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Toolbox Library, primary resources thematically organized with notes and discussion questionsOnline Seminars, professional development seminars for history and literature teachersBecoming American: The British Atlantic Colonies, 1690-1763
Becoming American: The British Atlantic Colonies, 1690-1763
Theme: GrowthTheme: PeoplesTheme: EconomiesTheme: IdeasTheme: American
Theme: Growth

Philip George Friedrich von Reck sketches of Ebenezer, Georgia, 1736
sketches of Ebenezer, Georgia, 1736
New Settlers
- Irish in Pennsylvania: letter & journal, 1725, 1737-42 (PDF)
- French in Virginia: reports on a new settlement, early 1700s (PDF)
- Germans and Swiss in North Carolina: letters and journals, 1710-11, 1752-53 (PDF)
- Scots-Irish in South Carolina: settler's memoir of 1734, written 1780 (PDF)
- Germans in Georgia: journals, 1734 (PDF)
- Maps and drawings of new settlements:

In the 1700s, far fewer English emigrated to the colonies than in the previous century (from 350,000 to 80,000—a 77% decrease). England needed to keep its native labor supply at home while increasing its colonial population across the ocean. Recruitment was the answer, and England recruited mainland Europeans aggressively, offering inducements including free passage, land, and provisions. "More than any other eighteenth-century empire," stresses historian Alan Taylor, "the British relied on foreign emigrants for human capital"—primarily Scots, Germans, and enslaved Africans.1 Between 1700 and 1775, 145,000 Scots and 100,000 Germans arrived, many fleeing economic hardship, religious persecution, and political upheaval (often all three). The human reality behind the numbers was readily apparent in Pennsylvania, the fastest growing colony, where the population "exploded" from 18,000 in 1700 to 120,000 by 1750.2

In this section we will explore the experiences of Europeans who came to the mainland colonies in the 1700s as unbound settlers, i.e., not indentured or enslaved. As suggested earlier, compare their positions for and against emigration with those expressed by seventeenth-century emigrants in the toolbox American Beginnings.

  • Irish in Pennsylvania. In 1790 Irish colonists and their descendants made up one fourth of the white settlers in Pennsylvania, and substantial minorities in other colonies.3 Among them were Robert Parke, a well-to-do Quaker from Dublin, and Francis Cample, a Catholic from northern Ireland. Parke emigrated with his parents and several siblings in 1724 and soon purchased land near Philadelphia. In a letter to relatives back in Ireland, he dispels the rumor that they were not "satifyed in Coming here, which was utterly False" and encourages them to come to America, "it being the best Country for working folk & tradesmen of any in the world." Francis Cample emigrated in 1734 and became a successful merchant, farmer, and land agent in Cumberland Valley. We read entries from his lively journal describing the creation of the town Shippensburg.
    • - Robert Parke, Pennsylvania, letter to Mary and Thomas Valentine, Ireland, 10 October 1725.
    • - Francis Cample, Journal, 1737-1742, excerpts.

  • French in Virginia. Many French Protestants (Huguenots) fleeing religious persecution emigrated to America via England, which granted them tracts of frontier land to settle. One such settlement was Manakin Town, created in 1700 on the James River near present-day Richmond, Virginia. From about 400 original settlers, the town had fewer than 150 by 1705, as the newcomers went to live on their farms instead of the town, and as their children became assimilated into the English culture. By 1750 the town no longer existed. Presented here are excerpts from several reports and documents from the first years of the town.
    • - Petition of the French refugees to Francis Nicholson, governor of Virginia, 1700; Report on the French emigration by Francis Nicholson, governor of Virginia, 1700; Descriptions of Manikin Town by William Byrd, 1701, and by Francis Louis Michel, 1702.

  • Germans & Swiss in North Carolina. The new settlements of New Bern (1710) and Bethabara (1753) have markedly different histories—most notably one's success and the other's failure. New Bern, founded near the coast by Swiss and German refugees fleeing war and religious persecution, failed after several years of hardship including Indian wars, disease, and lack of supplies. Bethabara, founded in the backcountry by German Moravians from Pennsylvania, flourished and led to the group's permanent settlement at Salem. To study the towns' founding and fate, we read from founders' accounts—the memoir of New Bern's founder and the diaries of Bethabara's founder and earliest settlers.
    • - Christoph von Graffenried, Account of the Founding of New Bern, 1711, excerpts.
    • - Rev. August Gottlieb Spangenberg, Diary, 1752-1753, excerpts.
    • - Moravian Brethren, Bethabara Diary, 1753-1754.

  • Scots-Irish in South Carolina. While most emigrants from Ireland, Scotland, and England traveled to Philadelphia, the family of James Witherspoon joined the several thousand emigrants from Ireland who settled in South Carolina in the 1730s. The family was Scots-Irish, as Witherspoon's parents were among the thousands of Scot Presbyterians who had fled economic hardship in Scotland several decades earlier. In 1731, the family took an enticing package offered to the Scots-Irish by the English governor of South Carolina—land, money, tools, and provisions for a year—to settle in the Carolina backcountry. With the family was six-year-old Robert, who wrote a memoir of the experience half a century later.
    • - Robert Witherspoon, Memoir, written 1780.

