Firmly entrenched within the language of eighteenth and nineteenth century imperialism, it is difficult to dissect English usages of the term ‘settler’ in an era when England’s colonial endeavours were emerging. By the 1680s, a ‘settler’ had become an individual commonly associated with England’s increasingly global territorial and commercial ambitions, but the term was previously used more generally to denote someone who fixed or established order. The term first appears in foreign language manuals published at the end of the sixteenth century. The second generation Italian migrant, John Florio, first uses the term in 1598 to describe a hairdresser (acconciatore) as someone who was ‘[a] mender, a setler, an ordrer’.[1] Just over a decade later, in A dictionarie of the French and English tongues, Randle Cotgrave described ‘a Ficheur’ as a ‘fixer, fastener, setler, or setter’.[2] The most common domestic use of the term was within religious and political language, identifying an individual or group who had established, settled or planted varying forms of religions and governments. This meant that early modern English people recognised several different groups as being settlers or occasionally as enemies of settlers who, either through the movement of people or ideas, had established religious and political order.

The most common domestic use of the term ‘settler’ in the early period of the seventeenth century was associated with what was often termed as the ‘settling’ of Protestant religious authority. Martin Luther, for instance, was often identified as a ‘settler’ by both Protestants and Catholics. Richard Smith, the Catholic chaplain to Viscountess Montague and the Apostolic Vicar for England, described him as the ‘setler of the Protestant Church’.[3] Some years later, Smith again went on to describe Luther as a settler, calling him the ‘renewer, the Founder, the Restorer, the setler and promulgator of their [the protestant] Church and Religion’.[4] No doubt Smith’s own experiences in Europe, as a student and teacher at the English college in Rome and Seville during the height of the counter reformation, had introduced him to the view of the settler as ‘ordrer’, though Smith viewed Luther’s role as a settler of religion was understandably far from positive; he described Luther as a ‘[s]etler of a thing corrupted’.[5]

That sense of the word, which referred to the act of establishing something ironically became linked closely to the movement of individuals and religious communities across Europe during this period. Much like those who considered Luther the founding settler of the Protestant faith, many English migrants who established exile churches in continental Europe were considered settlers. The Catholic Smiths eventually settled an English college in Paris and lived in the household of Cardinal Richelieu. Francisco de Peralta, the Spanish rector of the English Jesuit College of Seville where Smith had taught, described a group of of pardoned English soldiers and sailors who were imprisoned in Andalucia and converted to Catholicism by Robert Persons in the manner of settlers, mentioning that ‘[s]ome of the men settled here, while others took service on the King’s service as sailors or soldiers’ (se quedaron a vivir por aca, otros sirviendo al Rey en las galeras por marineros y soldados).[6] Religious migrants who moved across the Channel to settle homes and churches in England were also identified as settlers. In 1636, the Archbishop of York wrote to William Laud, the Archbishop of Canterbury, of the growing number of Dutch and French settlers in Lincoln, noting that amongst them was a minister called Cosellys who was the ‘principal settler’ of the church there.[7]

Alongside the practical acts of establishing or settling churches, early modern English authors also discussed religion in terms of it being a settler of peace and stability across society, from the individual to the nation. The anti-catholic Calvinist cleric, Thomas Taylor, wrote of the role of religion in settling a peaceable domestic life, particularly for women, in his Commentarie upon the Epistle of S. Paul written to Titus. Taylor was particularly concerned with the role of religious observation as a ‘setler of the comfort of her life’ as it ‘suffereth not undutifulnes to the husband, unnaturalnes towards the children, unmercifulnes towards servants’ and ‘untowardnes in her owne duties’.[8] Beyond the home, on a national level, the dutiful observance of religion was also seen as a key means of ensuring peace, stability, and loyalty to the government. As the poet Francis Quarles wrote, ‘true Religion is a setler in a State’, confirming ‘an establisht Government’.[9] Similarly, an anonymous author declared that the ‘true Religion’ was as ‘a Setler’ of stability, assuring loyalty to the state as it ‘confirmes men in obedience to the Government’.[10]

Second to the religious identity of domestic settlers were those involved the establishment of political and governmental authority in England. In the years surrounding the War of the Three Kingdoms, individuals and groups on both sides of the political divide were accused of encouraging instability by settling various forms of government. Linked to the religious use of the term, the ‘settler’ in the context of the political conflicts of the mid-seventeenth century was some who could perceived as both positively and negatively establishing a form of political order. In 1647, one author pointed out the irony of claims that the army in its ‘preparations for warre’ was seen as being ‘settlers of a happy Peace in England’, since those who ‘strive to settle Peace by the sword, distract it’.[11] Following the return of Charles II from exile in Europe, and the Restoration of the Crown in 1660, many wary of the turmoil and memory of the civil war and Interregnum were keen to remind Charles II of his responsibility as a settler of good government. Charles’ return from Europe and his description as a ‘settler’ highlights the connection the term and identity had to movement. Having fled to Europe following the execution of his father, Charles returned to England charged with establishing order as ‘settler of outward peace’.[12] Like those who would venture abroad establishing English colonies in the Atlantic, Charles was seen as a ‘[s]etler and Establisher’ whose movement and relocation would ensure that good English government was settled and maintained, both in England and abroad.[13]

As English territorial and commercial endeavours expanded abroad, so too did its attempts to establish and settle English authority upon peoples and geographies across the globe. This more traditional view of the ‘settler’ as colonist and migrant took shape in the years following the Restoration. The identity of the ‘settler’ shifted from the domestic world to the global as the English migrated to America, the Caribbean, Africa and the Far East.

Although the term ‘settler’ is absent from colonial charters, those who ventured to America and the Caribbean were seen to be migrating to ‘settle themselves, dwell and inhabit’ specific places.[14] Once settled, these migrants, through their charters, received the same rights as they would in England.[15] Even though settler allegiance to the crown was not questioned, English officials did little to clarify the legal status of settlers in the Atlantic for much of the seventeenth century. The situation had changed by the end of the century, as the English articulated a more cohesive colonial administration. Chief Justice John Vaughan advanced more nuanced legal definitions of settlers and their rights in the 1670s.[16] In ensuing legal cases, common law for settlers ‘twas their birthright’ and upon all ‘uninhabited country, newly found out by English subjects, all laws in force in England are in force’.[17] The term ‘uninhabited’ referred to land not belonging to English or European powers, where the legal rights extended to settlers did not take into account or ignored pre-existing indigenous communities. Granting rights and privileges for English men and women to ‘settle’ therefore legitimised a process that allowed the English to subjugate or drive out Native Americans and other indigenous groups.

The role of ‘settlers’, therefore, became increasingly associated with the mechanisms of expansion and the establishment of various forms of trade and trading outposts. The member of Parliament, merchant, and Guinea Company investor Nicholas Crisp was one of the first men to use ‘settler’ in relation to trade, and he did so specifically in the context of the slave trade on the West Coast of Africa. In a petition to Parliament, Crisp pleaded he be granted £20,000 in funds lost to trade, which would help to pay for his release from prison.[18] Crisp believed that amount was long due in recognition of his ‘merit from his Nation’, since he had been the ‘first Discover and Setler of that Trade’ to Africa.[19] In the years following Crisp’s petition, England’s commercial and territorial expansion progressed rapidly, as English men and women migrated to English settlements across the world.

Global exchange introduced new elements to longstanding assumptions in England about the superiority of the landed elite, who juxtaposed their sense of power and place against tradesmen, journeymen, and agricultural workers who were often forced to move from county to county seeking work.[20] The deportation of Africans to English plantations, and the dispossession of indigenous groups of their lands, created a dichotomy between ‘settlers’ as English colonists and other individual or migrant groups who were often in movement. In 1682, nearly twenty years after Charles II had reissued the Carolina Charter, the author of one pamphlet describing the colony celebrated the ‘pleasant Pastures, and shady Savana’s [sic]’ that could ‘most generously refresh the Setlers’, with an abundance of natural resources ‘to compensate the modest Care, and Industry of the Setler.’[21] It was through the ‘industrious Setlers, and Planters’ that Carolina had been able to ‘prosper very well’.[22] Yet the success of these settlers hinged on the work of African slaves, ‘whose labour proclaims the Setlers plenty’.[23] The separation between industrious ‘settlers’ and African slaves pinpoints a moment of change, whereby the term ‘settler’, when applied in the context of plantation, merged domestic ideas of establishing peace and stability with colonial attempts to ‘civilize’ other territories and its peoples. Increasingly, the English believed that to ‘settle’ was not just to cultivate other geographies, but to dominate non-English peoples.

