Immigration into the American Colonies

Across the eighteenth century demand for labor and for colonial settlers remained high. Between 1700 and 1775 over 300,000 Europeans immigrated to the 13 mainland American colonies. They were nearly evenly divided between free and unfree migrants who, as indentured servants, convicts, or prisoners of war, arrived owing terms of service of lengths varying from a few months (in the case of the most fortunate) to 14 years for convicts who had committed serious crimes. In the mainland British colonies more servants arrived between 1700 and 1775 than came in the 1600s. An increase in the number of German and Irish servants more than offset a decline in servants leaving from England.

The movement of bound workers was part of a marked increase in all forms of immigration, especially after 1760. From 1760 to 1775, roughly 125,000 people emigrated from the British Isles alone. More is known about the ethnic composition of the eighteenth century migrant flow than about the number that went to individual colonies or regions. North and South Ireland is estimated to have supplied the most migrants, followed by Germany. Ulster migrants typically arrived in free family groups, while most southern Irish came as servants.

After 1700 the Middle Colonies and the Lower South attracted many more migrants than did New England or the Chesapeake. Free migrants moving in family groups were much more likely to go to the Middle Colonies and to the Southern backcountry where farmers had the best chances for acquiring land. Pennsylvania was a magnet for both indentured servants and migrants able to pay their own passage costs.

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