Comparing the Regions of the 13 Colonies

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Comparing the New England, Middle, & Southern Colonies

Think about the geography and location of the city or town you live in. Are there bodies of water like rivers and lakes or a coast nearby? Perhaps you live in a place with vast open fields suitable for farming or raising livestock.

The natural environment is important when understanding how cities and towns developed. The earliest North American colonies depended on their natural environment. The type of soil, climate, length of seasons, and proximity to bodies of water all played a role in how each colony prospered.

By the 1700’s, the American colonies grew into three distinct regions. The New England, Middle, and Southern regions each had different geographical and cultural characteristics that determined the development of their economy, society, and relationships to each other. 

The New England Colonies included Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire. The geography of this region featured dense forests and hills. Combined with the hard rocky land, cold climate and long winters, New England was a poor area for large farming operations. However, many colonists known as "yeoman farmers" had small family-owned farms that grew a variety of crops.

Many other colonists relied on fishing and whaling off the New England coast. Others settled in small towns and became craftsmen or merchants. The forests provided excellent lumber for building boats and homes for the growing population. Many of the settlers to the New England Colonies were Puritans, hard working, and very religious. Close families and strong communities were very important to them.

The Middle Colonies included Pennsylvania, Delaware, New York, and New Jersey. The geography of this region featured a warmer climate with fertile soil, flat land, easily-navigable rivers, and wide valleys making it perfect for farming and growing crops. Wealthy farmers grew cash crops and raised livestock. Mining and trading were also important aspects of the economy here. Over time, cities grew and urban merchants sold and traded goods with people throughout the other colonies. Compared to other regions, the people of the middle colonies supported religious freedom and tolerance and had a diverse population with settlers arriving from many areas in Europe.

The Southern Colonies included the first English colony of Virginia, and grew to include Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia. The geography included rich, fertile soil with broad coastal plains that made it possible for large plantations to grow tobacco, rice, and indigo. The majority of these plantations featured a labor force of enslaved Black people. These enslaved men, women, and children had few, if any, rights and often saw their families torn apart at the whim of the plantation owner. Enslaved children were even put to work as young as age three, weeding fields, carrying drinking water, or helping in the home.

Smaller farms owned by subsistence farmers also existed across the Southern Colonies. Often, the people working these would grow crops for their families with little left over to sell or trade. Indentured servants also arrived in the South who would work for 5-7 years in exchange for their passage to North America.

The Church of England (also known as the Anglican Church) was the dominant religion in the region. Most settlers to the South did not come for religious freedom like they did in the northern colonies. Therefore, they often maintained their allegiance to the established Church of England. 

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