Why Britons emigrated to the American colonies (1772)


The following summarised reports from British customs records of 1772 outline some of the reasons why Britons emigrated to the American colonies:


“John Catanoch, aged 50 years, by trade a farmer, married, hath four children from 19 to seven years old; resided last at Chabster in the parish of Rae in the county of Caithness, upon the estate of Mr. Alexander Nicolson, minister at Thurso. Intends to go to Wilmington, North Carolina; left his own country because crops failed, bread became dear, the rents of his possession were raised from two to five pounds sterling; besides his pasture or common grounds were taken up by placing new tenants thereon, especially the grounds adjacent to his farm, which were the only grounds on which his cattle pastured… He was induced to emigrate by advices received from his friends in America [where] provisions are extremely plenty and cheap, and the price of labour very high, so that people who are temperate and laborious have every chance of bettering their circumstances…

Elizabeth McDonald, aged 29, unmarried, servant to James Duncan in Mointle in the parish of Farr in the county of Sutherland; intends to go to Wilmington in North Carolina, left her own country because several of her friends having gone to Carolina before her, had assured her that she would get much better service and greater encouragement in Carolina than in her own country…

John McBeath, aged 37, by trade a farmer and shoemaker, married; hath five children from 13 years to nine months old. Resided last in Mault in the parish of Kildorman in the county of Sutherland… Intends to go to Wilmington in North Carolina; left his own country because crops failed, he lost his cattle, the rent of his possession was raised, and bread had been long dear; he could get no employment at home whereby he could support himself and family, being unable to buy bread at the prices the factors on the estate of Sutherland and neighbouring estates exacted from him. That he was encouraged to emigrate by the accounts received from his own and his wife’s friends already in America, assuring him that he would procure comfortable subsistence in that country for his wife and children, and that the price of labour was very high. He also assigns for the cause of bread being dear in his country that it is owing to the great quantities of corn consumed in brewing whisky…”

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