British Americans

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For Americans living in the United Kingdom, see Americans in the United Kingdom.
British American
British American people.PNG
Total population
Self reported: 40,234,652 (2009) [1][2]
13.0% of the total U.S. population.
Other estimates: 72,065,000 [3]
23.3% of the total U.S. population
Regions with significant populations
South, Northeast, and West regions
English (American English dialects)
Mainly Protestant (especially Baptist, Congregationalist, Episcopalian, Methodist, Presbyterian, and Quaker) and to a lesser extent Catholic and Mormon
Related ethnic groups

British Americans are Americans whose ancestry originates wholly or partly in the United Kingdom (England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland). People seldom use the term to describe themselves (1,172,050 chose it in the 2009 American Community Survey); it is primarily a demographic or historical research category.

According to American Community Survey in 2009, Americans reporting British ancestry are 40,234,652, or 13.0% of the total U.S. population, a significant drop from the 1980 United States Census where 49,598,035 reported as having English ancestry and 61,311,449 reported as having British ancestry.[2] Using the self reported 2010 census figures British Americans are the second largest European ancestry group after German Americans. However, this figure is likely a serious undercount, as a large proportion of Americans of British descent have a tendency (since the introduction of a new 'American' category in the 2000 census) to identify as simply Americans[4][5][6][7] Eight out of the ten most common surnames in the United States are of British origin.[8]

Number of British Americans[edit]

1790 Census[edit]

Estimated origin -
1790 United States Census [9][10]
Rank European ancestry only Percentage
1 British (total) 74.3%+
2 English 60.9%
3 Scotch-Irish/Scottish 14.3%
4 German 8.7%
5 Dutch/French/Swedish 5.4%
6 Irish 3.7%
7 Unidentifiable 7.0%
8 Total 100%
African Americans were some 19.3% of the total United States population.
Declaration of independence
Most of the Founding Fathers had British ancestors.

The ancestry of the 3,929,214 population in 1790 has been estimated by various sources by sampling last names in the very first United States official census and assigning them a country of origin.[9] The estimate results indicate that people of British ancestry made up about 62% of the total population or 74% of the European American population. Some 81% of the total United States population was of European heritage.[11] Around 757,208 were of African descent with 697,624 being slaves. Of the remaining population, more than 75% was of British origin.[12]

1980 Census[edit]

The Twentieth 1980 United States Census, 61.3 million (61,311,449) Americans reported British ancestry.
The total U.S population in 1980 was 226,545,805 and was the first census-form that asked peoples ancestry.[13]

These include: In 1980, the total census reported that British ancestry was (32.56%) of the total U.S population. Triple ancestry response:English-Irish-Scotch: 897,316 There are no concrete figures for the Scots-Irish and some group responses were under-counted, but in 1980, 29,828,349 people claimed Irish and another ethnic ancestry. These figures make British Americans the largest "ethnic" group in the U.S. and would have naturally increased in population with more people of British origin than in 1980. This is true when counted collectively (the Census Bureau does give the choice to count them collectively as one ancestry, and also count them in a separate ethnic group, that is English, Scottish, Welsh or Scots-Irish). In 2000, Germans and Irish were the largest self-reported ethnic groups in the nation.

1990 Census[edit]

The Twenty-first 1990 United States Census.[14]

2000 Census[edit]

The Twenty-Second 2000 United States Census, 36.4 million Americans reported British ancestry.[15]

Most of the population who stated their ancestry as "American" are said to be of old colonial British stock.

Ancestry 1980 % of U.S 1990 % of U.S 2000 % of U.S
English 49,598,035 26.34% 32,651,788 13.1% 24,515,138 8.7%
Scottish 10,048,816 5.34% 5,393,581 2.2% 4,890,581 1.7%
Scots-Irish no data no data 5,617,773 2.3% 4,319,232 1.5%
Welsh 1,664,598 0.88% 2,033,893 0.8% 1,753,794 0.6%
British no data no data no data no data 1,085,720 0.4%
American no data no data 12,395,999 5.0% 20,625,093 7.3%


Hildale, Utah has 66.9% of its population of English descent.
Malad City, Idaho identified 21.1% of its population has Welsh ancestry.

Following are the top 10 highest percentages of people of English, Scottish and Welsh ancestry, in U.S. communities with 500 or more total inhabitants (for the total list of the 101 communities, see the reference):[16][17][18]


  1. Hildale, UT 66.9%
  2. Colorado City, AZ 52.7%
  3. Milbridge, ME 41.1%
  4. Panguitch, UT 40.0%
  5. Beaver, UT 39.8%
  6. Enterprise, UT 39.4%
  7. East Machias, ME 39.1%
  8. Marriott-Slaterville, UT 38.2%
  9. Wellsville, UT 37.9%
  10. Morgan, UT 37.2%


  1. Lonaconing, MD town 16.1%
  2. Jordan, IL township 12.6%
  3. Scioto, OH township 12.1%
  4. Randolph, IN township 10.2%
  5. Franconia, NH town 10.1%
  6. Topsham, VT town 10.0%
  7. Ryegate, VT town 9.9%
  8. Plainfield, VT town 9.8%
  9. Saratoga Springs, UT town 9.7%
  10. Barnet, VT town 9.5%


  1. Malad City, ID city 21.1
  2. Remsen, NY town 14.6
  3. Oak Hill, OH village 13.6
  4. Madison, OH township 12.7
  5. Steuben, NY town 10.9
  6. Franklin, OH township 10.5
  7. Plymouth, PA borough 10.3
  8. Jackson, OH city 10.0
  9. Lake, PA township 9.9
  10. Radnor, OH township 9.8
Dark red and brown colors indicate a higher density. (see also Maps of American ancestries).


Benjamin Franklin, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson writing the Declaration of independence (1776) were all of British descent.
The National personification of the United States and Great Britain. Uncle Sam embracing John Bull, while Britannia and Columbia hold hands and sit together in the background (1898).

Early British emigration[edit]

The British diaspora consists of the scattering of British people and their descendants who emigrated from the United Kingdom. The diaspora is concentrated in countries that had mass migration such as the United States and that are part of the Anglosphere. A 2006 publication from the Institute for Public Policy Research estimated 5.6 million British-born people lived outside of the United Kingdom.[19][20]

After the Age of Discovery the British were one of the earliest and largest communities to emigrate out of Europe, and the British Empire's expansion during the first half of the 19th century saw an "extraordinary dispersion of the British people", with particular concentrations "in Australasia and North America".[21]

The British Empire was "built on waves of migration overseas by British people",[22] who left the United Kingdom and "reached across the globe and permanently affected population structures in three continents".[21] As a result of the British colonization of the Americas, what became the United States was "easily the greatest single destination of emigrant British".[21]

Historically in the 1790 United States Census estimate and presently in Australia, Canada and New Zealand "people of British origin came to constitute the majority of the population" contributing to these states becoming integral to the Anglosphere.[22]

Settlement and colonization[edit]

An English presence in North America began with the Roanoke Colony and Colony of Virginia in the late-16th century, but the first successful English settlement was established in 1607, on the James River at Jamestown. By the 1610s an estimated 1,300 English people had travelled to North America, the "first of many millions from the British Isles".[23] In 1620 the Pilgrims established the English imperial venture of Plymouth Colony, beginning "a remarkable acceleration of permanent emigration from England" with over 60% of trans-Atlantic English migrants settling in the New England Colonies.[23] During the 17th century an estimated 350,000 English and Welsh migrants arrived in North America, which in the century after the Acts of Union 1707 was surpassed in rate and number by Scottish and Irish migrants.[24]

The British policy of salutary neglect for its North American colonies intended to minimize trade restrictions as a way of ensuring they stayed loyal to British interests.[25] This permitted the development of the American Dream, a cultural spirit distinct from that of its European founders.[25] The Thirteen Colonies of British America began an armed rebellion against British rule in 1775 when they rejected the right of the Parliament of Great Britain to govern them without representation; they proclaimed their independence in 1776, and subsequently constituted the first thirteen states of the United States of America, which became a sovereign state in 1781 with the ratification of the Articles of Confederation. The 1783 Treaty of Paris represented Great Britain's formal acknowledgement of the United States' sovereignty at the end of the American Revolutionary War.[26]


Nevertheless, longstanding cultural and historical ties have, in more modern times, resulted in the Special Relationship, the exceptionally close political, diplomatic and military co-operation of United Kingdom – United States relations.[27] Linda Colley, a professor of history at Princeton University and specialist in Britishness, suggested that because of their colonial influence on the United States, the British find Americans a "mysterious and paradoxical people, physically distant but culturally close, engagingly similar yet irritatingly different".[28]


