The Great Migration To America

The tide of migration that set in toward the shores of North America

during the early years of the seventeenth century was but one phase in

the restless and eternal movement of mankind upon the surface of the

earth. The ancient Greeks flung out their colonies in every direction,

westward as far as Gaul, across the Mediterranean, and eastward into

Asia Minor, perhaps to the very confines of India. The Romans, supported

y their armies and their government, spread their dominion beyond the

narrow lands of Italy until it stretched from the heather of Scotland to

the sands of Arabia. The Teutonic tribes, from their home beyond the

Danube and the Rhine, poured into the empire of the Caesars and made the

beginnings of modern Europe. Of this great sweep of races and empires

the settlement of America was merely a part. And it was, moreover, only

one aspect of the expansion which finally carried the peoples, the

institutions, and the trade of Europe to the very ends of the earth.

In one vital point, it must be noted, American colonization differed

from that of the ancients. The Greeks usually carried with them

affection for the government they left behind and sacred fire from the

altar of the parent city; but thousands of the immigrants who came to

America disliked the state and disowned the church of the mother

country. They established compacts of government for themselves and set

up altars of their own. They sought not only new soil to till but also

political and religious liberty for themselves and their children.


It was no light matter for the English to cross three thousand miles of

water and found homes in the American wilderness at the opening of the

seventeenth century. Ships, tools, and supplies called for huge outlays

of money. Stores had to be furnished in quantities sufficient to sustain

the life of the settlers until they could gather harvests of their own.

Artisans and laborers of skill and industry had to be induced to risk

the hazards of the new world. Soldiers were required for defense and

mariners for the exploration of inland waters. Leaders of good judgment,

adept in managing men, had to be discovered. Altogether such an

enterprise demanded capital larger than the ordinary merchant or

gentleman could amass and involved risks more imminent than he dared to

assume. Though in later days, after initial tests had been made, wealthy

proprietors were able to establish colonies on their own account, it was

the corporation that furnished the capital and leadership in the


The Trading Company

English pioneers in exploration found an

instrument for colonization in companies of merchant adventurers, which

had long been employed in carrying on commerce with foreign countries.

Such a corporation was composed of many persons of different ranks of

society--noblemen, merchants, and gentlemen--who banded together for a

particular undertaking, each contributing a sum of money and sharing in

the profits of the venture. It was organized under royal authority; it

received its charter, its grant of land, and its trading privileges from

the king and carried on its operations under his supervision and

control. The charter named all the persons originally included in the

corporation and gave them certain powers in the management of its

affairs, including the right to admit new members. The company was in

fact a little government set up by the king. When the members of the

corporation remained in England, as in the case of the Virginia Company,

they operated through agents sent to the colony. When they came over the

seas themselves and settled in America, as in the case of Massachusetts,

they became the direct government of the country they possessed. The

stockholders in that instance became the voters and the governor, the

chief magistrate.

Four of the thirteen colonies in America owed their origins to the

trading corporation. It was the London Company, created by King James I,

in 1606, that laid during the following year the foundations of Virginia

at Jamestown. It was under the auspices of their West India Company,

chartered in 1621, that the Dutch planted the settlements of the New

Netherland in the valley of the Hudson. The founders of Massachusetts

were Puritan leaders and men of affairs whom King Charles I incorporated

in 1629 under the title: "The governor and company of the Massachusetts

Bay in New England." In this case the law did but incorporate a group

drawn together by religious ties. "We must be knit together as one man,"

wrote John Winthrop, the first Puritan governor in America. Far to the

south, on the banks of the Delaware River, a Swedish commercial company

in 1638 made the beginnings of a settlement, christened New Sweden; it

was destined to pass under the rule of the Dutch, and finally under the

rule of William Penn as the proprietary colony of Delaware.

In a certain sense, Georgia may be included among the "company

colonies." It was, however, originally conceived by the moving spirit,

James Oglethorpe, as an asylum for poor men, especially those imprisoned

for debt. To realize this humane purpose, he secured from King George

II, in 1732, a royal charter uniting several gentlemen, including

himself, into "one body politic and corporate," known as the "Trustees

for establishing the colony of Georgia in America." In the structure of

their organization and their methods of government, the trustees did not

differ materially from the regular companies created for trade and

colonization. Though their purposes were benevolent, their transactions

had to be under the forms of law and according to the rules of business.

The Religious Congregation

A second agency which figured largely in

the settlement of America was the religious brotherhood, or

congregation, of men and women brought together in the bonds of a common

religious faith. By one of the strange fortunes of history, this

institution, founded in the early days of Christianity, proved to be a

potent force in the origin and growth of self-government in a land far

away from Galilee. "And the multitude of them that believed were of one

heart and of one soul," we are told in the Acts describing the Church at

Jerusalem. "We are knit together as a body in a most sacred covenant of

the Lord ... by virtue of which we hold ourselves strictly tied to all

care of each other's good and of the whole," wrote John Robinson, a

leader among the Pilgrims who founded their tiny colony of Plymouth in

1620. The Mayflower Compact, so famous in American history, was but a

written and signed agreement, incorporating the spirit of obedience to

the common good, which served as a guide to self-government until

Plymouth was annexed to Massachusetts in 1691.

Three other colonies, all of which retained their identity until the eve

of the American Revolution, likewise sprang directly from the

congregations of the faithful: Rhode Island, Connecticut, and New

Hampshire, mainly offshoots from Massachusetts. They were founded by

small bodies of men and women, "united in solemn covenants with the

Lord," who planted their settlements in the wilderness. Not until many a

year after Roger Williams and Anne Hutchinson conducted their followers

to the Narragansett country was Rhode Island granted a charter of

incorporation (1663) by the crown. Not until long after the congregation

of Thomas Hooker from Newtown blazed the way into the Connecticut River

Valley did the king of England give Connecticut a charter of its own

(1662) and a place among the colonies. Half a century elapsed before the

towns laid out beyond the Merrimac River by emigrants from Massachusetts

were formed into the royal province of New Hampshire in 1679.

