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The Analysis Of Colonial Migration

Years of continuous research with early migration addresses the depth of reasoning on why the first massive migration in our nation’s history came into being. The studies and analysis allow a personal vision into the past and provide substantial evidence to explain why tens of thousands of families migrated hundreds of miles during the 18th-century. For most family historians, it is this question of why that plagues the minds. The opinionated views and data analysis led by most historical authors and professors proclaim that the availability of land was the main ingredient that encouraged these families to migrate. But, classifying only the acreage of land as the enticer eliminates other more important reasons. To further explain this, let’s look more closely at three relevant factors, social status, the economic market, and religion.

Social Status

Following years of research, less than twenty percent of 18th-century migrating families can label themselves with upper-class status. What exactly does this mean? These individuals did not mature into adulthood through means of aristocratic privileges. They did not receive education from higher learning academies or colleges. They did not expect a large inheritance in the future. The overwhelming majority of the traveling families fall into the middle-class category. They had the means to survive and maintain stability in their current home, as with a known trade, wheelwright, potter, tailor. Most families would have five to ten children, ranging in age from 20 to 2. The majority were active with agriculture and farming as a principal means of food surplus. Clothing, linens, furniture are items made in the home from resources around them. Understanding the middle-class concept of the colonial period is quite different from today’s standards. A person may look at the colonial middle class as today’s modern survivalist. The adequate supply of food accompanied by a proper shelter and other materials such as fabric, tools, and land demonstrates the success of colonial middle-class families. Overwhelmingly, most of these lower-class families owned land in the middle colonies before migrating southward. Many historians proclaim that the prior generation owned the lands in question, and the younger sons with families made up the numbers of the colonial migration. This portrayal results in the scenario of colonial inheritance customs. Once the father’s death occurred, only the oldest surviving male child stood a chance to inherit the property. But, data proves a massive number, owning property and selling that property before migrating south. Here lies the question, How would social status contribute to the decision of moving your family hundreds of miles in rugged territory if you owned land and were surviving at your present location? The answer is competition within the colonial economy.

Economic Market

Looking more closely at the economic factors, one first has to identify the region and the individual. Pennsylvania, for example, welcomed everyone to the area. All types of individuals from various nations and countries landed in Philadelphia during the 18th-century. The identification is critical to explaining the marketing standards for these families. For most middle colony families, the retail market held restrictions and many limitations. Prosperity and growth are not impossible; the most likely potential resides in who the family knows. But even if John Hancock is a personal friend, many restrictions are still present. In other words, it is no secret how the established aristocratic families of Pennsylvania felt about the language barrier families such as the Germans, the Irish, and the Scots. Knowing the differences and then throwing in the economic factors, you quickly understand how much of a burden this would have had on many families. Established people controlling the current market value impact the growth and prosperity of the language barrier families. The competition grows steady and fast, with new additional families arriving in the area almost daily. Ironically, it is the Germans, the Irish, and the Scots who are the majority migrating.


The church of England during the colonial period was the primary organization of worship throughout the colonies. Its presence was prevalent in daily life, especially in the middle colonies, and these customs would impact families from different religions. Freedom to worship makes a difference to these colonial families. Studies show church congregations splitting into two groups, one remaining and the other migrating southward. Each of these cases varies slightly with details, but the basic theme is overwhelmingly present. Families wanted the freedom to worship on their terms.

Each of these factors contributed to our ancestors migrating to the southern colonies. The final decision required deep thought and planning. The initial conversation between friends grows to a group of families leaving their homes one early autumn morning. The traveling parties consisted of families, relatives, neighbors, friends, fellow worshippers, all joining together for the miles ahead. A chance to prosper, climb the social status ladder, a chance to be recognized, a chance to make a difference, wealth for the children and the grandchildren, education and higher learning, freedom to worship. The land was part of this decision; it certainly wasn’t the only reason.

3 replies »

  1. Thank you for your work and sharing it. I think another reason for migration was lack knowledge of land nutrient replenishing and crop rotation. Tobacco was a crop that could quickly reduce yields in a few years.

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