How Did the Chesapeake and New England Colonies Evolve Into Two Distinct Societies?

The Chesapeake and New England colonies, like many developing civilizations, formed into distinct societies due to the geography of their respective regions. The different available resources and climates of these societies gave way to different economies, populations and ways of life.

One of the defining features of the southern Chesapeake colonies was its warm climate. The long growing season, coupled with very fertile soil, led the Chesapeake economy to become very agriculturally dependent. Specifically, the growing of tobacco became lucrative in the Chesapeake colonies, promoting the development of large plantations to grow the crop.

In New England however, the soil was more rocky and the growing season not as long, so while settlers did have farms, they did not produce on the scale of the large southern plantations. The economy in the north was more diversified. Coastal areas and rivers allowed shipping and fishing industries to flourish, while abundant forests helped develop the timber trade. Trappers and hunters moved into the wildlife-rich areas in search of furs and game.

An emphasis on the importance of religion in everyday life led to a narrow demographic in the New England colonies: mostly white, English settlers in tight knit religious communities. This was reflected in the economy. Most trades in New England did not require a large work force, as hunting or fishing could be done independently, and most farms were small and worked by families.

In the Chesapeake colonies, however, the widespread growing of tobacco on sprawling plantations was perfect for centralized labor and quickly attracted the slave trade. A huge number of African slaves were brought into the population and worked many acres of land. This produced tobacco, cotton and other crops, and soon slaves drove the southern agricultural economy.