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Clarifications: Each clarification provides an explanation of an indicator/objective to help teachers better understand the skills and/or concepts.

Standard 5.0 History

Topic B. Emergence, Expansion and Changes in Nations and Empires

Indicator 2. Analyze the growth and development of colonial America

Objective b. Compare the political, economic and social lives of people in New England, Middle and the Southern colonies


Although all of the original thirteen colonies were English, they differed from each other in significant ways. The colonies can be grouped, however, into three geographic categories: New England, Middle and Southern. Within each category, the colonies shared certain basic characteristics, largely determined by the climate and geography.

The New England colonies were founded by people primarily motivated by religious impulses. They sought to establish communities in which they could worship and live according to their beliefs. As a result of this goal, many New England settlers came as families and often with neighbors and fellow church members from home. In a sense, they simply transplanted existing communities. Consequently, New England was characterized by many close-knit communities, centered around the meetinghouse, used as both the church and town hall. While the town's wealthiest residents and church officials did take a leadership role, ordinary townsmen played a large part in political affairs. Issues of importance to the town were decided by unanimous consent at town meetings, and the colony governments quickly became representative institutions. Influenced by the relatively equal proportions of men and women, the emphasis on community and family, and a healthy climate, New England populations grew quickly through natural increase. Families supported themselves through subsistence farming, although there were a number of small businessmen, such as millers, blacksmiths, furniture makers, gunsmiths, and printers. In addition, shipbuilding and commercial fishing were important industries.

The Middle Colonies lacked much of the order and cohesion that characterized New England. Although colonists enjoyed a favorable climate and land, they represented a wide variety of social and ethnic groups and competing economic interests. New York, which had begun as the Dutch colony of New Netherland, was settled by a mixture of Dutch, Belgians, French, English, Portuguese, Swedes, Finns, and Africans, bringing with them equally diverse religions. Quakers from England, Holland, and Germany dominated Pennyslvania, but the colony was also home to Catholics, Lutherans, Baptists, Anglicans, and Presbyterians. The founding of New Jersey was a confused series of transactions that led to a similarly diverse and disjointed population. Also, the Middle Colonies attracted a large number of indentured servants, usually single males. Fortunate to have fertile soil and a slightly milder climate than New England, settlers in the Middle Colonies farmed larger tracts of land and cultivated cash crops, especially wheat. As a result of the larger farms, the population was spread out much more than in New England. Lumbering, mining, and small-scale manufacturing were among the major industries. The Middle Colonies were proprietary colonies, although both New York and Pennsylvania had representative assemblies. The politics of the Middle Colonies were tumultuous as different economic interests competed for power.

The Southern Colonies were even more loosely knit than the Middle Colonies. The region's rich soil and warm climate suited it well for large-scale commercial farming, which quickly dominated the region. Because it was possible to make such profits through agriculture, few people developed industrial ventures. Instead, colonists devoted all of their energies to growing tobacco in Maryland, Virginia, and North Carolina and rice, and eventually indigo, in South Carolina and Georgia. Spread out on such large tracts of land, Southern colonists did not form real communities or towns, apart from the ports from which their crops shipped overseas. The basic social unit was the plantation. The production of the Southern cash crops was very labor intensive, and plantation owners first relied on white male indentured servants for labor. As the supply of indentured servants dwindled, however, Southerners turned to African slavery. Difficult labor combined with a warm climate and often swampy land led to high mortality rates among all Southern colonists. Away from the coast, in the upland backcountry, life was much different. There, hardy individuals grew corn and tobacco on small family farms. The dispersed nature of the population, high mortality rates, the presence of indentured servants and African slaves, and the dichotomy between the coastal and interior areas all contributed to the Southern colonies' unstable societies. Despite the larger numbers of small farmers, the large, wealthy landowners dominated political and economic life.

Resources for Objective 5.B.2.b: