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Massachusetts vs Virginia: A Tale of Two Colonies

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The Chesapeake and New England: A Tale of Two Colonies
England was late to the colonizing game, lagging behind both France and Spain. But when England did set foot in the New World it left its mark. The early English colonization of what is now America can be broken down into two main settlements, the Chesapeake colony and the New England colony. The Chesapeake colony, which originated as the Jamestown colony in Virginia, was settled in 1607. The Chesapeake colony wound up relying on tobacco as its main source of revenue and using African slaves to get the work done.

To the north, the New England colony was founded in 1628 by the Massachusetts Bay Company. It ended up religiously oriented with a strong focus on work ethic and family. The colonies had the potential to be almost identical settlements, as they were settled by the same country, only score and one years apart. Yet the colonies diverged into two separate settlements which seemingly had more contrast than similarity.

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While this divergence may seem like a mystery, the reasons can be found in the history of the people and the difficulties they had to deal with in the New World. Although both the Chesapeake Bay and New England colonies were settled within 25 years of each other, they evolved into very different societies, which can be attributed to the differences in how the geography of their respective locations, the cultural practices they brought over from England, and their respective motives intertwined.

The differences in the evolutions of the Chesapeake and New England colonies are apparent in their economic, and cultural stances during the late 1600s. The Chesapeake, or Virginia colony, became agriculturally charged. It was a boomtown with the Tobacco rush that swept the colony. The settlers there focused on agriculture on a larger scale, creating large land holdings, which could only be managed by using slavery. Though they originally used indentured servants, the Chesapeake colony switched to slavery when they found it more profitable and culturally friendly (Morgan 75). The New England colony, also known as the Massachusetts Bay colony, was a more family oriented society. It focused mainly on the Congregationalist Puritan church and on maintaining a close nuclear family. While they worked agriculturally, it was not about large-scale operations but about family farming. Because they did not pursue these large agricultural goals, they found no need for African slaves, instead using a limited amount of indentured servants as needed. By the late 17th century, the Chesapeake and New England colonies had manifested into different dwellings no longer reminiscent of each other.

The Chesapeake Bay colony’s development was the result of the swampy geography, their cultural mores from southern England, and the money motive behind the expedition. The geography had the potential to be beneficial for the Chesapeake colony but instead was a nightmare. The climate of the Chesapeake was warm and the land was low and marshy. This elongated the growing season but created serious health issues within the colony. The warm water was a mosquito breeding ground and encouraged the spread of diseases such as malaria, typhoid, and amoebic dysentery. (Fischer 57). The land of Virginia was extremely fertile, perfect to farm, but the colonists did not take advantage of it instead slacking off and taking short shifts (Fischer 57). Because the colonists were relaxed in their work ethic they failed to produce enough food to support themselves in the winter. This created a “starving time,” where the mortality rate went through the roof and some colonists resorted to cannibalism (Divine 38). This was not the case for long though. As early as 1613, settlers discovered that tobacco was marketable and started to put all their time and effort into farming it (Davidson & Lytle 27). Tobacco became so popular that colonists no longer felt the need to farm staple crops such as corn. This forced the implementation of laws requiring colonists to plant corn (Davidson & Lytle 26-27). This tobacco wound up making Virginia into more of a boom country than a settlement which they would not bounce back from until much later (Davidson & Lytle).

The geography of the Chesapeake colony was promising, but the colonists abused it with their obsession with tobacco. The colonists of the Chesapeake colony were highly influenced by the cultural mores they brought over from southern England. The people who came over from England to Virginia were unskilled male laborers from the lower middle of the social strata. Most colonists lacked education and literacy (Fischer 47). Another social factor that influenced the colony was the ratio of men to women. “Altogether, females were outnumbered by males by more than four to one – in some periods, as much as six to one” (Fischer 47). Most of the colonists were young, single men who were seeking their own fortune in the New World. This resulted in a less family oriented society (Fischer 47). In southern England where most of the colonists came from, large manors were common and indentured servitude was widely practiced (Fischer 52). This translated into the Chesapeake colony as the colonists formed large tobacco farms that were primarily run through indentured, or later slave, labor. The cultural folkways of southern England such as mannerism and the lack of skilled workers, oozed their way into the Chesapeake colony via the colonists. Unlike the pious Puritans of Massachusetts who colonized for religious reasons, the primary reason people went to the Chesapeake colony was the promise of booty, or wealth. Stories had been published by companies in England claiming that rubies and diamonds had been found lying on beaches where the Spaniards had colonized which created false hopes for the colonists of the Chesapeake (Divine 36). When the colonists arrived, instead of finding diamonds, they found dirt waiting to be cultivated.

