Sunday, July 28, 2019

Colonial Settlement in America, 1607-1783

By Wayne Lutton
Re-posted by Nicholas Stix

[Previously: Part I: “Immigration and Race in America.”]

Colonial Settlement, 1607-1783

Immigration and Race in America, Part II

Colonization of North America began in the early seventeenth century at a time when England was experiencing remarkable social and religious changes. The Church of England was at war with various dissenters, agri-cultural interests vied with nascent capitalists for economic leadership, and the aristocracy was faced with demands for the extension of represen¬tative government. For many Englishmen, change did not come quickly enough. For others, what reforms did occur did little to improve their lot in a country that was overpopulated (given the standards of living and technology of that era). The discovery of the North American continent led to the establishment of British colonies, which became outlets for the ambitious and discontented, as well as some whom religious and law enforcement authorities viewed as undesirable surplus.

During the whole of the period, colonists came almost exclusively from northwestern Europe and preeminently from the British Isles. In 1606, King James I of England authorized the creation of the London Company and the Plymouth Company to promote settlement in North America. The first adventurers arrived in Virginia in 1607, taking twelve years to establish a permanent colony. In 1619, the Dutch dropped off the first African slaves, commencing a racial problem that has bedeviled American civilization ever since.

The northern colony, a project of the Plymouth Company, was established by separatists from the Church of England, who first fled to Holland, and from there to America in 1620, landing at what became known as Plymouth, Massachusetts. In 1630, another group of approx¬imately a thousand Puritans arrived in Massachusetts Bay. In time, they absorbed the Plymouth colony. Population growth, most of it from the expansion of families, not the importation of colonists, was rapid. The descendants of the original Massachusetts colonists in time founded the colonies of Rhode Island, New Hampshire, and Connecticut.

Holland, under the direction of the Dutch West India Company, organized New Netherlands in 1621. Its capital city, at the mouth of the Hudson River, was New Amsterdam. Sweden sent a party of colonists to Delaware Bay in 1638. However, they were not able to maintain their independence and surrendered to the Dutch in 1655. New Amsterdam remained in Dutch hands for only fifty years. In the course of the Second Anglo-Dutch War (1664-1667), England seized control of this central region and then divided it into the colonies of New Jersey and New York.

William Penn was granted the right to colonize what became known as Pennsylvania in 1681. By this time, English influence extended along the Atlantic coast from Canada to Florida. Other western Europeans began to arrive, including Scotch-Irish (Presbyterians from Northern Ireland), Germans (particularly from the Rhineland-Palatinate), and French Huguenots.

Penn operated his colony as both a refuge for Quakers and as a real estate venture. He sent agents to Germany who persuaded Quakers and Pietists to migrate to Pennsylvania. The French seizure of the Palatinate at the beginning of the eighteenth century led thousands of Germans to seek refuge in England. The British government, in turn, encouraged them to move on to North America. Several thousand Germans arrived in the American colonies in 1708-09.

Protestants settled in Ulster (Northern Ireland) at the behest of James I, who tried to make Catholic Ireland a Protestant land. The Protestant Ulstermen were so industrious that in 1698 Parliament passed dis-criminatory legislation directed against Scotch-Irish linen, manufactur¬ers of woolen goods, and adherents of the Presbyterian Church. These economic and religious measures led entire Presbyterian congregations to embark for North America. Between 1714 and 1720, 54 shiploads of colonists arrived in Boston from Northern Ireland. Following a famine in 1740, an average of 12,000 arrived annually from Ulster. It is estimated that as many as 200,000 Scotch-Irish came to North America in the fifty years preceding the American Revolution, constituting a sixth of the population of the colonies in 1776.

Scotch-Irish came to settle what became New Hampshire, Vermont, western Massachusetts, Maine, parts of Pennsylvania, and the foothills of Virginia and the Carolinas. From there they pushed on into Ohio, Kentucky, and Tennessee. Historian E. A. Ross said of them in his book The Old World in the New, “They fought the Indians, fought the British with great unanimity in two wars, and were in the front rank in the conquest of the West. More than any other stock has this tough, gritty breed. . . molded our national character.”

With the revocation of the Edict of Nantes (the French charter of Protestant liberty) by Louis XIV in 1685, thousands of French Protestants fled to England and Holland. From there, many came on to America. They tended to concentrate in South Carolina, Virginia, New York, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts, becoming leaders in the professions and business life of the colonies. Not only were they Protestants but came from the most Nordic parts of France, and so in racial composition they were hardly to be distinguished from the English.

The revocation of the Edict of Nantes, followed by terrible per¬secution of Protestants, as well as the devastation of the Thirty Years War, not unnaturally disposed many Americans to view Catholics with great distrust. Catholics were not generally looked upon as a group who, if in power, would be tolerant to others. Consequently, most of the colonies passed statutes against them. It is estimated that of the approximately four million persons in the United States by 1790, no more than 35,000 to 45,000 were Roman Catholic.

For those interested in the history of immigration control, the colonial period saw many of the stock arguments against unre¬stricted immigration employed, especially objections to the settle¬ment of paupers, criminals, and those unable to support themselves.

During the seventeenth century, the English government often shipped “idle poor” to its North American colonies. In 1663, Parliament passed an act which empowered justices of the peace to send “rogues, vagrants, and sturdy beggars” to the colonies. Dr. Samuel Johnson viewed Americans as “a race of convicts. . . who ought to be content with anything we allow them short of hanging.” Indeed, convicts were often given the choice of servitude in colonial plantations as an alternative to execution. In 1717, the English government launched a policy of penal transportation. From 1717 to 1776, an estimated 50,000 convicts were shipped to America from the British Isles.

As early as 1639, the Pilgrims of Massachusetts called for the expulsion of foreign paupers, setting fines for shipmasters that dis¬charged criminals and paupers. Virginia and other colonies followed their lead.

Pennsylvania, in 1722, imposed a tax on every criminal landed and made shipowners responsible for the good conduct of their pas¬sengers. Other laws designed to control immigration followed this. In 1729, the colony imposed a head tax of forty shillings on each immigrant, an early instance of the use of a tax to restrict immigra¬tion. In order to prevent carriers of disease from landing, Pennsylvania came to require ships to anchor a mile offshore until a port physician could make an inspection.

The General Assembly of Maryland tried to reduce the number of criminals dumped on its shores with a law requiring all shipmasters to declare whether they had any convicts on board, and attempted to prohibit them from landing if they did. A fine of 2,000 pounds of tobacco was imposed on anyone attempting to import criminals illegally, half going to the government and half to informers.

Massachusetts passed an immigration law requiring shipmas¬ters to furnish lists of passengers and prohibiting the landing of lame, impotent, or infirm persons, or those incapable of earning their own keep. Shipmasters were required to return those proscribed persons to their home country.

E. E. Proper, in his book Colonial Immigration Laws, attributes the political and religious spirit of the colonies, in part, to the restrictions and prohibitions that the different governments enacted prior to the American Revolution. Respectable settlers were welcomed. Criminals and paupers were not. The notion that even at the time of the American Revolution we were a “nation of immigrants” is imprecise. The trans-Atlantic migration of colonists and immigrants was relatively small during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. After the first few decades of the seventeenth century, most Americans were native born and most population increase was due to the natural increase of the resident population, not because of newcomers.

Benjamin Franklin observed in 1741 that the total colonial popu¬lation of about one million had been produced from a total foreign migration of less than eighty thousand over the 134 years preceding that date. The native American population increase was so dramatic that Thomas Malthus viewed the American colonies as an example of the extreme fecundity of which the human race is capable.

The native-born population was doubling every twenty years during the colonial period. In some sections it was doubling every fifteen years. Immigration was only a small contributor to the growth.

In recent years there has been an attempt to rewrite history by claiming that America is a “creedal nation,” without an ethnic core. And having no core nationality, an “American” is defined as someone who embraces a set of abstract ideas (liberty, equality, religious pluralism, free enterprise) that anyone can appreciate and accept. So, according to this argument, anyone in the world can become an “American.”

The antidote to such claims is found in the first census, of 1790. The white population at the beginning of our independent national life consisted of:

English 82.1
Scotch 7.0
Irish 1.9
Dutch 2.5
French 0.6
German 5.6
All Others 0.3

Out of a total white population of 2,810,248 in 1790, there were 2,345,844 of English descent. As they represented a reasonably close approximation of the population of England itself, we can see that they were Anglo-Saxon and predominantly Nordic.

Of the non-English portions of the founding population, an additional 8.9 percent hailed from other parts of the British Isles. The German element, almost all of whom came from the Rhineland-Palatinate, was of Nordic and Alpine descent. And the Dutch were a Northern European people.

The significance of this was not lost on the Republic’s Founders. John Jay, later to become the first chief justice of the Supreme Court, in Federalist No. 2, was grateful that “Providence has been pleased to give this one connected country to one united people—a people descended from the same ancestors, speaking the same language, professing the same religion, attached to the same principles of government, very similar in their manners and customs.”

Americans were, in the words of Henry Pratt Fairchild, the distinguished professor of sociology at New York University, “a physically homogeneous race, composed almost wholly of native-born descendants of native-born ancestors, of a decidedly English type, but with a distinct character of its own. This was the great stock from which the people of the United States grew, and upon which all subsequent additions must be regarded as extra-neous grafts.”


Anonymous said...

"In 1619, the Dutch dropped off the first African slaves, commencing a racial problem that has bedeviled American civilization ever since."

Damn that Dutch sea captain for all eternity.

Anonymous said...

"passengers and prohibiting the landing of lame, impotent, or infirm persons, or those incapable of earning their own keep."

Part of the Ellis Island experience was that prospective immigrants had to walk up two flights of stairs.

Anonymous said...

"The notion that even at the time of the American Revolution we were a 'nation of immigrants' is imprecise. The trans-Atlantic migration of colonists and immigrants was relatively small during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries."

Those English and Scotch-Irish would have not thought of themselves as immigrants. Were subjects of the Crown living in British North America.