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

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Let's start with the economies. The economy of the Chesapeake Bay colonies relied heavily on the production of cash crops—most notably, tobacco. Growing and processing tobacco is labor-intensive work. That is why many indentured servants, and later African slaves, were brought to these colonies. Tobacco also greatly diminishes the soil...

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Let's start with the economies. The economy of the Chesapeake Bay colonies relied heavily on the production of cash crops—most notably, tobacco. Growing and processing tobacco is labor-intensive work. That is why many indentured servants, and later African slaves, were brought to these colonies. Tobacco also greatly diminishes the soil quality, so new farmland was always in demand. Tobacco from these colonies found its way into markets all over the English colonies as well as throughout Europe.

The short growing season and poor soil conditions of much of New England meant that the region could never support an agrarian economy. Instead, New England colonists turned to the forests and the seas to make a living. Just off the coast of New England lies one of the most productive fishing grounds in the world. Salted cod from New England waters became the lifeblood of the economy.

Add to this the timber resources of the interior, which supplied the shipyards. Many of these ships were built to hunt whales, another driver of the New England economy. New England also benefitted from the triangular slave trade. Molasses and sugar grown by slaves in the Caribbean often found its way to New England where it was processed into rum. This rum would then be sold or traded in African markets to purchase more slaves, some of whom were brought to the Chesapeake colonies to the South.

As you can see, the New England economy was more diverse than the Chesapeake Bay colonies. However, it was not necessarily larger, since tobacco was such a lucrative crop.

A major difference in government was that the New England colonies usually elected their own governors and legislatures while Maryland and Virginia had their governors appointed by the Crown. They did, however, elect their own legislatures. Early on, New England governments were closely tied with local Puritan power structures. At the local level, clergy and politicians were usually one and the same. The Chesapeake Colonies, on the other hand, had more of a separation between the church and politics. However, Virginia did make the Anglican Church the official state religion.

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The economies of both regions were tied to their unique geographies and cultures. New England was settled by middle-class family units. Many of the people who settled in the region were skilled tradesmen and self-sufficient farmers. They could not raise major cash crops for sale abroad due to the thinness of the New England soil and the early frosts. However, New England settlers developed a thriving lumber industry, and they were also able to create furniture and ships. Many settlers in this region turned to whaling, as the region is next to rich sources of North Atlantic baitfish. Whales could be used for whale oil and ambergris. Since these people had a lot of children, they had a ready supply of labor until these children grew old enough to want farms of their own.

The Chesapeake, mainly Virginia, was initially settled by adventurers looking to make a fortune in the New World and then go back to the Old World in order to spend it. When it became apparent that there would be no major gold strikes in Virginia, the settlers needed a cash crop. John Rolfe developed a cross between prolific New World tobacco and flavorful Old World tobacco in order to create a high-yielding hybrid that was desired worldwide. These gentleman settlers were not used to physical toil, and they needed large plantations in order to grow a large enough crop for wealth. They initially turned to Native Americans as their source of labor, but Native American laborers died of European diseases or left the plantations. Next they turned to indentured servants, but these English laborers died in the tropical conditions of the Virginia summer, and as conditions grew better in England, many did not want to sign up for this type of work when they could buy their own passage. In 1619, the English in the region turned to African slaves. They soon figured out that the slaves could be trained to grow the tobacco and that they would not die due to mosquito-borne diseases. This led to the proliferation of chattel slavery in the Chesapeake and South and the rise of concentrated wealth on large plantations. This created a small circle of wealthy plantation owners and a large class of slaves and poor whites. In New England, there was more social mobility than in the South.

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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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