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Colonial Period Federal Period:
 

American (US) Population
& Immigration

Most of our project members are Americans and many trace their roots to colonial immigrants. This page is to provide them an overview as an aid to family history research.

Colonial Population

Starting from a small base, the American colonies' population grew rapidly during ~270 years of British rule; averaging 3% per year. Immigration was a large factor, but even larger -- as seen in the section below -- was "natural increase", an excess of births over deaths.

Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demographic_history_of_the_United_States
Its source is Series Z-19 U.S. Census [4]

Census numbers do not include American Indian natives before 1860[1]. (Nor are American Indians included in these numbers. ) See also http://www2.census.gov/prod2/statcomp/documents/CT1970p2-13.pdf.

Estimated Non-Indian Population of American Colonies, 1620-1780

Region, Colony Year
16201640 16601680 17001720 17401760 1780
New England
Maine - 900 - See Massachusetts - 20,000 49,100
N. Hampshire  - 1,100 1,600 2,000 5,000 9,400 23,300 39,100 87,800
Vermont - Contested ownership - 47,600
Plymouth 100 1,000 2,000 6,400 - See Massachusetts -
Massachusetts - 8,900 20,100 39,800 55,900 91,000 151,600 202,600 268,600
Rhode Island - 300 1,500 3,000 5,900 11,700 25,300 45,500 52,900
Connecticut - 1,500 8,000 17,200 26,000 58,800 89,600 142,500 206,700
Mid-Atlantic
New York - 1,900 4,900 9,800 19,100 36,900 63,700 117,100 210,500
New Jersey - Est. ~1660 - 3,400 14,000 29,800 51,400 93,800 139,600
Pennsylvania - Est. ~1680 - 70018,000 31,000 85,600 183,700 327,300
Delaware - See PA, NJ - 500 1,000 2,500 5,400 19,900 33,300 45,400
South
Maryland Est. 1634- 500 8,400 17,900 29,600 66,100 116,100 162,300 245,500
Virginia 400 10,400 27,000 43,600 58,600 87,800 180,400 339,700 538,000
North Carolina - Est.  1663 - 1,000 5,400 10,700 21,300 51,800 110,400 270,100
South Carolina - Sep. from NC 1712  - 1,200 5,700 17,000 45,000 94,100 180,000
Georgia - Est. 1732 - 2,000 9,600 56,100
Kentucky - See Virginia - 45,000
Tennessee - See North Carolina- 10,000
Alabama - Spanish Territory -
Total Pop'n. 500 26,600 75,100 151,500 250,900 466,200 905,600 1,593,600 2,780,400
Growth 500 26,100 48,500 76,400 99,400 215,300 439,400 688,000 1,186,800
Growth pct. N/A 5,220% 186% 158% 130% 217% 204% 157% 173%

By Region, including Percent Black

Year 1620 1640 1660 1680 1700 1720 1740 1760 1780
New England
      (ME-CT)
  100 13,700 33,200 68,500 92,800 170,900 289,700 449,600  712,800
      % Black  0.0%  1.5% 1.8%  0.7% 1.8%  2.3%  2.9%  2.8% 2.0%
Mid-Atlantic
      (NY-DE)
- 1,900 5,400 14,900 53,600 103,100 220,600 427,900 722,900
      % Black 0.0%  10.5%  11.1% 10.1% 6.9% 10.5%  7.5%  6.8% 5.9%
South
      (MD-TN)
 400  11,000  36,400  68,100 104,600  192,300  395,300  716,000 1,344,700
      % Black  0.0%  1.8%  4.7%  7.3%  21.5% 28.1% 31.6%  39.7% 38.6%
Total Black 0 600 2,900 7,000 27,900 68,800 149,900 325,900 576,000
      % Black 0% 2.3% 3.9% 4.6% 11.1% 14.8% 16.6% 20.4% 20.7%

Soil and climate favorable to agriculture gave the southern region an advantage in population growth. Greatly adding to that growth was the importation of black slaves from Africa for tobacco farming.

Colonial Immigration

The British Isles, especially England, supplied more immigrants (45%) to the American colonies. Africa (39%) was the second-leading source. The English-origin population's rate of growth from natural increase also outstripped all others but the Netherlands; by 1790 it made up 54% of the total population. Almost two-thirds of Americans' ancestry originated in the British Isles.

