The opportunity to own land was the primary attraction for colonists to risk a trip across the Atlantic Ocean to the colony in Virginia in the Seventeenth Century. In England, social and economic mobility was limited. Few of the farmworkers had an opportunity to acquire land and enter the gentry class.
In Virginia, social and economic barriers were far lower. Once tobacco farming became the primary source of wealth, there was a surplus of land and a shortage of labor. Virginia's leaders sought to attract immigrants by offering cheap land. In addition to the "headright" system established in 1618, the colonial government also offered grants to those willing to serve in the militia and fortify the frontier from 1630 to the Revolutionary War.1
By the 1660's, conditions changed in both England and Virginia and fewer people chose to become indentured servants in Virginia. To create a ow-cost alternative labor force, slaves were brought involuntarily to raise tobacco and finance the lifestyle in which Virginia colonists wished to live.
Throughout the Eighteenth Century, immigration was still encouraged. Settlement crossed the Fall Line, and the threat of French attack was added to the standard concerns about conflicts with Native Americans on the Piedmont. European migrants, often fleeing poverty in Ireland plus religious conflicts in France and what today is Germany, were offered cheap land as the primary inducement to settle on the frontier.
When the colonial government granted 50 acres per individual immigrant, it acted as a retailer. The colony's administrative costs were reduced when the colony acted as a wholesaler and provided land in large grants to individuals.
In the mid-1700's, the colonial leaders issued large grants to land companies. These were groups of individuals who joined together to gain the opportunity to speculate on western lands. If they could buy low, meet the terms of the grants, and then sell high, then the land companies could turn a good profit and enrich the members.