THE occupation of the continent of North America in the four centuries from 1500 to 1900 was one of the greatest folk movements in the history of mankind. Wave after wave of human beings surged across the Atlantic Ocean to the shores of the New World, where the immigrants multiplied and sent forth new waves, which, joining with those from Europe, moved westward across the continent. The motivating force of this migration was the belief of those who took part in it that they would ultimately find more satisfactory living conditions for themselves and their children on the frontier than in the old environment. Some of them sought freedom from interference in religious matters, some hoped to improve their social status, a few were drawn by the love of adventure or the desire to escape the consequences of past conduct, but the dominant motive of the great majority was economic--the desire to acquire property, to enjoy the fruits thereof, and to feel that their future and that of their families were provided for.
In the agricultural economy of the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries the principal form of property was land, and the lure of unoccupied land was the great magnet that drew the population westward. The amount of this unoccupied land was enormous, but all of it was subject to a claim of ownership. According to the prevalent theory the title to all newly discovered land was vested in the king. He might transfer the land of a whole colony to a company or to one or more proprietors, or he might dispose of it through his agents directly to settlers or speculators, as in the royal colonies. In the case of Pennsylvania the king granted the ownership of the land as well as jurisdiction over it to William Penn and his successors, and the settler who desired to own land had to acquire the title from the proprietor. To the founder the colony was a "Holy Experiment," but to his successors