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The Development of American Colonies Essay

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Since the discovery of the New World by European powers, the newly established European settlements on American soil varied from region to region. Two such regions were The Chesapeake and The New England regions. Although both were settled vastly by the English people the societies they formed were different. These differences were due to a few factors. The factors include motivation for migration, geography, social, political and economical structures of the settlements. These factors are what contributed to the variations seen in the societies formed by settlers of distinct regions.

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In the 1600s life in Great Britain was no too pleasant for certain groups of people. The farming population of England was pushed off their land by landlords who began enclosing areas for pasture of animals such as sheep needed to maintain the increasing woolen industry of England. The landless farmers swarmed into cities such as London and Bristol. The cities became overpopulated and unemployment rates soared. People were desperate for jobs. In the 1600s a system called primogeniture was practiced in England. The system ensured that all inheritance went to the oldest son in the family.

Younger sons of aristocratic families were left without inheritance where eager to find prosperity of their own. Such people looking for profit decided to try their luck in the New World. The motivation of these people was mostly personal profit. For those of elite origin escaping primogeniture was also a motivation. Another motive which stimulated these courageous people was finding a better route to the Indies which a few competing European powers were also seeking. The leadership was provided by a popular monarch Queen Elizabeth, and the financing by Virginia Joint Stock Company.

In 1607 a group of Englishmen set out and settled James Town which became a colony in the Chesapeake region. The first band of settlers was all males, although later shipments of people did include a small fraction of women. This trend could be seen in Document C which contains a list of passengers headed for Virginia in 1635.The passage to the New World was rough and people died in its pursuit. The geography in the Chesapeake region was different from that in England. The hot climate provided for diseases such as malaria to which the English people were not immune.

These diseases killed off many of the colonists. The soil was fertile; the woods full of game and fish was present in the ocean. Yet many of the emigrating men were gentlemen who were not accustomed to work and therefore did not know how to take advantage of these resources. Other colonists spent time searching for gold instead of focusing on survival and “the starving time” came into being. The colonists died in large numbers of malnutrition and starvation and disease.

The colony survived due to the leadership provided by Capitan John Smith. His theory of “Those who shall not work shall not eat” caused some discipline within the men. As stated in Document F by Captain John Smith the colonists faced hard times. They died of cold and hunger. Captain Smith explained in the document that getting colonists to work was troublesome. Those who hunted gold got others involved and the men wasted time instead of gathering food. Capitan Smith realizing such starvation sent out a ship to summon supplies for the next year.

The two councilor that were present in the colony to maintain law and order made friends with the sailors and wanted to sail back to England thus causing Smith trouble to prevent such from happening.

Such unruly colonists owed a large part of their survival to Capitan Smith. He made relation with the local Indians and their leader Powhatans aided the colonists in obtaining food. When another shipment of people arrived amongst them was leader Lord de la Warr. He held a harsh military rule and made trouble with the local Indians whom the colonists raided for food. A war was started yet peace came to be when colonists by the name of John Rolfe married the Powhatan princess named Pocahontas.

The economy of the colonies improved when John Rolfe perfected tobacco growing. Tobacco was a profitable crop yet it required labor and vast areas of land to grow it upon. Tobacco exhausted soil and the English were forced to press upon Indian Territory to find more land for Tobacco growing. These actions caused Indians to rebel. Another series of Anglo- Powhatan’s wars was launched and a large number of colonists killed including John Rolfe. Yet the English won and the peace settlement required the Indians to be uprooted and moved away form the white settlements. These were the origins of reservation systems which later came into being.

Tobacco being a profitable crop, plantation system was developed for its growth. Such plantations required labor and the use of the Headright came into being. The system included the use of people called indentured servants. Indentured servants singed contracts and volunteered their labor as slaves for a set number of years in return for passage fair to the New World provided by their master. They were further promised their “freedom dues” which included a small piece of land, clothing, and a few barrels of corn upon the termination of their indenture. The indentured servants were promised much yet the promises were not always kept.

The land they were given was on Indian Territory and caused Indian attacks. Further the land was second rate and not much crops could be grown on such land. The indentures thus faced poverty at the end of their indenture. These conditions caused the indentures to rebel. Bacons rebellion occurred in 1653 and consisted of angry indentures rebelling against the rich land owners who were backed by Governor Berkley or the area. Ideas of the rebellion are vividly described in Document H which explains how wealth was unjustly and unevenly distributed among the landowning population leaving the others including freed indentures to poverty.

Another colony in the Chesapeake region was Maryland founded by Lord Baltimore as a haven for Catholics. The economy of the colony also largely depended on the growth and exportation of tobacco and thus also needed labor

The Chesapeake region which had connections to the Caribbean saw the black slavery that occurred there and adopted it for the work on plantation. African servants were easier to maintain and control with the use of the Adopted Barbados slave codes.

