Settlement Patters And Family Life Essay Research

Settlement Patters And Family Life Essay, Research Paper

Settlement patterns, family life, population growth, economic and social structure, government/polity, education, and homes differed greatly in the New England and Southern colonies in the 17th-century. Although a family could move from Massachusetts to Virginia or from South Carolina to Pennsylvania, without major readjustment, distinctions between social institutions within the individual colonies were marked.

Settlement of New England was financed in 1607 and established in November, 1620 (Plymouth) by “The Second Colony of Plymouth” (Marshall, 49; Tindall and Shi 65). “Once the ship came to rest, the passengers crowded on deck, and the religious among them knelt down and prayed to God for their deliverance” (Marshall 49, 52). They arrived safely. However, they were far from settled; the legal process in place for Virginia was not binding here, and these colonists had no law of their own for self-governance. Subsequently, those in charge, drew up the “Mayflower Compact” (Marshall 52). This compact created officers and affected their own legal process for self-governance (Marshall 52). Unlike the colonists in the South, the Pilgrims arrived during the winter, making it very difficult to cultivate the land around them, and survive (Marshall 52).

In New England, the first settlement of homes were constructed of timber, probably split logs, and the cracks were filled with clay (Marshall 69). The earliest form of roofing material used by the Pilgrims was thatch (Marshall 69, 70; Tindall and Shi 130). Reeds and rushes were gathered from nearby swamps, bound into bundles, and fastened to the roof (Marshall 68). The thatch was piled layer upon layer until it was about one foot thick (Marshall 81). It can be said that these houses were of the simplest design; windows were filled with oiled linen in place of glass, which was too expensive and very difficult to obtain (Marshall 65; Tindall and Shi 130).

Keeping in mind that settlers in New England were city-bred, or from towns and villages in a humanized and cultured country, few were suited for the life of a frontiersman. Only a very few were familiar with the tasks of farming (Marshall 53). Just as the church was an important institution among the New England settlers, so was family life. The feeling of family life was powerful in most English people, and had been since feudal times, when working the land demanded close collaboration between all members of the family unit (Marshall 60).

New England families consisted of a husband and wife, children, not necessarily their own, and male and female servants who were usually unmarried (Marshall 61). Servants did not serve the rest of the household, but worked alongside with members of the family in performing tasks, both indoors and out. The man was the head of the household, and worked at his craft or in the fields; his wife took care of the children, managed the housework,

and prepared family meals (Marshall 61). Males in the household worked for the master, the females helping the wife (Marshall 61). Children other than babies did their share of the work, performing age appropriate tasks (Marshall 61).

Mortality and population rates in early 17th-century New England were problematic. The sickness that the colonists experienced upon their arrival to New England, during which time friends and relatives died due to disease, was followed by a period of near starvation because people were ill equipped and lacked the basic knowledge required to farm the land (Marshall 131). Determination and courage pulled them through, and soon thereafter, others from England joined them (Marshall 131). Additionally, migration was more prevalent to New England than to the southern colonies; this also included more women (Tindall 112). This phenomena alone would eventually create a higher population in the New England colonies.

Terrain in New England has generally thin, stony soil, relatively little level land, and long winters, making it difficult for economic success in the farming business (Marshall 54). Turning to other potentially prosperous business and economic opportunities, New Englander’s harnessed waterpower, and established grain and sawmills (Van Dusen 26). Good stands of timber encouraged shipbuilding. Superb harbors promoted trade, and the sea became a source of great economic wealth (Van Dusen 26). In Massachusetts, the cod industry alone quickly furnished a basis for prosperity (Van Dusen 26).

