When the first English settlers began arriving in America in the 1700’s they mainly settled in two regions – New England and the Chesapeake. Even though both groups of people were English by origin, they had developed two very different societies. Each group had its own beliefs and expectations of what they will find in this new world, and the results of their settlement were very different as well.
When the ship headed for Virginia left England in 1635, it was filled mostly with men in their twenties and thirties. The ship’s name – “Merchant’s Hope” very much explains the reason for which these people were heading to the New World. They were looking to find gold, silver and other riches there. Almost all of them had left their families in England to go forth with this opportunity for profit. These people did not think about permanently settling there, and very few of them had prepared for this trip as a whole. Over half of the people had died during the trip.
Captain John Smith said “There was no talk…but dig gold, wash gold, refine gold, load gold…”, (History of Virginia). This statement basically summarizes what was happening in Virginia after the ship had arrived. Even though there was no gold found, many people established such industries as tobacco and indigo growing. Others desperate with their search for gold were not able to survive, and many of them died during the long, harsh winters.
Soon after class differences developed among the settlers of Virginia. The Tidewater plantation owners had become very rich. They produced huge amounts of tobacco and had a lot of indentured servants. The plantation owners had been the only lawmakers and voters in the colony. They passed laws in their own favour, but increased taxes for the farmers. They also protected Indian rights to maintain a prosperous fur trade.
On the other hand, Piedmont farmers had been left with smaller, less productive tobacco farms. They had very few indentured servants. They had no power in the government because only large plantation owners were allowed to vote. The farmers were in need of more land, and they had to fight with Indians over land rights. This had led to the Bacon’s Rebellion of 1676. “For having…raised great unjust taxes…for the advancement of private favourites…for having abused…the magistrates of justice, by advancing to courts, scandalous and ignorant favourites…by assuming monopoly of the beaver trade…for having sent back the army of English when they were just upon the track of those Indians…” stated Bacon in his declaration to Governor Berkley (Bacon’s Declaration). Although the rebellion was not successful, it was one of the major economic and political developments in the American colonies.
People who came to settle in New England had very different reasons for coming here than those of people from Virginia. As seen in the Ship’s list of immigrants bound for New England, these people came in large groups, or families, bringing with them their children and servants.
They had wanted to permanently settle in America without returning to England. Almost all of them were puritans, and they were seeking religious freedom that they did not have in England. John Winthrop said, “We must consider that we shall be as a city upon a hill. The eyes of all people are upon us…”, (A Model for Christian Charity). He wanted to create a perfect society, which would stand out from the rest of the world.
The Puritans had very conservative ideas. These people had not been striving to get rich or find gold, but just live a decent life and follow the teachings of God. They made their living by hard work, visited the church on Sundays and paid a small salary to the minister. There were not that many class differences among the families living in villages and towns. There did not exist excessively rich families who owned huge plantations with hundreds of slaves, nor were there people who had been very poor. Thus a political system developed which was much more democratic than that in the South Colonies.
By comparing the societies of Virginia and New England we can see that the settlers of Virginia had come to the New World in search of profit, while the Puritans came for religious freedom. The Puritans were much more prepared and therefore had established better settlements. While the Puritans had a somewhat democratic political system, the Southern colonies had aristocracy. All of these factors had contributed to the formation of two very distinct societies in America.
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