Chronicles of America 

The Land And The People

The territory occupied by the colonists stretched along the American coast from Nova Scotia to Georgia. The earliest settlements lay near the ocean, but in some cases extended inland for considerable distances along the more important rivers. Behind this settled area, toward the foothills of the mountains, lay the back country, which after 1730 received immigrants in large numbers.

Except for settlements and outlying clearings, the colonial area, even near the sea, was densely covered with forests and contained to the end of this period many wild and desolate tracts of dismal swamp, drifting sand, and tangled jungle destined to remain for decades regions of mystery and fear, the resort of only fowl and beast, and the occasional refuge of criminals and outlaws. Gradually, as the years passed, the wilderness disappeared before the march of man, the wooded and rocky surface was transformed into fertile arable fields and pasture, the old settlements widened, and new settlements appeared. The number of colonists increased, and the pioneers steadily pushed back the frontier, setting up towns and laying out farms and plantations, rearing families, warring with the Indians and trading with them for furs, and turning to the best account the advantages that a bountiful though exacting nature furnished ready to their hand.

To the west of the colonists lay the boundless wilderness; on the east lay the equally vast ocean, the great highway of communication with the civilization of the Old World to which they still instinctively turned. If the land furnished homes and subsistence from agriculture, the sea, while also furnishing food, afforded opportunities for commerce and travel. Only by water, for the most part, could the colonists reach the markets to sell their fish, furs, and agricultural produce and to purchase those necessary articles of food, dress, and equipment which they could neither raise nor manufacture among themselves. Sometimes they trafficked in short voyages to neighboring colonies, and sometimes they sailed on longer voyages to England, the Continent, the Wine Islands, Africa, the West Indies, and the Spanish Main. Though the land and its staples often shaped the destiny of individual colonies, the most important single factor in bringing wealth and opportunity to the colonies as a whole was the sea. Those who journeyed upon the Atlantic thought as little of crossing the water as they did of traversing the land, and travelers took ship for England and the West Indies with less hesitation than they had in riding on horseback or in chaises over dangerous and lonely roads.

The colonial domain thus comprised regions which differed conspicuously from one another in climate, soil, and economic opportunity. But the races which came to dwell in these new lands were no less diverse than the country. At the close of the period here under review, that is, in 1763, the total white population of the region from Maine to Georgia was not far from 1,250,000. It is estimated that something more than a third of the inhabitants were newcomers, not of the stock of the original settlers. These newcomers were chiefly French, German, and Scotch-Irish. There were also in the colonies about 230,000 negroes, free and slave, 29,000 in the Middle Colonies, 16,000 in New England, and the remainder in the South. The influence of the non-English newcomers on colonial life was less than their numbers might suggest. The Scotch-Irish belonged rather to the back country, than to the older settlements and — except in Pennsylvania, where they were something of a factor in politics — were not yet in the public arena. Their turn was to come later in the Revolution and in the westward movement. The same may be said of the Germans. Not many Germans in the colonies became as well known as John Peter Zenger, whose name is indissolubly associated with the liberty of the press in America. The Germans, however, as farmers contributed greatly to the prosperity of the communities where they cultivated their lands. Huguenots, Jews, and Highlanders remained in numbers near the coast and took part in the social, political, and commercial life of the older communities. The Huguenots and the Highlanders became influential planters, merchants, and holders of political office, men of enterprise and standing. The Jews on the other hand had no social or political privileges and made their mark principally in the field of commerce and trade.

Northernmost of the regions over which these many races were scattered lay New England, extending from the wilds of Maine through a beautiful rolling country of green fields and tree-clad slopes, to the rocky environs of the White Mountains, the Berkshires, and the Litchfield Hills. Here, according to the humor of a later day, the sheep's noses were sharpened for cropping the grass between the stones, and the corn was shot into the unyielding ground with a gun. Central and eastern New England was a region of low mountain-ranges and fairly wide valleys, of many rivers and excellent harbors — a land admirably adapted to a system of intensive farming and husbandry. The variety of its staples was matched by the diversity of the occupations of its people. Fishing, agriculture, household manufactures, and trade kept the New Englander along the coast busy and made him shrewd, persistent, and progressive. He was unprogressive and slow in the more isolated towns and villages, where the routine of the farm absorbed the greater part of his time and attention.

In 1730 the New Englanders numbered, roughly, 275,000; in 1760, 425,000 or about a third of the entire white population of the thirteen colonies, and at the close of the Revolutionary War, 800,000. Somewhat less than half of these were under the jurisdiction of Massachusetts. Connecticut stood second in size and Rhode Island and New Hampshire were nearly equal. The New Englanders lived in compact communities along the coast and up the river valleys wherever land and opportunity offered, and in self-governing towns and cities, of which Boston, with about twenty thousand inhabitants, was by far the largest.

Boston outrivaled in size every city in America except possibly Philadelphia, and as to which of the two was the larger is uncertain. Birket and Goelet, both writing in 1750, give diametrically opposite opinions on this point. Birket says that Philadelphia "appeared to be the largest city in our America," while Goelet calls Boston "the largest town upon the Continent."

The people of New England were mainly of English stock, with but a small mixture of foreign elements. The colony of Connecticut was the most homogeneous on the Atlantic seaboard. In parts of Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Maine, hundreds of Scotch-Irish appeared between 1700 and 1750, some of whom eventually drifted down into Connecticut, where they formed a trifling and inconspicuous part of the population. These Scotch-Irish, who were not Irish at all except that they came from the north of Ireland, had much less influence in New England than in Pennsylvania, or in the back country of the South, where their numbers were five times as large as in the North and where their work as frontier pioneers was far more conspicuous. On the other hand, the Huguenots, fleeing from France after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes, in 1685, though never as numerous as the Scotch-Irish, nor ever as prominent as frontiersmen or founders of towns, had the gift of easy adaptation to the life of the older communities and remained in the urban centers, where they soon vied with the English as leaders in political and mercantile life. The names of Bowdoin, Cabot, Faneuil, Bernon, Oliver, and Revere add luster to the history of New England, while others of less note attained local success as artisans and tradesmen. The Jews, though their peers in business, were nowhere their serious rivals except in Newport. In this town, about the middle of the eighteenth century, Jews congregated. They came either directly from Spain or from Portugal by way of Brazil and the West Indies, and gave to that growing Rhode Island seaport a distinctly commercial character. The only other foreigners in New England were a number of Dutch, who were not really "foreigners, " as they came of the original settlers of New Netherland, having moved eastward from the towns and manors along the Hudson. Many negroes and mulattoes served as farm hands and domestic servants, chiefly in or near the seaports dealing with the South or with the West Indies; and a few thousand Indians, more often on reservations than in the households or on the farms of the white men, survived in ever dwindling remnants of their former tribes.

New York and Pennsylvania, though they were closely akin to New England in climate and staple products, bore little resemblance to that Puritan world in the racial factors of their population or the topographical features of their land. New England had a single dominant stock in a land of many small communities and independent seaports. New York and Pennsylvania, on the other hand, with their satellite neighbors, the Jerseys and Delaware, contained a kaleidoscopic collection of people of different bloods and religions. Their life was also less diversified and scattered, for it was closely associated with the marts of New York and Philadelphia. Each of these cities was situated on a superb body of water. The Hudson and the Delaware, like the Nile in Egypt, shaped to no inconsiderable extent the prosperity of the regions through which they flowed. But between these two cities there were noteworthy differences. New York was backward in colonial times, while Philadelphia, though less favorably situated, because the Delaware was a difficult stream for sailing vessels to navigate, leaped into commercial prominence within a decade of its foundation.

The differences between the provinces in which these cities lay is no less striking. Though possessing magnificent water facilities, the province of New York had as yet a very restricted territorial area, much of which was mountainous. Its broad interior, drained by the Hudson and Mohawk rivers, was of boundless promise for the future but of little immediate usefulness except as a source of furs and peltry, while the whole lay bottled up, as it were, and inaccessible to harbor and ocean, except through a narrow neck of land of which the island of Manhattan was the terminus. The people of the province — English, Dutch, and French, with a sprinkling of other nationalities — were much given to factional quarreling, and their political development was slow, for until 1691 they had no permanent popular assembly. Furthermore, the situation of the territory along the chief waterway from Canada of necessity exposed the province to constant French attack from the north and added to the distractions of politics the heavy burden of defense and the responsibility for peace with the Six Nations, whose alliance was so essential to English success. The population of the province nevertheless increased. In 1730 it was only 50,000; thirty years later it was more than 100,000; and, at the outbreak of the Revolution, 190,000. But in colonial times it always lacked cohesion and unity, owing to racial divisions and social distinctions and to its strangely shaped territory.

Philadelphia was the center of the far more compact colony of Pennsylvania and the seat of a more united, powerful, and dominant political party. The Quakers on principle avoided war and cultivated as far as possible the arts and advantages of peace. Though there was quarreling enough in the Legislature and a great deal of jockeying and rowdiness at elections, the stability and prosperity of the province were but little impaired. The city lay along the bank of a great river, in the midst of a wide, fertile agricultural country which included West Jersey and Delaware and which was inhabited by people of many races and many creeds, all tilling the soil and contributing to the prosperity of the merchant class. These merchants, with their dingy counting houses and stores near the water-front had their correspondents all over the world, their ships in every available market. One of them, Robert Morris, boasted that he "owned more ships than any other man in America." Many of these merchants were possessed of large wealth and were the owners of fine country houses, as beautiful as any in the North, adorned with the best that the world could offer. The colonial mayors of Philadelphia, like those of London, were taken as a rule from the mercantile class.

The population of Pennsylvania increased from 50,000 in 1730 to more than 200,000 in 1763 — due in largest part to the thousands of Scotch-Irish and Germans who, from 1718 to 1750, poured into the colony. The bulk of the Scotch-Irish, urged westward by the proprietary government, which wanted to get rid of them, pushed rapidly into the region of the Susquehanna. The Germans usually settled in or near the old counties, where they could devote themselves to the cultivation of the soil and to the maintenance of their many peculiarities of life and faith, content to take little part in politics, though inclined to uphold the Quakers in their quarrels with the proprietors. Both the Scotch-Irish and the Germans moved onward as opportunity offered, journeying southwest through the uplands of Maryland and Virginia, west into the Juniata region, and northwest along the west branch of the Susquehanna, taking up lands and laying out farms. In this forward movement the Scotch-Irish were usually in advance, since their less developed instinct for thrift and permanence often led them to sell their holdings to the oncoming Germans and to trek to the edge and over the edge of the western frontier. The life of these Germans — Moravians, Mennonites, Schwenkfelders, Dunkards, and others — was marked by simplicity, docility, mystical faith, and rigid economy; that of the Scotch-Irish by adventure, conflict, and suffering. Before the land seekers of the southern tidewater had reached the back country, the Scotch-Irish and the Germans had entered the mountain valleys of Maryland, Virginia, and the Carolinas, and had developed a separate agricultural and industrial life of their own, independent of the tidewater but in close communication with the regions in the North whence they had come.

Beyond the southern boundary of Pennsylvania — famous later as Mason and Dixon's Line — lay two groups of colonies in a semitropical zone occupying the tidewater lowlands about the Chesapeake and the great rivers and sounds of the southern coast. These lowlands extended as far back as the "fall line," the head of river navigation, which curved from the present city of Washington through Fredericksburg, Richmond, and Fayetteville to Augusta. Within this area lay five colonies : Maryland, Virginia, the two Carolinas, and Georgia.

In 1760 the white population of the Southern Colonies was as follows: Maryland, 107,000; Virginia, 200,000; North Carolina, 135,000; South Carolina, 40,000; and Georgia, 6000. Of these colonies the last two had a proportion of blacks to whites vastly greater than the others. Although the Southern Colonies received at one time or another an accession of population from nearly every country of central and western Europe, they were in the main free from any large admixture of foreign stocks. Until after 1730 Maryland had few foreigners. At that time a few Germans crept down from Pennsylvania and others came in by way of the Virginia Capes, some of whom found lodgment in Baltimore and in 1758 erected a German church there. Virginia had at the beginning a few foreign artisans; later a number of Dutch and Germans, probably from New Amsterdam, occupied lands on the Eastern Shore; and at odd times Portuguese Jews from Brazil found refuge under its protection. But the only groups of foreigners in the colony were the Palatine Germans at Germanna, the French Huguenots at Manakin-town, and a small body of poor but industrious Swiss at Mattapony. The dominant stock was English. On Albemarle Sound, in North Carolina, there were no foreigners, so far as can be ascertained. But after 1700 many Swiss and Palatine Germans toiled wearily overland from Virginia and founded New Bern; Huguenots settled on the Pamlico, German Moravians and Scotch-Irish poured into the back country; and Celtic Highlanders came up the Cape Fear and settled at Cross Creek (Fayetteville) and eventually became influential citizens of the colony.


A fine example of the Colonial architecture of the South. Built by William Byrd in 1749. Photograph by H. P. Cook, Richmond, Va.

South Carolina had a population which was a composite of English, Huguenots, and Germans. The French element in the coast counties, however, numbered scarcely more than two per cent of the whole, and the Germans — like the Swiss in the same colony — were isolated and politically unimportant. Throughout the period the center of the social and political life of South Carolina was at Charleston. Georgia had very few foreigners, though she stood unique among her sister colonies in possessing a small settlement of Greeks and another of Salzburgers or Austrian Germans.

Here and there among the colonies as a whole were a few Italians, employed as gardeners, botanists, or miniature painters; a few hundred Irishmen, perhaps, though most of the Irish Celts began their careers in America as indentured servants; and once in a while a Czech or Bohemian, though the identification is often doubtful. There were Irish and Welsh Quakers in Pennsylvania, and a few Danes are said to have come into New Hampshire with imported Danish cattle. Following the Acadian Expulsion (1755), the French Neutrals or Acadians were distributed among the cities from Portsmouth to Savannah. These exiles presented a pathetic picture of desolation and despair. They were undesired, and were frequently charged with crimes and misdemeanors by those who wished to get rid of them.

In time the colonists of the southern groups, with Virginians in the lead, pushed their settled area across the "fall line" and cut slowly and with great labor into the dense forests. Here they established farms and plantations and began the growing of wheat, a staple destined to become a dangerous competitor of the tobacco produced on lower levels. The upcountry was much healthier than the lowland and combined forest, pasture, and a wonderfully fertile arable soil with good water facilities and an equable climate. What had been in the seventeenth century but a camping ground for warriors, traders, and herders, became in the eighteenth century the seat of busy settlement and agriculture.

As the frontier was gradually pushed back by the movement of settlers from the coast, the newly won regions came under the control of the coast dwellers and reproduced much of the life of the older settlements. But such was not the case in Maryland nor in the far mountain valleys of Virginia and North Carolina. These regions did not receive their pioneers from the tidewater settlements. Central Maryland remained a wilderness until the Germans from Pennsylvania, carrying their goods in wagons and driving their cattle before them, entered the territory, took up tenancies under the land speculators of Annapolis, and began an era of small farms and diversified staples essentially different from the plantation life of the Chesapeake. As these pioneers passed on, they found homes along the Blue Ridge and in the Shenandoah and Yadkin valleys. And as the stream of home seekers advanced southward, following the line of the mountains, farther and farther away from the coast and the older civilization, there arose a new community of American settlers living on small farms and tenancies and imbued with all the individualistic notions characteristic of the dweller on the frontier.

While the Virginians were clearing away the forests of their own back country and the Germans and Scotch-Irish, with the help of occasional pioneers from the coast, were filling the slopes and valleys of the lower Appalachian ranges with the hum and bustle of a frontier civilization, the old settlers of the Carolinas and Georgia remained little influenced by the call of the West. The old Albemarle settlement of North Carolina, founded by wanderers from Virginia in 1653, remained a comparatively poor and struggling community. It received but few additions by sea because of the sand-choked inlets and the fearful reputation of Cape Hatteras as a rendezvous with death for those brave enough to dare its storms and treacherous currents. On the other hand, these settlers ventured but short distances inland because of the no less terrible menace of the fighting Tuscarora Indians, who ranged over the region from seaboard to upland and carried terror to the hearts of even the boldest pioneers. Not until after the horrible massacre of 1711, from the effects of which the Albemarle settlement never fully recovered in colonial times, was an effort made to end the Tuscarora danger and to open up the lower and central part of the colony to occupation and settlement.

More Information on the Tuscarora Indians at AccessGenealogy's Native American Center

The assistance which South Carolina gave to her sister colony in revenging itself on the Tuscaroras brought to the knowledge of the leading men of Charleston the wonderful beauty and fertility of the land around the Cape Fear River and led to the founding of the second or southern settlement in North Carolina, first at Brunswick about 1725 and later at Wilmington, a town which eventually became the capital seat of the colony. But even the Cape Fear settlers, though laying out plantations along the river and its branches, never passed farther inland than the "fall line" at Cross Creek (Fayetteville), the head of navigation on the river. Throughout the period they remained more closely in touch with their southern neighbors of South Carolina than with those of the older region to the northward and not only received from them many accessions of numbers but also entered into frequent intercourse of a social and commercial nature. Though the Cape Fear planters raised neither rice nor indigo, as did those of South Carolina and Georgia, they were similar to them in manners, customs, and habits of life.

Just as the men of the Cape Fear region confined their activities to the lower reaches of the river and its tributaries, so the settlers to the southward —at Georgetown, Charleston, and Savannah —moved but short distances back from the coast during the colonial period. At first there were only a few plantations of South Carolina which lay as much as seventy miles inland, and though after 1760 certain merchants of Charleston took up extensive grants of land on the upper waters of the Savannah River, the only people in these colonies who gave real evidence of the pioneer instinct were the Germans. They entered South Carolina about 1735, pushed up the rivers into the region of Orangeburg and Amelia counties, and filled that frontier section with an industrious people who cultivated wheat, rye, and barley, entered into friendly relations with the Cherokee Indians, and lived in great harmony among themselves. As they increased in numbers and widened their area of occupation, some of them, by coming into touch with the Scotch-Irish who had pushed in from the north, eventually linked the back country civilization to that of the coast. Such in broad perspective was the land of our colonial forefathers and such were the people who dwelt in it. The picture, when looked at more closely, has interesting features and a wealth of local color. Perhaps the most immediately striking, because one of the earliest and most fundamental, is the contrast between town and country.

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