In Becoming America: The Revolution Before 1776, Jon Butler argues that aremarkable, yet overlooked, transformation took place in the American coloniesbetween 1680 and 1760. This transformation manifested itself in almost everyaspect of colonial life, and changed the socioeconomic makeup of America forever.This gradual revolution included an ethnic and racial diversity, an increasinglymodernized economy, a growing display of power that would form the foundation of the political system and reveal its
elf in the colonists’ material lives, and a display of
religious pluralism that is not seen even today in some societies. Butler not onlygives an excellent summary of matters such as immigration and indigenous religion,but also gives credible and convincing reasoning that it was the middle years of thecolonial period that would define America
not the victories and defeats of therevolutionary war. In the years between 1680 and 1760, America had becomemodern (aside from technological advancements that would appear throughout the19
, the first chapter of the book, Butler explains the importance of the expanding population. This population enlargement resulted in a diverse ethnicand racial society. In 1650, the total population of the colonies was roughly 50,000.By 1700 it had reached over 250,000. In 1770, the population exceeded two million.Prior to 1680, the colonial population was primarily that of English settlers, whocomposed approximately 80-90% of immigrants. In the years that followed,however, there was a massive flux of immigration from not only the forcedshipment of Africans to the colonies to be used as slaves, but also the arrival of numerous Huguenots, Jews, Germans, Scots, Irish, and French. By 1703, Butler
points out, there was “no national, ethnic or religious majority” (9).
The Scottish,Irish, French, German, and Swiss immigrants represented about 75% of migrants tothe colonies. This heterogeneity made the British colonies unique compared tocolonies belonging to other nations. For example, the overseas colonies owned byFrance, Spain, and Portugal never developed or contained the diversity of European
settlers that Britain’s mainland colonies saw.
Additionally, immigrants tended tosettle across all the colonies. While certain ethnic groups may have groupedtogether within certain cities, they did not limit themselves to only one area. Anygiven culture could be found throughout the Northeast, Pennsylvania, Maryland, andthe southern colonies. For example, while German immigrants may have relocatedheavily to the area of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, there was still a more or less equaldistribution of German immigrants throughout the mainland colonies. While theEuropean settlers were making America increasingly heterogeneous, they were also
causing the “cultural genocide” of the Native Americans. Through violent acquisition
of territory or contracting European diseases, the American Indians experienced aradical population decline. The Massachusetts and Patuxet tribes, for example, were
reduced from “25,000 people in 1600 to less than 300 people by 1700, while theEuropean population rose to nearly 90,000.” (12).
This mixture of ethnic and racialgroups was uniquely American
no other society had provided or supported suchan extent of diversity. This diversity would allow for the economic changes that thecolonies would go through and eventually embrace.