  • Germans in Georgia. In 1734 the town of Ebenezer was founded inland from Savannah by German Protestants fleeing persecution in central Europe. Here we read side-by-side entries from two leaders' journals describing the group's arrival and the siting and provisioning of the new town. Compare their day-by-day entries with those of the Moravians in North Carolina who record the earliest days of the Bethabara settlement in the 1750s (Germans and Swiss in North Carolina, above).
    • - P. G. F. von Reck and Rev. Johann Bolzius, Journals, in An Extract of the Journals of Mr. Commissary Von Reck, Who Conducted the First Transport of Saltzburgers to Georgia [1734]: and of the Reverend Mr. Bolzius, One of their Ministers, 1736, excerpts.

View the maps and drawings (zoomable and/or pannable) while reading the texts. What do they add to your understanding about the experience of creating new towns and settlements? (36 pages.)

Discussion questions
  1. Overall, what impressions do you get from these readings, maps, and drawings of new settlements in the British mainland colonies?
  2. What impressions do you get of the new settlers? of the founders and leaders?
  3. For what reasons are the new settlements and towns created?
  4. What factors contribute to the success or failure of the settlements? of the individual settlers?
  5. What factors that you would expect to influence the settlers' fate are not mentioned in the accounts and reports? Why might this be so?
  6. What are distinguishing features of settlements created by refugees from persecution in Europe?
  7. Compare texts written by:
    • - a leader, a settler, and a governor, e.g., the Bolzius journal, the Witherspoon memoir, and the Nicholson report
    • - two or three leaders, e.g., the Spangenburg, von Graffenried, and Bolzius accounts
    • - colonists in failed and successful settlements, e.g., Shippensburg, New Bern, Bethabara, Manakin Town, Ebenezer, and Frederica
    • - settlers who came alone or as families, with those who came in organized groups, e.g., Joseph Campble and James Witherspoon with the settlers of Bethabara and Ebenezer.
  8. Compare reports written by settlers, e.g., Robert Parke and Robert Witherspoon, with those written by visitors to new settlements, e.g., Johann Bolzius (Savannah) and William Byrd and Francis Louis Michel (Manakin Town). What is emphasized in each? What is missing from each?
  9. Compare settlers' texts (letters and private journals) with accounts published by towns' founders or leaders. What information and impressions does a reader gain from each kind of text?
  10. Describe the inducements offered by Britain to encourage emigration to its American colonies. How effective were these inducements, from what you read in these texts?
  11. Reread the texts on the decision to emigrate in #3: Coming to America. What lines of encouragement would you add to David Lindsey's letter? What lines of warning would you add to the Irish poem, "The New Island"?
  12. Study the town maps and drawings. What is most important to the founders and builders of a new town? Where are settlers' residences? What other structures are planned? Why?
  13. Compare these texts with those by indentured Europeans and enslaved Africans describing their first experiences in America (sections 3 & 5). How are they similar? different?

Framing Questions
  •  What factors fostered or hindered the growth of the British Atlantic colonies (that later became the United States of America) from 1690 to 1763?
  •  How did the European colonists respond to the growing diversity among them—by religion, ethnicity, economic status, and country of origin?
  •  How did the colonies’ growth affect Native Americans and enslaved Africans?
  •  How were the inhabitants’ concepts of liberty and rights affected by the colonies’ growth?
  •  List the power relationships that influenced the colonies in this period, e.g., between the colonies and England, the colonies and the French and Spanish on their borders, the settlers and the Native Americans, the clergy and their congregants, the southern planters and their servants and slaves, etc. How did the totality of these power relationships affect the colonies’ growth and self-perception?

Irish in Pennsylvania:  6
French in Virginia:  7
Germans & Swiss in North Carolina:  9
Scots-Irish in South Carolina:  3
Germans in Georgia: 11
View maps & engravings online.    
TOTAL 36 pages
Supplemental Sites

Account of the Founding of New Bern (North Carolina), by Christoph von Graffenried, full text in DocSouth

Records of the Moravians in North Carolina, edited by Aledaide Fries et al., full text from North Carolina Historical Publications

1 Alan S. Taylor, American Colonies: The Settling of North America (New York: Viking/Penguin, 2001), p. 303.

2 Ibid., pp. 316-17, 320.

3 Kerby A. Miller, et al., eds., Irish Immigrants in the Land of Canaan: Letters and Memoirs from Colonial and Revolutionary America, 1675-1815 (Oxford University Press, 2003), p. 7.

Images: Philip George Friedrich von Reck, sketches depicting the construction of the settlement of Ebenezer, Georgia, 1736; details. Collections of the Royal Library (Det Kongelige Bibliotek), Copenhagen, Denmark. Reproduced by permission.

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1. The Colonies: 1690-1715   2. Cities & Towns   3. Coming to America
4. New Settlers   5. Servants & Slaves   6. New Colonies
7. Indian Lands   8. The Land   9. The Colonies: 1720-1763

TOOLBOX: Becoming American: The British Atlantic Colonies, 1690-1763
Growth | Peoples | Economies | Ideas | American

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