On the eve of the American revolution, colonial life was far different than we are accustomed to in the present day. One of the biggest differences was in the number of people who lived in cities vs those who lived in rural areas. This post shows the largest cities in the American colonies in 1775.
In 1775 city life was much less common than it is now. It’s estimated that only ~10% of the American population lived in cities then compared to ~80-85% in the present day. Of those, 4 of the 5 biggest cities were located in the Northern colonies. Philadelphia was the biggest by far which made it a logical choice as the nation’s first capital about a decade later.
The population of the northern colonies was generally higher than the rest of the colonies due to the temperate climate and abundance of food (from land and sea). The birth rates were highest and death rate were lowest there of all the colonies. The mid Atlantic and southern colonies relied more upon immigrants to bolster their populations. In the south, slaves made up a large portion of society to work for large plantation owners.
The Largest Cities in the American Colonies in 1775
The biggest cities and in fact most cities at the time were located on the Atlantic coast and served as seaports. These port cities were crucial to the British empire as they facilitated the trade of America’s vast abundance of natural resources. Britain needed the raw materials from America to supply their factories from the first industrial revolution in the mid 18th century.
In these cities a merchant class providing all sorts of goods and services emerged. The northern cities were heavily involved in ship building due to the abundant forests of the region. New York City also profited heavily from the fur trade. The southern colonies traded cash crops such as tobacco and indigo and made the large plantation owners extremely wealthy.
Each region had highly specialized economies based on their specific environments. They traded with each other nearly as often as trading with Britain in order to provide what other areas were lacking.
In general the average American colonist had a higher standard of living than their European counterparts. The Americas had the highest per capita income in the civilized world at the time, mainly due to cheap land and labor shortages that increased wages. Up until 1763 the colonists also paid relatively little to no taxes to the British yet were protected by their military and given lenient trade rules. It is no wonder that support for the American Revolution was so split.
After fighting for the colonies in the Seven Years War, the British Empire was bankrupt and needed to increase taxes to pay for it. As they fought on behalf of the colonies, America was the logical choice. This directly led to the American revolution and splintering of the British empire.