Why did the four colonial regions (the Chesapeake, New England, the Middle Colonies, and the Carolina Colonies) develop so differently socially while ending up with such similar political systems?

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The different regions of the English colonies in North America developed different social institutions namely as a result of the different populations that settled there. The local economies also played a role in this. Their relationship with the government of England was mostly the same from colony to colony though, so their political institutions did not differ very much.

The New England colonies were mostly settled in the seventeenth century by the Puritans. This group of Calvinist-leaning religious fundamentalists sought to establish a social order dedicated to a religiously pure way of life. They never had strong ties to traditional English norms and developed a rather independent streak. Even though most of the Puritan settlement ended by the 1640s, their cultural institutions and traditions would dominate New England culture throughout the colonial period. Additionally, the climate and terrain of New England never supported large-scale farming operations. Therefore, most rural parts of the region only supported small settlements and scattered towns, further adding to the small community-based nature of the region. It would be incorrect however to say that the government of Massachusetts was similar in every way to the other colonies. It tended to be much more theocratic in nature, with a very blurry line between church and state.

The Chesapeake Colonies of Maryland and Virginia were different. Religion mattered much less here. The Church of England was the dominant church in this region, but there were never enough ministers and priests to exert its influence. The large tobacco plantations in Virginia led to the development of a slave-based farming economy and culture. Maryland is a unique case. It consisted of land granted to Lord Baltimore, who divided it up among his supporters and friends. This resulted in a system resembling a feudal manorial system in some ways. This form of land division and settlement resulted in large plantations. To work these plantations, many indentured servants, and later slaves, were brought over. An aristocracy developed in these colonies that strived to maintain a cultural connection with England. Few towns developed in these colonies as most of the goods here were shipped independently by the landowners themselves.

The Middle Colonies were much more diverse than the other regions. People from many parts of Europe settled in Pennsylvania and New York in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The Quakers were the dominant group in Philadelphia which became one of the largest and most prosperous cities in the colonies. The Hudson River Valley became a true melting pot as Europeans from Italy to Denmark settled there. This led to a lot more diversity and tolerance than in the other more homogenous colonies.

The Southern Colonies remained mostly rural. Around the few cities, an upper class emerged that lived separately from most of the other colonists. They controlled the large plantations and slave populations brought there to work for them. The backcountry was mostly settled by Germans and Scotch-Irish looking to distance themselves from the more English coastal areas.

From early on in their history, the colonies developed political systems quite separate from England. Most of them started as charters granted by the King and therefore had a large degree of freedom. However, the colonists were still subjects of the English Crown. Hence, self-government and semi-democratic institutions emerged that were in line with general English norms. England would start to assert more direct political control over the colonies in the eighteenth century. Early on though, the Crown and Parliament were happy enough to let the colonies govern themselves.

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