Comparing the Colonial Regions

Think about the geography and location of the city or town you live in. Are there bodies of water like rivers, lakes or coasts nearby? Or 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 relationship to each other. 

The New England region included Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire. The geography consisted of forests and hills. Combined with the hard rocky land,  cold climate and long winters, New England’s land was poor for large farming. Those who had small family owned farms were called Yeoman farmers. Colonists relied on fishing and whaling. They became craftsmen and merchants, building and selling boats and lumber. New England settlers 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 the middle region had a warmer climate with fertile soil, flat land, swift 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 their economy. Urban merchants would sell and trade their goods to the other colonies. The people of the middle colonies supported religious freedom and tolerance and had a diverse population with different ethnicities.

The Southern Colonies included the first English colony of Virginia, and grew to include Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia. The geography had rich fertile soil with broad coastal plains that made it possible for plantations to grow tobacco, rice, and indigo. Many large plantations were owned by wealthy planters. Smaller farms were owned by subsistence farmers who farmed land and raised stocks to support themselves and their families and had very little left over to sell or trade. 

A large part of the labor force for these farms came from enslaved men and women of African ancestry. Those held in slavery had few, if any, rights and often saw their families torn apart.  Like in the Middle Colonies, the southern colonies had greater religious freedom than in New England, but the Church of England was the majority. The majority of colonists in the Southern region were men.