Virginia colony set up a form of government called the House of Burgesses which was a small parliament which governed the colony. Yet the southern colonies were surrounded by enemies of other nations such as the Dutch and the Spanish in Florida. Government was not always able to defend the colony form such invaders. As Stated in Document G where Governor Berkley explained the colonial inability to defend itself form the Dutch which whom they were forced to share the continent. These attacks of foreigners had to be curbed and controlled by Virginia’s government.

Societies were hard to form in the Chesapeake colonies. The areas were spread out and the establishment of schools and churches was difficult. There was still a shortage of females present in the region. Thus a large number of men could not find a wife and start a family. The few unstable families reproduced slowly compared with the New England Colonies. High mortality rate of men enabled women to have power and inherit their husband’s property to support themselves and their children upon becoming a widow. Such were the factors that formed the societies in the Chesapeake colonies.

English puritan separatist who believed the Anglican Church was corrupt suffered much prejudice for their religious beliefs. They moved to Holland where they became increasingly aware of the Dutchification of their children, their loss of English language and customs and adoption of Dutch culture. These people wanted a place where they could freely practice their religion while remaining fully English in speech and culture and traditions. Puritans secured a charter form the Virginia Joint Stock company and were supposed to land in James town, yet they sailed off coast and landed in Plymouth. The motivation of these people included mostly religious purposes and the worry of the Dutchification of their children.

They thus came in families to settle and stay. These puritans strongly believed in hard work and survival. Only one person died on their passage over. As the list of passengers bound for New England is examined in Document B a trend of women men and children coming as families could be seen. Among the religious motives of the Puritans was the idea of building a perfect holy society that would be an example to all others. Jonathan Winthrop, the founder of the Massachusetts Bay colony. Expressed his desire to build a holy “city on a hill” blessed by god in Document A.

Geography was another factor which influenced the development of the colonies. New England soil was rocky therefore the families did small subsistence farming in contrast to the export economy sustained in the south. The New England region had access to the ocean therefore fishing and whaling was pursued. The woody region contributed to, much of the lumber used in shipbuilding. The local Indians of the region seemed to be previously wiped out by an epidemic leaving shelters and cleared fields for European settlements. The Wampanoag tribe in the settlement helped the puritans survive by introducing corn and other to them. The colony thus celebrated their first Thanksgiving Day with the Harvest brought about in the fall.

The Governmental structure of the colonies was set up before the puritans left the ship to settle New England. The Mayflower Compact was drawn on the ship and was an agreement signed by the male passengers to form a self governing body ruled by majority in the settlements which they were about to established. As could be seen in Document D the Mayflower compact was the first form of the colonies agreement toward the common goal of survival. The government later set up in the colonies was a theocracy.

The church was supported by a state tax yet the clergy officials were not able to hold office. Town meetings were administered in which decisions were made by a vote of majority. An assembly called the General Court was elected by free adult puritan males. The General Court made the decisions such as tax and wage regulations in the colonies. In Document E could be examined to see how the General Court assembly controlled prices and wages. Document E is a good example how theocratic even the General Court was often referring to god to prove their point or justify a cause.

Outcasts were removed by the government such as minister Roger Williams. Roger Williams was and extreme puritan separatist believed that the puritan church established in the new world further needed reform. He thought that He believed that the Indians of the region were mistreated and deserved better land. Roger Williams was expelled from Massachusetts Bay colony and went further to est. the Rhode Island colony which offered complete religious freedom, no tax supported church and sheltered outcasts such as Anne Hutchinson. Anne Hutchinson also went to defy the puritan theology claiming that there was no predestination a belief cherished by the puritans. She was exiled and sent to the Rhode Island colony.

The economy of the colonies rested largely upon shipbuilding for the British army. Production of products such as tar and rosin were valued by the English navy and were paid well for. Boston’s geographical location on a seaport made it a center of trade and commerce, which was a profitable position. Colonies like Rhode Island which often half slave auctions profited from such occurrences. Fishing and export of codfish also sustained the economics of the colonies.

Finally the social structure of the New England colonies was different from the southern Chesapeake colonies. The New Englanders formed towns and communities. Education was important many of the colonists had to be literate in order to read the bible. Institutions such as Harvard University were established to train young men for clergy. The families in New England were stable and fertile. They reproduced well and the population grew. As the population grew other colonies such as Connecticut Valley and New Haven colonies were added to the New England region. These colonies were similar expect for Rhode Island colony and later established Quaker Pennsylvania. The Massachusetts colonies even formed a confederation called the New England Confederation with the Connecticut colonies whose purpose was to protect the colonies and was ruled by a voting majority of representatives.

In conclusion the variations in geographical, economical, social, political, and motivational factors contributed to the diverse societies formed by people of common English origin. These factors affected the largely the mentality and the way of life of the people residing in these New England and the Chesapeake regions. The differences in the aspects of society mentioned above are what gave the colonies of different regions their distinct characteristics.


Bailey, Thomas, and David Kennedy. The American Pageant. 10th. Lexington
Massachusetts: D.C. Health and company, 1994.

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