a stampede of immigrants to america -- 10/07/19

Today's selection -- from Voyagers to the West by Bernard Bailyn. By 1760, what had been a steady increase in the number of emigrants from the Old World to America turned into a stampede, dramatically increasing the population of America and noticeably altering the balance of power between the two continents by as early as the 1770s:

"The number of towns founded annually in New England tripled, from an average of six per year before 1760 to eighteen per year after 1760 -- a total of 283 between 1760 and 1776, as some 20,000 migrants moved north across the border of Massachu­setts, up through the broad corridor of the Connecticut River, and west from coastal New Hampshire. By 1776 all of New Hampshire save the northeast corner had been staked out and much of it at least thinly settled. The area of cultivation in Maine had doubled, and wide strips of land along both the east and west borders of Vermont -- almost none of which had been settled in 1760 -- had been surveyed for towns and individual grants. New England's population as a whole rose 59% between 1760 and 1780. ... New York's population rose 39% between 1760 and 1770 and 29% more in the decade that followed. ...

"In few colonies did geology so completely dictate the pattern of expan­sion as it did in Pennsylvania. In 1760, after eighty years of settlement, the population was still almost completely confined to the gentle rolling plains in the southeastern corner of the colony, a fertile triangle blocked off by the diagonal barrier of the deep Appalachian ridges and valleys, formed as if by 'some cosmic rake' ... dragged the length of the mountains. Behind that severe ridge system lay the 1,500-foot-high escarpment of the Allegheny Front. Only west of that natural wall could one find the table land of the Appalachian Plateau, itself a formidable mountain land but intersected with twisting streams and capable of development into useful upland farms.

"To this region of southwestern Pennsylvania migrants moved in large numbers in the 1760s and '70s, despite all the difficulties of traversing the ridges and clearing the hilly upland terrain. ... The speed of this expansion into southwestern Pennsylvania was even more remarkable than the rocketing of settlers north along the Connecticut and Hudson rivers and into the Mohawk salient of New York. The day the land office opened at Fort Pitt in 1769, 2,790 applicants appeared; one million acres of southwestern Pennsylvania land were granted in the first four months. By 1771, 10,000 families were living on this trans-Appalachian frontier of Pennsylvania, which had been a wilderness only a decade before; farming establishments covered the land within a radius of 150 miles south of Fort Pitt. Pennsylvania's population rose 40% between 1760 and 1776.

A new map of North America from Continuation of the Complete History of England by Tobias Smollett, London 1760-61

"But this expansion into the southwestern segment of Pennsylvania, remarkable as it was, was not the most important population movement in that colony. A veritable tumult of migrants was pouring southwest out of Pennsylvania, through the Cumberland Valley and its parent valley system, the Great Valley of the Appalachians, into western Virginia, into north­western North Carolina, and into the eastern fringes of Tennessee. ...

"How many thousands of migrants flocked through this heavily traveled route of expansion in the fifteen years after 1760 is not known. What is known is that by the late 1750s, even before the major migrations of the 1760s, 2,000 settlers were passing south every year through the Shenandoah Valley – these in excess of the new arrivals who settled permanently in the valley. By 1776 the Shenandoah had a population 35,000; and Virginia's entire western borderland (the Great Valley together with the southwestern Piedmont) contained more than twice that many settlers. In the 1960s the population of the whole of southwestern Virginia was growing at the rate of 9% a year, hence doubling every eight years, and the expansion of settled land was equally swift.

"But while the population of western Virginia grew continuously through this period and more and more unworked land was brought under cultivation, most of that colony had at least been explored before 1763 and thinly settled. That was not true of North Carolina. There the rush into new, altogether unsettled and little-known territory was equivalent to the opening of northern New England and New York and of southwestern Pennsylvania. The inflow of immigrants to North Carolina seeking parcels of fresh land seemed to contemporaries to be a stampede. One observer noted that between January and October 1755, 5,000 migrants crossed the James River in southern Virginia heading for North Carolina, and that the numbers were increasing daily. In 1763 Benjamin Franklin estimated that in the previous three years 10,000 families had migrated to North Carolina from Pennsylvania alone -- a guess, to be sure, but roughly substantiated by the overall population figures and by the extent of new land opened to cultivation. In 1766 an observer in Salisbury, North Caro­lina, which like Fort Pitt was strategically located athwart major westward routes, reported that 1,000 wagons rumbled through the town en route to the west in the autumn and winter months alone."


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Bernard Bailyn


Voyagers to the West


Vintage Books


Copyright 1986 by Bernard Bailyn


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