Migration to the Americas in the 17th and 18th Century

Migration to the New World and America began in the 16th century. Early attempts at colonisation were made by the English at Roanoke. Though this colony failed, it paved the way for colonies at Jamestown in the early 17th century. English migration to America continued throughout the 17th century. People migrated for a number of reasons. Some, like the Pilgrim Fathers, for religious reasons. Others saw the opportunity for riches in a new world. Explorers and prospectors sought a passage to the far east which also fuelled colonisation.

Eighteenth century migration from Ireland and Scotland to North America

Early colonisation was often due to economic pressures in England. Push factors led to the decision to migrate. As the English took hold of the Eastern seaboard of North America the English moving there were not all rich, expectant prospectors. Many were escaping a wretched life.

English migrants in Virginia had good reason not to feel grateful. Most came unfree, pushed out of England by economic forces that privatized shared pastures and farmlands and pushed up the prices of basic necessities. By the 17th century, more than half of the English peasantry was landless. The price of food shot up 600 percent, and firewood by 1,500 percent.
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To escape from the economic conditions in England many opted to sign up to Indenture agreements. This was a contract that gave free passage to America in return for a fixed period of time working for the master or company paying for the transportation. Roughly 80% of English migrants to America before 1700 were transported under such a contract. They were usually tied to the master for 5 to 7 years.

After the Glorious Revolution there was a change in migration patterns. The Headright System was introduced by the Virginia Company. This system promised 50 acres of land to anybody who paid for their transport or for that of another person. In England it was virtually impossible for ordinary people to own any land. This presented a huge opportunity to farm and prosper. It led to an increase in migration to the Americas.

Some migrants returned to England as the Civil Wars broke out. There was a lot of support for the Parliamentarians from Puritans in the colonies. The support was such that there was actually some fighting of the English Civil Wars in Colonial America.

Following the Glorious Revolution and failure of Jacobite Rebellions Irish and Scots began to migrate to North America in greater numbers. The migration was in part in hope of religious tolerance in the colonies; partly in hope of better prospects and partly because of the plantation of Ireland and clearances of the Highlands. Schemes such as the Darien Scheme were established to encourage migration from both areas. Migration also continued to take place from England. In the colonial period and up to 1900, the majority of people living in the colonies and later United States self identified as English.

The 1700’s saw migration continue as colonisation expanded into America. Victories in the wars against native americans paved the way two much more land being available. Exploration in the north had led to additional trading options. Hudson Bay was taken from the French for the British. Towns and colonies had become established and the stability that this created plus the proximity of new lands increased the lure of migrating to America.

Migration to the US Data

The first census of the United States was of 12 colonies in 1790. It counted just over 3.9 million people. 66% of these were of English origin. 5.6% Scottish. 4.5% German. 2% Dutch. Roughly 20% ‘Other’ which included some 697624 slaves.

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