British Americans

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British Americans
Total population
Self-identified as "British American"
1,891,234Increase (2017)
0.6% of the total U.S. population.
Americans with majority British ancestry according to
72,065,000 (2015)
23.3% of the total U.S. population.
Regions with significant populations
Throughout the entire United States except parts of the Midwest
Predominantly in the South, Northeast and West regions especially in California
English (American English, British English), Goidelic languages, Scots, Welsh
Mainly Protestant (especially Baptist, Congregationalist, Episcopalian, Methodist, Presbyterian and Quaker) and to a lesser extent Catholic and Latter-day Saint as well as atheists and other non -religious along with converts to eastern religions and others
Related ethnic groups

British American usually refers to Americans whose ancestral origin originates wholly or partly in the United Kingdom (England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and the Isle of Man). In the 2017 American Community Survey 1,891,234 individuals or 0.6% of the responses self-identified as British.[failed verification] It is primarily a demographic or historical research category for people who have at least partial descent from peoples of Great Britain and the modern United Kingdom, i.e. English, Scottish, Welsh, Scotch-Irish, Manx and Cornish Americans. There has been a significant drop overall, especially from the 1980 census where 49.59 million people reported English ancestry.

Demographers regard current figures as a serious under-count, as a large proportion of Americans of British descent have a tendency to identify as 'American' since 1980 where over 13.3 million or 5.9% of the total U.S. population self-identified as "American" or "United States", this was counted under "not specified". This response is highly overrepresented in the Upland South, a region settled historically by the British. Many of mixed European ancestry, may identify with a more recent and differentiated ethnic group. Of the top ten family names in the United States (2010), seven have English origins or having possible mixed British Isles heritage, the other three being of Spanish origin.

Not to be confused when the term is also used in an entirely different (although possibly overlapping) sense to refer to people who are dual citizens of both the United Kingdom and the United States.

Sense of heritage

     UK       United States.

Americans of British heritage are often seen, and identify, as simply "American" due to the many historic, linguistic and cultural ties between Great Britain and the U.S. and their influence on the country's population. A leading specialist, Charlotte Erickson, found them to be ethnically "invisible". This may be due to the early establishment of British settlements; as well as to non-English groups having emigrated in order to establish significant communities.

Number of British Americans

Table below shows the results from 1980 when ancestry was first collected by the U.S. census and the 2010 American Community Survey. Response rates for the ancestry question was 90.4% in 1990 and 80.1% in 2000 for the total US population.

British American plurality in light green. (2010)
Year Ancestral origin Number % of population
British; totals 61,327,867 31.67%
1980 English 49,598,035 26.34%
Scottish 10,048,816 4.44%
Welsh 1,664,598 0.88%
Northern Irelander 16,418 0.01%
Total 46,816,175 18.8%
1990 English 32,651,788 13.1%
Scottish 5,393,581 2.2%
Scotch-Irish 5,617,773 2.3%
Welsh 2,033,893 0.8%
British 1,119,140 0.4%
Total 36,564,465 12.9%
2000 English 24,515,138 8.7%
Scottish 4,890,581 1.7%
Scotch-Irish 4,319,232 1.5%
Welsh 1,753,794 0.6%
British 1,085,720 0.4%
Total 37,619,881 14.4%
2010 English 25,927,345 8.4%
Scottish 5,460,679 3.1%
Scotch-Irish 3,257,161 1.9%
Welsh 1,793,356 0.6%
British 1,181,340 0.4%
Source:United States Census Bureau.

Composition of Colonial America

Ethnic distribution in 1700.

  English / Welsh (80.0%)
  Dutch (4.0%)
  Scottish (3.0%)
  African American (11.0%)
  Other Europeans (2.0%)

According to estimates by Thomas L. Purvis (1984), published in the European ancestry of the United States, gives the ethnic composition of the American colonies from 1700 to 1755. British ancestry in 1755 were estimated to be 52% English and Welsh, 7.0% Scots-Irish and 4% Scottish.

Studies on origins, 1790

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. There is debate over the accuracy between the studies with individual scholars and the Federal Government using different techniques and conclusion for the ethnic composition. A study published in 1909 titled A Century of Population Growth by the Census Bureau estimated the British origin combined were around 90% of the white population.

Another source by Thomas L. Purvis in 1984 estimated that people of British ancestry made up about 62% of the total population or 74% of the white or European American population. Some 81% of the total United States population was of European heritage. Around 757,208 were of African descent with 697,624 being slaves.


The 1980 census was the first that asked people's ancestry. The 1980 United States Census reported 61,327,867 individuals or 31.67% of the total U.S. population self-identitfied as having British descent. In 1980 16,418 Americans reported ‘Northern Islander’. No Scots-Irish (descendants of Ulster-Scots) ancestry was recorded, however over ten million people identified as Scottish. This figure fell to over 5 million each in the following census when the Scotch-Irish were first counted.


Over 90.4% of the United States population reported at least one ancestry, 9.6% (23,921,371) individuals as "not stated" with a total of 11.0% being "not specified". Additional responses were Cornish (3,991), Northern Irish 4,009 and Manx 6,317.


Most of the population who stated their ancestry as "American" (20,625,093 or 7.3%) are said to be of old colonial British ancestry.

2000 Census
Ancestry Number % of total
German 42,885,162 15.2
African 36,419,434 12.9
Irish 30,594,130 10.9
English 24,515,138 8.7
Mexican 20,640,711 7.3
Italian 15,723,555 5.6
French 10,846,018 3.9
Hispanic 10,017,244 3.6
Polish 8,977,444 3.2
Scottish 4,890,581 1.7
Dutch 4,542,494 1.6
Norwegian 4,477,725 1.6
Scotch-Irish 4,319,232 1.5
United States 281,421,906 100

Geographical distribution


Following are the top 10 highest percentage 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 references)


  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



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 English-speaking world. A 2006 publication from the Institute for Public Policy Research estimated 5.6 million British-born people lived outside of the United Kingdom.