Country
of Origin
Immigrants
Bef. 1790
Pct.
of Imm.
Population
1790
Pct.
of Pop
Natural
Increase
Incr.
Rate
British Isles 425,500 44.8% 2,560,000 65.7% 2,134,500 502%
   England 230,000 24.2% 2,100,000 53.9% 1,870,000 813%
   Ulster, Scots-Irish 135,000 14.2% 300,000 7.7% 157,000 116%
   Ireland 8,000 0.8% (Incl. in
Scots-Irish)
   Scotland 48,500 5.1% 150,000 3.9% 101,500 193%
   Wales 4,000 0.4% 10,000 0.3% 6,000 150%
Africa; 360,000 37.9% 757,000 19.4% 397,000 110%
No detail, mostly from west coast
Continental Europe 113,500 11.9% 389,000 9.9% 275,500 243%
   Germany  103,000 10.8% 270,000 6.9% 167,000 162%
   Netherlands 6,000 0.6% 100,000 2.6% 94,000 1567%
   France 3,000 0.3% 15,000 0.4% 12,000 400%
   Jews (Var.countries) 1,000 0.1% 2,000 0.05% 1,000 100%
   Sweden 500 0.1% 2,000 0.05% 1,500 300%
Other, Not Classified 50,000 5.3% 200,000 5.1% 150,000 300%
Total 950,000 100.0% 3,900,000 100% 2,950,000 311%
Foreign-born in 1790 ? ? 350,000
*/- 50,000
8-10% ? ?

From "The Source: A Guidebook of American Genealogy" by Kory L. Meyerink and Loretto Dennis Szucs

Continents, Countries & Ethnicities

This section discusses the groups coming to America, as defined by Meyerink & Szuchs.

Africa

Africans, forcibly imported as slaves beginning about 1680 in large numbers, represent the largest group of immigrants. They did not fare well. Although they comprised 38% of all immigrants, they made up only 19% of the 1790 population. For each immigrant brought in, only slightly more than 2 persons were present in the first US census in 1790.

Conditions for slaves – heat, disease, malnutrition, overwork -- caused high mortality. Importation of slaves from Africa continued until 1820 and slavery was not abolished until 1865.

British Isles

English, the second-largest group, fared much better. English-origin people were in every colony. Though they were only 24% of the immigrants, they made up 54% of the 1790 population, more than doubling its contribution. Apparently due to high birth rates and (in New England) a low death rate, by 1790, each English immigrant resulted in more than 9 US citizens.

However, the situation wasn’t rosy for all English immigrants. About three-quarters came as indentured servants (perhaps 80% from London). White, term-limited slavery was initially southern planters’ method of choice for obtaining labor to grow tobacco, rice and indigo until the 1680s; in Virginia and Maryland, the headrights system also entitled transporters to 50 acres of land for each person brought across the Atlantic. To the English poor candidates, free passage, room and board, and a bonus at the completion of (typically) fiver-year servitude promised a way to a fresh start in a land of opportunity.

Another system featured public markets at the ports of debarkation. Ships' captains would auction servitude contracts of their passengers after landing.

In yet a third system, prisoners convicted of non-capital crimes were transported to America to clear England's jails. Initially, this was an informal, black market but the Transportation Act of 1718 legalized the practice and perhaps 60,000 prisoners were sent, 80% to Virginia and Maryland. While some returned to England (at their own expense)  when the 7 to 14 year terms were up, many stayed. Estimates of them are

Most (60%) of the indentured and convict laborers didn’t survive to freedom. As they weren’t permitted to marry, they left no descendants. Only about 30% of the indentured immigrants were able to become ancestors. Laborers in the south died at higher rates than in the north. Contemporary reports talk of "seasoning", in which the less hardy were winnowed out by disease and the hot, humid climate.

One who made the voyage in 1750 described the rough conditions at sea and afterward here. We surmise the passage was more difficult in the earlier days.

Bacon’s Rebellion of 1676, involving indentured servants, was a pivotal event resulting in an end to the headrights system. Planters subsequently favored African slaves whose servitude was perpetual and rights were non-existent.

Ireland provided the third-largest group, predominantly Ulster Scots (Scots-Irish) who constituted 14% of the immigrants; other Irish made up another 0.8%. Immigration from Ulster began in force in 1715; these folks had less time to produce descendants. And their late arrival forced them into less-desirable frontier regions. As a result, the ratio of Irish-ancestry people is just 2 census Americans for each immigrant.

Scotland provided 5% of immigrants but only 4% of 1790 people, a ratio of 3 for each immigrant. Some Scots went to southern areas in which disease was prevalent.

A small fraction, 0.4%, came from Wales and slowly increased to 0.3% of the 1790 population, a for-each-immigrant ratio of 2.5.

Continental Europe

Germanic regions contributed 11% of the immigrants but only 7% of the 1790 population. This wave began in 1709 and continued until 1776. A possibly lower birth rate and less time for natural increase led to only 2.6 per immigrant in 1790. So many went to one colony, they became known as the “Pennsylvania Dutch”, a corruption of the German "Deutsch". However, many Germanic settlements were established outside Pennsylvania.