Even when Connecticut was chartered, the parchment and sealing wax of

the royal lawyers did but confirm rights and habits of self-government

and obedience to law previously established by the congregations. The

towns of Hartford, Windsor, and Wethersfield had long lived happily

under their "Fundamental Orders" drawn up by themselves in 1639; so had

the settlers dwelt peacefully at New Haven under their "Fundamental

Articles" drafted in the same year. The pioneers on the Connecticut

shore had no difficulty in agreeing that "the Scriptures do hold forth a

perfect rule for the direction and government of all men."

The Proprietor

A third and very important colonial agency was the

proprietor, or proprietary. As the name, associated with the word

"property," implies, the proprietor was a person to whom the king

granted property in lands in North America to have, hold, use, and enjoy

for his own benefit and profit, with the right to hand the estate down

to his heirs in perpetual succession. The proprietor was a rich and

powerful person, prepared to furnish or secure the capital, collect the

ships, supply the stores, and assemble the settlers necessary to found

and sustain a plantation beyond the seas. Sometimes the proprietor

worked alone. Sometimes two or more were associated like partners in the

common undertaking.

Five colonies, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and the Carolinas,

owe their formal origins, though not always their first settlements, nor

in most cases their prosperity, to the proprietary system. Maryland,

established in 1634 under a Catholic nobleman, Lord Baltimore, and

blessed with religious toleration by the act of 1649, flourished under

the mild rule of proprietors until it became a state in the American

union. New Jersey, beginning its career under two proprietors, Berkeley

and Carteret, in 1664, passed under the direct government of the crown

in 1702. Pennsylvania was, in a very large measure, the product of the

generous spirit and tireless labors of its first proprietor, the leader

of the Friends, William Penn, to whom it was granted in 1681 and in

whose family it remained until 1776. The two Carolinas were first

organized as one colony in 1663 under the government and patronage of

eight proprietors, including Lord Clarendon; but after more than half a

century both became royal provinces governed by the king.


The English

In leadership and origin the thirteen colonies, except

New York and Delaware, were English. During the early days of all, save

these two, the main, if not the sole, current of immigration was from

England. The colonists came from every walk of life. They were men,

women, and children of "all sorts and conditions." The major portion

were yeomen, or small land owners, farm laborers, and artisans. With

them were merchants and gentlemen who brought their stocks of goods or

their fortunes to the New World. Scholars came from Oxford and

Cambridge to preach the gospel or to teach. Now and then the son of an

English nobleman left his baronial hall behind and cast his lot with

America. The people represented every religious faith--members of the

Established Church of England; Puritans who had labored to reform that

church; Separatists, Baptists, and Friends, who had left it altogether;

and Catholics, who clung to the religion of their fathers.

New England was almost purely English. During the years between 1629 and

1640, the period of arbitrary Stuart government, about twenty thousand

Puritans emigrated to America, settling in the colonies of the far

North. Although minor additions were made from time to time, the greater

portion of the New England people sprang from this original stock.

Virginia, too, for a long time drew nearly all her immigrants from

England alone. Not until the eve of the Revolution did other

nationalities, mainly the Scotch-Irish and Germans, rival the English in


The populations of later English colonies--the Carolinas, New York,

Pennsylvania, and Georgia--while receiving a steady stream of

immigration from England, were constantly augmented by wanderers from

the older settlements. New York was invaded by Puritans from New England

in such numbers as to cause the Anglican clergymen there to lament that

"free thinking spreads almost as fast as the Church." North Carolina was

first settled toward the northern border by immigrants from Virginia.

Some of the North Carolinians, particularly the Quakers, came all the

way from New England, tarrying in Virginia only long enough to learn how

little they were wanted in that Anglican colony.

The Scotch-Irish

Next to the English in numbers and influence were

the Scotch-Irish, Presbyterians in belief, English in tongue. Both

religious and economic reasons sent them across the sea. Their Scotch

ancestors, in the days of Cromwell, had settled in the north of Ireland

whence the native Irish had been driven by the conqueror's sword. There

the Scotch nourished for many years enjoying in peace their own form of

religion and growing prosperous in the manufacture of fine linen and

woolen cloth. Then the blow fell. Toward the end of the seventeenth

century their religious worship was put under the ban and the export of

their cloth was forbidden by the English Parliament. Within two decades

twenty thousand Scotch-Irish left Ulster alone, for America; and all

during the eighteenth century the migration continued to be heavy.

Although no exact record was kept, it is reckoned that the Scotch-Irish

and the Scotch who came directly from Scotland, composed one-sixth of

the entire American population on the eve of the Revolution.

These newcomers in America made their homes chiefly in New Jersey,

Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, and the Carolinas. Coming late upon

the scene, they found much of the land immediately upon the seaboard

already taken up. For this reason most of them became frontier people

settling the interior and upland regions. There they cleared the land,

laid out their small farms, and worked as "sturdy yeomen on the soil,"

hardy, industrious, and independent in spirit, sharing neither the

luxuries of the rich planters nor the easy life of the leisurely

merchants. To their agriculture they added woolen and linen

manufactures, which, flourishing in the supple fingers of their tireless

women, made heavy inroads upon the trade of the English merchants in

the colonies. Of their labors a poet has sung:

"O, willing hands to toil;

Strong natures tuned to the harvest-song and bound to the kindly soil;

Bold pioneers for the wilderness, defenders in the field."

The Germans

Third among the colonists in order of numerical

importance were the Germans. From the very beginning, they appeared in

colonial records. A number of the artisans and carpenters in the first

Jamestown colony were of German descent. Peter Minuit, the famous

governor of New Motherland, was a German from Wesel on the Rhine, and

Jacob Leisler, leader of a popular uprising against the provincial

administration of New York, was a German from Frankfort-on-Main. The

wholesale migration of Germans began with the founding of Pennsylvania.

