The three regions in early America were New England, the mid- Atlantic, and the South. These regions differed considerably in types of settlers, religions, and economic systems. This chapter discusses these differences in depth. The purpose of emphasizing the regional differences is that these divisions eventually set the stage for the nation's two civil wars and the weak government that plagues the country to this day. This chapter also advances the argument that in spite of the many differences between the regions, the influence of racism was strong enough to unite the areas culturally, if not politically.


The first English settlement in what later became the United States was in 1607 at Jamestown, Virginia. The purpose of the settlement was not a religious one; the colony was started in order to expand trade. Although Jamestown gave the South title to the first English settlement in the United States, the region was relatively ignored, while settlement in the North proceeded quickly.

Puritans in New England

The settlers in New England differed greatly from those of Jamestown. Wanting to establish a religious society in the new world, the Pilgrims, who settled in Plymouth, Massachusetts in 1620, were primarily looking for religious freedom. This was to be only the first of many settlement groups steeped in religious concerns.

Nine years after the founding of Plymouth, Puritans under the guidance of the Massachusetts Bay Company established what became the city of Boston. Similar to Plymouth colony, one of the prime motivations was to find religious freedom, at least for themselves.

Another seeker after greater religious freedom was the Reverend Thomas Hooker. In 1633 he took a group of followers from Massachusetts to what became Hartford, Connecticut. John Davenport and Theophilus Eaton founded the New Haven colony in order to establish a Christian utopia on the banks of the Quinnipiac River (see Farnham 1981). At the same time, they wanted to build a commercial empire that would control trade on Long Island Sound. In 1662 the king of England granted a charter that joined New Haven and Hartford in the colony of Connecticut.

Motivated by a desire for profit from trade and fishing, in 1622 Ferdinando Gorges and John Mason founded what became Maine and New Hampshire. Over the years, many of the settlers of these future states came from Puritan Massachusetts. In fact, New Hampshire was part of the bay colony from 1641 to 1679 (when it became a royal colony answering to the king), while Maine was a part of Massachusetts from 1691 to 1820.

The end result of all this settlement activity was that New England was solidly Puritan. But it was certainly not a place of religious freedom. That New England was not hospitable to those of different religious faiths can easily be shown by the local response to leftist religious groups that tried to settle there. New England authorities passed laws that fined ship masters for bringing Quakers to northeastern shores. To discourage non-Puritan settlers further, the authorities hanged several Quakers.

Another example of religious intolerance was the reaction to Roger Williams. Originally a minister in Salem, he managed to offend the Massachusetts authorities, who did not care for his idea that people should be able to worship as they pleased and that church and state should be separate. Indeed, they decided to send Williams back to England. Before they could put their plan into action, in 1636 Williams and five friends fled into the forests and made their way south to Narragansett Bay. Buying land from the Narragansett Indians, they started a settlement called Providence. Others, also dissatisfied with the Boston leaders, soon followed. Anne Hutchinson founded a settlement to the south of Providence. In 1643 Williams traveled to England where he received a charter for the various settlements. The new colony eventually became known as Rhode Island, a small outpost for the non-Puritan elements of New England.

Quakers, German Anabaptists, and Dutch Reformed in the Mid-Atlantic Region

While New England was quickly becoming a religious monolith of right-wing Protestantism, the Mid-Atlantic region was establishing a reputation for heterogeneity. The first settlers in the area were the Dutch, who in 1624 settled what became New York City. The new settlers came primarily to expand Dutch trade and were, compared to other Europeans, religiously tolerant (see Van der Zee 1978:21-22). Holland itself contained many different religious groups, which gave it a more tolerant tradition. The Dutch settlers in America brought the Dutch Reformed Church, but also among the newcomers were Protestant Huguenots, refugees from Catholic France. A few of the new settlers soon moved across the Hudson River to found what later became New Jersey.