British Americans have Cornish, English, Scottish, Ulster Scots, and/or Welsh family heritages, or came from Canada where their ancestors were of British descent, and are those Americans who were British born. Catholic Irish-Americans are not usually categorized as having British ancestry; they do not usually consider themselves as being British Americans.[citation needed] Immigrants from Canada of British ancestry tend to call themselves Canadian Americans. Similarly, most British Americans tend to differentiate to being specifically Cornish, English, Northern Irish, Irish, Scottish, Welsh or ethnic minorities (e.g. Pakistani Scottish) and do not identify with the UK as a whole, therefore tending not to refer to themselves as British American (see: Cornish American, English American, Scottish American, Welsh American, or Scots-Irish American) and settlers of British heritage from other former British territories like Australia, New Zealand and South Africa also consider themselves by their nationalities, Australian Americans, New Zealand Americans and South African-Americans.

1790 - 2000 Census[edit]

In the 1790 United States Census, people of British origin constituted the majority with 62.5% of the United States population.

1790 U.S Ancestry
Based on Evaluated census figures [29]
2000 U.S Ancestry
from the official U.S census [29]
Ancestry group Number
(1790 estimate)
% of
Ancestry Number
(2000 count)
% of
British (Total) 2,500,000 62.5 British (Total)
36,564,465 12.9
English 1,900,000 47.5 German 42,885,162 15.2
African 750,000 19.0 African 36,419,434 12.9
Scotch-Irish 320,000 8.0 Irish 30,594,130 10.9
German 280,000 7.0 English 24,515,138 8.7
Irish 200,000 5.0 Mexican 20,640,711 7.3
Scottish 160,000 4.0 Italian 15,723,555 5.6
Welsh 120,000 3.0 French 10,846,018 3.9
Dutch 100,000 2.5 Hispanic 10,017,244 3.6
French 80,000 2.0 Polish 8,977,444 3.2
Native American 50,000 1.0 Scottish 4,890,581 1.7
Spanish 20,000 0.5 Dutch 4,542,494 1.6
Swedish or other 20,000 0.5 Norwegian 4,477,725 1.6
Total 3,929,326 [30] 100 Scotch-Irish 4,319,232 1.5

American cultural icons[edit]

Grand Union Flag was first flown on December 2, 1775. The current flag has fifty stars on the flag represent the 50 states and the 13 stripes represent the original British thirteen colonies.
Main article: American flag
Founders of Harley-Davidson, from left: William A. Davidson, Walter Davidson, Sr., Arthur Davidson, of Scottish descent, and William S. Harley, of English descent.

Harvard was founded by Englishmen who sought to reproduce the environment of academic excellence they experienced at Cambridge University, England where many of the founders of New England has been educated.

The first public school in America, The Boston Latin School, was founded by Englishman John Cotton, Esq., former Dean of Emmanuel College, Cambridge University, England to replicate a public Latin School in England.

Yale University was founded by Englishmen who considered Harvard too liberal for the education of New England gentlemen.

The Declaration of Independence is a creation of British Americans.

The Constitution of the United States is a creation of British Americans.

The American Bill of Rights is a creation of British Americans.

The American system of government: a Constitutional Republic with a separation of executive, legislative, and judicial powers is a creation of British Americans.

Most American Presidents, Senators, and Congressman, Governors and Ivy League University Presidents have been British Americans.

The Grand Union Flag is considered to be the first national flag of the United States[citation needed]. This flag consisted of 13 red and white stripes with the British Union Flag of the time (before the inclusion of St. Patrick's cross of Ireland) in the canton. The flag was first flown on December 2, 1775 by John Paul Jones (then a Continental Navy lieutenant) on the ship Alfred in Philadelphia).[31] The Alfred flag has been credited to Margaret Manny.[32] It was used by the American Continental forces as a naval ensign and garrison flag in 1776 and early 1777. It is widely believed that the flag was raised by George Washington's army on New Year's Day 1776 at Prospect Hill in Charlestown (now part of Somerville), near his headquarters at Cambridge, Massachusetts, and that the flag was interpreted by British observers as a sign of surrender.[33] Some scholars dispute this traditional account, concluding that the flag raised at Prospect Hill was likely a British union flag.[34]

The aristocratic American Republic from the founding of the United States through 1820 was a British American invention.

