Growth of Pennsylvania

Between 1725 and the commencement of the French and Indian War in 1754, the population of colonial Pennsylvania exploded. While the population of 1715 was a mere 70,000, it grew to nearly 430,000 settlers by 1760. Although a high natural birth rate and economic prosperity explain part of this growth, the sheer number of immigrants to the region must also be taken into account. Nearly 150,000 Scots-Irish and Germans filled the western region of the colony, expanding Pennsylvania’s border to the Susquehanna River.

While the countryside saw a large increase, Philadelphia also witnessed a dramatic expansion, doubling in population to 23,000 by the eve of the American Revolution. This growth occurred partly because the town became a center of transatlantic trade, but it was also due to the growth of an artisan class that provided goods and services to the elite families of the colony in many different ways. Finally, many indentured servants did their term of service in Philadelphia; likewise, the number of African slaves in the town increased drastically and amounted to 9 percent of the population by 1750. The world of Pennsylvania and Ben Franklin from 1725 to 1754 was one of expansion, growth, and diversity in many respects.

With these changes in the makeup of Pennsylvania society, other changes in the colony reflected general trends in the British colonies of North America. By 1750, Pennsylvania was losing the egalitarianism that had marked the colony since its founding. The richest 10 percent controlled nearly 40 percent of the wealth, up from nearly 20 percent from 1715. In contrast, the middling artisans of Philadelphia saw their average yearly income decline from 30 to 23 pounds over the same period. Hence, economic opportunity was decreasing in the urban areas and inching closer toward the situation in Boston, where a few elite merchants increased their control over the wealth, power, and politics of the community throughout the eighteenth century.

With the idea and reality of social harmony and equality rapidly disappearing, many Quakers gradually withdrew from social and political activity. Their almost total absence after the end of the French and Indian War allowed for other groups, primarily the Anglicans, to gain control over the colony, as well as the levers of society. This shift was displayed most prominently in the legislative battles of the Pennsylvania Assembly, which had remained divided between the Proprietor and antiproprietor parties until the crisis of the 1760s. The latter party increasingly advocated royal control over Pennsylvania, arguing that the needs of colonial merchants and commerce would be served without the tiresome burden of Penn family control. The leading advocates of this new platform were Ben Franklin and Thomas Galloway. Their vicious campaign against proprietor control gained them friends in Great Britain and the Pennsylvanian backcountry, as the new settlers resented the favored status of the native tribes in the region.

Growth of Pennsylvania Photo Gallery

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