In 1700, there were about 250,000 Europeans and African Americans in the
colonies. By 1775, that number had increased 10-fold to 2.5 million. This
huge increase was due in part to a prolific birth rate and in part to a steady
flow of immigrants into the country.
The most concentrated period of migration to America occurred in the fifteen
years prior to the American Revolution, when approximately 220,000 new faces
arrived on the eastern seaboard. About 85,000 of these were African Americans.
Scotch-Irish, Scots, English and Germans constituted the bulk of the remaining
The 13 British colonies in which they arrived were different in a variety of
ways. Congregational churches dominated New England, while Anglicans were
prevalent in Virginia. Quakers settled Pennsylvania and Catholics were
tolerated primarily in Maryland and Pennsylvania.
The Scotch Irish tended to migrate to the western regions of the colonies from
Pennsylvania southward. New York and the Hudson River Valley contained a
great number of Dutch families, remnants of its years as a Dutch-held colony.
And Pennsylvania had enough Germans to alarm Benjamin Franklin, who wrote, in
1755: "Why should Pennsylvania, founded by the English, become a Colony of
Aliens, who will shortly be so numerous as to Germanize us instead of
More than 90 per cent of colonial families lived in rural areas and there were
at least four basic economies. In the deep south, Georgia and South Carolina,
rice was the chief export. Tobacco production dominated the Chesapeake Bay
colonies. The middle colonies, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, produced
bread, flour and grain. And New England's chief exports were dried fish,
livestock and wood.
The great majority of African Americans lived, and were enslaved, in the
southern colonies, though slavery itself was practiced north and south. In
Virginia, in 1790, slaves numbered about 300,000. At approximately the same
time, a majority of South Carolina was African American.
The number of free blacks grew dramatically after the American Revolution, from
60,000 in 1790, to 110,000 ten years later. Still, that figure represented
just 11 per cent of the total African American population.