Changing Colonial Population

Europeans in North America now outnumbered the native population, growing to over a quarter of a million in the late seventeenth century. The majority of people in society were laborers. In the New England Colonies, religious dissenters formed the bulk of the population, and in the Chesapeake colonies three-fourths of the immigrants in the seventeenth century were indentured servants.

The steadily inclining birth rates helped the population growth especially in New England after the 1650’s. In the second half of the seventeenth century the population of New England quadrupled simply by reproduction, partly due to the long life spans of those residing there. First-born men in these colonies could live to be about seventy-one, and women to about seventy, which was very impressive for this time period. After this generation, the average declined slightly but remained ten years above the English average and twenty years above the average in the southern colonies. This is most likely due to the cool climate, and access to fresh water that many in England did not have, as well as the absence of large populations that breed disease and epidemics.

The Southern conditions were much slower to improve, as the life expectancy for men was just about forty years, and slightly less for women. Many marriages only lasted about ten years, making widows, widowers, and orphans a substantial portion of the white population in the Chesapeake region. Also, the contaminated water as well as prevalence of diseases such as malaria contributed to this high mortality rate. Population growth in the region was very much simply due to immigration more than natural population increase.

The sex ratio improvement also contributed to natural increases in the population also. Three quarters of the white population in the Chesapeake were men. However, in the New England colonies which originally attracted more families, sixty percent of the population was men in 1650. More women gradually arrived which increased birth rate, which also evened out the ratio and by the end of the seventeenth century the sex ratio was steadily evening out.
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Improvements in medicine towards fighting typical ailments also helped out the population increase. The process of the childbirth was highly dangerous at this time because of lack of sterilization, and the ease of infection. Lack of medical knowledge made it easy for anyone to enter the widely not practiced field of medicine, and women were the main undertakers of this profession at the time. Midwives arose in this time period to aid in childbirth, but also in using herbs or other natural cures for the ill. They gained popularity external image humoralism.jpgbecause unlike practiced physicians they actually had relationships with those who they treated, which made them a threat to the typical male doctors. Medicine of the time was based on “humoralism” developed by Galen which was based on the idea of the four humors in the human body, that in balance made someone healthy. The techniques that were widely practiced in the seventeenth century were therefore: bleeding, purging, and expulsion. Midwives sought more humanitarian treatments like laxatives and “pukes”. However many Americans never received formal medical aid and learned to deal with sickness their own way.

Even though improvements in medicine, as well as rising birth rate and longevity, contributed to the population increase in North America in the seventeenth century, immigration still accounted for the majority of the increase beginning in the early eighteenth century. English immigration declined, and French, German, Swiss, Irish, Welsh, Scottish, and Scandinavian immigration increased. Earliest non-English immigrants came from France. Huguenots left France in droves, some traveling to North America, following the revoking of the Edict of Nantes. Hardships in religious practices in Germany contributed to their migration, especially Palatinate Germans, around 3,000 of which made their way to the New World. Scots-Irish or Scottish Presbyterians made up the majority of immigrants coming to North America because of their hardships in Ireland when England refused to export from Ulster, and outlawed their religion. They were not always welcomed into the New World and mostly inhabited lands that others would not, and were harsh in their treatment of Indians. Roman Catholics migrated primarily into North Carolina. Presbyterian Lowlanders coming from Scotland migrated mostly into Pennsylvania and New Jersey and established their religion in these areas. Roman Catholics who migrated to America blended in more smoothly abandoning their Roman Catholicism with their ethnic identity. From 1700 to 1775 immigration led to a population increase from 225,000 to over 2 million non-Indian’s in North America.