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The Road to the Revolution: 1691-1775

From shaky settlements clinging to the edge of a wild continent, the 13 colonies grew to become prosperous and increasingly independent. Surviving colonial wars with the French and their American Indian allies gave colonists confidence. Being able to make a good living by farming, building ships, and trading showed the early residents of British North America that they could take care of themselves. Life was good, and as land and income grew, so did the population: More than five times as many people lived in the colonies in the 1770s as had made their homes there in the 1690s. With growth came opposition to being told what to do by England.


The early colonies of New England, including Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, and New Hampshire, supported themselves by fishing and small family farms. The early Southern colonies of Virginia, Delaware, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia made their money on large plantations growing rice and tobacco. The Middle colonies of New York, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey were also in the middle economically, with medium-sized farms growing medium-sized crops of grain and raising cattle.

Between 1691 and 1775, the American colonies grew quickly, thanks mostly to immigration. In 1700, the 13 original colonies had only 250,000 people. Just 50 years later, the population had quintupled to 1.25 million. The colonists had plenty of children, but America also attracted immigrants by the thousands, including people from outside of England as well as 200,000 slaves from Africa. Canada was the largest British colony, and Jamaica was the richest, but the 13 colonies were the most popular places to settle because their good land grew rich crops. The colonies were 90 percent farms; the population of New York City in 1700 was only 5,000 people.

In the early days, around 5 percent of the settlers were other Europeans, such as Germans, Swedes, Dutch, Irish, Welsh, and Scots. None of these non-English people felt any great love for their English rulers. Even early on, the new land was the most multicultural area in the world, especially the ethnically rich Middle colonies of Pennsylvania and New York. Beyond the fittingly named New England, by the time of the Revolution, half the people of the colonies weren't from England — about a third of the signers of the Declaration of Independence originated from the world beyond that island nation. The following sections list the most prominent groups to move to the American colonies during this time.


England, Britain, the United Kingdom . . . how many names can a little-but-mighty island have? England is the biggest part of the island called Britain, which is about the size of California and is a few miles off the west coast of Europe. Great Britain evolved politically from the gradual union of England and Scotland, which started in 1603 with the Union of Crowns and slid into the Acts of Union in 1707, when the parliaments of the two nations merged into the Kingdom of Great Britain. Over time, the kingdom added Wales and Ireland and took the name United Kingdom. After 1700, the mother country of the colonies can be referred to by either the more inclusive Britain or by its original name, England.

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