describe the Southern Colonies: characteristics and ways of life  

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larrygates | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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The Southern colonies were agricultural in nature, based on the production of "staple" crops produced in large quantities for sale to England. These included tobacco in Virginia and Maryland, rice and indigo in South Carolina, and naval stores (pine tar, turpentine, lumber) in North Carolina. Over time, huge estates developed whose owners comprised the planter aristocracy. Planters built large mansions and used them to entertain others to maintain at least the appearance of an opulent lifestyle. Many attempted to keep up with styles from London. Entertainment aside from parties consisted of dice, cards, and for men, cock fighting. They strove to appear European, even studying classical literature to appear as renaissance persons. Although many entertained lavishly, the cost of their parties, etc. was paid by loans against crops forwarded to England. When the crops were sold, the loans were paid off, but there was seldom a substantial balance; so they borrowed again and soon became locked in a spiral of debt. Many later southern mansions had huge facades to create an image of wealth, but were small and cramped inside.

Roughly half the residents of the colonial south were indentured servants who had sold themselves for passage to America. They were required to work for 5-7 years for the person owning their indenture, and were little more than slaves. The following letter from an indentured servant illustrates the hardship of that life:

This is to let you understand that I, your child, am in a most heavy case, by reason of the nature of the country, [which] is such that it causeth me much sickness, as the scurvy and the bloody flux [probably dysentery] and diverse other diseases, which make the body very poor and weak. And when we are sick, there is nothing to comfort us. For since I came out of the ship, I never ate anything but peas and loblollie (that is, water gruel). As for deer or venison, I never saw any since I came into this land. There is indeed some fowl, but we are not allowed to go and get it, but must work hard both early and late for a mess of water gruel and a mouthful of bread and beef. A mouthful of bread, for a penny loaf must serve four men, which is most pitiful, if you did know as much as I, when people cry out day and night, O that they were in England without their limbs, and would not care to lose any limbs to be in England, yea though they beg from door to door.

Most large southern estates reached to the ocean or river fronts where ocean going vessels called. There were few cities in the south, as there was no need for them. The notable exceptions were Charleston, S.C., Williamsburg, Va. and Annapolis, Md.

Less than one in fifteen southerners was a church member. Worship consisted of Anglican ritual and was seldom personal. Churches were locally controlled, and ministers hired by the aristocracy who would not hasten to fire any minister whose sermons became too personal. As a result, the intense personal religion that dominated the northern colonies was absent in the South.

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