American History / Differences In Northern And Southern Colonies Prior To Revolutionary War

Differences In Northern And Southern Colonies Prior To Revolutionary War

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Autor:  anton  20 March 2011
Tags:  Differences,  Northern,  Southern,  Colonies,  Revolutionary
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Actions, as Driven by Beliefs

As Earl Nightingale stated, “we can let circumstances rule us or we can take charge and rule our lives from within” (qtd. in This attitude was held by the people who colonized the eastern seaboard of America. They left home and everything familiar to brave sickness, hunger and the threat of death on the long voyage to America, in the hopes of creating a better life. They formed settlements, some of which gradually grew into towns and cities. Over time, the southern colonies developed into a distinctly separate region from the northern colonies. There were countless factors involved, including climate, relations with Indians, economics, politics, and slavery but in the end there was one core reason for the distinction; mindset. According to Wikipedia the Free Encyclopedia online, mindset “is a set of assumptions, methods or notations held by one or more people or groups of people which is so established that it creates a powerful incentive within these people or groups to continue to adopt or accept prior behaviors, choices, or tools.” The northern colonies were founded by people with a mindset grounded in religion, family and a strong work ethic whereas the southern colonies were founded by people with a mindset grounded in elitism. The North became a family centered industrial society whereas the South became a profit driven, agrarian society.

The motives of the first few waves of settlers of the northern and southern colonies are quite different. New England was first settled by the Pilgrims, Puritans who were devoutly religious, placed importance on hard work, and were dedicated to their families and community. They had severed ties with the Church of England, believing it had failed to complete the Reformation. They moved from England to Holland to avoid persecution for their religious beliefs and their homesickness for England led them to set out for America, believing “themselves to be on a divine mission to create a model society committed to the proper worship of God” (Tindall & Shi 62-63). The Puritans, who settled Massachusetts Bay Colony “intended (it) to be a holy commonwealth made up of religious folk bound together in the harmonious worship of God and the pursuit of their ‘callings’ ” (Tindall & Shi 65). From the beginning the daily lives and aspirations in the New England and the Middle Colonies were shaped by religion, even to such an extent that religious conflict occurred and resulted in people leaving Massachusetts to form colonies in Rhode Island and Connecticut (Hoffman & Gjerde 66). Clearly, their motives were grounded in religion

The first settlement in the South was Jamestown. A group of London investors obtained a joint-stock enterprise called the Virginia Company from King James I. Their interest was purely financial. They hoped to find a water passage to the orient, gold, and obtain products that would help the English free themselves from their dependence on trade with Spain (Tindall & Shi 50). Bottom line, their interests were not spiritual, but secular. After all, they were investors, interested in turning a profit.

The class and gender of the Pilgrims and the Jamestown settlers were very different. The Pilgrims were mostly middle class families who were able to pay for their voyage. The Jamestown settlers were elite gentlemen who were unaccustomed and possibly unwilling to engage in physical labor and indentured servants who could not pay for their voyage and had to work for a number of years before they had their freedom.

In the North, work was arranged along familial lines rather than through a plantation system like in the South. “Family relationships could not be divorced from economic considerations; indeed the basic question of power and authority within the family hinged primarily on legal control over the land” (Henretta 80) which was held by the father. The key difference between the execution of the authority of a plantation owner versus a farm owner in the North lied in the fact that a father needed the cooperation and support from his wife and children to survive. In the North, high fertility rates and low mortality rates meant families had lots of offspring (Henretta 80). These children helped their parents work the farm and when they reached adulthood, they were given land if they were male and a dowry if they were female. In return, they were obligated to care for the parents in their late years. This meant the children and parents depended on each other, reinforcing their religious convictions and their strong work ethic. In the larger families, unfortunately, there was often not enough land to be distributed among the children. This served to re-enforce a strong work ethic in the children. Boys were sent as apprentices to work on other farms and through hard work, frugal living, and saving money, eventually they would have enough to rent a little land in their 20’s. Ten years or so later, having lived the same way they did as apprentices, they would have enough money to buy a little land, start their own family, and do as their parents had done. None of their ties to their family would have been broken by this, and they would have been obligated to help care for their parents (Henretta 81-83).

The meaning of family was very different in the southern colonies when compared to that in the northern ones. Plantation owners did not have a mutual dependency with their family members. Instead, because they were financially driven, they relied on their workforce of indentured servants and slaves to ensure production of the tobacco and indigo crops. The plantation owners worried despite their best efforts and financial success, they could never measure up to the elite back in England. As a result, they were diligent in the domination of their families, slaves and servants (Brown 46-47.) Over time, as more laws were passed to re-enforce the institution of slavery, the elite became more benevolent in their domination. They no longer viewed slaves as human, and treated their slaves as pets, rewarding them and punishing them as necessary (Morgan 59).

Eighteenth century colonists were very prosperous. Each generation had more goods available from England than the previous one, meaning, the standard of living slowly improved. With more goods being imported each year, especially during the 1740’s, many British merchants and manufacturers focused more on trading with the colonies (Breen 91). The Northern colonists adjusted accordingly without removing the family from the center of life. Fathers and sons continued to work the lands, while other family members produced textiles. Even as times were changing, “most men, women and children in this yeoman society continued to view the world through the prism of family values” (Breen 87). You see, their lives, their beliefs, were firmly grounded in religion, family and hard work. Therefore, even as their world changed around them, they did not change who they were on the inside. They still maintained the same mindset.

In essence, who we are inside determines what we create on the outside. If we are religious, and prize hard work, we will create a social and economic structure that is harmonious with those beliefs. If we are out to turn a profit, we will create a family and economic life that supports that end.

Works Cited

Breen, T.H. “The Northern Colonies as an Empire of Goods.” Major Problems in American History Volume 1: TO 1877 (2007): 88-95.

Brown, Kathleen M. “The Anxious World of the Slaveowning Patriach.” Major Problems in American History Volume 1: TO 1877 (2007): 46-55

“Earl Nightingale Quotes.” 6 Oct. 2007.


Henretta, James A. “The Northern Colonies as a Family-Centered Society.” Major Problems in American History Volume 1: TO 1877 (2007): 80-87.

Hoffman, Elizabeth C., and Jon Gjerde, eds. Major Problems in American History Volume 1: To 1877. U.S.A.: Houghton Mifflin, 2007.

“Mindset.” Wikipedia The Free Encyclopedia. 4 Oct. 2007. mla.htm.

Morgan, Phillip D. “The Effects of Paternalism Among Whites and Blacks.” Major Problems in American History Volume 1: TO 1877 (2007):55-64.

Tindall, George B., David E. Shi. America; A Narrative History. 2nd ed. New York: Norton, 2007.

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