Sunday, September 3, 2017

Are Campbells "Immigrants?"

"We're all immigrants," declared former President Obama during a townhall in Florida in 2015. That phrase, or some variant on it, has been spoken for centuries for a variety of purposes

Barque at the Port of Leith, Scotland where Robert Campbell embarked for the British colony of New Jersey.

First let me say that this is obviously a phrase whose recent purposes are political. The phrase plucks at the emotional truth that we all have roots elsewhere if we go back far enough in time. Only a fool would be tempted to try to respond to it rationally. I am that fool.

The Oxford dictionary defines an immigrant as "a person who comes to live permanently in a foreign country."

I am fairly sure that I have never lived permanently in a foreign country, so I am not an immigrant. Therefore the above statement ("We're all immigrants") is not factually accurate (as most political slogans).

A common variant is "We are all descendants of immigrants." I like to look at this phrase in a statistical fashion. Consider how many ancestors you have from twenty generations ago (17th g-grandparents). If you do the math, each one of us has over one million 17th great-grandparents. If a "generation" is about 30 years, they lived in the 14th century. There is a good chance one or more of those million, migrated from one "location" to another. Statistically, the response to "We are all descendants of immigrants" should be "duh" or "so what."

There is one caveat to the above. "Country" is a fairly recent concept in the millions of years of human existence. A country is usually defined as a geographical area with common government. If the definition is expanded to include "kingdom" or "tribe," the concept is a bit older. Still, it is likely that early ancestors migrated as families or tribal units to "non-countries" and would have considered themselves "settlers," not "immigrants."

In British colonial America, did inhabitants consider themselves in a "foreign country?" People of British origin, who made up 90% of the population, did not! They were not immigrants, they were settlers.

Our Robert Campbell (grandfather of Joel) came to colonial America in 1685, not to a foreign country, but to a colony of the kingdom he was a subject of. Therefore, he did not come as an immigrant.

When the "country" of the United States was formed, Robert was long dead.  His grandson, Joel, was living in what would shortly be the State of New York (vs. Province of New York). He probably did not care if he was called a "Settler" or an "Immigrant" or a "Yorker" or a "Rebel," but as a third generation American, this land was his home. Interestingly, he continued to move from place to place with his extended family, mimicking the tribal migrations of centuries past.

Yes, I am a fool, but not foolish enough to try to answer the title question: "Are Campbells Immigrants." We are not a homogenous group, each of us descending from a different set of one million 17th great-grandparents. Each of us has a unique answer.