The following is a look at the 13 original British colonies that started off the United States

Colonial Stylin’

The ants came marching one by one into America, but not all for the queen. Originally, the people that left England to North America, headed for the South, in places like Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Maryland. Queen Elizabeth promoted the journey as a way to get rich quick, like in the modern day reality TV show “Survivor.” People did just that by growing such cash crops as tobacco and rice. Later, the Americas seemed like an isolated haven to Puritans and other persecuted English religious groups. They headed primarily to the North – New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and Connecticut, with the South being quickly claimed by money-hungry entrepreneurs. Later they built factories and listened to the hungry drone of machines. The people that ended up in the middle colonies were more of the commercial sort, with lures like the fur trade, lumber, and average farming. The New England, middle, and southern colonies became starkly varied in terms of how they lived, their sense of community, and their morality. Geography was the factor that eventually led to these differences.

For an escape, New England definitely did not resemble the Heaven that the refugees held so dearly in their hearts. The summers were sweltering; the winters were deadly freezing; and the soil filled with stones. Places like Massachusetts and Rhode Island were prime examples of this barely arable land. Thus, farming and living on such land involved hard work and resulted in even more frugal, and diligent people. A little further south, into the middle colonies, the land was quite better, and had great ports for trading. The people became primarily farmers, traders, furriers, and shipbuilders. The South had amazingly high quality land, whose potential could be harnessed through back-breaking effort. So, African slaves were shipped in. Slaves and money became vital to the southern way of life. Each area’s lifestyle was determined by it’s location and the people’s reasons for the trek out to the New World – New England for a new start, South for m-o-n-e-y.

Southerners were well spread out - each man seeking his own plot of land for farming; so the South had very few cities in it. County officials supervised, but few public buildings were erected, such as schools. The only communities that plantation owners cared about were the ones that they went home to every day. A social ladder became more evident as certain families economically blossomed, others worked hard just to feed themselves, endebted indentured servants were left without homes, and the blacks were treated slightly better than dogs. Moving more northerly the middle colonies lived a city life - with a sense of community that was intermediate between the views of the New Englanders and the Southerners. The exception being the open, friendly Quakers of Pennsylvania – they treated each other as brothers and sisters and stayed in groups together. In New England, the atmosphere was similar to this, but more stern and unfriendly. The people lived near each other, prayed together, and endured the hardships together. They organized little towns with town halls, churches, and schools. Much of what they did was for the good of the settlement.

Living conditions and geography were all important, but values were really what defined colonial life and are most relevant to the way the average American lives these days. In the New England and Middle colonies, slaves were less used. The idea that Africans should be cruelly enslaved wasn’t as second nature to them as deeper down south. Compared to the South, the people were generally equal in the northern colonies. Generally is used loosely, because women were seen as the traditional demure, subordinate, lesser being. The Puritans were more avid about this place for women than in England. Women had no inheritance rights, lived mainly to reproduce, and any behavior that was “unholy” was punished with humiliation like no man would receive – like the red letter “A” that adulterers had to wear. The middle colonies were the most liberal and democratic out of the three main areas, so everyone had more freedoms. In the south, young widows losing their money were a problem, so they were given inheritance rights. Women received more respect in the less religious South. Southerners were nice to the ladies, but horrid to their slaves, whereas New Englanders and residents of the middle colonies were not so great with women, but didn’t have slaves.

As one can see, these colonies differed as much as England to France or Germany to Switzerland. It’s hard to imagine their joining together later on to become the United States. New England was less diverse, founded on religious principles, filled with prudent, hard working, connected citizens, and was less apt about the idea of slavery. The middle colonies had a free, loving, atmosphere among the Pennsylvania Quakers, with trade, furring, farming, and commerce throughout. The southerners based their life around the plantations, to which slaves were an essential part. Overtime, these differences would strain relations between the unified colonies and eventually aid in the start of the Civil War. Back in the 1770s, it was all just a part of their colonial stylin'.

Reference: Bailey, Thomas, David Kennedy, and Lizabeth Cohen. The American Pageant. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1998. Eleventh Edition.

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