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1.2 Southern, Middle, and New England Colonies
Historians (people who study history for a living) traditionally divide the British colonies into three geographic
regions. The New England colonies included Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Connecticut. The
middle colonies consisted of New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Delaware. The southern colonies were
made up of Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia. Some colonies were established as
royal colonies, governed directly by the king through an appointed royal governor. Other colonies were proprietary
or charter colonies. Proprietary colonies were colonies granted to a group of private owners for development, while
charter colonies were colonies to which the crown granted a charter for the purpose of establishing a government.
Georgia was the last colony Britain established in North America in 1733. It began as a charter colony and became
a royal colony in 1752.
Southern Colonial Society
As mentioned when we discussed Virginia, southern society tended to be divided between rich plantation owners,
poor farmers, and slaves. Southerners generally accepted class distinctions and the idea that the wealthy, upper
class (known as the gentry) is superior to the lower, poorer class. People believed that male members of the upper
class should be the ones in positions of power and authority. Public education did not exist for some time in the
southern colonies. Any education that occurred among poorer southerners took place in the home. Meanwhile,
wealthy southerners either schooled their children at home, hired private tutors, or sent them to Europe to receive a
formal education. Unlike colonies further north, Great Britain established the southern colonies predominantly for
economic reasons rather than religious (Maryland, which was started as a colony for Catholics, was the one
exception). For this reason, rich landowners tended to remain part of the Church of England (Anglican Church)
because it was in their political and economic interest. Over time, Methodist and Baptist congregations became
common among poorer southerners and settlers along the frontier because they were willing to adopt new methods
for reaching rural areas.
Southern Colonial Economy
Tobacco became incredibly popular in Europe and ended up being an important cash crop for Virginia, Maryland,
and North Carolina. Meanwhile, the hot and wet climates of South Carolina and Georgia made rice and indigo
important crops further South. Southern colonies also produced tar, pitch, and turpentine from the abundant forests
that existed in the region. The South's reliance on staple crops (crops that are in large demand and provide the bulk
of a region's income) like tobacco and rice led to the rise of the plantation system and the South's heavy reliance on
slavery as well. Because these large plantations tended to lie along rivers and inland waterways, plantation owners
often had direct access to shipping without having to first transport their products over land to major ports. As a
result, the South did not develop the major centers of commerce and large cities that arose in the North (i.e., New
York, Boston, and Philadelphia).
New England Colonies
In addition to wealth, there were other reasons people came to North America. Religious dissent (disagreement with
the Anglican Church) was one of the most common. Since Europeans strongly identified religion with nationality,
English leaders viewed any protest or refusal to follow Anglican church teachings as a betrayal. As a result, those
with different religious views saw North America as a place to escape persecution. One such group was the
Puritans. They wanted to establish a community built solely on "pure biblical teaching" rather than Anglican
traditions. In 1620, a group of Puritans established a colony at Plymouth, Massachusetts. These Puritans became
known as the "Pilgrims" and celebrated the first Thanksgiving in 1621. Later, another group of Puritans settled
further north and established the Massachusetts Bay Colony.
New England's Colonial Economy
Rather than raising cash crops, the New England colonies relied heavily on the Atlantic Ocean. Shipbuilding, trade,
and fishing became leading industries in the region. New Englanders transported goods from England to other
regions, like the West Indies. From these regions, they acquired products like sugarcane, molasses, and rum that
they could then trade for African slaves, etc. As a result, Boston, Massachusetts became a booming urban center for
shipping and New England commerce. Although New Englanders farmed as well, their farms tended to be smaller
and for the primary purpose of allowing families to be self-sufficient.
New England Education
The Puritans had a strong sense of faith, family, and community and were the first British colonists to promote
public education. Puritans believed that everyone should be able to read the Bible. Therefore, they put a high
priority on literacy. This emphasis on education eventually spread to other fields as well. In 1647, Massachusetts
passed laws requiring public schools for towns of 50 families or more. In addition, towns of 100 or more families
were required to establish grammar schools for the purpose of preparing young boys for college. Generally, only
boys attended these schools, while girls were trained for "womanly duties" at home (although there were some
exceptions). New Englanders also founded two of the nation's earliest colleges: Harvard and Yale. Initially, the
primary purpose of these colleges was to train ministers.
New England Government
In New England, the first efforts at self-government were defined in the Mayflower Compact. The Puritan settlers
at Plymouth drafted this document while still on board the Mayflower (the ship that transported them to North
America). It established an elected legislature and asserted that the government derived its power from the people
of the colony. It also implied the colonists' desire to be ruled by a local government, rather than England. This
belief in representative government often took the form of town meetings, in which local, tax-paying citizens
(usually property owners) met together to discuss and vote on issues. Once again, it gave citizens a say in their
government and helped to firmly establish a belief in democratic ideals. However, despite advocating representative
government in principle, the Puritans still believed firmly that government should seek to enforce the will of God
rather than satisfy the will of the people. For this reason, power tended to rest in the hands of church leaders and
could often be very authoritative, dictating to colonists what the rules of their society would be.
Religion and Dissent
The Puritan church was a central part of life in New England. In Massachusetts, for instance, every settler had to
attend and support the Puritan church. Dissenters (those who disagreed with church leaders) were often banished
from the colony. Eventually, Roger Williams and Anne Hutchinson both left Massachusetts because they disagreed
with teachings of the Puritan church in the colony. Each played key roles in the founding of Rhode Island as a new
colony. In addition, Thomas Hooker also disagreed with the church and left Massachusetts in 1636 to found
Connecticut. He and his followers wrote a new body of laws for their settlement known as the Fundamental Orders
of Connecticut. It stated that the government's power came only from the "free consent of the people" and set limits
on what the government could do. Such principles eventually provided a foundation for the government of the
United States following the American Revolution. Eventually, unrest in Massachusetts took its toll. The colony lost
its charter in 1684. In 1691, despite the Puritans' best attempts to resist the Crown, Massachusetts became a royal
colony under the leadership of the king's appointed governor. The Crown also established a new, representative
legislature and abolished the requirement that every member must be a member of the church.
