Life in the Thirteen Colonies

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What were the different regions of English colonial America during the 1700s? How can each region be described in terms of religion, economics, government, and culture?

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As Tamara K. H. has already pointed out, the three colonial regions were New England, the Middle Colonies, and the Southern Colonies, and Tamara has already presented an overview of the Middle Colonies. The one thing I would add to it, though, concerns Proprietary and Royal Colonies (and we could...

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As Tamara K. H. has already pointed out, the three colonial regions were New England, the Middle Colonies, and the Southern Colonies, and Tamara has already presented an overview of the Middle Colonies. The one thing I would add to it, though, concerns Proprietary and Royal Colonies (and we could add a third category: Joint Stock Company Colonies). If we take a long-term view of colonial history, however, it should be noted, many of the colonies were eventually converted, having been founded as a Proprietary or Company Colony before being turned into a Royal Colony sometime later in the 1700s (or, in some cases, even as early as the 1600s). These categorizations were not always permanent features of colonial politics.

Beyond that, I would focus on two key angles here: the economic and the religious, primarily through the contrast in the two colonial regions, which my Tamara has not described. The Southern Colonies were first and foremost defined by their reliance on cash crop agriculture—focused around products such as tobacco—to be exported back to Europe. The Southern Colonies tended to be dominated socially by a narrow elite of wealthy planters with plantations, and this was the region where slavery became entrenched. These features would remain in place through to the Civil War.

By contrast, New England had a much stronger commercial economy as a major center in colonial manufacturing and trade. Most of the major colonial traders would be based in colonial ports, of which New England and the Middle Colonies possessed a majority thereof. That being said, it should be noted that the colonial era remained a pre-industrial economy, and the vast majority of the population, whether it be in Massachusetts, New York, or Virginia, were farmers. If New England was more urbanized and more mercantile than the Southern Colonies, it was still far removed from what we would today imagine of an urbanized society.

Finally, as said before, there is also the religious angle to discuss. If we look further back towards the 1600s, we'll see that New England was primarily settled by the Puritans, who had strict, Calvinist understanding of Christianity and what Christian societies were meant to uphold. Unlike in the Southern Colonies, where the main motivation tended to be economic, in New England, settlement was about creating these religious communities far removed from England (where the state church was the Church of England), and laws and social organization tended to be religiously oriented. This social-political structure, centered largely around the churches themselves, was largely unique to New England, compared to the other two regions.

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In the 1700s, the colonies in America were divided into three different regions: "the New England colonies, the Middle colonies, and the Southern colonies" ("American Colonial Life"). The three different regions differed significantly in terms of climate, geography, natural resources, industries, government structure, and even religion. Due to limits in space, below are some ideas to help get you started.

The Middle Colonies consisted of Pennsylvania, Delaware, New York, and New Jersey. All four colonies had either royal or proprietary governments. Both the New York and New Jersey colonies had royal governments, which means that the rulers of the colony were appointed by the King of England. Royal colonies were ruled by a "royal governor and council" ("Royal Colonies").

Both the Delaware and Pennsylvania colonies were proprietary colonies, which means that the King of England "granted governing rights" to "one or more proprietors" of the colony ("Proprietary Colonies"). The term proprietor simply refers to one who owns the property.  

The middle colonies also consisted of a mix of different religions. The colonies granted religious freedom to Quakers, Catholics, Lutherans, Jews, etc. ("Middle Colonies").

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