The social and political structure of the New England colonies was shaped primarily by the harsh geography and the strict Puritan religion of the first English colonists who settled there. Despite seeming handicaps, this region prospered, becoming a commercial powerhouse among the North American colonies.
The first settlers in New England found that farming beyond basic subsistence farming was nearly impossible in the rocky and cold environment. However, the New England forests were thick with tall, straight trees, and the nearby ocean teemed with fish. It was a natural evolution to build sawmills on the abundant and rapid New England rivers to craft planks, first for export to England and later to supply the growing shipbuilding industry. Some of the best ships on the Atlantic were built in New England shipyards.
The strict religious structure of the original New England settlers contributed to the region's mercantile success. The Puritan emphasis on good education and hard work ensured a pool of workers ideal for a strong, successful business base and also created a literate class who wrote most of the core American literature during this period. Regular meetings of the church elders developed into the traditional New England town meeting as the society gradually secularized. These meetings still form the core of New England governance as of 2014.