In what ways did the New England Colonies' economy and society differ from the Chesapeake Colonies' economy?

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Tamara K. H. | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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Geography and climate proved to have a significant impact on developing the economies of both the New England and Chesapeake Colonies. The New England Colonies included those of Connecticut, the Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, Massachusetts, and Province of New Hampshire, while the Chesapeake Colonies included the Commonwealth of Virginia and the Province of Maryland.

Since New England soil is much rockier, less fertile, and the climate is much colder than in the South, farming proved to be more difficult in New England than in the South. New England colonists were only able to grow such crops as "corn, pumpkin, rye, squash and beans" ("New England Colonies"). In contrast, the soil in the areas around the Chesapeake Bay was extremely fertile, allowing the colonists to grow any crop they wanted, giving the area a "'self-sufficient' agriculture" (Chesapeake Bay: Our History and Our Future, "Economy: The Colonial Period, 1607-1780"). Since the colonists of the Chesapeake Bay area could grow any food they needed, they could also turn to using farming as a major economic source. We refer to a "cash-crop" as a crop grown only for "sale and not for use strictly by its growers" ("Economy: The Colonial Period"). The Chesapeake colonists grew such cash crops as indigo, rice, and tobacco, but tobacco was by far its main cash crop ("Colonial South and the Chesapeake: Agriculture"). Since agriculture was such a huge business in the South, the colonists also needed more laborers and turned to slavery. In fact, "buying and selling the slaves was a major business in itself, and many slave traders made their fortunes this way" ("Economy: The Colonial Period").

In contrast to the Chesapeake colonists, since the New England colonists could not rely on selling crops to build their economy, they built their economy around "fishing, whaling, and shipbuilding" ("New England Colonies"). Just as the Chesapeake colonists had a substantial tobacco market, the New England colonists had a substantial fish market, including "cod, mackerel, herring, halibut, hake, bass and sturgeon" ("New England Colonies"). Whaling was also a lucrative industry because whale oil was a valuable commodity.

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