When the colonists found out that they were not dealing with gold bars but golden corn, they decided instead to pursue their own interests. They chose to work little, instead taking short shifts replicating what they had practiced in England (Divine 36-37). While the colonists would later find the booty they sought in Tobacco, as the time it made them uncooperative and disobedient. The money seeking motives of the colonists created a shaky foundation that lacked unity in the Chesapeake colony. The promising but untapped geography of Virginia, the southern English folkways and demographics, and the booty seeking motives of the colonists succeeding in creating a one of a kind settlement, the Chesapeake colony. The New England colony’s evolution was spurred by the cooler climate, their cultural practices from East Wessex, and the religious motives for their colonization. The geography and climate molded the colony once the colonists had arrived. The climate was cold, having the ability to freeze the river in the winter. This caused frostbite among other problems because the colonists were not prepared to deal with this temperature. Though this cold was originally thought to be a hindrance, the truth is it helped the colonists in the long run. Unlike the warm swamps of the Chesapeake, the cold temperatures in New England lessened the intensity and frequency of water born diseases such as typhoid fever and dysentery (Fischer 44). This cold seemed to energize the colonists, leading to a more productive colony. As Fischer explains, “European travelers repeatedly observed with astonishment the energy of the inhabitants. One visitor noted that New England children seem normally to move at a run” (Fischer 45). One of the largest results of the climate though was the decreased amount of slavery compared to the Chesapeake colony. African immigrants who came over to New England had trouble surviving because of the drastic temperature change. The black death rate was twice as high as the white death rate (Fischer 44). Because of the enormous death rate it would have been a waste to buy African slaves, so instead the New England colony relied on indentures servants for work. This wound up playing a key role in how the colonies turned out so opposite. The geography of the area was varied, with rocky shoals, marshes, and thin sandy scrubs, with pockets of fertile land.

There were fewer ocean access points than Virginia. This combination of fertile soil pockets and the set up of the coastline led to settlement in nucleated towns (Fischer 44). These nucleated towns helped enforce religious and cultural unity. Another driving force behind New England’s unique development was the religious motive of the colonists. Most colonists in New England were practicing Puritans. As Fischer eloquently puts it, “When most of these emigrants explained their motives for coming to the New World, religion was mentioned not merely as their leading purpose. It was their only purpose” (Fischer 31). The Puritans aimed to make New England an ideal society where their religion could shine and prosper. The Puritan’s main dilemma was that their beliefs required them to work hard and enjoy what God had given them, but only to a certain extent. (Morgan 80). This belief bettered the colony because it gave all the colonists a stronger work ethic, which the colonists in the Chesapeake colony lacked. One of the other main influences in New England’s development was the cultural mores the colonists brought from England.

The people who came to New England were mostly from East Anglia. Fischer wrote, “East Anglia was also exceptional in its educational and cultural attainments. In the seventeenth century, rates of literacy were higher there than in other English regions” (Fischer 42). Many people who came from East Anglia were artisans and skilled workers. (Fischer 39). The New English colonists came over in nuclear family units as opposed to as individual people, which helped create an equal male female
ratio as well as strong patriarchy (Norton 600). All in all, this culture as well as the geography of the region and the motives of the colonists resulted in a male dominated, literate, religiously focused society with lots of energy, a strong work ethic, and few slaves. The settlers who came over to the Chesapeake and New England colonies were both driven to colonize by an agenda, brought over cultural mores from England, and had to deal with the geography and climate of their new home. But the small differences in each of these categories led to the development of two distinctly unique colonies with the potential to grow into much more.

Cite this Massachusetts vs Virginia: A Tale of Two Colonies

Massachusetts vs Virginia: A Tale of Two Colonies. (2016, Oct 17). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/massachusetts-vs-virginia-a-tale-of-two-colonies/

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