The next settlers in the region were the Swedes, who in 1638 settled in the Wilmington, Delaware region. These people, largely Lutheran, represented the religious center. The Dutch conquered the Swedish settlements only to be conquered themselves by the English in 1664. At this time New Jersey was taken from New York and established as a proprietary colony (i.e., one in which the king gave a charter to a private group).

With the Dutch threat out of the way, English settlement of the Delaware Valley region became more practical. Representatives of the religious left wing started arriving. The Society of Friends settled southern New Jersey, and in 1681 Quaker William Penn founded the colony of Pennsylvania. Compared to the Puritans, the Quakers were much more tolerant of other religions and did not seek to establish a state religion. Penn not only brought over Quakers but other left wing religious groups as well, such as the German Anabaptists.

The Church of England (Anglicanism) in the South

Maryland and Delaware are southern border states. While they differ from the truly southern states, they are more southern than northern in nature. Maryland was the first proprietary colony founded in North America. George Calvert, the first Lord Baltimore, wanted land in America in order to gain wealth for his family and to serve as a refuge for fellow Catholics from England. Charles I granted the Calvert family a large piece of land north of the Potomac River adjacent to Virginia. In the spring of 1634 the first group of some 200 colonists arrived. The colony did so well that people of many religions settled in Maryland. In fact, by the mid- 1600s, there were actually more Protestants than Catholics in the colony. As their relative numbers declined, the Catholics lost much of their political power. To protect religious freedom for both groups, in 1649 Maryland passed the Toleration Act. This act granted freedom of worship to all people who believed in Jesus Christ.

Since Pennsylvania had no outlet to the Atlantic Ocean, William Penn got a grant from the Duke of York in 1682 for an area called Delaware (first settled by the Swedes). The leaders of Pennsylvania governed Delaware for almost twenty years. Not until 1701 did Delawareans elect their own representative assembly. For some years after that, the two colonies were separate but shared the same governor.

The South today is one of the most conservative religious sections of the country. Therefore, it may come as a surprise to some readers that the South had some of the least religiously motivated settlers. Mentioned previously was the non-religiously motivated establishment of the Virginia colony at Jamestown. In 1663 Anthony Cooper, John Colleton, and William Berkeley established North and South Carolina. The motive was the profit potential from trade and selling land. Much later, in 1732, James Oglethorpe founded the proprietary colony of Georgia for profit for himself and as a refuge for debtors. The colony also served as a defensive barrier against the Spanish in Florida.

The South at this time was solidly Church of England (known in America as the Episcopal church), a mainstream, center religion. It was not the religion that would please poor southerners, however, of which there were many. The southerners later abandoned Episcopalianism for more personal, evangelical religions.


The Thirteen Colonies consisted of three primary regions. The greatest regional difference was between the slavery-based economy of the South and the merchant-based society of New England. The Mid-Atlantic colonies held a midway position being dominated by a landed oligarchy.

New England

In New England the mass of the people were independent farmers. So, while New England was a place of religious orthodoxy, it had a high proportion of economically independent citizens. In this environment, political democracy thrived. Indeed, the New England town meeting is world famous as an early birthplace of democracy.

By 1780 New England had developed two different societies. Indeed, David Szatmary (1980) in his study of Shays's Rebellion of western farmers in Massachusetts has a chapter entitled "The Two Worlds." Merchants came to dominate eastern Massachusetts, while farming remained the basic way of life in western Massachusetts. Easterners lived in a largely commercial culture. The social structure consisted of merchants, shopkeepers, professionals, commercial farmers, urban artisans, sailors, and fishermen. The merchants were the dominant group, however, and set the tone of the society. Rebellion against this unfair distribution occurred most notably in the Great Awakening of the 1740s (discussed in chapter 10).

