I. A Growing Population and Expanding Economy in British North America
New England experienced a tremendous population explosion during the eighteenth
century, rising from 250,000 colonists in 1700 to over 2 million in 1770.
The growth and diversity of the colonial population in the eighteenth century stemmed
from both natural increases and immigration, which shifted the ethnic and racial balance
of the colonies.
The colonial economy also expanded during the eighteenth century.
In 1700, nearly all the colonists lived within fifty miles of the Atlantic coast.
The almost limitless wilderness stretching westward made land relatively cheap; land
used for agriculture was worthless without labor and with the rapidly expanding economy
the demand for labor in the colonies was high.
II. New England: From Puritan Settlers to Yankee Traders
A. Natural Increase and Land Distribution
The burgeoning New England population grew mostly by natural increase, much as it had
during the seventeenth century, and soon pressed against the limited amount of land.
By the eighteenth century, the original land allotments had to be subdivided to
accommodate grandsons and great-grandsons, causing many plots of land to become too
small for subsistence.
During the eighteenth century, colonial governments in New England abandoned the
seventeenth-century policy of granting land to towns and sold land directly to individuals,
Money, rather than membership in a community bound by a church covenant, determined
whether a person could buy land; settlement on individual farms meant that colonists
regulated their behavior in newly settled areas by their own individual choices and not
those of a larger community.
B. Farms, Fish, and Atlantic Trade
New England farmers grew food for their families, but their fields did not produce a huge
As consumers, New England farmers were the foundation of a diversified commercial
economy that linked remote farms to markets throughout the world.
Fish accounted for more than one-third of New England's eighteenth-century exports;
livestock and timber made up another one-third; Atlantic commerce provided jobs for
laborers, tradesmen, ship captains, clerks, merchants, and sailors.
Merchants, the largest and most successful of whom lived in Boston, dominated New
England commerce; by 1770 the richest five percent of Bostonians owned half of the