By the end of the seventeenth century, the identity of the ‘settler’ had been transformed. Taken abroad, the domestic concepts about orthodoxy and governance that surrounded ‘settlers’ were adapted and mutated into its more commonly-associated colonial identity. By the end of the century, authors recalled how many ‘[p]roprietoryships’ had been ‘granted to the Settlers of Colonies in America’ over the century, whilst others sought to ‘incourage new Settlers’ to travel abroad.[24] Much like their domestic counterparts, the responsibility of these English settlers was to establish and ensure the stability and security of English governmental authority. However, unlike in England, the colonial settler also sought to extend this authority beyond the traditional boundaries of English control. This included establishing English governmental authority over numerous peoples across the globe. In doing so, the colonial experience mutated the identity of the settler from the protector of authority to the embodiment of authority.
Map of New England from The Generall Historie of Virginia, New England[25]
1. John Florio, A worlde of wordes (London, 1598; STC 11098).
2. Randle Cotgrave, A dictionarie of the French and English tongues (London, 1611; STC 5830).
3. Richard Smith, The prudentiall ballance of religion wherin the Catholike and protestant religion are weighed together with the weights of prudence, and right reason (London 1609; STC 22813), p. 523.
4. Richard Smith, Of the author and substance of the protestant church and religion two books (London, 1621; STC 22812), p. 293.
5. Ibid., p. 294.
6. 'Doc. 4, Some reasons why the English seminary at Seville is no burden to the Province, but rather to its advantage, honour and good repute, 1604’, in Martin Murphy, St. Gregory’s College, Seville 1592—1767 (London: Catholic Record Society, 1992), pp. 144, 154.
7. 'Archbishop Neile, of York, to Archbishop York, 18 September 1636', The National Archives, SP 16/331, f. 108.
8. Thomas Taylor, A commentarie upon the Epistle of S. Paul written to Titus (London, 1612; STC 23825), p. 385.
9. Francis Quarles, Enchiridion Containing institutions, divine contemplative (London, 1644; Wing Q87), sig. C2r.
10. England's universal distraction in the years 1643, 1644, 1645 left to the world by a judicious and conscientious author for the use of his friends, children, and grand-children, when they come to years of discretion (London, 1659; Wing E3068), p. 16
11. Andrew All Truth, The Army brought to the barre (London, 1647; Wing A3709), p. 8.
12. John Hackett, A sermon preached before the Kings Majesty at Whitehall on Friday the 22 of March anno 1660 (London, 1660; Wing H172), p. 16.
13. John Nelme, England's royal stone at the head of the corner, through the wonderful working of almighty God (London, 1660; Wing N415), p. 11.
14. William L. Saunders (ed), The Colonial Records of North Carolina, Vol. I, 1662—1712 (Raleigh, NC: Hale, 1888), p. 22.
15. Matthew Hale, The Prerogatives of the King, ed. by D.E.C. Yale (London: Selden Society, 1976), p. 42.
16. 'Crow v. Ramsey (1670)', 1 English Reports [ER], 378; Craig Yirush, Settlers, Liberty, and Empire: The Roots of Early American Political Theory, 1675—1775 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011), p. 42.
17. 'Dutton v. Howell (1693)', 1 ER, 17; 'Blankard v. Galdy (1693)', 91 ER 356; Yirush, ibid., p. 42.
18. Nicholas Crisp, To the Right Honourable the Commons of England assembled in Parliament (London, 1660; Wing C6915).
19. Ibid.
20. David Rollison, ‘Exploding England: The Dialectics of Mobility and Settlement in Early Modern England’, Social History, 24 (1999), 1-16 (pp. 8, 12-13).
21. R.F., The present state of Carolina with advice to the setlers (London, 1682; Wing F52A).
22. Ibid., p. 9.
23. Ibid., p. 5
24. John Cary, An answer to Mr. Molyneux his Case of Ireland's being bound by acts of Parliament in England (London, 1698; Wing C724B), p. 43; Hearty lover of King William and the Protestant religion, Loyalty vindicated being an answer to a late false, seditious & scandalous pamphlet entituled A letter from a gentleman of the City of New York to another (London, 1698; Wing L3384), p. 20.
25. Map of New England from The Generall Historie of Virginia, New England, and the Summer Isles; with the names of the Adventurers, Planters, and Governours from their first beginning, Ano: 1584, to this present 1624, (London: 1624)
Usage Examples
'The Kings and Princes of the earth might be advised from hence to be so wise, as to own, honour and serve this their Deliverer Setler and Establisher'