America: Pathways to the Present

by Andrew Cayton

Start Free Trial

How did settlement and development differ among the New England, middle, and southern colonies?

Quick answer:

The first permanent English colony in the New World was established in Jamestown in 1607. The colony would be later taken over by the English. Later colonies were established in Plymouth, New York, Pennsylvania and Georgia.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The first permanent English colony in the New World was established in Jamestown in 1607.  This colony was established by single men of means who wanted to find gold and adventure.  When they could not find gold, they turned to tobacco as their main cash crop.  Virginia soon led the...

This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

world in tobacco production, and this created a global tobacco craze.  At first, the tobacco planters used indentured servants, but high mortality rates and better conditions in England drastically reduced the labor pool of available whites.  Virginians then turned to African slaves, who were less likely to die of the tropical diseases found in the American South at the time.  The next colony to be established was further north, in Plymouth, established with the arrival of the Pilgrims.  The Pilgrims came to the New World via Amsterdam as people who were seeking religious freedom from the Church of England.  Once in the New World, these Pilgrims spread as their children sought their own farms.  Offshoots from the Puritan church left the area and became the colonies of Connecticut and Rhode Island.  

Later colonies included New York and Pennsylvania.  Pennsylvania was established by William Penn in order to move another group of religious dissidents from England, the Quakers.  New York was established by Dutch traders; the colony was later taken over by the English.  These colonies were known for their religious freedom.  

Another set of colonies were located in the South.  North Carolina was established by settlers looking to get in on the tobacco craze that started in Virginia.  Georgia was established by James Oglethorpe in order to provide a place for English debtors, the ones he described as the "deserving poor."  Initially, Georgia banned slavery, but this would eventually change.  South Carolina was largely settled by English colonists from the Caribbean who had previously made their money in the lucrative sugar trade.  After the bottom fell out of the sugar market, many of them fled to South Carolina, taking their slaves with them.  From the beginning, South Carolina had more slaves than they had whites; this would lead to the whites creating a system which kept the slaves at a permanent disadvantage.  These slave codes would soon be adopted by all of the Southern colonies.  

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The first permanent British colony in America was at Jamestown, Virginia in 1607 as an investment by the London Company.  These people came primarily for land and to make a new life away from the social and economic inequalities of British life.  In 1608 Hudson (working for the Dutch) discovered the area of today's New York City, which was colonized by the Dutch six years later.  In 1620 colonists (later referred to as "Pilgrims") began a British Crown Colony in Massachusetts, for the purpose of religious freedom.  Four years later Virginia was taken over as a Royal Colony, and through the years various other British colonies were founded up and down the seacoast from the Spanish dominion of Florida to the French colonies in Canada.

The colonies developed differently for several reasons, among them the geography, climate and the various reasons for the founding of the colonies. In Virginia the colonists found a valuable commodity in tobacco, which they began growing in 1613.  The practice spread throughout the Southern colonies, and money crop farming became the main business.  In Massachusetts and the other colonies in the North the land was not as fertile, so farms tended to be small family concerns while people congregated into towns with small businesses and manufactories.  In the Mid-Atlantic colonies farming was the big business of the time, but it was mostly wheat, barley and other grains.  Except for the very largest of the Southern plantation owners, farmers in the middle colonies were the most prosperous of all.  Shipping was also a major business in all the colonies, all of them being on the Atlantic Ocean. The richest of the shippers tended to be in the north, such as John Hancock and Benedict Arnold.

Religiously, the colonies differed also.  In New England most of the population were Puritans, with some Anglicans and others.  In the middle colonies there were Quakers, Lutherans, Catholics and Jews as well as Anglicans. In the South, people were mostly Anglican, but there were Baptists (who also came to the New World for their religious freedom) and a number of  Catholic Cavaliers who fled Cromwell's England.  Education in New England and the middle colonies was religion-based, the middle colonies' children going to private schools based on their religions.  In New England there were grammer schools, which girls were not allowed to attend.  Although there were few schools in the South and children were largely taught at home, all who could afford to sent their sons to England for college or university.

These differences led to New England being a region of towns and intensely social life, the middle colonies being composed largely of big farms, and the South becoming a region of mixed large and small farms and towns, with an aggressive expansion policy into the Appalachian Mountains and the Ohio Valley.

Approved by eNotes Editorial