Atlantic Migrations

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Atlantic Migrations


Population . In 1700 about 250,000 inhabitants, white and black, lived along the seaboard and in the foothills of the Appalachians. Most of the whites were of English descent. Hundreds of thousands of Indians inhabited the backcountry. By 1776 the population of the colonies was about 2.5 million; immigration and a high birthrate were responsible for this tremendous growth. About one-half of the population in 1776 had migrated from the Old WorldEurope or Africaor were the children of immigrant parents. Traveling across the colonial landscape in the 1750s and 1760s, one would have heard a staggering variety of languages and dialects.

Germans . About 10 percent of the population in the mid 1700s was German-speaking. Approximately five hundred thousand people emigrated from southwestern Germany and Switzerland in the eighteenth century: not all went to the New World. Many went north to Prussia; others went east to the Danube; and about two-fifths went to Pennsylvania. Germans dispersed through the Middle and Southern colonies and were known as hardworking and thrifty farmers.

Scots . From Scotland came thousands driven from the land by greedy landlords and the sinking fortunes of workers in the woolen industry. Landlords enclosed their estatesthat is, they ejected tenant farmers and raised livestock with hired labor. Traditional handloom weavers were being rapidly displaced by the growing wool industry in England. These conditions drove many Scots to England and America. In the latter place they settled heavily in the backcountry of North Carolina and along the Hudson River valley of New York.

Scots-Irish . The Northern Irish, sometimes called Scots-Irish, also arrived by the tens of thousands in the 1750s and 1760s. This group was making a second overseas immigration; during the seventeenth century the English settled these Scots in northern Ireland to help colonize and dominate the Catholic Irish. But economic conditions were deteriorating in Ireland too, and overall some 250,000 people emigrated from northern Ireland. They settled across the backcountry from South Carolina to Maine. Independent-minded and hardy, they pushed westward, trying to stay out of the reach of colonial governments and land speculators.


The population of the thirteen colonies grew tenfold from 1700 to 1776. The Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars in Europe caused a disruption of immigration and depressed the slave trade. Immigration did not pick up again until after 1815.

DecadeAfricansGermansN. IrishS. IrishScotsEnglishWelshOtherTotal
All figures are approximate.
Source: Aaron S. Fogleman, Hopeful Journeys: German Immigration, Settlement, and Political Culture in Colonial America, 1 717-1775 (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania, 1996).

Africans . Throughout the first three-quarters of the eighteenth century, Africans constituted more than one-half the immigrants to the thirteen colonies. This forced migration was driven by the lucrative trade in tobacco, rice, and other plantation crops. British and American traders dominated the North Atlantic slave trade, shipping thousands of captives a year under brutal conditions. Slaves were packed in dark holds and treated as cargo: valuable, but with a certain amount of damaged and lost cargo to be expected. Slaves constituted

nearly one-half the population of the Chesapeake colonies.

Decline in Immigration. From 1775 to the mid 1780s immigration to the colonies suffered a drastic decline. Englands naval blockade all but stopped regular immigrant traffic. European immigration was slow to revive in the years after the Revolution although the slave trade revived quickly. The slave population increased by about 40 percent from 1780 to 1790, well ahead of the general increase in population.


Bernard Bailyn, The Peopling of British North America: An Introduction (New York: Knopf, 1986);

Aaron S. Fogleman, Hopeful Journeys: German Immigration, Settlement, and Political Culture in Colonial America, 1717-1775 (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania, 1996);

David W. Galenson, White Servitude in Colonial America: An Economic Analysis (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981).

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Atlantic Migrations

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