The Thirteen Colonies of what would later become the United States were firmly established by 1700 and exhibited few signs of the phenomenal growth that lay ahead. Fewer than 300,000 colonists occupied the scattered settlements along the Atlantic coast at that time. In the middle and southern colonies, where the coastal plain extended far inland, settlement had just begun to spill beyond the fall line (head of navigation by seagoing vessels) toward the foothills of the Appalachians. Seventy-five years later, 2.5 million Americans blanketed the eastern seaboard and, here and there, had pushed even beyond the mountain barrier.
A high birth rate explained part of the population increase, for strong sons and healthy daughters were an obvious answer to the problem of the scanty labor supply. Vastly more important was a flood of immigration, part voluntary and part involuntary, that attained its greatest volume after the Peace of Utrecht in 1713, which ended the War of Spanish Succession in Europe. Afterward, many Rhineland Germans, Scotch-Irish, French Huguenots, Swiss, Irish, Scots, and Spanish and Portuguese Jews sought new lives in a new world.
The French Huguenots achieved disproportionate importance among the newcomers, even though they were few in number, because of their comparatively high level of culture and wealth. Essentially urban dwellers, they were attracted to the more thickly settled areas. Almost every colonial city had its Huguenot contingent, but the real stronghold of the Huguenots was Charleston, South Carolina. By the middle of the 18th-century, French influence had stamped itself upon the dress, manners, and architecture of Charleston.
The Germans settled largely in the middle and southern colonies and were far more numerous. Attempts were made to guide some of them into industry, but the vast majority preferred to push on to the frontier and become small farmers. Large numbers moved to the Pennsylvania frontier, where they acted as a valuable buffer for the older colonies to the east.
The Scotch-Irish were the most aggressive of the frontiersmen. They, too, found their way to the backcountry of the middle and southern colonies, chiefly Pennsylvania. Famed as Indian fighters, they helped to protect the older colonies and, at the same time, because of their fiery temperament and frontiersman’s contempt for authority, they made infinite trouble for the governments nearer the coast.
Of the other immigrant groups, the Swiss settled mainly in the Carolinas; the Irish Catholics in Maryland and Pennsylvania; the Scots in Virginia, South Carolina, and Massachusetts; and the Jews in such metropolitan centers as Charleston, Philadelphia, New York, and Newport, Rhode Island.
These people came of their own free will, but the largest non-English element in the colonies came involuntarily. By 1775, perhaps a fifth of the colonial population consisted of African American slaves. The spread of the plantation system in the southern colonies created a demand for slave labor, and by the close of the colonial period approximately six out of seven slaves resided south of the Mason-Dixon line. Slaves made up 40% of the population in Virginia and 60% in South Carolina.
Cities and towns reflected the population boom. In 1700, Boston was the colonial metropolis with 7,000 people, and only Philadelphia came close, with 5,000. By 1775, however, Philadelphia’s population had risen to 34,000, making her the largest city, and 11 other cities had passed the 5,000 mark. During the same period, colonial towns increased in number by 3 and 1/2. But the urban centers could accommodate only a fraction of the mushrooming population. The rest turned to the west and pushed beyond the 17-century colonial borders.
In 1700, settlements dotted the seaboard from Penobscot Bay, in present Maine, southward to the Edisto River in South Carolina. They were not continuous, and only in the valley of the Hudson River had they penetrated inland more than 100 miles. Seventy years later, however, settlement had spread down the coast another 150 miles, to the St. Marys River, and inland 200 miles and more, to the crest of the Appalachians. At intervals the restless frontier had swept beyond the Appalachian crest: in the south, to the headwaters of the Clinch and Holston Rivers; in the north, up the eastern shore of Lake Champlain and west along the Mohawk Valley, with the lonely outpost of Fort Ontario, on Lake Ontario; in the center was the French post of Fort Duquesne, and settlement continued 150 miles down the Ohio River.
The westward movement flowed continuously but not evenly. Before 1754 it was slowed by the hostility of Indian tribes angered by the English invasion and incited by French and Spanish agents. In western Pennsylvania, where Indian resistance was weaker than elsewhere, settlement had crossed the mountains before the outbreak of the French and Indian War. But during the next nine years, the frontier line receded to the east side of the Appalachians, and in 1763, with French power crushed, England sought to reserve the trans-Appalachian country to the Indians. The colonists were not to be stopped, however. Before the outbreak of the American Revolution, they were firmly established in the upper Ohio Valley.
Expansion and Conflict
The population growth and territorial expansion of the English colonies produced collisions. The French, the Spanish, and the Indians all contested English pretensions in the 18th century. The French proved most formidable. Numerically inferior to the English and scattered in tiny islands throughout the wilderness, they nevertheless possessed important advantages. They had an authoritarian rather than a representative government. While the English depended mainly on poorly trained militia led by inexperienced officers, the French fielded disciplined regulars commanded by the best officers of France. While the colonial legislatures haggled and denied money and troops, the French could manipulate efficiently their money, men, and supplies. And whereas the colonies dealt individually with the Indians, and for the most part tactlessly, the French executed a uniform Indian policy with some skill.
The earliest clash of the 18th-century was Queen Anne’s War, which broke out in 1702. In this New World counterpart of the War of the Spanish Succession, the French and Spanish joined in an 11-year struggle with the English. On the southern borders of the English Colonies, South Carolinians in 1702 destroyed the Spanish town of St. Augustine and in 1704 wrecked the Spanish mission system in western Florida. Two years later they repulsed a joint French-Spanish attack on Charleston. On the northern borders, a series of barbarous French attacks on New England settlements, notably on Deerfield, Massachusetts in 1704, led to a series of retaliatory expeditions against Port Royal, which was captured in 1710. The war finally ended with the signing of the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713.
The Treaty of Utrecht was designed to ensure peace through the maintenance of a balance of power, but it soon became evident that a piece of paper could not restrain the English colonists. In 1716, Virginia’s bold Lieutenant Governor, Alexander Spotswood, dramatized the possibilities of westward expansion by leading the “Knights of the Golden Horseshoe” across the Blue Ridge. Ten years later, New Yorkers ignored French claims and planted Fort Oswego on the shores of Lake Ontario. To the south, on lands claimed by Spain, James Oglethorpe founded a new English colony in present-day Georgia in 1733.