Penn was diligent in searching for thrifty farmers to cultivate his

lands and he made a special effort to attract peasants from the Rhine

country. A great association, known as the Frankfort Company, bought

more than twenty thousand acres from him and in 1684 established a

center at Germantown for the distribution of German immigrants. In old

New York, Rhinebeck-on-the-Hudson became a similar center for

distribution. All the way from Maine to Georgia inducements were offered

to the German farmers and in nearly every colony were to be found, in

time, German settlements. In fact the migration became so large that

German princes were frightened at the loss of so many subjects and

England was alarmed by the influx of foreigners into her overseas

dominions. Yet nothing could stop the movement. By the end of the

colonial period, the number of Germans had risen to more than two

hundred thousand.

The majority of them were Protestants from the Rhine region, and South

Germany. Wars, religious controversies, oppression, and poverty drove

them forth to America. Though most of them were farmers, there were also

among them skilled artisans who contributed to the rapid growth of

industries in Pennsylvania. Their iron, glass, paper, and woolen mills,

dotted here and there among the thickly settled regions, added to the

wealth and independence of the province.

Unlike the Scotch-Irish, the Germans did not speak the language of the

original colonists or mingle freely with them. They kept to themselves,

built their own schools, founded their own newspapers, and published

their own books. Their clannish habits often irritated their neighbors

and led to occasional agitations against "foreigners." However, no

serious collisions seem to have occurred; and in the days of the

Revolution, German soldiers from Pennsylvania fought in the patriot

armies side by side with soldiers from the English and Scotch-Irish


Other Nationalities

Though the English, the Scotch-Irish, and the

Germans made up the bulk of the colonial population, there were other

racial strains as well, varying in numerical importance but contributing

their share to colonial life.

From France came the Huguenots fleeing from the decree of the king which

inflicted terrible penalties upon Protestants.

From "Old Ireland" came thousands of native Irish, Celtic in race and

Catholic in religion. Like their Scotch-Irish neighbors to the north,

they revered neither the government nor the church of England imposed

upon them by the sword. How many came we do not know, but shipping

records of the colonial period show that boatload after boatload left

the southern and eastern shores of Ireland for the New World.

Undoubtedly thousands of their passengers were Irish of the native

stock. This surmise is well sustained by the constant appearance of

Celtic names in the records of various colonies.

The Jews, then as ever engaged in their age-long battle for religious

and economic toleration, found in the American colonies, not complete

liberty, but certainly more freedom than they enjoyed in England,

France, Spain, or Portugal. The English law did not actually recognize

their right to live in any of the dominions, but owing to the easy-going

habits of the Americans they were allowed to filter into the seaboard

towns. The treatment they received there varied. On one occasion the

mayor and council of New York forbade them to sell by retail and on

another prohibited the exercise of their religious worship. Newport,

Philadelphia, and Charleston were more hospitable, and there large

Jewish colonies, consisting principally of merchants and their families,

flourished in spite of nominal prohibitions of the law.

Though the small Swedish colony in Delaware was quickly submerged

beneath the tide of English migration, the Dutch in New York continued

to hold their own for more than a hundred years after the English

conquest in 1664. At the end of the colonial period over one-half of the

170,000 inhabitants of the province were descendants of the original

Dutch--still distinct enough to give a decided cast to the life and

manners of New York. Many of them clung as tenaciously to their mother

tongue as they did to their capacious farmhouses or their Dutch ovens;

but they were slowly losing their identity as the English pressed in

beside them to farm and trade.

The melting pot had begun its historic mission.


Considered from one side, colonization, whatever the motives of the

emigrants, was an economic matter. It involved the use of capital to pay

for their passage, to sustain them on the voyage, and to start them on

the way of production. Under this stern economic necessity, Puritans,

Scotch-Irish, Germans, and all were alike laid.

Immigrants Who Paid Their Own Way

Many of the immigrants to America

in colonial days were capitalists themselves, in a small or a large way,

and paid their own passage. What proportion of the colonists were able

to finance their voyage across the sea is a matter of pure conjecture.

Undoubtedly a very considerable number could do so, for we can trace the

family fortunes of many early settlers. Henry Cabot Lodge is authority

for the statement that "the settlers of New England were drawn from the

country gentlemen, small farmers, and yeomanry of the mother

country.... Many of the emigrants were men of wealth, as the old lists

show, and all of them, with few exceptions, were men of property and

good standing. They did not belong to the classes from which emigration

is usually supplied, for they all had a stake in the country they left

behind." Though it would be interesting to know how accurate this

statement is or how applicable to the other colonies, no study has as

yet been made to gratify that interest. For the present it is an

unsolved problem just how many of the colonists were able to bear the

cost of their own transfer to the New World.

Indentured Servants

That at least tens of thousands of immigrants

were unable to pay for their passage is established beyond the shadow of

a doubt by the shipping records that have come down to us. The great

barrier in the way of the poor who wanted to go to America was the cost

of the sea voyage. To overcome this difficulty a plan was worked out

whereby shipowners and other persons of means furnished the passage

money to immigrants in return for their promise, or bond, to work for a

term of years to repay the sum advanced. This system was called

indentured servitude.

It is probable that the number of bond servants exceeded the original

twenty thousand Puritans, the yeomen, the Virginia gentlemen, and the

Huguenots combined. All the way down the coast from Massachusetts to

Georgia were to be found in the fields, kitchens, and workshops, men,

women, and children serving out terms of bondage generally ranging from

five to seven years. In the proprietary colonies the proportion of bond

servants was very high. The Baltimores, Penns, Carterets, and other

promoters anxiously sought for workers of every nationality to till

their fields, for land without labor was worth no more than land in the

moon. Hence the gates of the proprietary colonies were flung wide open.

