“Thus have we traced, almost exclusively from contemporary documents and records, the colonization of the twelve oldest states of our Union. At the period of the great European revolution of 1688, they contained not many beyond two hundred thousand inhabitants, of whom Massachusetts, with Plymouth and Maine, may have had forty-four thousand; New Hampshire and Rhode Island, with Providence, each six thousand; Connecticut, from seventeen and twenty thousand; that is, all New England, seventy-five thousand souls; New York, not less than twenty thousand; New Jersey, half as many; Pennsylvania and Delaware, perhaps twelve thousand; Maryland, twenty-five thousand; Virginia, fifty thousand, or more; and the two Carolinas, which then included the soil of Georgia, probably not less than eight thousand souls.
The emigration of the fathers of these twelve commonwealths, with the plantings of the principles on which they rested, though, like the introduction of Christianity into Rome, but little regarded by contemporary writers, was the most momentous event of the seventeenth century.
Of the nations of the European world, the chief emigration was from that Germanic race most famed for the love of personal independence. The immense majority of American families were not “of the high folk of Normandie,” but were of “the low men,” who were Saxons. This is true of New England; it is true of the south. Shall the Virginians be described in a word? They were Anglo-Saxons in the woods again, with the inherited culture and intelligence of the seventeenth century. “The major part of the house of burgesses now consisted of Virginians that never saw a town.” The Anglo-Saxon mind, in its serenest nationality, neither distored by fanaticism, nor subdued by superstition, nor wounded by persecution, nor excited by new ideas, but fondly cherishing the active instinct for personal freedom, secure possession, and legislative power, such as belonged to it before the reformation, had made its dwelling-place in the empire of Powhatan. With consistent firmess of character, the Virginians welcomed legislative power; displaced an unpopular governor; at the overthrow of monarchy, established the freest government by happy intuition; rebelled against the politics of the Stuarts; and, uneasy at the royalist principles which prevailed in its forming aristocracy, soon manifested the tendency of the age at the polls.
“The inclinations of the country,” wrote Spotswood, when the generation born during the period of Bacon’s rebellion had grown to maturity, “are rendered mysterious by a new and unaccountable humor, which hath obtained in several counties, of excluding the gentlemen from being burgesses, and choosing only persons of mean figure and character.” But Spotswood, a royalist, a High Churchman, a traveller, reverenced the virtues of the people. “I will do justice to this country,” he writes to the Bishop of London — and his evidence is without suspicion of a bias; “I have observed here less swearing and prophaneness, less drunkennes [sic] and debauchery, less uncharitable feuds and animosities, and less knaverys and villanys [sic], than in any part of the world where my lot has been.”
Of the systems of philosophy of the Old World, the colonists, including their philosophy in their religion, as the people up to that time had always done, were neither skeptics nor sensualists, but Christians. The school that bows to the senses as the sole interpreter of truth, had little share in colonizing our America. The colonists from Maine to Carolina, the adventurous companions of Smith, the Puritan felons that freighted the fleet of Winthrop, the Quaker outlaws that fled from jails with a Newgate prisoner as their sovereign, — all had faith in God and in the soul. The system which had been revealed in Judea, — the system which combines and perfects the symbolic wisdom of the Orient and the reflective genius of Greece, — the system, conforming to reason, yet kindling enthusiasm; always hastening reform yet always conservative; proclaiming absolute equality among men, yet not suddenly abolishing the unequal institutions of society; guarantying absolute fredom, yet invoking the inexorable restrictions of duty; in the highest degree theoretical, and yet in the highest degree practical; awakening the inner man to a consciousness of his destiny, and yet adapted with exact harmony to the outward world; at once divine and humane, — this system was professed in every part of our widely-extended country, and cradled our freedoms.
Our fathers were not only Christians; they were, even in Maryland by a vast majority, elsewhere almost unanimously, Protestants. Now the Protestant reformation, considered in its largest influence on politics, was the common people awakening to freedom of the mind.”
From The History of the Colonization of the United States, 1848 by George Bancroft