With the bulk of the early settlers living in villages and towns around the harbors, many New Englander’s engaged in a form of trade or business (Marshall 170). Common pastureland and wood lots served the economic needs of townspeople who worked small farms nearby. Moreover, compactness made possible the village school, the village church and the village or town halls, where citizens met to discuss matters of common interest (Marshall 58). In addition, New England shippers soon discovered that rum and slaves were profitable commodities in the realm of economics. One of the most enterprising, if unsavory trading practices of the time, was the “triangular trade.” Merchants and shippers would purchase slaves off the coast of Africa for New England rum, then sell the slaves in the West Indies where they would purchase molasses to bring home for resale to the local rum producers (Tindall and Shi 134).

Of equal significance for the future were the foundations of American education and culture established during the colonial period. But even more noteworthy was the growth of an education system maintained by governmental authority (Van Dusen 66). The Puritan emphasis on reading directly from the Scriptures underscored the importance of literacy (Van Dusen 66). In 1647 New England, the Massachusetts Bay Colony enacted the “ye olde deluder Satan Act”, requiring every town having more than 50 families to establish a grammar school (a Latin school to prepare students for college) (Morison 186; Tindall 155). Shortly thereafter, all the other New England colonies, except Rhode Island, followed its example (Morison 186).

By the end of the 16th-century and into the early 17th-century, saltboxes were common in England. When the colonists came to the New World, they transplanted the cottage architecture they knew in their homeland. For centuries, English cottages were only one room deep. As prosperity in New Englad increased, homeowners began to build an addition called a lean-to at the rear of the house (Marshall 68, 69; Tindall and Shi 131). The central-chimney saltbox plan became standard, and appeared with minor variations throughout New England (Marshall 68, 69; Tindall and Shi 131). The typical saltbox consisted of a central room containing the living room, dining room, kitchen, and adult bedroom, with a cellar below for storage of food and supplies (Marshall 68, 69; Tindall and Shi 131).

Settlement by the English commenced in 1606 after the induction of James I, when two groups of Englishmen received related charters from the crown (Tindall and Shi 53). The first was “The First Colony of London,” (Tindall and Shi 65), who financed and established the colony of Jamestown, Virginia on May 14, 1607 (Rouse 49; Tindall and Shi 53). Political leaders wanted to lengthen British authority and capitalize on theses new lands; the commoners viewed possibilities of greater economic wealth and independent living (Rouse 49). Additionally, colonists complied with the political and God-fearing standards of the British majority and subsequently conflicted with the Puritan and Roman Catholic minorities who wanted religious freedom. However, the colonists of Virginia were advocates of a King whose authority was restricted by the ruling oligarchy (Rouse 49).

In the settlement in Virginia, James Fort enclosed about one acre of land with small dwellings paralleling the walls. Contained inside, was a church, guardhouse, and storehouse at the center (Rouse 59; Tindall and Shi 55). The buildings were constructed of wood beams and clay, bound with straw and, possibly, salt marsh grass. The roofs were made of rushes (Rouse 59; Tindall and Shi 55). The chimneys of the first dwellings also followed this pattern of construction, consequently, fire was always a threat (Rouse 64). Windows and doors were openings that were cut in the side of the house. In the earlier days, glass or oilskin was not used; instead, wooden shutters were used to close the openings (Rouse 64). The colonists were loyal to the institutions and beliefs of England and this is reflected in their architecture (Rouse 64).

Like their counterparts in New England, southern colonist families consisted of a husband and wife, children, and male and female servants who were usually unmarried (Marshall 61). The man was the head of the household, and worked at his craft or in the fields. The men also educated their sons in farming techniques. His wife took care of the children, did the housework, gardening, tended to the cows, “combed, spun, spooled, wove, and bleached wool,” (Tindall 114), and prepared family meals (Marshall 61; Tindall 114). Additionally, the wife and mother was responsible for educating their daughter(s) in the management of a household (Tindall 113).