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".

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

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. There is also a significant population of people with British ancestry in South Africa.

Colonial period

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". 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. 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.

John Trumbull's famous painting, Declaration of Independence. Most of the Founding Fathers had British ancestors.

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. This permitted the development of the American Dream, a cultural spirit distinct from that of its European founders. 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.

In the original 13 colonies, most laws contained elements found in the English common law system.

The vast majority of the Founding Fathers of the United States were of mixed British extraction. Most of these were of English descent, with smaller numbers of those of Scottish, Irish or Scots-Irish, and Welsh ancestry. A minority were of high social status and can be classified as White Anglo-Saxon Protestant (WASP). Many of the prewar WASP elite were Loyalists who left the new nation.

Uncle Sam embracing John Bull, while Britannia and Columbia hold hands and sit together in the background (1898).

Immigration after 1776

British immigration to the U.S. 1820-2000
Period Arrivals Period Arrivals Period Arrivals
1820-1830 27,489 1901-1910 525,950 1981-1990 159,173
1831-1840 75,810 1911-1920 341,408 1991-2000 151,866
1841-1850 267,044 1921-1930 339,570
1851-1860 423,974 1931-1940 31,572
1861-1870 606,896 1941-1950 139,306
1871-1880 548,043 1951-1960 202,824
1881-1890 807,357 1961-1970 213,822
1891-1900 271,538 1971-1980 137,374
Total arrivals: 5,271,016

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. 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".

For over two centuries (1789-1989) of early U.S. history, all Presidents with the exception of two (Van Buren and Kennedy) were descended from the varied colonial British stock, from the Pilgrims and Puritans to the Scotch-Irish and English who settled the Appalachia.

Cultural contributions

Much of U.S. culture shows influences from nation states of British culture. Colonial ties to Great Britain spread the English language, legal system and other cultural attributes. Historian David Hackett Fischer has posited that four major streams of immigration from the British Isles in the colonial era contributed to the formation of a new American culture, summarised as follows:

Fischer's theory acknowledges the presence of other groups of immigrants during the colonial period, both from the British Isles (the Welsh and the Highland Scots) and not (Germans, Dutch, and French Huguenots), but believes that these did not culturally contribute as substantially to the United States as his main four.

Historical influence

Apple pieNew England was the first region to experience large-scale English colonization in the early 17th century, beginning in 1620, and it was dominated by East Anglian Calvinists, better known as the Puritans. Baking was a particular favorite of the New Englanders and was the origin of dishes seen today as quintessentially "American", such as apple pie and the oven-roasted Thanksgiving turkey. "As American as apple pie" is a well-known phrase used to suggest that something is all-American.


BuickDavid Dunbar Buick was a Scottish-born American, a Detroit-based inventor, best known for founding the Buick Motor Company.

Motorcycle manufacturer

Founders of Harley-Davidson, from left: William A. Davidson, Walter Davidson, Sr., Arthur Davidson and William S. Harley.

Harley-Davidson – The Davidson brothers were of Scottish descent (William. A., Walter and Arthur Davidson) and William S. Harley of English descent. Along with Indian Motorcycle Manufacturing Company was the largest and most recognizable American motorcycle manufacturer.


Baseball - The earliest recorded game of base-ball for which the original source survives, involved the family of George II of Great Britain, played indoors in London in November 1748. The Prince is reported as playing "Bass-Ball" again in September 1749 in Walton-on-Thames, Surrey, against Lord Middlesex. The English lawyer William Bray wrote in his diary that he had played a game of baseball on Easter Monday 1755 in Guildford, also in Surrey. English lawyer William Bray recorded a game of baseball on Easter Monday 1755 in Guildford, Surrey; Bray's diary was verified as authentic in September 2008. This early form of the game was apparently brought to North America by British immigrants. The first appearance of the term that exists in print was in "A Little Pretty Pocket-Book" in 1744, where it is called Base-Ball. Today, Rounders which has been played in England since Tudor times holds a similarity to Baseball. Although, literary references to early forms of "base-ball" in the United Kingdom pre-date use of the term "rounders".

In addition to Baseball, Football is a sport that developed from Soccer and Rugby which are both sports that originated in the British Isles.

Continental Colours, 1775-1777

The "Grand Union Flag" which served as the U.S. national flag from 1776 to 1777; the thirteen stripes represent the original Thirteen colonies.

The Grand Union Flag is considered to be the first national flag of the United States. The design consisted of 13 stripes, red and white, representing the original Thirteen Colonies, the canton on the upper left-hand corner bearing the British Union Flag, the red cross of St. George of England with the white cross of St. Andrew of Scotland. The flag was first flown on December 2, 1775 by John Paul Jones (then a Continental Navy lieutenant) on the ship Alfred in Philadelphia).

Place names







New Hampshire

New York State

North Carolina



In addition, some places were named after the kings and queens of the former kingdoms of England and Ireland. The name Virginia was first applied by Queen Elizabeth I (the "Virgin Queen") and Sir Walter Raleigh in 1584., the Carolinas were named after King Charles I and Maryland named so for his wife, Queen Henrietta Maria (Queen Mary). The Queens in New York was named after Catherine of Braganza (Queen Catherine), the wife of the King Charles II.

See also

Scholarly sources

External links