By the 1700s, there were 13 British colonies in North America that were located along the Atlantic coastline. Historians divide these colonies into three regions: New England, Middle, and Southern. The differences in their geography, climate, and natural resources allowed people to produce different products and services which influenced the development of their industries and economy. The colonial regions also varied in their demographics and the structure of their governments. Some early local governments were more democratic than others. The different characteristics in each region influenced the colonists’ opportunities and way of life.
The New England Region was the northernmost region and included Massachusetts Bay, Rhode Island, Connecticut, and New Hampshire. The climate in New England is hot in the summer and cold in the winter. While the winters were harsh, the cold weather provided a respite from insects and germs that could cause disease. New England has rocky soil, thick forests, many rivers, and easy access to the sea.
Because of these natural resources, New England’s economy included a variety of industries. The climate and soil made it possible to cultivate the land on small farms. Crops such as corn, squash, onions, and beans could be planted in the spring and harvested in the fall. Farms could also maintain apple orchards and livestock. The many rivers and easy access to the sea allowed for fishing, trapping, and trading. Cape Cod was named after the abundance of codfish. Whaling was a lucrative business as whale oil was used in every colony for soap, candles, and lamp oil. Lumber from the dense forests provided wood for building houses and ships.
The first Europeans to permanently settle in New England were the Pilgrims in 1620, followed by the Puritans in 1630. They came in part to escape religious persecution by the Church of England. Religion guided every aspect of their daily lives. The Puritans were very strict in their religious beliefs and were not accepting of other religions. Because of this, an outspoken minister named Roger Williams was banished from Massachusetts and left to found a new colony in Rhode Island. He was followed by Anne Hutchinson who also spoke out against some of the strict Puritan practices and was banished. The Rhode Island colony offered more religious freedom.
The colonists in New England created a more democratic system of government than they were afforded in Europe. They held town meetings where colonists could meet and vote on local issues. Men who owned land were permitted to vote and they elected representatives and local officials and governors.
The Middle Region included New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware. The climate is similar to the New England region, with hot summers and cold winters. The area has large rivers and river valleys like the Mohawk River Valley in New York and the Susquehanna Valley in Pennsylvania. It has fertile soil and a longer growing season than New England. The region has many forests as well as an abundance of minerals like iron, coal, and copper. Harbors in New York, New Jersey, and Delaware made the middle region an ideal place for shipping and trade.
The resources of the middle region allowed colonists to develop a strong economy. They farmed the rich soil cultivating wheat, corn, vegetables, and tobacco and raised livestock such as dairy cattle. The rivers provided a means of transportation for trade as well as trapping. Many other colonists were merchants, miners, sailors, or lumbermen.
The Middle Colonies attracted diverse groups of Europeans. New York was first settled by the Dutch before it became a British colony. Immigrants from Germany and Ireland also flocked to the middle colonies because of its opportunities. Similarly to the Puritans, Quakers faced persecution in England for their religious beliefs. William Penn was granted permission by King Charles II in 1681 to found a colony in Pennsylvania where the Quakers could live peaceably.
In New York, colonists had less power in their government. As a royal colony, their governor was appointed by the king. The governor in turn appointed other officials. Pennsylvania was a bit more democratic. Men with property were allowed to vote for members of an assembly who would write their laws.
The Southern Region is the southernmost region and included Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia. The climate is very hot and humid in the summers and mild in the winters. There are forests, accessible harbors along the coast, rivers, and swamps.
Because of the long growing season, the southern colonies were able to produce an abundance of cash crops such as tobacco, rice, indigo, and cotton. These were farmed on large plantations that required a lot of manual labor. To increase their profits, southern plantation owners used the labor of Africans that were stolen from Africa and forced into slavery. While slavery existed in every colony in the 1700s, it was particularly entrenched in the south. Lumbering and trading were other industries in the southern colonies.
Similarly to the Puritans and the Quakers, Catholics faced religious persecution in England. Cecilius Calvert (also known as Lord Baltimore) founded the colony of Maryland in 1634. He sought to make money from the regions’ rich resources and also provide a safe haven for Catholics who were denied rights not only in England but in other colonies. Georgia, on the other hand, became a British colony in 1732 for the purpose of keeping the Spanish in Florida from trying to advance northward. To begin the colony, British debtors were offered the chance to avoid jail time by agreeing to help settle the land. They were given the opportunity to cultivate fifty acres of land in order to pay off their debts.
At first, slavery was illegal in Georgia. However in 1752, all white men were given the right to vote for members of an assembly after which new laws were passed that made slavery legal. In Maryland, white men with property were allowed to vote for members of an assembly that was the lawmaking body.
In these activities, students will learn about the key parts of daily life, industries, forms of government and demographics in the three colonial regions of the 13 colonies in the 1700s.
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