As one of the earliest immigrant groups to North America, the British were responsible for some basic American cultural features, including language, laws, religion, education, and administration. They were also responsible for developing forms of trade and for creating strong American political and cultural links with Great Britain that have survived into the twenty-first century.
British immigration to what is now the United States has run in an unbroken line from 1607 into the twenty-first century. However, it has gone through major transformations over the centuries: The earliest British settlers were the first major immigration group, imposing their culture on newly settled territory; modern British immigrants have become an almost invisible group, whose members assimilate quickly into American culture. Never been culturally homogeneous, British immigrants have been made up of several subgroups. Scotland remained a separate country for the first hundred years of British immigration, and
The first phase of British–mainly English–-settlement in the North American colonies was centered on Virginia and New England, to be followed by Maryland, the Carolinas, and Pennsylvania. After the transfer of the Dutch colonies to British rule, British immigration developed in New York, New Jersey, and Delaware. Lastly came the Georgia settlement. British emigration was not confined to the colonies that would later become the United States, however.
The main colonies of
In contrast, British colonies in New England were founded by more principled immigrants, many of whom left England for
In practical and organizational terms, these settlers were highly self-sufficient and quickly began making commercial profits through fishing and furs, then lumber products and even staple foodstuffs. As their settlements developed, they chose to sever as many ties with England as they could, at least until the 1640’s, when the Puritan Revolution launched the two-decade Commonwealth era in England. They created their own legal and electoral systems. They were fortunate to have a continuity of good leadership under men such as
•names adapted from Native American forms
•names symbolizing their hopes and beliefs
•names honoring eminent persons,
•names borrowed from places in their original homeland
Examples of place-names adapted from earlier Native American names include Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Susquehanna. Names expressing hopes and beliefs include Providence (divine guidance), Salem (peace), and Philadelphia (love). The many places honoring persons include Delaware and Baltimore (both aristocratic founders of colonies), Virginia (after the Virgin Queen, Elizabeth I), and Charlotte, Charles Town, Charleston James Town, and Jamestown–all from British monarchs. New York was named after the duke of York, whose brother, King Charles II granted him the land taken from the original Dutch settlers.
However, the fourth category–names borrowed from homelands–is most informative about the origins of the earliest British settlers. Nearly all such names in the early British colonies were taken from names of English places. Indeed, the very name “New England” suggests that a number of these places had the prefix “New.” Other examples include New London, New Shoreham, New Jersey, and New Hampshire. The majority of such borrowings, however,
The early settlers also brought their English county system with them and used distinctly English names for their new American counties. Many county names were borrowed from the names of counties in eastern England. These include Norfolk, Suffolk, Essex, Cambridge, Haverhill, Boston, and Yarmouth. Such county names are especially evident in the New England colonies. Other borrowings come from southwestern England: Bristol, Gloucester, Somerset, and Barnstaple–the later a major port of exit, as were Plymouth and Weymouth. Another major grouping of names comes from London and southeastern England. Examples include Middlesex, Surrey, Guildford (or Guilford), Hertford (or Hartford), Newhaven, Kent, Isle of Wight, Portsmouth, and Southampton. Other parts of England are also represented by county names such as Chester, Cheshire, Lancaster, and Manchester from the northwest; Cumberland and Westmorland from the north; Litchfield, Birmingham, and Stafford from England’s West Midlands.