Every inducement was offered to immigrants in the form of cheap land,

and special efforts were made to increase the population by importing

servants. In Pennsylvania, it was not uncommon to find a master with

fifty bond servants on his estate. It has been estimated that two-thirds

of all the immigrants into Pennsylvania between the opening of the

eighteenth century and the outbreak of the Revolution were in bondage.

In the other Middle colonies the number was doubtless not so large; but

it formed a considerable part of the population.

The story of this traffic in white servants is one of the most striking

things in the history of labor. Bondmen differed from the serfs of the

feudal age in that they were not bound to the soil but to the master.

They likewise differed from the negro slaves in that their servitude had

a time limit. Still they were subject to many special disabilities. It

was, for instance, a common practice to impose on them penalties far

heavier than were imposed upon freemen for the same offense. A free

citizen of Pennsylvania who indulged in horse racing and gambling was

let off with a fine; a white servant guilty of the same unlawful conduct

was whipped at the post and fined as well.

The ordinary life of the white servant was also severely restricted. A

bondman could not marry without his master's consent; nor engage in

trade; nor refuse work assigned to him. For an attempt to escape or

indeed for any infraction of the law, the term of service was extended.

The condition of white bondmen in Virginia, according to Lodge, "was

little better than that of slaves. Loose indentures and harsh laws put

them at the mercy of their masters." It would not be unfair to add that

such was their lot in all other colonies. Their fate depended upon the

temper of their masters.

Cruel as was the system in many ways, it gave thousands of people in the

Old World a chance to reach the New--an opportunity to wrestle with fate

for freedom and a home of their own. When their weary years of servitude

were over, if they survived, they might obtain land of their own or

settle as free mechanics in the towns. For many a bondman the gamble

proved to be a losing venture because he found himself unable to rise

out of the state of poverty and dependence into which his servitude

carried him. For thousands, on the contrary, bondage proved to be a real

avenue to freedom and prosperity. Some of the best citizens of America

have the blood of indentured servants in their veins.

The Transported--Involuntary Servitude

In their anxiety to secure

settlers, the companies and proprietors having colonies in America

either resorted to or connived at the practice of kidnapping men, women,

and children from the streets of English cities. In 1680 it was

officially estimated that "ten thousand persons were spirited away" to

America. Many of the victims of the practice were young children, for

the traffic in them was highly profitable. Orphans and dependents were

sometimes disposed of in America by relatives unwilling to support them.

In a single year, 1627, about fifteen hundred children were shipped to


In this gruesome business there lurked many tragedies, and very few

romances. Parents were separated from their children and husbands from

their wives. Hundreds of skilled artisans--carpenters, smiths, and

weavers--utterly disappeared as if swallowed up by death. A few thus

dragged off to the New World to be sold into servitude for a term of

five or seven years later became prosperous and returned home with

fortunes. In one case a young man who was forcibly carried over the sea

lived to make his way back to England and establish his claim to a


Akin to the kidnapped, at least in economic position, were convicts

deported to the colonies for life in lieu of fines and imprisonment. The

Americans protested vigorously but ineffectually against this practice.

Indeed, they exaggerated its evils, for many of the "criminals" were

only mild offenders against unduly harsh and cruel laws. A peasant

caught shooting a rabbit on a lord's estate or a luckless servant girl

who purloined a pocket handkerchief was branded as a criminal along with

sturdy thieves and incorrigible rascals. Other transported offenders

were "political criminals"; that is, persons who criticized or opposed

the government. This class included now Irish who revolted against

British rule in Ireland; now Cavaliers who championed the king against

the Puritan revolutionists; Puritans, in turn, dispatched after the

monarchy was restored; and Scotch and English subjects in general who

joined in political uprisings against the king.

The African Slaves

Rivaling in numbers, in the course of time, the

indentured servants and whites carried to America against their will

were the African negroes brought to America and sold into slavery. When

this form of bondage was first introduced into Virginia in 1619, it was

looked upon as a temporary necessity to be discarded with the increase

of the white population. Moreover it does not appear that those planters

who first bought negroes at the auction block intended to establish a

system of permanent bondage. Only by a slow process did chattel slavery

take firm root and become recognized as the leading source of the labor

supply. In 1650, thirty years after the introduction of slavery, there

were only three hundred Africans in Virginia.

The great increase in later years was due in no small measure to the

inordinate zeal for profits that seized slave traders both in Old and in

New England. Finding it relatively easy to secure negroes in Africa,

they crowded the Southern ports with their vessels. The English Royal

African Company sent to America annually between 1713 and 1743 from five

to ten thousand slaves. The ship owners of New England were not far

behind their English brethren in pushing this extraordinary traffic.

As the proportion of the negroes to the free white population steadily

rose, and as whole sections were overrun with slaves and slave traders,

the Southern colonies grew alarmed. In 1710, Virginia sought to curtail

the importation by placing a duty of L5 on each slave. This effort was

futile, for the royal governor promptly vetoed it. From time to time

similar bills were passed, only to meet with royal disapproval. South

Carolina, in 1760, absolutely prohibited importation; but the measure

was killed by the British crown. As late as 1772, Virginia, not daunted

by a century of rebuffs, sent to George III a petition in this vein:

"The importation of slaves into the colonies from the coast of Africa

hath long been considered as a trade of great inhumanity and under its

present encouragement, we have too much reason to fear, will endanger

the very existence of Your Majesty's American dominions.... Deeply

impressed with these sentiments, we most humbly beseech Your Majesty to

remove all those restraints on Your Majesty's governors of this colony

which inhibit their assenting to such laws as might check so very

pernicious a commerce."

