Virginia and Massachusetts Bay were two colonies that developed into very different societies by 1600, although both were established by English colonists, due to differences in government, economy, and religion.
The Virginia and Massachusetts Bay colonies greatly differed in governmental structure. Puritans who were fleeing from harassment in England established the Massachusetts Bay colonies. The first colony that the Puritans set up was north of Plymouth, at Massachusetts Bay. However, after finding a gap in the charter they received from King Charles I the Puritans moved their capital to Salem, Massachusetts. This colony was self-governed and was separate from English joint-stock companies and/or proprietors.
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A conservative hierarchical system was formed by Puritans based on “god’s will” and family structure. Colonists were ruled by their social superiors both in religion and in family status. Unlike in any Massachusetts Bay colonies, in Virginia, the setup colonies were under the indirect rule of the King of England who appointed wealthy, trusted landowners to rule settlers. The King appointed governors to rule the land.
By 1634, the colony adopted England’s court-council system. Justices of the peace were responsible for creating local taxes, managing the payroll of officials, and managing public works. Justices were chosen by the governor, as were sheriffs. The colonists favoured an elected assembly and after many repetitive petitions King James, I gave in and allowed a representative government to be instated. In 1650, this representative government split up into two branches: the House of Burgesses and the Governor’s Council.
Another way that the two sets of colonies developed differently was in terms of economy. Shortly before arriving in Boston, Massachusetts, Governor John Winthrop reprimanded class hatred and economic greed. He strongly believed in the rich giving to the poor to try to create as close as possible to an economically equal society. However, this sense of equality excluded Native Americans. The Puritans forced the Indians, who had no sense of land ownership, to sell their lands. Many of these natives then became assimilated into the Puritan culture.
The Massachusetts Bay colonies did not use slaves. To server their labour needs they heavily relied on families, but even more specifically, children. The average family would consist of a large number of children that were responsible for farming, while the male head of the household served as a supervisor and manager. Virginia relied on an extremely different source of labour for their tobacco plantations, which had been around since 1618.
Their source of labour started with indentured servants arriving from England. The indentured servants had their voyages paid for and in return were required to work for 5-7 years in Virginia. For the most part indentured servants rarely ever finished their contracts before dying of the disease. By the time the tobacco prices plunged greatly in 1629, many newcomers were building up immunities to diseases, which had previously kid the majority of indentured servants. As indentured servants finished paying off their sentences, they were introduced to the colonies as very poor colonists who often returned to work at the plantations as waged servants or tenants.
This increase of indentured servants finishing off their sentences led to the import of slaves from Africa. Between 1640 and 1660, Indian and Black slaves were becoming increasingly popular. This trend shifted to an almost purely African slave population as time progressed. Slaves were cheap labour that lasted for life. In 1670, Virginia defined a slave and by 1705, they were stripped of their rights and put down to the lowest social status. Direct trade between Africa and Virginia colonies fueled the economy while increasing racial barriers.
Religion was another differing factor between Virginia and Massachusetts Bay colonies. Colonies located around Massachusetts Bay were strictly Puritan while, Virginia declared the Anglican Church as the head church. Unlike Puritans, Virginia tolerated other religions. It is important to note that Puritans were non-separatists, meaning that they wanted to reform the Church of England, not abandon it. Puritans illegalized Native American religions and often converted them to Christianity. In their form of Christianity, Puritans believed that good deeds led to salvation and it was required to be well educated. This requirement of education led to them creating Harvard University.
One notable similarity between Virginian colonies and colonies of Massachusetts Bay is that both had state-sponsored churches. Colonists were required to pay taxes or tithes to support the church. , government and church affairs remained separate besides that exception. A slight difference in the state-sponsored churches is that in Virginia taxpayers elected vestries who managed the church budget.
Overall, the Virginia and Massachusetts Bay colonies were very difficult even though the English established them both. Their differences in government, economy, and religion led to two very differing societies.
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