Colonial Pennsylvania: A History

By Joseph E. Illick | Go to book overview

5
TRANSPLANTS: AFRICAN AND EUROPEAN IMMIGRANTS IN THE EIGHTEENTH CENTURY

Growth was the most striking feature of the American colonies in the eighteenth century. An estimated quarter of a million inhabitants in 1700 quintupled to a million and a quarter in just half a century. Figures are indeed difficult to come by, but it may be safely stated that nowhere was the expansion of population so phenomenal as in Pennsylvania. Entering the century with something in the neighborhood of fifteen to twenty thousand people, the increase was more than tenfold over five decades. Immigration into the once-Quaker province was largely responsible for this gigantic leap, producing a society whose national and racial origins were more variegated than anywhere else on the Atlantic seaboard. Germans and some Swiss from the Palatinate region and Scots who reached America by way of northern Ireland composed the great bulk of these masses who joined English and Welsh settlers in Pennsylvania, but Africans were also part of the penetrating stream. They came as slaves, while a majority of the Europeans entered as servants.

This was hardly unusual. A majority of the people who settled in the American colonies south of New England came as servants. Next to slavery, indenture proved the easiest way to deal with labor as a commodity: it was profitable to recruiting agents, ship captains, and employers. That it was cruel to the servants themselves was not really a consideration. Rather, a legal contract binding a person to servitude was sanctioned by

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