All such protests were without avail. The negro population grew by leaps

and bounds, until on the eve of the Revolution it amounted to more than

half a million. In five states--Maryland, Virginia, the two Carolinas,

and Georgia--the slaves nearly equalled or actually exceeded the whites

in number. In South Carolina they formed almost two-thirds of the

population. Even in the Middle colonies of Delaware and Pennsylvania

about one-fifth of the inhabitants were from Africa. To the North, the

proportion of slaves steadily diminished although chattel servitude was

on the same legal footing as in the South. In New York approximately one

in six and in New England one in fifty were negroes, including a few


The climate, the soil, the commerce, and the industry of the North were

all unfavorable to the growth of a servile population. Still, slavery,

though sectional, was a part of the national system of economy. Northern

ships carried slaves to the Southern colonies and the produce of the

plantations to Europe. "If the Northern states will consult their

interest, they will not oppose the increase in slaves which will

increase the commodities of which they will become the carriers," said

John Rutledge, of South Carolina, in the convention which framed the

Constitution of the United States. "What enriches a part enriches the

whole and the states are the best judges of their particular interest,"

responded Oliver Ellsworth, the distinguished spokesman of Connecticut.

The Significance of Land Tenure

The way in which land may be

acquired, held, divided among heirs, and bought and sold exercises a

deep influence on the life and culture of a people. The feudal and

aristocratic societies of Europe were founded on a system of landlordism

which was characterized by two distinct features. In the first place,

the land was nearly all held in great estates, each owned by a single

proprietor. In the second place, every estate was kept intact under the

law of primogeniture, which at the death of a lord transferred all his

landed property to his eldest son. This prevented the subdivision of

estates and the growth of a large body of small farmers or freeholders

owning their own land. It made a form of tenantry or servitude

inevitable for the mass of those who labored on the land. It also

enabled the landlords to maintain themselves in power as a governing

class and kept the tenants and laborers subject to their economic and

political control. If land tenure was so significant in Europe, it was

equally important in the development of America, where practically all

the first immigrants were forced by circumstances to derive their

livelihood from the soil.

Experiments in Common Tillage

In the New World, with its broad

extent of land awaiting the white man's plow, it was impossible to

introduce in its entirety and over the whole area the system of lords

and tenants that existed across the sea. So it happened that almost

every kind of experiment in land tenure, from communism to feudalism,

was tried. In the early days of the Jamestown colony, the land, though

owned by the London Company, was tilled in common by the settlers. No

man had a separate plot of his own. The motto of the community was:

"Labor and share alike." All were supposed to work in the fields and

receive an equal share of the produce. At Plymouth, the Pilgrims

attempted a similar experiment, laying out the fields in common and

distributing the joint produce of their labor with rough equality among

the workers.

In both colonies the communistic experiments were failures. Angry at the

lazy men in Jamestown who idled their time away and yet expected regular

meals, Captain John Smith issued a manifesto: "Everyone that gathereth

not every day as much as I do, the next day shall be set beyond the

river and forever banished from the fort and live there or starve." Even

this terrible threat did not bring a change in production. Not until

each man was given a plot of his own to till, not until each gathered

the fruits of his own labor, did the colony prosper. In Plymouth, where

the communal experiment lasted for five years, the results were similar

to those in Virginia, and the system was given up for one of separate

fields in which every person could "set corn for his own particular."

Some other New England towns, refusing to profit by the experience of

their Plymouth neighbor, also made excursions into common ownership and

labor, only to abandon the idea and go in for individual ownership of

the land. "By degrees it was seen that even the Lord's people could not

carry the complicated communist legislation into perfect and wholesome


Feudal Elements in the Colonies--Quit Rents, Manors, and


At the other end of the scale were the feudal elements of

land tenure found in the proprietary colonies, in the seaboard regions

of the South, and to some extent in New York. The proprietor was in fact

a powerful feudal lord, owning land granted to him by royal charter. He

could retain any part of it for his personal use or dispose of it all in

large or small lots. While he generally kept for himself an estate of

baronial proportions, it was impossible for him to manage directly any

considerable part of the land in his dominion. Consequently he either

sold it in parcels for lump sums or granted it to individuals on

condition that they make to him an annual payment in money, known as

"quit rent." In Maryland, the proprietor sometimes collected as high as

L9000 (equal to about $500,000 to-day) in a single year from this

source. In Pennsylvania, the quit rents brought a handsome annual

tribute into the exchequer of the Penn family. In the royal provinces,

the king of England claimed all revenues collected in this form from the

land, a sum amounting to L19,000 at the time of the Revolution. The quit

rent,--"really a feudal payment from freeholders,"--was thus a material

source of income for the crown as well as for the proprietors. Wherever

it was laid, however, it proved to be a burden, a source of constant

irritation; and it became a formidable item in the long list of

grievances which led to the American Revolution.

Something still more like the feudal system of the Old World appeared in

the numerous manors or the huge landed estates granted by the crown, the

companies, or the proprietors. In the colony of Maryland alone there

were sixty manors of three thousand acres each, owned by wealthy men and

tilled by tenants holding small plots under certain restrictions of

tenure. In New York also there were many manors of wide extent, most of

which originated in the days of the Dutch West India Company, when

extensive concessions were made to patroons to induce them to bring over

settlers. The Van Rensselaer, the Van Cortlandt, and the Livingston

manors were so large and populous that each was entitled to send a

representative to the provincial legislature. The tenants on the New

York manors were in somewhat the same position as serfs on old European

estates. They were bound to pay the owner a rent in money and kind; they

ground their grain at his mill; and they were subject to his judicial

power because he held court and meted out justice, in some instances

extending to capital punishment.

