Start of a Trans-Atlantic Migration

Most historians will agree that the success of the American Revolution was the inspiration for more revolutions. Two that began in the 18th Century are the French Revolution and the not-well-known slave revolt in Haiti that started in 1791 and didn’t end until 1804.

The American Revolution ignited a movement of people across the Atlantic. The U.S. Census Bureau estimates 2.5 million souls were living in the Thirteen Colonies when the American Revolution started. This includes an estimated 460,000 slaves, of whom 10% or 46,000 were freemen.

During the eight years and four months of the American Revolution, 158,000 Loyalists and rebels died from all causes. Between 40,000 and 80,000 Loyalists either moved to Florida, Canada, or were evacuated by the British and taken to another one of their colonies. Using 60,000 as those who left, that leaves roughly 2.28 million left. Around 10,000 soldiers serving in the British Army (Germans and Brits) deserted or were POWs and decided to remain in the new United States at the war’s end. While it is a significant number, it barely moves the total population number.

So, again going back to U.S. Census data, the first census tallies the population at 3,929,214 in 1790, seven years after the American Revolution ended, the population of the new country grew by 1.7 million people. From that point on, the U.S. population grew by more than 30% every 10 years (see chart accompanying this post).

Why and where did the people come from?

Where is easy? Europe. The why is also easy, and the reasons haven’t changed in the 248 years the U.S. country has been in existence.

Life in Europe in the 17th and 18th Centuries was very different than it is today. The land a farmer tilled was owned by a noble family. The nobles took the profits leaving the farmer to live in poverty. What professions one could enter were dictated by the nobleman or the trade of your father.

School was limited to the landed gentry. Grievances against another individual were decided by the nobleman whom you served. Complain about the nobility, and one could find themselves either in jail or hanging from the end of a rope.

Religion? That was a matter for the state to decide. Depending on the state and the preference of the ruler. If you wanted to be a protestant in France, you were persecuted. Anti-Semitism was rampant and, in some countries, encouraged by the ruling class except when they needed money.

If the king/queen/duke/duchess ruling your country decided to go to war, if you were a male, you were drafted, and your chances of survival were grim. More soldiers died from disease than from enemy action.

Living in 17th and 18th Century Europe was a very bleak experience if one was not a member of the nobility.

This new country, the United States, offered something unique – hope for a better life, freedom to make choices about your life, opportunity to pursue one’s dreams, and land.

The reasons haven’t changed in 248 years (2023 – 1775). It is still why people are still flocking to the United States. So, the two questions asked in the First Congress in 1790 – who shall we let in? And what is the path to citizenship? – are still political issues today.

Image is a summary of the census data from the first 30 years of the United States showing the 30+% year-on-year population growth courtesy of .

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