bay Colony directly connected to the Earl.  It was at Clinton’s house at Sempringham that in 1629 John Winthrop’s meetings regarding the Massachusetts Bay Colony would forever shape history within New England. Winthrop would lead his group in 1630 and ultimately spend 19 terms as governor and/or lieutenant-governor. Thomas Dudley who served as a steward at the Sempringham estate would become deputy governor. Even the curate of Sempringham would travel to the New World and become pastor of the Salem Church. The Ingalls family would not have been immune to understanding that leading members (Earls, lawyers, pastors) of their community were buzzing about this new colony and it’s potential.

Let’s reign in though the popularity contests and Puritan bonanza happening at Sempringham. Not all travelers to the Massachusetts Bay Colony were for religious reasons as we see with Edmund Ingalls and his brother Francis. Using the headright system the brothers would have paid for their passage and in return would have received a larger land grant from the company. I understand why younger brother Francis Ingalls would find the venture appealing. Under Edmond he wouldn’t have inherited his father’s land and would have been more apt to turn to a trade that could have translated/benefited a colonial existence. But Edmund chose to go as well bringing a wife and five children with him. So for a secular traveler, what was it like to join the Massachusetts Bay Colony? A colony with deep religious foundations? Well…the 1600’s aren’t exactly know for their tolerance…

Tune in for part two of our ongoing history of the Ingalls travels from Lincolnshire, England to the Big Woods of Wisconsin.

  1. http://digitalcommons.unl.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1008&context=scottow   Gov. Thomas Dudley:Letter to  the Countess of Lincoln, March 1631
  2. Northend, William Dummer. Bay Colony: A Civil, Religious and Social History of the Massachusetts Colony and Its. Place of Publication Not Identified: Nabu, 2010. Print.
  3. Zochert, Donald. Laura: The Life of Laura Ingalls Wilder. Chicago: H. Regnery, 1976. Print.
  4. Ingalls, Walter Renton. The Ingalls Family in England and America. Boxford, MA: W.R. Ingalls, 1930. Print.
  5. Burleigh, Charles. The Genealogy and History of the Ingalls Family in America: Giving the Descendants of Edmund Ingalls Who Settled at Lynn, Mass. in 1629. Malden, MASS: Geo. E. Dunbar, 1903. Print.

One thought on “On the Way to the Big Woods: Part 1

  1. Pingback: On the Way to the Big Woods: Part 2 | decidedly read

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s