New England and the Chesapeake Colonies

When Jamestown was originally settled, and when the Mayflower landed, the colonists who emerged from the ships had huge plans and tremendous goals for what would come of their own colony. However, although both settled regions were the new homes to a majority of the English, two separate societies formed. In New England, the colonists were religious extremists hoping to form a perfect society, while gold hunters with little or no desire to create a permanent home flocked to the Chesapeake region. The colonists in the north were more concerned with family values than those in the south, whose society suffered from a great lack of women and such a high death rate that family ties were hard to keep. As time went by, the development of slavery and indentured servitude started making an autocracy of rich cash crop farmers in the Chesapeake region, while in New England continued to have a majority of small farmers, along with some fishermen and shipbuilders.

The differences between the colonists’ goals, populous, and economy caused New England and the Chesapeake region to form completely separate societies. When the Pilgrims landed in New England, they had no desire other than to create a community which could worship God in the way they saw fit, which was completely different than the desire of the Chesapeake settlers, who wanted gold. The New England colonies were established by religious groups with a strong belief in God and the ability to create a perfect society under Him. They marveled in their religious conviction which allowed them to travel to a completely foreign land, and were positive that, while following their belief system, they could create the perfect mixture of religion, politics, and justice (document A). The amount of effort which the colonists in New England tried to form the perfect society – their “city upon the hill – went to such an extent that the Articles of Agreement, written in Springfield, 1636, stated that “our town shall be composed of forty families” (Document D). The New England colonists were so willing to form a perfect community, that they tried to keep track of every little detail of their towns.

However, in the Chesapeake region, instead of trying desperately to keep everything in order, the colonists simply wanted to search for gold and return to their home, England. The colonists who went to the Chesapeake region had signed contracts which stated that, for a specific amount of years, they would have to stay in America and search for gold. This, from the start, put a search for wealth into the southern society. As these contracted colonists searched for gold, they were not allowed to establish true towns or grow crops that would help them survive. Also, the colonists planned on only staying within the area for long enough to find gold, and then to return back to England, causing the desire for community life to decrease. Since they did not build towns and communities as those in New England did, they did not have the same close relationships within neighborhoods grow, as it did for the Puritans. Due to the different goals the colonists had – New England settlers wanting an ideal society, and Chesapeake settlers wanting gold, their growing societies were bound to have differences. As the colonies began to grow, problems with the climate in the Chesapeake region that were not present in New England forced the different regions’ societies to differ all the more. The Chesapeake region, although a great location for defense against enemies, was, basically a swamp.

The local area had hot, humid weather that, along with diseases such as malaria, caused the population to have incredibly high death rates. Families never survived long, making remarriages increasingly common and grandparents a foreign idea. To add to the colonists’ discomfort, the amount of women who moved to the area was quite a bit smaller than the amount of men. On a ship heading for Virginia in 1635, only eleven women accompanied sixty-four men (Document C). These highly disproportionate statistics caused family values to decrease; many marriages in which the woman was already pregnant started occurring more commonly and many men went their entire lives without marrying. On quite a different hand, however, the colonists in New England were fortunate enough to live in a friendly climate. Families had many children, often the number of family members reaching into the teens. Along with the fertile area, the colonists were more family oriented, in general, which aided to their wish for a model society. More often than in the Chesapeake region, entire families would flock to the New World, making the number of males relatively equal to the number of males (Document B). This allowed for families to be more connected; children in New England were more able to connect with their families, grandparents, and communities than those of the settlers in the Chesapeake region.

The terrible climate which caused death to be common in the Chesapeake region, along with the small amount of women, caused its society to differ from that of the colonists in New England which had large numbers of children and strong family values. As the colonists in the South realized that cash crops, such as tobacco, rice, and indigo grew incredibly well in their climate, they also realized the need for large plantations, while colonists in the North depended on fishing, shipbuilding, and small farms to survive. After a bit of experimenting, the southern colonists realized that several crops could grow exceptionally well in their swampy climate that could bring them a rather large profit. However, these crops took an extremely high amount of effort that many farmers were not willing to give. So, instead, they “hired” indentured servants to do the work for them. While these farmers received labor for several years, they also received a land claim which was given to anyone who paid for a voyage to the New World, whether he was the actual person to take the trip or not. While this brought many new people over as indentured servants, the original farmers gained more land, which allowed them to make more money. However, while the original farmers were becoming quite rich, the indentured servants, once freed, gained barely anything, and no land rights which allowed them to start their own farms.

The poor ex-servants became outraged at their inability to find any sort of jobs other than working for their former masters. The southern society was quickly becoming an autocracy, since the small amount of wealthy plantation owners ruled over the poor small farmers and indentured servants. However, the ex-servants’ unrest soon became solid with Bacon’s rebellion. Suddenly, the plantation owners noticed the need for a work-force, which led to a large increase of slave imports. The most cruel and heartless business operation, which lead to an even greater separation between rich and poor in the southern autocracy, had begun. However, in New England, where large plantations were nearly impossible due to the incredible rocky terrain, fishing was discovered. The colonists discovered a large abundance of cod near their colony, which led to the creation of fishing industries, a business that turned into a very important part of New England life. Along with fishing, the forests surrounding the New England colonies allowed the colonists to start shipbuilding companies, which also added to the economy.

However, although the fishing and shipbuilding were important to the New England economy, a majority of the people continued to grow family-sized farms. While the Chesapeake region had large plantations which made town meetings and get-togethers nearly impossible, the sea-oriented businesses of the New England colonies allowed the towns to be more extroverted. Although both regions of colonies in the New World had originated from the same small island, almost immediately the resulting societies differed substantially. Since one group of colonists fled from their home country to avoid religious persecution, and another group fled in order to avoid an economic depression, one society started with a stronger religious bases than the other. Since one group began with families and strong values while another group began with a large group of men and few women, one society had stronger family ties while the other one worried about extinction. Since one group established an autocracy based off of large plantations, and the other off of small fishing and farming communities, one society had a larger gap between poor and rich than the other. The differences between family values, population, economy, and religion between the Chesapeake region and New England caused the two regions to form extremely separate societies.