The manors of New York or Maryland were, however, of slight consequence

as compared with the vast plantations of the Southern seaboard--huge

estates, far wider in expanse than many a European barony and tilled by

slaves more servile than any feudal tenants. It must not be forgotten

that this system of land tenure became the dominant feature of a large

section and gave a decided bent to the economic and political life of


The Small Freehold

In the upland regions of the South, however, and

throughout most of the North, the drift was against all forms of

servitude and tenantry and in the direction of the freehold; that is,

the small farm owned outright and tilled by the possessor and his

family. This was favored by natural circumstances and the spirit of the

immigrants. For one thing, the abundance of land and the scarcity of

labor made it impossible for the companies, the proprietors, or the

crown to develop over the whole continent a network of vast estates. In

many sections, particularly in New England, the climate, the stony soil,

the hills, and the narrow valleys conspired to keep the farms within a

moderate compass. For another thing, the English, Scotch-Irish, and

German peasants, even if they had been tenants in the Old World, did not

propose to accept permanent dependency of any kind in the New. If they

could not get freeholds, they would not settle at all; thus they forced

proprietors and companies to bid for their enterprise by selling land in

small lots. So it happened that the freehold of modest proportions

became the cherished unit of American farmers. The people who tilled the

farms were drawn from every quarter of western Europe; but the freehold

system gave a uniform cast to their economic and social life in America.

Social Effects of Land Tenure

Land tenure and the process of western

settlement thus developed two distinct types of people engaged in the

same pursuit--agriculture. They had a common tie in that they both

cultivated the soil and possessed the local interest and independence

which arise from that occupation. Their methods and their culture,

however, differed widely.

The Southern planter, on his broad acres tilled by slaves, resembled the

English landlord on his estates more than he did the colonial farmer who

labored with his own hands in the fields and forests. He sold his rice

and tobacco in large amounts directly to English factors, who took his

entire crop in exchange for goods and cash. His fine clothes,

silverware, china, and cutlery he bought in English markets. Loving the

ripe old culture of the mother country, he often sent his sons to Oxford

or Cambridge for their education. In short, he depended very largely for

his prosperity and his enjoyment of life upon close relations with the

Old World. He did not even need market towns in which to buy native

goods, for they were made on his own plantation by his own artisans who

were usually gifted slaves.

The economic condition of the small farmer was totally different. His

crops were not big enough to warrant direct connection with English

factors or the personal maintenance of a corps of artisans. He needed

local markets, and they sprang up to meet the need. Smiths, hatters,

weavers, wagon-makers, and potters at neighboring towns supplied him

with the rough products of their native skill. The finer goods, bought

by the rich planter in England, the small farmer ordinarily could not

buy. His wants were restricted to staples like tea and sugar, and

between him and the European market stood the merchant. His community

was therefore more self-sufficient than the seaboard line of great

plantations. It was more isolated, more provincial, more independent,

more American. The planter faced the Old East. The farmer faced the New


The Westward Movement

Yeoman and planter nevertheless were alike in

one respect. Their land hunger was never appeased. Each had the eye of

an expert for new and fertile soil; and so, north and south, as soon as

a foothold was secured on the Atlantic coast, the current of migration

set in westward, creeping through forests, across rivers, and over

mountains. Many of the later immigrants, in their search for cheap

lands, were compelled to go to the border; but in a large part the path

breakers to the West were native Americans of the second and third

generations. Explorers, fired by curiosity and the lure of the

mysterious unknown, and hunters, fur traders, and squatters, following

their own sweet wills, blazed the trail, opening paths and sending back

stories of the new regions they traversed. Then came the regular

settlers with lawful titles to the lands they had purchased, sometimes

singly and sometimes in companies.

In Massachusetts, the westward movement is recorded in the founding of

Springfield in 1636 and Great Barrington in 1725. By the opening of the

eighteenth century the pioneers of Connecticut had pushed north and west

until their outpost towns adjoined the Hudson Valley settlements. In New

York, the inland movement was directed by the Hudson River to Albany,

and from that old Dutch center it radiated in every direction,

particularly westward through the Mohawk Valley. New Jersey was early

filled to its borders, the beginnings of the present city of New

Brunswick being made in 1681 and those of Trenton in 1685. In

Pennsylvania, as in New York, the waterways determined the main lines of

advance. Pioneers, pushing up through the valley of the Schuylkill,

spread over the fertile lands of Berks and Lancaster counties, laying

out Reading in 1748. Another current of migration was directed by the

Susquehanna, and, in 1726, the first farmhouse was built on the bank

where Harrisburg was later founded. Along the southern tier of counties

a thin line of settlements stretched westward to Pittsburgh, reaching

the upper waters of the Ohio while the colony was still under the Penn


In the South the westward march was equally swift. The seaboard was

quickly occupied by large planters and their slaves engaged in the

cultivation of tobacco and rice. The Piedmont Plateau, lying back from

the coast all the way from Maryland to Georgia, was fed by two streams

of migration, one westward from the sea and the other southward from the

other colonies--Germans from Pennsylvania and Scotch-Irish furnishing

the main supply. "By 1770, tide-water Virginia was full to overflowing

and the 'back country' of the Blue Ridge and the Shenandoah was fully

occupied. Even the mountain valleys ... were claimed by sturdy pioneers.

Before the Declaration of Independence, the oncoming tide of

home-seekers had reached the crest of the Alleghanies."

Beyond the mountains pioneers had already ventured, harbingers of an

invasion that was about to break in upon Kentucky and Tennessee. As

early as 1769 that mighty Nimrod, Daniel Boone, curious to hunt

buffaloes, of which he had heard weird reports, passed through the

Cumberland Gap and brought back news of a wonderful country awaiting the

plow. A hint was sufficient. Singly, in pairs, and in groups, settlers

followed the trail he had blazed. A great land corporation, the

Transylvania Company, emulating the merchant adventurers of earlier

times, secured a huge grant of territory and sought profits in quit

rents from lands sold to farmers. By the outbreak of the Revolution

there were several hundred people in the Kentucky region. Like the older

colonists, they did not relish quit rents, and their opposition wrecked

the Transylvania Company. They even carried their protests into the

Continental Congress in 1776, for by that time they were our "embryo

fourteenth colony."


Though the labor of the colonists was mainly spent in farming, there was

a steady growth in industrial and commercial pursuits. Most of the

staple industries of to-day, not omitting iron and textiles, have their

beginnings in colonial times. Manufacturing and trade soon gave rise to

towns which enjoyed an importance all out of proportion to their

numbers. The great centers of commerce and finance on the seaboard

originated in the days when the king of England was "lord of these


Textile Manufacture as a Domestic Industry

Colonial women, in

addition to sharing every hardship of pioneering, often the heavy labor

of the open field, developed in the course of time a national industry

which was almost exclusively their own. Wool and flax were raised in

abundance in the North and South. "Every farm house," says Coman, the

economic historian, "was a workshop where the women spun and wove the

serges, kerseys, and linsey-woolseys which served for the common wear."

By the close of the seventeenth century, New England manufactured cloth

in sufficient quantities to export it to the Southern colonies and to

the West Indies. As the industry developed, mills were erected for the

more difficult process of dyeing, weaving, and fulling, but carding and

spinning continued to be done in the home. The Dutch of New Netherland,

the Swedes of Delaware, and the Scotch-Irish of the interior "were not

one whit behind their Yankee neighbors."

The importance of this enterprise to British economic life can hardly be

overestimated. For many a century the English had employed their fine

woolen cloth as the chief staple in a lucrative foreign trade, and the

government had come to look upon it as an object of special interest and

protection. When the colonies were established, both merchants and

statesmen naturally expected to maintain a monopoly of increasing value;

but before long the Americans, instead of buying cloth, especially of

the coarser varieties, were making it to sell. In the place of

customers, here were rivals. In the place of helpless reliance upon

English markets, here was the germ of economic independence.

If British merchants had not discovered it in the ordinary course of

trade, observant officers in the provinces would have conveyed the news

to them. Even in the early years of the eighteenth century the royal

governor of New York wrote of the industrious Americans to his home

government: "The consequence will be that if they can clothe themselves

once, not only comfortably, but handsomely too, without the help of

England, they who already are not very fond of submitting to government

will soon think of putting in execution designs they have long harboured

in their breasts. This will not seem strange when you consider what sort

of people this country is inhabited by."

The Iron Industry

Almost equally widespread was the art of iron

working--one of the earliest and most picturesque of colonial

industries. Lynn, Massachusetts, had a forge and skilled artisans within

fifteen years after the founding of Boston. The smelting of iron began

at New London and New Haven about 1658; in Litchfield county,

Connecticut, a few years later; at Great Barrington, Massachusetts, in

1731; and near by at Lenox some thirty years after that. New Jersey had

iron works at Shrewsbury within ten years after the founding of the

colony in 1665. Iron forges appeared in the valleys of the Delaware and

the Susquehanna early in the following century, and iron masters then

laid the foundations of fortunes in a region destined to become one of

the great iron centers of the world. Virginia began iron working in the

year that saw the introduction of slavery. Although the industry soon

lapsed, it was renewed and flourished in the eighteenth century.

Governor Spotswood was called the "Tubal Cain" of the Old Dominion

because he placed the industry on a firm foundation. Indeed it seems

that every colony, except Georgia, had its iron foundry. Nails, wire,

metallic ware, chains, anchors, bar and pig iron were made in large

quantities; and Great Britain, by an act in 1750, encouraged the

colonists to export rough iron to the British Islands.


Of all the specialized industries in the colonies,

shipbuilding was the most important. The abundance of fir for masts, oak

for timbers and boards, pitch for tar and turpentine, and hemp for rope

made the way of the shipbuilder easy. Early in the seventeenth century a

ship was built at New Amsterdam, and by the middle of that century

shipyards were scattered along the New England coast at Newburyport,

Salem, New Bedford, Newport, Providence, New London, and New Haven.

Yards at Albany and Poughkeepsie in New York built ships for the trade

of that colony with England and the Indies. Wilmington and Philadelphia

soon entered the race and outdistanced New York, though unable to equal

the pace set by New England. While Maryland, Virginia, and South

Carolina also built ships, Southern interest was mainly confined to the

lucrative business of producing ship materials: fir, cedar, hemp, and



The greatest single economic resource of New England outside

of agriculture was the fisheries. This industry, started by hardy

sailors from Europe, long before the landing of the Pilgrims, flourished

under the indomitable seamanship of the Puritans, who labored with the

net and the harpoon in almost every quarter of the Atlantic. "Look,"

exclaimed Edmund Burke, in the House of Commons, "at the manner in

which the people of New England have of late carried on the whale

fishery. Whilst we follow them among the tumbling mountains of ice and

behold them penetrating into the deepest frozen recesses of Hudson's Bay

and Davis's Straits, while we are looking for them beneath the arctic

circle, we hear that they have pierced into the opposite region of polar

cold, that they are at the antipodes and engaged under the frozen

serpent of the south.... Nor is the equinoctial heat more discouraging

to them than the accumulated winter of both poles. We know that, whilst

some of them draw the line and strike the harpoon on the coast of

Africa, others run the longitude and pursue their gigantic game along

the coast of Brazil. No sea but what is vexed by their fisheries. No

climate that is not witness to their toils. Neither the perseverance of

Holland nor the activity of France nor the dexterous and firm sagacity

of English enterprise ever carried this most perilous mode of hard

industry to the extent to which it has been pushed by this recent


The influence of the business was widespread. A large and lucrative

European trade was built upon it. The better quality of the fish caught

for food was sold in the markets of Spain, Portugal, and Italy, or

exchanged for salt, lemons, and raisins for the American market. The

lower grades of fish were carried to the West Indies for slave

consumption, and in part traded for sugar and molasses, which furnished

the raw materials for the thriving rum industry of New England. These

activities, in turn, stimulated shipbuilding, steadily enlarging the

demand for fishing and merchant craft of every kind and thus keeping the

shipwrights, calkers, rope makers, and other artisans of the seaport

towns rushed with work. They also increased trade with the mother

country for, out of the cash collected in the fish markets of Europe and

the West Indies, the colonists paid for English manufactures. So an

ever-widening circle of American enterprise centered around this single

industry, the nursery of seamanship and the maritime spirit.

