Adams Papers

17. To Hendrik Calkoen, 26 October 1780

17. To Hendrik Calkoen

Letter 17

Amsterdam October 26. 1780


The Seventeenth, Inquiry is “whether We have any Information that we can rely on, concerning the Population? has it increased or diminished, Since the War?”

In some former Letters, I have made Some Observations upon the Subject of the Increase of Mankind in America.1

In the Year 1774, There was much private Conversation, among the Members of Congress, concerning the Numbers of Souls in every Colony. The Delegates of each, were consulted, and the Estimates made by them were taken down as follows.2

In New Hampshire 150,000
 Massachusetts 400,000
 Rhode Island 59,678
 Connecticut 192,000
 New York 250,000
 New Jersey 130,000
 Pensilvania and Delaware 350,000
 Maryland 320,000
 Virginia 640,000
 North Carolina 300,000
 South Carolina 225,000
Total 3,026,678

This however, was but an Estimate, and Some Persons, have thought there was too much Speculation in it. It will be observed, that Georgia, was not represented in the first Congress, and therefore is not included in the Estimate.

In a Pamphlet published in England about a Year ago, intitled “A Memorial to the Souvereigns of Europe, on the present State of Affairs, between the old and new World,” written by Mr. Pownal, a Member of Parliament and formerly Governor of Massachusetts and Lt. Governor of New Jersey We are told that3 “The Massachusetts, had in the year 1722, 94,000 Inhabitants, in 1742, 164,000—in 1751, when there was a great depopulation both by War and the Small Pox 164,484—in 1761—216,000—in 1765, 255,500—in 1771—292,000—in 1773 —300,000.

In Connecticut, in 1756, 129,994—in 1774—257,356. These Numbers are not increased by Strangers, but decreased by Wars and Emigrations to the West ward, and to other States: yet they have nearly doubled in Eighteen Years.

In New York in 1756—96,776—in 1771—168,007 in 1774—182,251.

In Virginia in 1756—173,316—in 1764—200,000—in 1774—300,000.

In South Carolina in 1750—64,000, in 1770—115,000.

In Rhode Island in 1738—15,000, in 1748—28,439.

As there never was a Militia, in Pensilvania, before this War with authentic Lists of the Population, it has been variously estimated on Speculation. There was a continual Importation for many years, of Irish and german Emigrants, yet many of these Settled in other Provinces: but the Progress of Population, in the ordinary Course, advanced, in a Ratio, between that of Virginia and that of Massachusetts. The City of Philadelphia, advanced more rapidly. It had in 1749—2076 houses. In 1753, 2300—in 1760, 2969—in 1769—4474—From 1749 to 1753 from 16 to 18,000 Inhabitants, from 1760 to 1769 from 31,318 to 35,000.

There were in 1754 various Calculations, and Estimates made of the Numbers, on the Continent. The Sanguine, made the Numbers, one Million and an half. Those who admitted less Speculation into the Calculation, but adhered closer to Facts and Lists as they were made out, Stated them at one Million two hundred and Fifty thousand. Governor Pownal thinks that 2,141,307 would turn out nearest to the real Amount in 1774. But what an amazing Progress, which in Eighteen Years, has added a Million to a Million two hundred and fifty Thousand altho a War, was maintained in that Country, for Seven Years of the Term. In this View one Sees a Community unfolding itself, beyond any Example in Europe.

Thus you have the Estimates made by the Gentlemen in Congress in 1774, and that of Governor Pownal, for the Same Epocha. That made in Congress is most likely to be right. If in their Estimate Some states were rated too high, it has been since made certain that others were too low.

But admiting Mr. Pownals Estimate to be just, the Numbers, have grown, since 1774 So much notwithstanding the War, and the Interruption of Migrations from Europe, that they must be well nigh three Millions—if the Calculation, made by the Members of Congress was right, the Numbers now, must be nearer four millions than three millions and an half.

I have observed to you in a former Letter that, the Massachusetts Bay, has been lately numbered and found to have increased in Numbers, as much as in former Periods, very nearly.4

I now add that Delaware, which in 1774 was estimated at 30,000 but upon numbering the People Since, they appeared to be 40,000.

<Rhode Island also in 1774>. Pensilvania is undoubtedly set too low in both Estimates.

I have the honour to be, very respectfully &c.

John Adams

Dft (Adams Papers); notation: “Letter 17.”

1See Letter No. 3 (above).

2Although the exact source for these figures is unknown, they had been published widely in America and Europe. See, for example, the Pennsylvania Gazette of 16 Nov. 1774, the London Chronicle of 3–5 Jan. 1775, and John Almon’s Remembrancer for 1775, p. 163. A copy of these figures in John Thaxter’s hand, together with statistics on the population of European countries and trade with the American colonies, probably compiled for use in the replies to Calkoen, appears at the end of JA/Lb/12 (Adams Papers, Microfilms, Reel No. 100). That JA used Thaxter’s copy for this letter is indicated by Thaxter’s figure of 640,000 as the population of Virginia, whereas the published sources give it as 650,000. Thaxter’s figure results in a total of 3,016,678, rather than 3,026,678, the figure appearing in both this letter and previously published versions.

3The figures provided from this point through the sixth paragraph below are from Thomas Pownall’s A Memorial, Most Humbly Addressed to the Sovereigns of Europe, on the Present State of Affairs, Between the Old and New World, London, 1780, p. 58–63. The text, however, is an almost verbatim rendering of that in JA’s revision of the Memorial (A Translation of Thomas Pownall’s Memorial, 19 April – [ca. 14 July], above).

4For the figures for Massachusetts, see Letter No. 3 (above); for the 1774 figure for Delaware given in the following paragraph, see Letter No. 5 (above). The source for the revised figure for Delaware has not been identified.

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