The Half-Way Covenant and the Salem Witch Trials
Puritanism affected society in other ways as well. Original settlers to New England shared deep religious
convictions that led them to travel across the Atlantic to establish a new homeland. As many of these settlers died
and a new generation took their place, many Puritans feared that their offspring would not share the same
"conversion experiences" (experience of coming to true faith in Christ). Since a valid "conversion experience" was
necessary to obtain Puritan church membership, this threatened the very core of New England society. To fix the
problem, the church adopted the Half-way Covenant. It established partial membership in the church for the
children and grandchildren of full members regardless of any conversion experience. So long as the partial member
was baptized, he/she was considered a church member but without certain privileges (such as voting on church
matters). Church leaders hoped that, despite growing attraction to the non-religious world around them, many
younger Puritans would eventually see the value in full church membership as a result of being partial members and
would eventually forsake secularism in favor of Puritan teachings. Some Puritans, however, opposed the Half-way
Covenant and saw it as a sinful compromise. In 1692, commitment to protect the Puritan faith resulted in one of the
darkest episodes in American history- the Salem Witch Trials. Claiming that they had been possessed by the devil,
several young girls in Salem, Massachusetts accused various townspeople of being witches. Before it was over,
colonial authorities actually brought the accused to trial and condemned a number of them to death.
New Englanders and Native Americans
At first, relations between colonial settlers and Native Americans in New England were peaceful. Native Americans
actually taught the Pilgrims of Plymouth how to raise corn that helped them survive the harsh winters. Eventually,
however, a series of wars broke out as settlers continued to move west, pushing Native Americans off lands that
they had occupied for generations. Finally, in 1675, a Native American leader known as "King Philip" (his Native
American name was "Metacom") united Native Americans in New England in an unsuccessful attempt to drive out
English settlers. Despite killing nearly 2000 colonists, Metacom's forces eventually had to retreat when the settlers
struck back. Colonial soldiers finally cornered Metacom in a Rhode Island cave and shot him through the heart,
putting an end to the conflict. The confrontation became known as King Philip's War and resulted in English
colonists gaining firmer control over New England.
Middle Colonies
Sandwiched between the New England and southern colonies were the middle colonies. Because of their
geographic location, the degree of religious tolerance, and the fact that other nationalities (i.e., the Swedes and
Dutch) had successfully colonized parts of the region prior to England, the middle colonies were the most culturally
Mid-Colonial Economy
The middle colonies depended on both farming and commerce. Farmers raised staple crops like wheat, barley, and
rye. Unlike the southern colonies, however, the middle colonies also boasted large cities like New York and
Philadelphia. These urban centers were home to diverse groups of people and a variety of businesses. In addition,
they were important ports for shipping products overseas. Because of the nature of the economy, slaves in the
middle colonies were not as numerous as in the South and they often worked in shops and cities, as well as on
farms. Because of waterways that granted colonists access to the heavily wooded interior, the middle colonies also
benefited from a thriving fur trade and forged an economic relationship with Native Americans like the Iroquois.
Diversity in the Middle Colonies
As mentioned before, the middle colonies featured a more diverse population than either of the other two colonial
regions. Under the leadership of William Penn, Pennsylvania became a homeland for Quakers. This religious group
did not recognize class differences, promoted equality of the sexes, practiced pacifism (non-violence), and sought
to deal fairly with Native Americans. They also made Pennsylvania a place of religious tolerance, thereby attracting
not only the English Quakers, but German Lutherans, Scotch-Irish Presbyterians, and Swiss Mennonites as well.
Because New York was originally a Dutch colony, its residents spoke languages other than just English and
exhibited a great deal of cultural diversity and religious differences. Jews, as well as Christians, made New York
their home, making the city site of the colonies' first synagogue (place of Jewish worship). Because of the diversity
and tolerance that the middle colonies tended to offer, the region featured a frontier that was continually pushing
west as more and more settlers made their way from other colonies and overseas. Meanwhile, as urban areas
continued to grow and develop (Philadelphia eventually became the colonies' largest city), a social order also
emerged. Merchants who dealt in foreign trade formed the upper class "aristocracy" of the region, while sailors,
unskilled workers, and some artisans comprised the lower classes. The middle class consisted of craftsmen,
retailers, and businessmen.
From "New Amsterdam" to "New York"
The area we know as New York was originally settled by the Dutch (Europeans from the Netherlands). They named
their new colony "New Netherland" and, in 1625, established its key trading post at the mouth of the Hudson River:
New Amsterdam. The Dutch colonists quickly built a very successful trading industry with Europe and other
colonies. They traded furs, local goods, and agricultural products like wheat and rye. Because of its location, New
Amsterdam also became a key port that featured inhabitants from various countries. As a result, much of the
diversity mentioned earlier arose during the days of Dutch colonization.
England did not fail to notice New Netherlands’ prosperity. In 1664, King Charles II decided he wanted the region
and declared the entire area under the rule of his brother, the Duke of York. Unable to resist the British, New
Amsterdam surrendered and was immediately renamed New York. With its most prized city lost, the rest of New
Netherlands soon surrendered to the British as well. The entire colony of New York was now in English hands.