“The Peopling of British North America” by Bernard Bailyn

The book The Peopling of British North America by Bernard Bailyn presents unique facts and data, discussions and arguments which show that the Frontier has ag reta impact on American history and development of the nation. A frontier line determined lifestyle and culture, language and religious uniqueness of settlers. As the various colonies developed and population expanded into the interior, the need arose for more accurate maps. This new migration drew to the New World large numbers of people who were neither English nor African. While trickles of Scottish prisoners of war, dispossessed Irish, and religious dissenters from throughout the British Isles had added some variety to seventeenth-century English North America, major flows of other Europeans in the 1700s, particularly Britishs and Irish, began to change the character of British American society. They helped make it more diverse in nationality, ethnicity, religion, and language, a diversity that modern historians take for granted as much as other present-day Americans. Thesis the frontier can be seen as a “line of expiration and settlement”1 which created new social and economic relations for newcomers.

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Bridging the ocean -linking desire for a better life to its realization in the New World -became a distinct business that specialized in relocating people from one side of the Atlantic to the other, with forms that could be transferred readily from one group of potential immigrants to another. This replacing of the rather unsystematic “trade in strangers” of the 1600s with more modern methods promoted the vast and continuous transoceanic migration that did so much to make American society what it is today2. Over time, official policies and popular attitudes about migration changed on both sides of the ocean and affected the process of relocation. In Europe, most seventeenth- and eighteenth-century societies had extremely restrictive — or at least highly selective — population policies that regulated both emigration and immigration. The basis for this policy was the mercantilist conviction that a vital part of a country’s riches was the people.

In competition for colonists from the lands, the projects for settlement in the British North American colonies differed from those organized by Prussia, Austria, Russia, France, and Spain in two fundamental ways. First, the campaign for settlers involved many different interests that were not ultimately defined and funded by the authority of one particular government3. Transatlantic recruitment efforts were not concerted drives. Second, promoters depended in large part on colonists who were able to pay the substantial costs of relocating overseas, because most settlement projects did not assume transportation expenses. Both characteristics meant that the common promotion and recruitment methods needed to be modified, and it was these modifications that shaped the migration flow across the Atlantic. Promoters ranged from European and colonial governments to smallscale operators with interests in a wide geographical area, from Nova Scotia to Georgia and including coastal regions, as well as areas along the frontiers of European settlement. areas of New World land into profitable ventures, American landlords and speculators made use of any connections they had or could readily establish in the Rhine lands, in order to tap the reservoir of potential emigrants4.

The frontier was a unique line between pats and future of people. Immigrants came from different European backgrounds into competition with each other as they sought to capitalize on opportunities and consolidate their gains to form a solid foundation from which their American-born and -raised children could launch their own lives successfully. “Ethnicity,” as scholars of more modern migrations have called it, helped newcomers to negotiate space and acquire a sense of their contribution to the greater whole, a sense of belonging in American life. Most newcomers soon recognized and celebrated their achievements and their role in what America was becoming, not just their ability to stay apart from what was going on around them5. Their life was determined by the history of American land. For instance, successful transplantation of Old World traditions could occur most easily in settlements where newcomers from the same region, of the same religious background, clustered in sufficient number with adequate resources, and under competent and stable leadership. Other kinds of “success” in American terms were better achieved by quickly learning to work with others in conditions of mixed settlement and mutual interdependence.

By the late colonial period, the children and grandchildren of immigrants were no longer simply “Irish” in terms of the origins of their forebears but a complex blend of memories of the homeland, experiences in America, and re-creations of an Old World past they no longer knew firsthand but could now afford to cultivate, once they felt secure in their place in American society. Before the nineteenth and twentieth centuries arrived, it had become commonplace for the new society to develop by including and incorporating a broader and broader array of strangers6. The different nature of the Irish immigration during most of the 1700s also affected the character of settlement in the colonies and how immigrants were integrated into American society and culture. People from Ireland were scattered throughout American settlements on the eastern seaboard more broadly, because crucial connections between several colonial and Irish ports had developed in the 1600s and were extended and maintained along lines of various mercantile, religious, and regional interests throughout the eighteenth century7. Most of those networks were anchored in the Irish communities of the major colonial harbors — the first stop on the way to a new life in America. Many Irish immigrants, however, settled in the rural areas of the backcountry, because most of them arrived with limited resources. Many were only in their teens and had little choice in the matter until they gained freedom from their masters. The frontier regions offered land and employment, and as settlement expanded westward Irish immigrants followed until the wave of the emigration from Ulster crested in the last quarter of the century as new land opened up beyond the Appalachian mountains.