The mortality rate in the southern colonies was appallingly high. Like the settlers in New England, the settlers in the southern colonies experienced sickness upon their arrival. During this time, friends and relatives died due to disease, and was followed by a period of near starvation because people were ill equipped and lacked the basic knowledge required to farm the land (Marshall 131). This crisis shrank the populace in Jamestown alone from 500 to 50 settlers (Rouse 64). However, like the settlers in New England determination and courage pulled them through and soon thereafter others from England joined them (Rouse 65). Only by heavy immigration had the Virginia Company been able to keep the population figures increasing (Rubin 13).

In contrast to the New England colonies, were the predominantly rural southern settlements of: Virginia, Maryland, North and South Carolina, and Georgia (Rouse 90, 91). By the late 17th-century, Virginia and Maryland’s economic and social structure rested on the great planters of tobacco, and the yeoman farmers (Rubin 15). The planters of the tidewater region, supported by slave labor, held the majority of the political power, and the premium land (Rubin 15, 32). They built majestic houses, adopted an aristocratic way of life and kept in touch as best they could with the world of culture overseas (Rouse 105; Rubin 14, 15). At the same time, yeoman farmers, who worked smaller tracts of land, sat in popular assemblies and found their way into political office. Their outspoken independence was a constant warning to the oligarchy of planters not to encroach too far upon the rights of free men (Rubin 29).

Charleston, South Carolina, became the leading port and trading center of the South. There, the settlers quickly learned to combine agriculture and commerce, and the marketplace became a major source of economic prosperity. Dense forests also brought revenue: lumber, tar and resin from the longleaf pine, which provided some of the best shipbuilding materials in the world (Tindall and Shi 116). Not bound to a single crop, as was Virginia, North and South Carolina also produced and exported furs, slaves, cattle and rice (Tindall and Shi 116).

Additionally, in the Southern colonies, wealthy planters and merchants imported private tutors to teach their children. Others sent their children to school in England (Tindall and Shi 156). Having these other opportunities, the upper classes in the Tidewater were not interested in supporting public education. In addition, the diffusion of farms and plantations made the formation of community schools difficult (Rouse 107).

For their part, the colonies had never thought of themselves as subservient. Rather, they considered themselves chiefly as commonwealths or states, much like England itself, having only a loose association with the authorities in London (Rubin 14, 15). In one way or another, exclusive rule from the outside withered away. The colonists, inheritors of the traditions of the Englishman’s long struggle for political liberty, incorporated concepts of freedom into Virginia’s first charter (Rouse 73; Rubin 15). They were, then, to enjoy the benefits of the Magna Carta and the common law (Tindall and Shi 48). In 1618 the Virginia Company issued instructions to its appointed governor providing that free inhabitants of the plantations should elect representatives to join with the governor and an appointive council in passing ordinances for the welfare of the colony (Rouse 73).

These measures proved to be some of the most far-reaching in the entire colonial period (Rouse 73). From then on, it was generally accepted that the colonists had a right to participate in their own government (Rouse 73). In most instances, the King, in making future grants, provided in the charter that the free men of the colony should have a voice in legislation affecting them (Rouse 76).

There are several factors accounting for these differences between the New England and Southern colonies. First, sex ratios and families were vast between the New England and Southern Colonies. The initial settlers in the Southern colonies were primarily men, and because of the few women immigrants, marriage and procreation was severely reduced (Tindall 112). Additionally, high mortality rates had severe impacts on families. Further, indentured servitude curtailed marriage and procreation. Colonists who were indentured servants were likely to delay marriage until their four or seven year contracts had expired and they were able to support a family on their own.

Works Cited

Hume, Ivor No l. Martin’s Hundred. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., 1982.

Marshall, Cyril Leek. The Mayflower Destiny. Pennsylvania: Stackpole Books, 1975.

Morison, Samuel Eliot. Builders of the Bay Colony. Massachusetts: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1981.

Rouse, Parke. Virginia – The English Heritage in America. New York: Hastings House, 1966.

Rubin, Louis. Virginia – A History. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1977.

Tindall, George Brown and David E. Shi. America – A Narrative History. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1999.

Van Dusen, Albert. Connecticut. New York: Random House, 1961.


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