For them, the main port of embarkation was Rotterdam, at the mouth of the Rhine River. A typical journey began in the Palatine Electorate with a river boat. The main port of debarkation was Philadelphia.

True Dutch (from the Netherlands) were early immigrants, founding several early 1600s settlements, including the one that became New York. They were a small group but prolific. Though only 0.6% of immigrants, they made up 2.6% in 1790, an increase ratio of almost 17.

From France came mostly Huguenots, about 0.3% of immigrants and 0.4% in 1790, Their natural increase represented 5 persons for each immigrant, a bit more than the average.

Sweden seems to have the smallest separate group of pre-1790 immigrants and 1790 population, 0.05% for both. Their natural increase ratio is 4, about the average for all groups.

Jews are given their own category, presumably from multiple countries in Europe. It is a small group, 0.1% of immigrants, with low natural increase. They constitute 0.05% in 1790, a ratio of 2 US citizens for each immigrant.

Finally, one group is labeled “Other”, 5% of pre-1790 immigrants and 5% of 1790 population. Each of these immigrants seems to have resulted in 4 descendants for the first US census.

Population & Demographics

The two graphs below show, by region, how America’s total and black population grew in the colonial period. Notice that blacks begin to register only in 1680.

Population was growing exponentially in all regions, but more rapidly in the South, especially after 1700. Much of the difference is accounted for by slaves.

All together, pre-1790 immigrants added up to 950,000, one-quarter of the 1790 population. The rest was due to “natural increase”, excess of births over deaths. (Checking the Meyerink & Szuchs math, America’s population growth averaged 6.9% from 1610 to 1780.)

The rate of natural increase (RNI) seems to have averaged about 4% for 170 years. This RNI places British North America in Stage 2 of the Demographic Transition Model, that of a developing nation. Demographically, America was then like the modern "Third World".

A characteristic of Stage 2 demographics is a youthful population; most deaths in other countries then occurred within the first 10 years of life due to malnutrition and disease. With better nutrition and less disease, more children survived and matured to continue the fertility of their parents. Families in the American colonies were larger than in Europe; fertility may have been similar, but fewer children died.

Immigration "Waves":

We can identify some specific waves of immigrants, mostly for the groups outside the British Isles. British subjects -- especially those paying their own passage -- were less-recorded.

An obvious cutoff date for colonial immigration is the American Revolution, which formally began in July 1776. Hostilities and blockades virtually stopped immigration for nearly a decade and a half -- until the United States of America was an independent nation..

These groups, though, were not the general rule. Most colonists were economic migrants.

By Colony:

This section is incomplete.

Under Construction

There was, during the colonial period, not only immigration from across the sea, but also migration between colonies.

South:

New England:

Middle Atlantic:

This would have been a tautology in the colonial period. America didn't exist beyond the Atlantic seaboard.

Federal Period

This section reviews the postcolonial population, after establishment of the United States of America.

1790 Census

The 1790 census was the first official survey of the nation's people. It is, therefore, the best measure of the combined effects of immigration and natural increase.

Region, State Free wh male
>= 16 yrs
Free wh male
< 16 yrs.
Free wh female Other free Slaves Total
New England
Vermont 22,436 22,328 40,505 255 16 85,539
N. Hampshire 36,086 34,851 70,160 630 158 141,885
Maine 24,384 24,748 46,870 538 0 96,540
Massachusetts 95,453 87,289 190,582 5,463 0 378,787
Rhode Island 16,019 15,799 32,652 3,407 948 68,825
Connecticut 60,523 54,403 117,448 2,808 2,764 237,946
Mid-Atlantic
New York 83,700 78,122 152,320 4,654 21,324 340,120
New Jersey 5,251 41,416 83,287 2,762 11,423 184,139
Pennsylvania 110,788 106,948 206,363 6,537 3,737 434,373
Delaware 11,783 12,143 22,384 3,899 8,887 59,094
South
Maryland 55,915 51,339 101,395 8,043 103,036 319,728
Virginia 110,936 116,135 215,046 12,866 292,627 747,610
Kentucky 15,154 17,057 28,922 114 12,430 73,677
North Carolina 69,988 77,506 140,710 4,975 100,572 393,751
South Carolina 35,576 37,722 66,880 1,801 107,094 249,073
Georgia 13,103 14,044 25,739 398 29,264 82,548
Total 807,095 791,850 1,541,263 59,150 694,280 3,893,635
Pct. 20.7% 20.3% 39.6% 1.5% 17.8% 100%