During the peak of the immigration, the kinds of newcomers who sought indenture became more diverse, and the masters who employed them represented a broader socioeconomic group. Under such circumstances, training was more an economic necessity — the newcomers needed the work for room and board and could not be choosy about the skills they would acquire during their time of service. This successful broadening of the pool from which immigrants to the American colonies were recruited resulted in a decline in opportunities in the immediate Delaware Valley region, as the land was taken up and the labor supply expanded8.

How newcomers were integrated into life in the colonies depended not only on opportunities for immigrants in general but also on the financial circumstances of the passengers, the conditions of the voyage, and the kind of support they received from those already settled in the New World. Success was relatively easier to obtain for Rhineland immigrants who arrived in the beginning phase of the migration, who brought some capital or labor, and who could count on assistance from kin or former neighbors in learning the ways of the land and in setting up household, farm, or shop. Earning a decent living proved to be more elusive for those who came later, for those who had limited means, for those who had been exploited on their journey, and for those who had only strangers to help them gain a foothold in the new land. As the wave of immigration crested and then tapered off, British newcomers found it more difficult to realize the American dream9.

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The onset of the American Revolution virtually finished off substantial British immigration to and through Pennsylvania. Not only was Pennsylvania comparatively less attractive for British immigrants by the time of the war, but changes taking place in Europe also drew heavy numbers of settlers to the East, where relocation reached its peak in the 1760s10. The combination of American warfare (first for independence and then with various European powers) and East European redevelopment almost stopped British immigration to the newly formed Republic. When, years later, the migration to America resumed, Pennsylvania received only a small portion of the flow, because the pioneering settlements that first anchored and then extended new migration networks now were established farther west.

In this they were soon encouraged by land speculators for other colonies who hoped to profit from settling foreign Protestants but who were generally unwilling to bear the cost of transatlantic transportation themselves — a decisive disadvantage in the competition for immigrants, many of whom needed credit as soon as they arrived. At the same time, the growing financial dependence of later migrants on the merchants who channeled the emigration flow to Philadelphia decreased the options for newly arrived settlers, who had to compete in ever larger numbers to find work to pay off their passage debts and to accumulate enough capital to start out on their own11.

All those options toward paying part or all the fare upon arrival depended on certain circumstances in the American colonies that would make it possible to absorb additional settlers and their labor. In effect, the risk of financing the credit that merchants extended in European ports was passed on to those in the American colonies who were willing to invest in immigrants — primarily their labor and the British wares they had brought with them. Throughout the eighteenth century, it must be realized, European emigrants could choose from a variety of destinations for future settlement — America was far from the only choice12.

In sum, the frontier was a unique line between the Old and the New Worlds, between past and future of people. Thus, new social and economic conditions changed people and their views. The new social conditions were opportunities in America, news of which was spread by informants ranging from professional promoters to family members and personal friends. These drew potential settlers, or instead made them less eager to start a new life in the New World. These forces were separated by thousands of miles of dangerous ocean and by weeks of difficult and expensive travel to reach the ocean in the first place. Thus, the third essential element in determining how migration first flowed and then ebbed, who came and when, what expectations and resources they brought to the new society, and how successfully they fitted in was a trade run by merchants who could find profit in the business of moving large numbers of people from Europe to America. These entrepreneurs exercised decisive control in shaping and directing the flow of emigrants as they took advantage of the considerable demand for settlers and servants in the colonies.

Bibliography

Bailyn, B. The Peopling of British North America. Vintage, 1988.

Footnotes

  1. Bailyn, B. The Peopling of British North America. (Vintage, 1988), 17.
  2. Bailyn, B. The Peopling of British North America. (Vintage, 1988) 28,
  3. Ibid., 39.
  4. Ibid., 94.
  5. Bailyn, B. The Peopling of British North America. (Vintage, 1988) 95, 97,
  6. Ibid., 97.
  7. Bailyn, B. The Peopling of British North America. (Vintage, 1988) 95, 90
  8. Bailyn, B. The Peopling of British North America. (Vintage, 1988) 95, 91
  9. Ibid., 125.
  10.  Ibid. 116.
  11. Bailyn, B. The Peopling of British North America. (Vintage, 1988) 95, 115.
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