Life in the Thirteen Colonies

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What were the characteristics of the English colonies in various regions prior to 1700?

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The Chesapeake region was noted for its tobacco production. The region used slaves and indentured servitude prior to 1700; though by the end of the period, it was starting to phase out indentured servants and would use only slaves. The region was also known for malaria outbreaks in the fall that would periodically decimate the population of rich and poor alike. Successful plantation owners owned thousands of acres and many slaves in order to produce tobacco. The planters controlled the economy and political life of the region.

The Middle Colonies were noted for their diversity and large successful farms. Pennsylvania was established by Quakers and was tolerant of other religious groups; the region experienced an influx of German immigrants by the end of the period. New York City was noted for its trade. Its religious and cultural diversity were due to its being a Dutch colony at first. New York was one of the first places in the New World that welcomed Jewish immigrants. Though the colonies had slavery, they were not as dependent on them as the Chesapeake and Southern colonies.

The Carolinas produced indigo, rice, and tobacco, though cotton was starting to become important by the end of the period. The Carolinas used slavery due to a shortage of indentured servants and the fact that chattel slavery could be owned indefinitely along with their offspring. These colonies were also more sparsely populated than other colonies.

New England would be established by English families seeking freedom to practice their Calvinist religion away from persecution by the Church of England. Due to poor soil and cold climate, these people would turn to small farms, logging, whaling, fishing, and trade for their commerce. The English families had many children to support labor needs. The meetinghouse and the church were the most important buildings in the close-knit communities of New England. Though some had slaves, they were treated as luxury items, and slavery would end in this region before the American Revolution.

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The New England colonies were colonies in which the economy depended mainly on manufacturing and trade. While there was some farming that occurred, it was mainly subsistence farming. The soil was rocky, and the climate was cooler than in other regions. Thus, the growing season was also shorter. With forests and rivers nearby, and with excellent ports, manufacturing and trade were important economic activities. Slavery existed, but it was in a limited fashion. Many Puritans lived in most of the New England colonies. While they freely practiced their religion, other religions weren’t tolerated. The only exception to this was in the colony of Rhode Island, which had religious toleration.

The middle colonies had a mixture of economic activity. Colonies such as New York and New Jersey had more manufacturing than farming. Colonies such as Pennsylvania and Delaware had more farming. The middle colonies were known as the breadbasket colonies because a lot of grain was grown there. There was religious tolerance throughout the middle colonies, especially in Pennsylvania and Delaware. The middle colonies had more slaves than the New England colonies had but fewer slaves than the southern colonies had.

The Chesapeake Colonies and the Carolinas had many slaves, as farming was very important in both places. The Chesapeake Colonies were known for growing tobacco while the Carolinas grew indigo, rice, and cotton. The climate in both regions was very suitable for farming. The climate was very mild. Additionally, the soil was very fertile. Slaves were used extensively in both regions to help with the farming. Most people in the southern colonies followed the teachings of the Church of England.

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The economy of the Chesapeake, particularly Virginia, was based on agriculture, including the cultivation of tobacco and cotton, and the colony began importing slaves in 1619. A pyramidal social hierarchy developed in which white planters were at the top and white indentured servants and slaves were at the bottom. After Bacon's Rebellion in 1676, the white planters decided to increasingly rely on slavery rather than indentured servitude, given the restive class of white indentured servants who resented the rich elite. The system of slavery became increasingly harsh over time. The Carolinas were founded by settlers from Barbados and were involved in raising indigo, rice, cotton, and other crops. They brought with them a harsh form of slavery. Both the Chesapeake and the Carolinas were largely Anglican in religion.

The middle Colonies, particularly Pennsylvania (which was founded as a Quaker colony), and New York (founded originally by the Dutch, who permitted Jews and other religious minorities to enter), practiced religious tolerance. Their agriculture was based on cultivating crops such as wheat and other grains, and they had far fewer slaves than the deep south. 

The New England colonies were originally founded as theocracies and places for the Puritans, who faced persecution in England, to practice their religion freely. They were, however, largely intolerant of other religions, save in Rhode Island, a colony based on religious tolerance. The settlers arrived as families and lived in planned communities ruled by the church and the family. As the soil was rocky, New England had far fewer slaves than in the north and ran small industries, built ships, and ran small farms. The New England colonies emphasized the importance of literacy (to read the Bible) and had early forms of primary public schools. They also had some of the first colleges, including Harvard, founded in 1636. 

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