By the eighteen century, the inhabitants of England’s southern colonies were profoundly divided. How did race divide them? How did wealth/ status divide them? How did degree of freeness divide them?

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In America's southern colonies, people were divided by class, race, and freedom. In 1619, the first enslaved people arrived in Virginia. There was also a division between whites, as some were indentured servants who had to work for 2–7 years to pay off the cost of their passage to the New World, while others were not indentured servants.

In 1676, during Bacon's Rebellion in Virginia, some indentured servants rose up against the white elite class to demand more land and the right to move to Native American lands. As a result, the white elite in Virginia and in other southern colonies imposed a more rigid color line and made a clearer delineation between whites and blacks. In addition, slavery became harsher, and there was a divide between whites and blacks, including the rights they possessed. Poor whites enjoyed less freedom, including the right to vote, than did richer whites, and there were differences among the colonists according to race and class.

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The Southern colonies were less egalitarian than other American colonies. The rich planter class controlled local politics as many legislatures had property requirements to both vote and run for office. In order to successfully work this property, one needed slaves. The rich planter class also had access to second homes that were away from areas with mosquitoes. This led to poor whites dying of malaria with nowhere else to go.

Race also played a role in this society. Even Africans who bought their freedom were limited as to what they could do in this society. Due to fears of slave insurrection, there were statutes on the books prohibiting blacks from assembling or gaining an education. This kept them relatively isolated and powerless in a white-dominated world. Indentured servants were free white laborers, but they also had restrictions due to the conditions of their contracts. Indentured servants were also considered expendable, as many did not survive their first few months in the New World due to disease.

The southern colonies had a different experience than the rest of the American colonies. Being white did not guarantee one's full access to education and politics. In many circumstances wealth was concentrated in the hands of a few families who maintained it for generations. Even if a family lost its wealth through bad financial planning, the name itself carried enough power to get them a bigger place at the political table. These problems would only grow as the amount of wealth generated by plantation labor led to a growing divide between the haves and have-nots. Slaves faced even stronger restrictions with the increased threat of slave revolts. In time, indentured servitude would disappear, but it was still a hard life to be born poor and white in the American South.

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By the end of the 18th century, the southern colonies were thriving due to the success of their plantation economy. The economy of the South depended on the cultivation of crops, and the cultivation of crops led to the establishment of the plantation system. The plantation system, in turn, supported the institution of slavery. The plantation economy created a population composed largely of wealthy aristocratic landowners and African American slaves – a population sharply divided by color as well as along class lines. Tobacco and cotton became exceptionally profitable, and they required larger and larger areas of land. The plantations grew larger, the landowners became wealthier, and they bought more and more slaves. This sharpened the divide along white and black, rich and poor, free and enslaved.

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