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The Early American Colonies

We have been one nation for so long that it is hard to imagine a major difference between the thirteen original colonies. After all a quick glance at a map of these thirteen original colonies will tell you that they all where established along the East Coast and where most generally located on a river or body of water. What is strange about this is just how different each of these separate areas of settlement turned out to be. After all they where located relatively close to one another and should have had adequate communication available to them by the numerous water channels close at hand. So why was there such a huge difference in the way that they developed? The two most contrasting of these would have to be the Puritans and other religious groups that chose to settle in the New England region, and the colonies founded for profit in the Chesapeake Bay region. If you look closely at these two concentrations of people you will see that they have great differences in their religion, government, family, economics and the very geography that they where established in. These differences coupled with a very different reason for journeying to the New World helped to form two very unique cultures that exist to some extent today.

One of the major differences between the colonies of the Chesapeake Bay region and the New England colonies is in their view on religion. The very reason that the Pilgrims journeyed to this new land was to escape religious persecution and set up a haven for people of their faith. In contrast the colonies of the Chesapeake Bay region where established by people who where looking for fame and fortune rather than spiritual enlightenment. This fundamental difference is one of the major reasons that these colonies developed so differently. People in the New England colonies generally knew their neighbors because they worked and prayed with them. In a Chesapeake region so dependent on the cash crop of tobacco, plantations served to separate the people and slow the process of socialization. Although church attendance was required in both the New England colonies and some of the Chesapeake Bay colonies it was enforced for much different reasons. The New England colonists where very concerned with education and spirituality while generally those colonists in the Chesapeake Bay colony where forced to attend church only as a tool to suppress crime among the youth. As a result religion developed quite different in both the New England colonies and the Chesapeake Bay colonies, they would have a dramatic affect on the shaping of the culture of each region.

Although all of the colonies where under the control of the English King governmental systems where still required to maintain some control over the people. The forms of government used by those people in the Chesapeake Bay region and those in the New England colonies where quite different. In the Chesapeake colonies government was still practiced much as it had been in Europe for centuries. This is because of the importance of land to an economy so dependent on the cash crop. The men that held all of the land therefore would have most of the political power. This was not the case in the New England colonies; many people owned land and the ideals of the founders of these colonies shown through in how they regulated themselves. The Pilgrims in fact introduced a form of democracy to the New World as soon as they set foot off of the Mayflower. They did this in the form of the “Mayflower compact” which set the precedent for democratic government in the New World by binding all to conform to the majority. So also in their form of government we see a vast difference, the Chesapeake colonies where controlled mostly by wealthy landowners while the New England colonies regularly held town meetings. In addition these governments had different goals the Chesapeake governments where established to collect taxes and make sure that the wealthy stayed wealthy. The governments in New England in general where started for the good of the people and worked toward a common goal.

No where can we find the characteristics of a culture more fully on display than in the family. The Chesapeake colonies suffered in this from the beginning as there where very few women or children with them to begin with. The absence of families did not help those people in the Chesapeake region establish very strong traditions regarding family. As in government the family practices in the Chesapeake region followed the original European pattern. The New England colonies had strong family traditions from the moment that they stepped off of their ship. This tradition only strengthened as they adapted to life in the New World. As in all things the New England colonists where influenced greatly in their family conduct by their religion.

While values and traditions where quite different between the colonies of Chesapeake Bay and New England, there marked differences do not stop there. The cold hard facts of economics played very much into the development of each set of colonies into what they would become by the revolutionary war. The Chesapeake Bay colonies having found that they could grow large quantities of Tobacco and at great profit invested most of their land in the growing of these cash crops. The plantation ruled at this point in history and large amounts of cheap slave labor where required to run these vast plantations. In contrast the New England colonies where unable to grow these cash crops and so settled mostly in small farms as opposed to huge plantations. Natural resources where abundant however and the colonists used this to their advantage. This huge supply of natural resources, particularly timber helped to establish several New England cities as trade centers for the New World. A large part of the New England economy depended on this trade. However both the Chesapeake colonies and those in New England had to import the majority of their finished products from Europe, this was to be one of the common threads that pulled the colonies together during the revolutionary war. Nevertheless the economies of the New England colonies and the Chesapeake Bay colonies where drastically different in their early days.

Perhaps the most basic difference between the two regions does not lie with the people but rather the land that they inhabited. There can be no question that the land occupied by each of these colonies is quite different. The Chesapeake Bay colonies where situated in a climate very favorable to the harvest of tobacco. While in New England the soil tended to be rocky and suitable only for smaller farms. The entire land was rich with unused natural resources at this time, the difference is that the colonists in the New England colonies took the greatest advantage of this.

While there are undoubtedly a number of similarities between the Chesapeake Bay colonies and the New England colonies their original purposes for being here set them on different paths from the moment that they set foot in the New World. It should also be said that not only the people’s disposition has an affect on the direction of the society, you must also take into account the geography of the region. The differences between the Chesapeake colonies and the New England colonies are numerous and varied. However if all of the colonies established in the new world had the same culture it is far less likely that our ancestors would have been as successful in their bid to change the way civilization operates. They accomplished this with the American Revolution, which relied heavily on different characteristics from each of the thirteen colonies and has been more than successful in blending the very different values and beliefs of the Chesapeake Bay colonies and the New England colonies.


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