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Reasons for the Differences between the Chesapeake Region and New England Region

The colonists that set off for the New World were all very much alike. For the most part they were whites, seeking new opportunities and freedom in the New World. As the colonists began to settle across the eastern portion of America, forming the thirteen colonies, there began to emerge a sharp contrast between the Chesapeake Region and the New England Region as early as the 1700s. This striking difference between the two areas emerged as a result of the economic differences between the two areas. The way each area produced wealth, distributed land, and established economic classes were all of paramount importance to the unique shaping of the two regions.

The earliest sign of differences between the two areas could be seen in the manner in which the colonies in the Chesapeake and New England region began to distribute the land to incoming settlers. The rich and fertile land in the Chesapeake region was far more economically valuable than the hard rocky soil of the New England region. Furthermore colonies in the Chesapeake or southern region such as Virginia and Maryland allowed for the private ownership and cultivation of the land. Governor Dale of Virginia concluded that such practices would give the colonists more personal incentive to work the land and thus the entire colony would fare better. Besides selling land, many of the southern colonies established a headright system in which a grant of 100 acres was made to each male settler, another 100 for his wife, and 50 acres for each child. This practice gave incentive for the entire family to cultivate the land. However, this was not the case in the New England region. Though some colonies in this region did attempt to replicate the headright system, privatization of land did not occur on such a large scale, as was the case in the Chesapeake region. Furthermore the deeply religious Puritan community gave most of its land to a central power (often being the church), the central power then in return created common lands, which many farmers worked together on. Even if some of the land was given for private ownership, these lands were often scattered and were far from the home of the farmer. As a result the incentive to farm was not as great as was in the southern region.

Since the emphasis on cultivation was much less in New England, it was necessary for the economic opportunities in New England to become more varied. For example, a substantial whaling business emerged on Cape Cod and the coast, timber businesses began to develop to support the ship-building in the seaport towns, the rum-making enterprise grew as sugar was imported from the Caribbean into Rhode Island, and a variety of fishing and coastal businesses flourished out of necessity. Such variety, however, did not appear in the Chesapeake region. Since there was great incentive to cultivate the lands, the southern economy grew around agriculture, specifically the cultivation of cash crops. Such cash crops included indigo, rice paddies, and

tobacco. The acquisition of land was crucial to making the greatest profit in the cultivation of cash crops. Therefore a characteristic of the southern farmer included owning large amounts of land.

The types of social classes that emerged from these two different economies were as different as the economies themselves. As mentioned before, the key to success to gaining wealth in the southern economy was acquisition of more land. The more land one had, the greater amount of crops that could be planted and eventually sold. Under this system the rich would become richer because the acquisition of land would be easier for those who have more wealth available to them. Because of this the social stratification in the south widened. The poorer farmers were unable to increase their land holdings and a large portion of the population were African slaves who had absolutely no opportunity to further themselves on the economic ladder. By contrast the social stratification in New England was much more narrow with 80% of the society being somewhere in the middle. This was so because landownership didn t translate to greater wealth and in the industrial vectors of economy the chance to better oneself were far greater than in the agricultural economy of the south.

Economic forces have been very influential forces throughout much of history. And we can see that economic influences did indeed create the two very distinct societies of the Chesapeake and New England regions. Such regional differences were for the most part put aside during the revolution, but would return to haunt the nation and eventually be the cause of the Civil War.


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