THE stream of German immigration, flowing side by side with another from Ireland, diluted the English strain in the blood of the colonists. The great migration from England had been strangely brief, and it all but ceased as early as 1660. In the next half century and until the coming of the Germans and Irish, the colonies had grown mostly by their own birth rate.
Big families were the rule and were brought into the world by crude obstetrics, reckless of the lives of mother and child. Judge Sewall had fourteen children by one wife, but ten of them died in infancy or youth. Another Massachusetts man, with four wives, had thirty-two children, but lost thirty of them.
Girls were married off young, sometimes as early as fourteen, and they might have seven children to their credit by the time they were twenty-five. Sir William Phips' mother holds the record of twenty-six offspring. Franklin was one of seventeen children, but his father had two wives. Cotton Mather, also twice married, was the father of fifteen. A Rhode Island Hazard at one hundred had five hundred children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and great-great-grandchildren. Thanks to that fecundity, the population of the colonies, according to some liberal guesses, had risen well above two hundred thousand by the opening of the eighteenth century.
The colonists were perhaps eight-tenths English in blood, but mostly American born, when the new immigration began to pour in from Germany and Ireland, bearing along with it also thousands of indentured servants from England. It is rather loosely estimated that seventy-five thousand Germans came in between 1715 and 1756. More than thirty thousand of them are listed as having arrived in Delaware River alone, and nearly all were indentured servants. Sometimes those German immigrants were bought in wholesale lots by contractors in Pennsylvania, who drove them about in herds like cattle and peddled them off into terms of service ranging from four to seven years. At other times they were disposed of at retail on the dock to buyers who were attracted by advertisements that variously described them as "fresh and healthy," as "nice children" or as "a pious and God-fearing girl."
Generally the German redemptioners, as they were called, lost no time in redeeming themselves by their industry. Having worked out their allotted period of service, a young man and woman often went partners at marriage in taking up a bit of land and developing a fat farm of their own.
As the two tides of immigrants from Germany and Ireland rolled in, the sluggish pool of colonial life overflowed its banks. The western frontier had moved so slowly that Massachusetts was one hundred years in advancing from Plymouth Rock to the Berkshire Hills. New York took as long a time to work up to the Mohawk Valley and Virginia to extend herself up the James to Richmond.
To find free or cheap land, the Germans and Irish had to push on beyond the old settled valleys of the tribal rivers. All the way from Londonderry, in New Hampshire, to the outlying territory of the Carolinas, they carved out a new frontier in the wilderness. 'Twas they who started the covered wagon on its long journey across the continent.
Those immigrants brought with them to America two things that were to become important items in the economy of the nation. The Germans set up the first stoves in the colonies. These were not for cooking, which continued another one hundred years to be done in the open fireplace. But stoves for warming a house were a much needed contribution to comfort in a climate where Dr. Cotton Mather and Judge Sewall complained that their ink froze while they wrote.
The people from Ireland only brought back to its native habitat a vegetable that one of Sir Walter Raleigh's ships had carried away from North Carolina. For that reason we still call it the Irish potato. The older race in the colonies shied at the importation, and folk did say that anyone who ate potatoes every day would die within seven years. Some people who took a chance on eating them still were sure that they would kill a horse or a cow and carefully kept the perilous stuff away from their livestock. Of course, no one dared to taste tomatoes, or "love apples;" but they looked pretty on the mantel.
The English bondmen also, when their time was up, either moved out to new cheap land on the frontier where they could be on their own, or they sank into "poor whites" nearer the seaboard. Probably many of the people of the southern mountains to-day are offshoots of that westward migration. They have been described by one writer as "our contemporary ancestors," because they are much as their forebears must have been in Stuart England. Even their speech may be the speech of the English peasantry in Shakespeare's day.
Certainly those mountaineers sing yet the songs that long have been lost to the memory of their brethren in the old homeland. "I had to come to America in the twentieth century to find out what English folk songs were like in the eighteenth century," said Cecil Sharp after a musical pilgrimage to the uplands where Virginia, North Carolina and Tennessee meet.
While Germans, Irish and English were drawing a new frontier in the west, an English nobleman, Sir James Edward Oglethorpe, Oxford man, soldier, member of Parliament and friend of Johnson, Pope and Walpole, was pushing forward the souther frontier. The English in South Carolina had remained at a safe distance from the Spanish in Florida. All the land between remained unoccupied and in dispute until 1733, when Oglethorpe undertook to colonize it.
Oglethorpe's announced purpose was to provide a refuge for "oppressed Protestants of Germany and other continental countries" and for "those persons at home who had become so desperate in circumstances that they could not rise and hope again without changing the scene and making a trial of a different country." He was particularly interested in prisoners for debt. But the burden of militarism rested on that buffer land between the British and the Spanish. This discouraged immigration and growth, and little came of the founder's liberal plan except the launching of Georgia as the thirteenth colony and the last.
While seven or eight transplanted races of Europe adjusted themselves to their strange environment, it molded them into a new people. Saxon and Scot, Welsh and Irish, Dutch, Swede, French, German and Jew were being made over into Americans.
James Morgan, The Birth of the American People, 1930