English immigration continued to all existing twelve colonies, which were soon to be joined by a thirteenth, Georgia. Though some went to Boston and the newly founded
In 1689, the British population of New England was about 80,000. The middle colonies had some 40,000 immigrants, not all of whom were British; and the southern colonies more than 80,000. By 1760, immigrant numbers had increased to some 165,000 in
At the cessation of hostilities, a number of settlers who remained loyal to Britain decided to go to Britain or to Canada, which remained under British rule since being wrested from the French in 1763. Estimates of the numbers of postwar emigrants range from 80,000 to 100,000. For a short period of time, therefore, there was a net outward flow of people from the former colonies. By the early nineteenth century, an inward flow had returned, though initially not on the same scale as before the war. Transportation of British felons was diverted from North America to the newly settled Australia, and
Figures from the U.S. Census of 1790 suggest that people of English descent made up 60 percent of the total U.S. population, and the
As lands in Tennessee, Ohio, and the Midwest opened to settlers and lands even farther west enticed, more British settlers followed. The English poet
Precise U.S. immigration statistics began in 1830, making it easier to trace the pattern of British immigration from that date. Overall British immigration was not significant again until 1851. Figures for the years up to that date appear high only because they included Irish immigrants, who made up the bulk of the numbers. After midcentury, however, English immigration made up 10 percent of all European immigration into the United States, with
No single destination attracted these new immigrants. The reasons behind the increased immigration rates lay in the huge growth of the British population, deteriorating urban conditions and a slowdown in Britain’s
The Scottish experience can be divided into two.
Extrapolations of data from the U.S. Census of 1790 suggest that overall Scottish immigration into the United States stood at 8 percent of the total population, with the heaviest groupings in
The rapid growth of the
British immigration to the United States declined slowly during the early decades of the twentieth century at the same time immigration from southern and eastern Europe was increasing. More mindful of the needs of its own empire, Great Britain by then was sending large numbers of people to Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa. During the U.S.
A sudden surge of British immigration after World War II can be partly explained by the number of
After the 1970’s, British immigration held steady at about 20,000 persons per year. According to the 2000 U.S. Census, 824,239 residents of the United States had been born in the United Kingdom, a figure that made the British the ninth-largest immigrant group. Most modern British immigrants have been professionals and skilled workers, including students, teachers and medical personnel, multinational employees, skilled construction workers, and spouses of Americans. British immigrants are nearly invisible in the United States, where they have assimilated quickly. With the growing ease of transatlantic travel, many British immigrants prefer to go back and forth between the United States and Britain instead of opting for American citizenship. In 2004, 139,000 British people entered the United States to become residents, but only 15,000 sought naturalization.
Berthoff, Rowland T. British Immigrants in Industrial America, 1790-1950. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1953. Early study of the effects of the Industrial Revolution in both the United Kingdom and United States, and on British immigration. Coldham, Peter Wilson. The Complete Book of Emigrants, 1607-1660. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing, 1987. One of the fullest available summaries of all documents relating to English emigration during the seventeenth century, and where they are to be found. Every family name mentioned is indexed. Daniels, Roger. Coming to America: A History of Immigration and Ethnicity in American Life. New York: HarperCollins, 1990. Sets British immigration into a wider context and deals fully with pre-Revolutionary War British immigration. Erickson, Charlotte J. Invincible Immigrants: The Adaptation of English and Scottish Immigrants in Nineteenth Century America. Leicester, England: Leicester University Press, 1972. Important survey of the second peak period of British immigration, with useful data and appendixes. Gerber, David. Authors of Their Lives: The Personal Correspondence of British Immigrants to North America in the Nineteenth Century. New York: New York University Press, 2006. Gerber analyzes letters to see what immigration meant to individuals. Gerber studies the letters as a literary form in which immigrants recorded their experiences. Waters, Mary C., and Reed Ueda, eds. The New Americans: A Guide to Immigration Since 1965. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2007. This volume’s chapter on the United Kingdom by Wendy D. Roth is the most up-to-date account of the continuing British immigration. However, it makes only a limited attempt to separate out the various countries of Great Britain. Whyte, Donald. Dictionary of the Scottish Emigrants to the U.S.A. Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing House, 1972. Fully catalogued list of Scottish immigration and analyses.
Canada vs. United States as immigrant destinations
History of immigration, 1620-1783
History of immigration, 1783-1891
Pilgrim and Puritan immigrants