The 17th century was the colonial era when the British settled in North America. These colonies are categorized into three groups- New England, Middle, and Southern. Although economy and religion had importance, geography was the primary factor in shaping the development of the British colonies.
Although the separatists came to North America for religious reasons, it was not the reason for New England’s development and prosperity. Geography is the primary factor because economic activities and trade were all dependent of the environment in which the colonists lived. Its cold climate, thick forest, and poor rocky soil made the land unsuitable for crops. Therefore, they had to rely on the natural resources they had. The towns along the coast made their living off fish, whaling, and shipbuilding. The coast New England settled on is important in showing the precedence of geography because it provided the colonies with a booming cod fishing industry. If they had not settled where they did, they would not have developed such a marketable product. The cod fishing industry along with the triangular trade is the reason economy was the secondary factor.
Cod played an important role in developing the economy of colonial New England. In The Wealth of Nations, Adam Smith wrote about New England cod fishing as an example of the successful practice of free enterprise. The triangular trade route, which came to Boston in 17th century, is another example of economy contributing the development of the colonies. Boston carried rum made in New England to Africa to trade for slaves that were brought to Caribbean plantations, where molasses was purchased and brought back to New England to make rum.
This is important because this new economic development was a huge growth of rum-making distilleries in Massachusetts and Rhode Island. It also gave a push to other industries, such as shipbuilding to carry goods to longer distances such as Africa. Religion was the last factor in the development of the New England colonies. The famous group of separatists departed to Holland to flee from King James I religious persecution. After twelve years of living in Holland, the English’s children started to become “Dutchified”, so they secured rights with the Virginia Company to settle under their jurisdiction and ended up in the Massachusetts Bay colony. However, within these religious communities were those that had their own beliefs.
This is important to the development of New England because these people would create their own colonies, i.e. Anne Hotchinson and Roger Williams. Hotchinson challenged Puritan orthodoxy by saying that a holy life was no sure sign of salvation and the truly saved do not need to obey the law of God. She was then exiled and found Rhode Island along with Roger Williams, who was too exiled for he challenged the bay colony for taking Indian land unfairly. Many came to Rhode Island because they granted complete religious freedom, even for Jews and Catholics.
Geography was the primary factor in shaping the development of the Middle Colonies. New York was founded at the mouth of the Hudson River and Philadelphia on the Delaware River. This is important because it created the perfect location for trade. It proves geography to be the primary factor because if the colonies were not founded along the coast they would not have been able to create the profitable trading posts that they had, which would then lead to lack of economic success. Pennsylvania had fertile soil and a mild climate well suited for farming and agriculture. They had raw materials such as timbers, fur, and coal, but most importantly, iron ore. This is significant to proving geography as the primary factor because not only could they take advantage of New York and New Jersey’s location at ports to export their agricultural products, but they could also manufacture their own iron products such as plows, locks, and nails, and export them to England.
If it were not for the geography of where they settled, they would not have been able to create such a large business, making it the primary factor in the development of the Middle Colonies. The close second is economy. New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Delaware were developed into profitable trading centers. The excellent harbors along the coasts of the Middle Colonies were ideal sites for cities. This was the perfect place for merchants to export cash crops, especially grain, and imported manufactured goods. This trade was important to the development of the Middle Colonies because it resulted in Philadelphia becoming the fastest growing city in the colonies. The city’s wealth brought public improvements such as Philadelphia’s statehouse (Independence Hall) and streetlights along paved roads. New York also attained its rapid growth from trading. Its busy port handled numerous products including flour, bread, furs, and whale oil.
Not only did their trade ports create large profit and advancement in cities, it created large diversity. Various immigrant groups arrived in the port cities of the Middle Colonies. This would prove to be helpful because one of the largest immigrant groups was the Germans, who continued to help in the Middle Colonies’ economy. They were known to be advanced in farming and brought over their tradition of artisanship. They built Conestoga wagons that were suitable for carrying produce throughout towns and offered covers to protect the produce from rain. Most of these Germans came as indentured servants searching for religious tolerance. Religion also made a big contribution to the Middle Colonies.
William Penn was attracted to the Quaker faith in 1660 at only sixteen years old. Wanting to create an asylum for his people, Penn received a grant from the king in 1681. His Quaker faith demanded Pennsylvania to have no tax-supported church, no demanded allegiance, equality between men and women, no slavery, and most importantly, freedom of worship. As a result, immigrants flooded the colony. Although Penn was against slavery, many of the immigrants were not, thus African slavery began. This proves religion to be of influence to the shaping of development in the Middle Colonies because it provided large population growth and started some of the slavery in the North.
Geography is the primary factor for the Southern Colonies’ success and development. The colonists of Jamestown settled in the Chesapeake area, which was largely swampy. In this muggy area, the colonists were subject to an onslaught of diseases such as malaria and yellow fever. This inhibited the development of the colony for after two years they still only had a population of 400. England sent the colonists to the New World in hopes to repeat the success of Spaniards who found gold in South America. However, once they realized the land was incapable of offering gold, they were forced to change their goals, i.e. grow their own food and find a marketable commodity. Virginia, Maryland, and Carolina all found gold in their tobacco, rice, and sugar plantations. Therefore, although economic success was the main reason for the Southern Colonies’ survival, it could not have been possible without the lands’ fertile soil and warm climates, which proves geography to be the primary factor.
Therefore, economics, being the savior of the Virginia colony, is secondary in the development of the Southern Colonies. John Rolfe brought commercial success to Jamestown by introducing tobacco as a colonial export. Colonists now hungered for more land to grow tobacco. Now that they had more tobacco plantations, they needed more workers. This is important because it began African slavery in the colonies. This proves that economy is important because it would dramatically shape the morals and viewpoint of slavery in the rest of the colonies. Maryland had the largest slave population who worked on cotton, tobacco, rice, sugar, and indigo plantations. This is important because it also contributed to the Southern Colonies’ economic success.
However, it also unfortunately proves the beginnings of slavery in the south. Religion had little importance in comparison to geography and economics. In 1649, the colony of Maryland passed the Act of Toleration, which guaranteed toleration to all Christians. It decreed the death penalty to any group who denied the divinity of God; therefore, it granted Catholics safety. This is important to religion because after the colonial era ended, Maryland sheltered Roman Catholics more than any other colony. In this way, it proves that religion had albeit little, some importance in shaping the development in the Southern Colonies.
As a whole, colonial America’s development was influenced by geography, religion, and economy. However, the most important contribution was made by geography. Without its land and resources, the colonies would not have been able to prosper and develop into the successful colonies they became. Each of the three groups had their own unique aspects such as the coast, ports, and fertility, and that is all they needed to begin their industrious colonies.
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