Populations of Great Britain and America

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Populations of Great Britain and America

POPULATIONS OF GREAT BRITAIN AND AMERICA. In 1775 the British had an estimated 8,000,000 people; 2,350,000 of these could be considered the military manpower of the nation. However, the standard calculation for the eighteenth century is that one-tenth of the total population constituted the potential arms-bearing population. Realistically, then, Britain had some 800,000 young men who were eligible for military service. Complaining of his difficulties in mobilizing an army for the Revolutionary War, Lord Shelburne commented that whereas 300,000 Englishmen entered the armies in the Seven Years' War, only 30,000 men, including German troops, could be raised to put down the American rebellion.

Population of the United States
*Part of Massachusetts until 1821.
SOURCES: Bureau of the Census, Historical Statistics of the United States: Colonial Times to 1970 (CD-ROM; New York: Cambridge University Press, 1997) 2: 1168-71; United States Census Office, Return of the Whole Number of Persons within the Several Districts of the United States (Philadelphia: Childs and Swaine, 1791); R.C. Simmons, The American Colonies: From Settlement to Independence (New York, 1976), 175-77; Michael A. Bellesiles, Revolutionary Outlaws: Ethan Allen and the Struggle for Independence on the Early American Frontier (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1993) 280-83.
New Hampshire80,64465681,300141,097788141,885
New Jersey125,7819,032134,813169,95414,185184,139
New York163,56022,656186,216314,14225,978340,120
North Carolina149,93081,780231,710288,204105,547393,751
Rhode Island56,3663,79660,16264,4704,35568,825
South Carolina57,65288,334145,986140,178108,895249,073

Since the first census was not until 1790, it is difficult to be certain about the population of the American colonies. The standard current estimate is that approximately 2,500,000 people lived in the thirteen colonies in 1775 (excluding Indians), of whom 460,000 were slaves. (Estimates for 1775 are based on censuses taken in some of the colonies during the Revolutionary period and projections derived from the degree of population growth discernable in these years, roughly 3.5 percent per year between 1760 and 1790.) Excluding the slaves, whom Congress initially did not allow to serve in the Continental army, the colonies could expect to draw upon some 200,000 men.

It is impossible to know what percentage of the population supported independence or how many remained loyal to the crown. Political allegiances could shift over time for any number of reasons, such as slaves being offered their freedom for joining the British. There were also dramatically different levels of commitment to politics. It seems most probable that the majority of Americans remained neutral throughout the Revolution. Given the size of the contending military forces, it appears obvious that most Americans gave only lip service to one side or the other. It is even difficult to determine the number of Loyalists who went into exile after the war, with estimates running from 85,000 to 200,000.

Approximate populations of major American cities in 1776 were: Philadelphia, 38,000; New York City, 25,000; Boston, 16,000; Charleston, 12,000; and Newport, 11,000. Although London's population of 750,000 dwarfed Philadelphia's, the Quaker City outranked Bristol and Dublin as the third largest city of the British empire—Edinburgh was second, having some 40,000 people.

The Native American population remains subject to speculation. Estimates of the number living east of the Mississippi River run between twenty-five thousand and one hundred thousand.


Greene, Evarts B., and Virginia D. Harrington. American Population before the Federal Census of 1790. 1932. Reprint, Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing, 1993.

Simmons, Richard C. The American Colonies: From Settlement to Independence. New York: D. McKay, 1976.

U.S. Bureau of the Census. Historical Statistics of the United States: Colonial Times to 1970. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1997. CD-ROM.

                             revised by Michael Bellesiles