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American Population

Maryland’s population remained small and egalitarian through much of the seventeenth century. The colony contained few women, hindering natural population growth. By 1675, Maryland contained roughly 13,000 colonists. The first Africans arrived in Maryland in 1642. Their legal status seems to have been similar to that of indentured servants. Slavery only began to develop as an institution in late seventeenth-century Maryland, and adoption of slave labor was slow. In 1697, slaves comprised just 10 percent of the colony’s 30,000 non-Native American inhabitants.

In the eighteenth century, a permanent economic and social elite formed in the colony. Many of these gained their riches from tobacco production and added to that wealth by purchasing slaves. By 1710 Maryland contained 8,000 slaves, and, by 1762, slaves constituted 30 percent of the total population. Most slave owners had fewer than five slaves, though a few large plantations had more than 100. Maryland’s free black population remained quite small and could not vote, hold office, or testify in court.

After 1700, Maryland saw considerable growth. Annapolis had become the capital in 1694, Scots-Irish and German immigrants established inland settlements, and bay area towns such as Chestertown, Joppa, and Baltimore prospered. While Maryland’s total population and the number possessing moderate wealth grew, wealthy elites dominated colonial offices until the American Revolution. The colonists loosely adhered to the social deference common in Europe; however, Maryland elites increasingly distinguished themselves from their social counterparts in England. The influx of women augmented the natural birthrate, and the adoption of slavery created a fixed social elite.

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