Oceanic Commerce and American Merchants

All through the eighteenth

century, the commerce of the American colonies spread in every direction

until it rivaled in the number of people employed, the capital engaged,

and the profits gleaned, the commerce of European nations. A modern

historian has said: "The enterprising merchants of New England developed

a network of trade routes that covered well-nigh half the world." This

commerce, destined to be of such significance in the conflict with the

mother country, presented, broadly speaking, two aspects.

On the one side, it involved the export of raw materials and

agricultural produce. The Southern colonies produced for shipping,

tobacco, rice, tar, pitch, and pine; the Middle colonies, grain, flour,

furs, lumber, and salt pork; New England, fish, flour, rum, furs, shoes,

and small articles of manufacture. The variety of products was in fact

astounding. A sarcastic writer, while sneering at the idea of an

American union, once remarked of colonial trade: "What sort of dish will

you make? New England will throw in fish and onions. The middle states,

flax-seed and flour. Maryland and Virginia will add tobacco. North

Carolina, pitch, tar, and turpentine. South Carolina, rice and indigo,

and Georgia will sprinkle the whole composition with sawdust. Such an

absurd jumble will you make if you attempt to form a union among such

discordant materials as the thirteen British provinces."

On the other side, American commerce involved the import trade,

consisting principally of English and continental manufactures, tea, and

"India goods." Sugar and molasses, brought from the West Indies,

supplied the flourishing distilleries of Massachusetts, Rhode Island,

and Connecticut. The carriage of slaves from Africa to the Southern

colonies engaged hundreds of New England's sailors and thousands of

pounds of her capital.

The disposition of imported goods in the colonies, though in part

controlled by English factors located in America, employed also a large

and important body of American merchants like the Willings and Morrises

of Philadelphia; the Amorys, Hancocks, and Faneuils of Boston; and the

Livingstons and Lows of New York. In their zeal and enterprise, they

were worthy rivals of their English competitors, so celebrated for

world-wide commercial operations. Though fully aware of the advantages

they enjoyed in British markets and under the protection of the British

navy, the American merchants were high-spirited and mettlesome, ready to

contend with royal officers in order to shield American interests

against outside interference.

Measured against the immense business of modern times, colonial commerce

seems perhaps trivial. That, however, is not the test of its

significance. It must be considered in relation to the growth of English

colonial trade in its entirety--a relation which can be shown by a few

startling figures. The whole export trade of England, including that to

the colonies, was, in 1704, L6,509,000. On the eve of the American

Revolution, namely, in 1772, English exports to the American colonies

alone amounted to L6,024,000; in other words, almost as much as the

whole foreign business of England two generations before. At the first

date, colonial trade was but one-twelfth of the English export business;

at the second date, it was considerably more than one-third. In 1704,

Pennsylvania bought in English markets goods to the value of L11,459; in

1772 the purchases of the same colony amounted to L507,909. In short,

Pennsylvania imports increased fifty times within sixty-eight years,

amounting in 1772 to almost the entire export trade of England to the

colonies at the opening of the century. The American colonies were

indeed a great source of wealth to English merchants.

Intercolonial Commerce

Although the bad roads of colonial times made

overland transportation difficult and costly, the many rivers and

harbors along the coast favored a lively water-borne trade among the

colonies. The Connecticut, Hudson, Delaware, and Susquehanna rivers in

the North and the many smaller rivers in the South made it possible for

goods to be brought from, and carried to, the interior regions in little

sailing vessels with comparative ease. Sloops laden with manufactures,

domestic and foreign, collected at some city like Providence, New York,

or Philadelphia, skirted the coasts, visited small ports, and sailed up

the navigable rivers to trade with local merchants who had for exchange

the raw materials which they had gathered in from neighboring farms.

Larger ships carried the grain, live stock, cloth, and hardware of New

England to the Southern colonies, where they were traded for tobacco,

leather, tar, and ship timber. From the harbors along the Connecticut

shores there were frequent sailings down through Long Island Sound to

Maryland, Virginia, and the distant Carolinas.

Growth of Towns

In connection with this thriving trade and industry

there grew up along the coast a number of prosperous commercial centers

which were soon reckoned among the first commercial towns of the whole

British empire, comparing favorably in numbers and wealth with such

ports as Liverpool and Bristol. The statistical records of that time are

mainly guesses; but we know that Philadelphia stood first in size among

these towns. Serving as the port of entry for Pennsylvania, Delaware,

and western Jersey, it had drawn within its borders, just before the

Revolution, about 25,000 inhabitants. Boston was second in rank, with

somewhat more than 20,000 people. New York, the "commercial capital of

Connecticut and old East Jersey," was slightly smaller than Boston, but

growing at a steady rate. The fourth town in size was Charleston, South

Carolina, with about 10,000 inhabitants. Newport in Rhode Island, a

center of rum manufacture and shipping, stood fifth, with a population

of about 7000. Baltimore and Norfolk were counted as "considerable

towns." In the interior, Hartford in Connecticut, Lancaster and York in

Pennsylvania, and Albany in New York, with growing populations and

increasing trade, gave prophecy of an urban America away from the

seaboard. The other towns were straggling villages. Williamsburg,

Virginia, for example, had about two hundred houses, in which dwelt a

dozen families of the gentry and a few score of tradesmen. Inland county

seats often consisted of nothing more than a log courthouse, a prison,

and one wretched inn to house judges, lawyers, and litigants during the

sessions of the court.

The leading towns exercised an influence on colonial opinion all out of

proportion to their population. They were the centers of wealth, for one

thing; of the press and political activity, for another. Merchants and

artisans could readily take concerted action on public questions arising

from their commercial operations. The towns were also centers for news,

gossip, religious controversy, and political discussion. In the market

places the farmers from the countryside learned of British policies and

laws, and so, mingling with the townsmen, were drawn into the main

currents of opinion which set in toward colonial nationalism and