Mid-Atlantic Region

The pattern of landownership in the mid-Atlantic region differed greatly from that of New England. During the age of Dutch settlement in New York, a few wealthy landowners, known as patroons, dominated the settlements. When the English took over from the Dutch, they continued this concentration of landownership and even extended it with the creation of the manorial system. To be lord of the manor was to have powers almost equivalent to those of a medieval lord. Indeed, the landownership problem in New York was so severe that New York's population growth was severely retarded as new settlers stayed away from the colony. Rebellion against this unfair distribution of power occurred in the Jacob Leisler rebellion following the English Great Revolution of 1688. Leisler allied himself with those dissatisfied with the rule of the lords of the manor. His efforts failed and the authorities eventually hanged him.

The situation was a little better in Pennsylvania, but not by much. Here, too, land was greatly concentrated in the hands of a few wealthy men. New Jersey followed a similar pattern (see Fleming 1977: chap. 1).

Great differences in wealth, as well as in nationality and religion, divided the people of the Mid-Atlantic region, preventing close political cooperation. Compared to New England, there was less democratic spirit in Pennsylvania and New Jersey as the ordinary people were economically dependent on the large landowners. Town meetings were not held. Instead, government officials in elected colonial assemblies made the decisions. These elected officials primarily represented the interests of the powerful landlords.

The South

The economic system of the South was based primarily on the plantation system, which had originated in the Caribbean. When these economies declined in the late seventeenth century, the planters sold many of their slaves to the American colonies. By the early eighteenth century the plantation system had become an integral component of the southern economy.

There were actually two basic forms of plantation system. The first establishment of plantations was in the Chesapeake region, especially in Maryland and Virginia around the so-called Tobacco Coast. The plantations raised tobacco, which simply did not require large tracts of land for cultivation. Since tobacco growing was not labor intensive, the plantations tended to be rather small, requiring twenty or fewer slaves.

The tobacco plantation system had at first relied on indentured servants, who were white. The major reason for this was economic. At that time, mortality rates for all workers were so high that it did not pay to buy slaves, who would more than likely die, with the owners losing their investment. In other words, it was cheaper to rent white than buy black. After 1640, however, mortality rates declined, and slaves became less expensive than indentured servants.

Revolt against the Virginia system among whites occurred in the 1670s in Nat Bacon's Rebellion. For two months he was in control of all Virginia except the eastern shore. The rebellion flickered out when Bacon died of dysentery. The use of slaves became more common after Bacon's Rebellion. By the 1780s, several areas had as many as 78 percent of all householders owning slaves. Cotton later came on strong, but it was never "king" in Virginia as it was elsewhere in the South. And in Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia a diversified agriculture began to supplant the production of tobacco. In North Carolina the plantation economy failed to develop on a large scale and, therefore, so did slavery. In these future states there was even some opposition to slavery.

South Carolina provides the classic illustration of the second type of plantation system. Here planters cultivated rice and indigo. This cultivation required vast tracts of land and many slaves. In fact, so many slaves were needed that after 1708 there was actually a black majority in the colony. By the 1720s blacks outnumbered whites two to one.

Charleston was the quintessential Deep South city. Grown wealthy from slavery, plantation owners would often leave the plantations during malaria season and stay in Charleston. Here they created a cultured civilization of high quality. According to Ulrich B. Phillips (1948:52), Charleston and the surrounding district were a virtual city-state. In fact, at that time it was perhaps the most urbane of American cities with a notable semipublic library and thriving bookstores, as well as concerts and extensive social affairs.

At first, the colony of Georgia, founded in 1735, prohibited the importation of slaves, but it found that this position could not be held for long. By 1750 it repealed the act. Consequently, the number of blacks in Georgia increased from 349 in 1750 to 15,000 in 1773.

Given the coercive nature of slavery, those southern counties with large plantations were ultraconservative and fearful of the black majority. It is no accident that of the southern states, South Carolina was the most active in pushing for civil war and became the actual site of the start of the war. While these distinctions are helpful and interesting, it must not be forgotten that the two southern economies were still very much alike. The differences pale when contrasted with the widespread existence of slavery.


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