If a foreigner asked an early American what life was like in America, the answer would depend greatly on where a person lived in the country. That was just as true in the 1700s as it is today.
Overall, America’s colonial population increased from about 250,000 in 1690 to 2.5 million in 1754, fueled by natural increase and political turmoil in Europe. Poor Scots-Irish immigrants settled in the wilderness of North Carolina and the Appalachian Mountains. Wealthier German immigrants fled war and religious persecution. They felt most welcome in Pennsylvania and pushed the frontier steadily westward.
This steady stream of non-English immigrants, combined with a significant American-born population, meant the New World was soon filled with people who had very little, if any, direct connection to England. Still, thousands of Americans fought on England’s behalf in four wars against Spanish, French, and Indian enemies.
In our modern, developed world, it can be difficult to imagine how isolated the colonies were from each other. We get news and information at the touch of a button. But in the 17th and 18th centuries, there were few roads that linked one colony to another, and few forms of information other than word of mouth. Most people received more news from Europe than from another region of America. So, each colony grew distinctly from the others, following the local patterns established by the earliest settlers.
Geography led New England to develop into a commercial and industrial region. The land and climate don’t support large-scale farming, but natural harbors made fishing, shipping, and shipbuilding profitable. Fast-moving rivers ran mills and machinery to manufacture goods. A strong working class developed.
Immigrants tended to come in families, and 90% of them lived in or near small villages along these rivers. Homes and businesses were literally built in rings around a common building, and there were often shared woodlands and pasture lands for livestock. Since New England farms were fairly small, homes were pretty close together.
This compact design encouraged commerce and made community schools practical. New England was the first region in which public education appeared. But the most important aspect of community life may have been the town meeting, held in the common building. These provided an opportunity for townsmen to voice their concerns and interests and planted the seeds of democratic government.