Place names in the United States[edit]

Boston, Massachusetts, is named after Boston, England.
In 1664, the English renamed "New York" after the Duke of York.[35]

There are many places in the United States named after places in Great Britain as a result of the many British settlers and explorers. These include the region of New England and the some of the following:



New Hampshire[edit]

New York[edit]

In addition, some places were named after the English royal family. The name Virginia was first applied by Queen Elizabeth I (the "Virgin Queen") and Sir Walter Raleigh in 1584.,[41] the Carolinas were named after King Charles I and Maryland named so for his wife, Queen Henrietta Maria (Queen Mary).[42]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ American Community Survey: Total British ancestry reported as a collective group.
  2. ^ a b British-American ancestry ACS 2009.
  3. ^ "About". Retrieved 17 March 2015. 
  4. ^ Sharing the Dream: White Males in a Multicultural America By Dominic J. Pulera.
  5. ^ Reynolds Farley, 'The New Census Question about Ancestry: What Did It Tell Us?', Demography, Vol. 28, No. 3 (August 1991), pp. 414, 421.
  6. ^ Stanley Lieberson and Lawrence Santi, 'The Use of Nativity Data to Estimate Ethnic Characteristics and Patterns', Social Science Research, Vol. 14, No. 1 (1985), pp. 44-6.
  7. ^ Stanley Lieberson and Mary C. Waters, 'Ethnic Groups in Flux: The Changing Ethnic Responses of American Whites', Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, Vol. 487, No. 79 (September 1986), pp. 82-86.
  8. ^ Genealogy Data: Frequently Occurring Surnames from Census 2000
  9. ^ a b From many strands: ethnic and racial groups in contemporary América By Stanley Lieberson, Mary C. Waters
  10. ^ The dynamics of American ethnic, religious, and racial group life. By Philip Perlmutter
  11. ^ Historical U.S population by race
  12. ^ "Ethnicity in Contemporary America". Retrieved 17 March 2015. 
  13. ^ United States 1980 Census
  14. ^ United States 1990 Census
  15. ^ "Ancestry: 2000" (PDF). United States Government. June 2004. 
  16. ^ "Scottish Ancestry Search - Scottish Genealogy by City -". 
  17. ^ "Top 101 cities with the most residents of English ancestry (population 500+)". Retrieved 2007-08-02. 
  18. ^ "Welsh Ancestry Search - Welsh Genealogy by City -". 
  19. ^ "Brits Abroad". BBC News. 2006-12-06. Retrieved 2009-04-13. 
  20. ^ Sriskandarajah, Dhananjayan; Drew, Catherine (December 11, 2006). "Brits Abroad: Mapping the scale and nature of British emigration". IPPR. Retrieved 2009-04-13. 
  21. ^ a b c Ember et al 2004, p. 47.
  22. ^ a b Marshall 2001, p. 254.
  23. ^ a b Ember et al 2004, p. 48.
  24. ^ Ember et al 2004, p. 49.
  25. ^ a b Henretta, James A. (2007), "History of Colonial America", Encarta Online Encyclopedia, archived from the original on 2009-10-31 
  26. ^ "Chapter 3: The Road to Independence", Outline of U.S. History (, November 2005, archived from the original on April 9, 2008, retrieved 2008-04-21 
  27. ^ James, Wither (March 2006), "An Endangered Partnership: The Anglo-American Defence Relationship in the Early Twenty-first Century", European Security 15 (1): 47–65, doi:10.1080/09662830600776694, ISSN 0966-2839 
  28. ^ Colley 1992, p. 134.
  29. ^ a b "The Source". Retrieved 17 March 2015. 
  30. ^ U.S 1790 Census
  31. ^ "Letters of delegates to Congress, 1774-1789, Volume 2, September 1775-December 1775". 
  32. ^ Leepson, 51
  33. ^ Preble (1880) p. 218
  34. ^ Ansoff (2006)
  35. ^ Homberger, Eric (2005). The Historical Atlas of New York City: A Visual Celebration of 400 Years of New York City's History. Owl Books. p. 34. ISBN 0-8050-7842-8. 
  36. ^ Boston History.
  37. ^ Southampton, Massachusetts.
  38. ^ Netstate - New Hampshire.
  39. ^ Manchester History.
  40. ^ 50 States - NY.
  41. ^ In 1584 Sir Walter Raleigh sent Philip Amadas and Arthur Barlowe to lead an exploration of what is now the North Carolina coast, and they returned with word of a regional "king" named "Wingina." This was modified later that year by Raleigh and the Queen to "Virginia", perhaps in part noting her status as the "Virgin Queen." Stewart, George (1945). Names on the Land: A Historical Account of Place-Naming in the United States. New York: Random House. p. 22. 
  42. ^ "The State of Maryland". 

Scholarly sources[edit]

External links[edit]