Pennsylvania Politics and the Growth of Democracy: 1740- 1776

By Theodore Thayer | Go to book overview

I
THE FRAME OF GOVERNMENT

T HE GROWTH AND DEVELOPMENT of Pennsylvania, first settled by the Quakers in 1682, was more rapid than that of any other English colony. By the middle of the Eighteenth Century (regardless of the fact that it had been next to the last colony founded by the English) it had surpassed in population all but Virginia and Massachusetts. At that time Pennsylvania had a population of about two hundred thousand. Twenty-five years later, on the eve of the Revolution, it had nearly doubled in population and was almost as populous as Virginia and Massachusetts.1

The growth of Philadelphia, the only city of any size in Pennsylvania before the Revolution, was no less rapid than the province. By 1750, with a population of nearly eighteen thousand, it could boast of being the largest city in the English colonies. A quarter century later, it had more than doubled in population, and ranked with the larger cities of the British Isles, with the exception of the metropolis of London.

The rapid increases in population in Pennsylvania resulted from a high birth rate and a great influx of German and Scots Irish immigrants in the Eighteenth Century. During the first quarter of the century nearly forty-five thousand Germans entered the province; in the next quarter the numbers were even greater. The Scots Irish immigration was nearly as heavy as the German: in the year 1729 alone over six thousand of these sturdy pioneers from northern Ireland entered the colony. By 1765, with a population of approximately three hundred thousand (excluding the Indians), Pennsylvania contained approximately equal proportions of English, Germans, and Scots Irish. These three groups represented about four-fifths of the population. Smaller numbers of Welsh, Scotch, French Huguenots, Swedes, Dutch, and Negroes made up most of the rest.

The remarkable growth of Pennsylvania was due in large part to the natural advantages of the province. A temperate climate, ample rainfall, and wide reaches of fertile land made it the principal grain colony in America. A natural outlet to the sea was provided by the Delaware River. Besides the soil, the province was rich in timber, iron ore, furs, and other natural resources which could be readily utilized. With surprising rapidity, the settlers converted the vast

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1
Evarts B. Greene, American Population before the Federal Census of 1790, 115-116; Struthers Burt, Philadelphia, Holy Experiment, 143.

-1-

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