Life in the Thirteen Colonies

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Compare and contrast the colonies of Virginia and Massachusetts Bay.

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Both colonies were settled by the English, and both colonies were ultimately taken over by the Crown. Both colonies experienced high mortality rates due to starvation and disease. Both colonies also successfully fought Native American groups as the colony sought to expand.

Virginia was settled by young men who sought to make a massive profit by finding gold and the Northwest Passage. New England was settled by family groups who sought to practice their Puritan religion the way they chose. New England's main source of exports were timber, fishing, and whaling. Virginia made tobacco famous throughout the world. New England would import African slaves, but it would not be totally dependent on them. After 1619, Virginia would need African slavery in order to maintain the plantation system.

While both were settled by the English, they had profound differences. These cultural differences would continue even after the United States gained its independence.

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There are similarities and differences between the Virginia colony and the Massachusetts Bay colony. The Virginia colony had fertile soil and a good climate for farming. Tobacco was one important crop raised in Virginia. The Massachusetts Bay colony focused more on fishing, lumbering, shipping, and trade, as the climate was cooler and the soil was rockier than in Virginia.

There was more religious freedom in Virginia than in Massachusetts Bay. The people of Massachusetts Bay left England to establish a colony so they could escape religious persecution. While they practiced the Puritan religion freely in their colony, they didn’t tolerate the practice of other religions.

Many families settled in Massachusetts Bay, while more individuals settled in Virginia. This is partially due to the fact that the Virginia colony, which was supported by the Virginia Company of London, was mainly established to make money and to expand trade, unlike the Massachusetts Bay colony.

Both colonies had difficult relations with the Native Americans. The Native Americans viewed the settlers with suspicion and were hit hard by diseases that the Europeans brought with them. Both colonies also struggled when they were first established. Famine, conflict with the Native Americans and sometimes with each other, a lack of supplies, and dealing with the environment were difficulties faced by both colonies.

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As British colonies in the New World, Virginia and Massachusetts Bay colonies shared some of the same difficulties in their establishment. Famine, disease, and lack of supplies led to many hardships for the settlers. Conflict with the Native Americans also occurred though these conflicts were more pronounced in Virginia, especially with the Powhatans.

However, the contrast between the two colonies is vast. Virginia was established in 1607 by the London Company. Freedom of religion was permitted, and most of the settlers were Anglican or Baptist. This colony was established for economic reasons, and the Crown expected the settlers to find gold. Though gold was not discovered, crops of tobacco and other agricultural endeavors were successful. Plantations arose and indentured servants worked the fields.

On the other hand, Massachusetts Bay was settled in 1630 by a group of Puritan investors seeking religious freedom. Ironically, religious freedom was not allowed in this colony and any dissent from Puritan religious beliefs was punishable. The Puritans believed their faith was the only true one. The economy differed from Virginia as the climate was not favorable to large crops. Instead, they depended on shipbuilding and trade.

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Outside of the fact that they were both colonized mainly by English people (as compared to some colonies that had large populations from places like Germany) starting in the 1600s, there were not many similarities between these two colonies.

Massachusetts Bay was settled largely by families migrating together as units.  Virginia was colonized much more by individual people.  Almost everyone who came to Massachusetts was free while many who came to Virginia came as indentured servants or, later, as slaves.  Massachusetts Bay's official church was Puritan/Congregational while Virginia's was Church of England.  Massachusetts Bay had an economy based on small farmers and merchants.  Virginia's economy was based on plantations worked by unfree labor.

As can be seen, the contrasts between these colonies greatly outweigh the similarities.

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The two colonies were quite different. Virginia was designed to make money. It was established by men in 1607—women would not be shipped in until 1619. The men who established it initially hoped to find a water route to China. They then hoped to find gold there. When neither of these came to pass, they became exporters of tobacco. Virginia tobacco soon became a staple all over the world and led to a focus on this major cash crop. While not very religious, the colony would support the Anglican church.

Massachusetts Bay, on the other hand, was established by families. The goal of this colony was to provide a place for the Pilgrims to settle where they could practice their religion freely. While Virginia would ultimately turn to slavery to support its plantations, Massachusetts Bay would never rely on slavery; rather, they would rely on the children of the colony to provide much of the labor. Slavery did exist in the colony, but it was discontinued after the Revolutionary War. The colony was more close-knit than Virginia, as the farms were smaller. Due to an unfavorable climate and rocky soil, many turned away from farming altogether and looked to shipbuilding and whaling to make their money.

The differences between the two colonies summarize the difference between the cultures of the North and South that would continue for generations. The descendants of the founders of Virginia would create a class-based society, whereas the descendants of Massachusetts Bay would be more entrepreneurial.

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