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Comparison of the Mid-Atlantic and Southern Colonies Essay Sample

Comparison of the Mid-Atlantic and Southern Colonies


Early American history is full of exciting events, brave conquests and unmatched victories. At the same time it contains multiple examples of cruelty, inhumanity and savagery. The process of settling first American colonies was two-faced as almost all important historic milestones. It is crucial to pay close attention to these events and the circumstances under which they took place, as this period can give much valuable information about the present-day America, the differences and similarities between its regions.

This essay attempts to compare and contrast two geographic sections of the original thirteen colonies, the Mid-Atlantic (Middle) colonies that are made up by New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Delaware and the Southern colonies that comprise Georgia and the Carolinas. To give an objective analysis of this topic, it is necessary to pay attention to several aspects of the issue: the connection of the colonies with Europe, specific patterns of settlement, peculiarities of their economy and manufacturing, religious and philosophical background of the colonies, and distinctive features of their social structure. Only the complex approach is a key to finding out the most significant similarities and differences between the Mid-Atlantic and Southern colonies.

European History

Both Mid-Atlantic and Southern colonies belonged to that part of the original thirteen colonies that were founded in the first decades of the seventeenth century under the ruling of King Charles II. “Without exception the new colonies were proprietary, awarded by the king to men who had remained loyal or had brought about his restoration or, in one case, to whom he was indebted” (Tindall and Shi 78). That was the major common feature between the Middle and Southern colonies, which, to a large extent, stipulated the special direction of their development.

It is also necessary to pay attention to the changes of the ruling countries. The shift from the Netherlands to England had a huge impact on the Middle colonies, especially New York and Delaware. The transition of New Netherland under the jurisdiction of the British Empire was inevitable. The English fleet was far more powerful than all Dutch military forces and eventually they capitulated without a single gunshot. This event put the beginning to the merger of the Dutch and British cultural and economic traditions in this region.

It must also be mentioned that neither the Mid-Atlantic nor Southern colonies enjoyed much political and economic freedom. They had their own authorities and ruling bodies, and they executed certain power over the citizens of the colonies. Nevertheless, this power was limited. They were still under the jurisdiction of the British Empire that did not have any intention to let them go away.

However, the Southern colonies had rather a low level of the British influence at the stage of the early development, but in 1675 the King appointed the Lords of Trade to control all the commercial operations in these regions. The primary aim of Britain was to make the highest possible profits from these colonies. Georgia, one of the Southern colonies, was under a very strong European influence as it was established partially as a military buffer zone between British territories and the area controlled by the Spanish Empire. The tensions between these two European countries had been at the core of Georgia’s political development for centuries.

As at this period America was completely controlled by Britain and some other European countries, whose influence was significantly smaller though, the ties between Europe and both the Mid-Atlantic and Southern colonies were very powerful. Even if there was a certain degree of freedom in making some specific decisions, on a larger scale these colonies were treated exclusively as the places bringing extra profit to the European nobles and the wealthy.

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Patterns of Settlement

In the Middle colonies the Dutch usually formed joint-stock companies that aimed at establishing the maximum quantity of trading outposts. It affected the structure of the settlements. All activities of social and economic kind were centered on the landholdings that were usually about 100 acres. These landholdings were often operated by a single family who hired additional helpers or servants if they were necessary. These workers were, of course, somewhat inferior to the owners, but their living conditions were quite satisfactory. It often happened that they began renting some parts of the owners’ land and had their own farms.

The pattern of settlements in the Southern colonies was based on a different principle. The key term that is necessary to understand the pattern and structure of the first settlements in the Southern colonies is “plantation”. The scheme of the traditional plantation was taken from the West Indies colonies, like Bermuda or Jamaica. The owners of the first plantation on the territory of the Carolinas and Georgia initially intended even to grow the same agricultural crops, for example, sugarcane or tobacco, but these ideas did not prove to be very successful. Rice and cotton quickly became one of the main products in the Southern colonies, so it was agricultural crops that defined the way the settlements were organized. The infrastructure of plantations was sometimes even better than the one in some regions where poor population lived.

It is necessary to highlight that the Mid-Atlantic and Southern colonies had different basic patterns of settlement, but they were perfectly suitable for the functions the colonies performed. The economy and manufacturing in the region also had a great impact on the methods of settlement organization.

Economy and Manufacturing

Economic prosperity was at the heart of the development of any early colony on the territory of the modern USA. This was absolutely true for both the Middle and Southern colonies; however, there were still some minor differences between these two regions. The nature of economic processes taking place in the colonies was greatly dependent on the people who inhabited these regions.

The differences between the people who migrated to North and South Carolina reflect the economic development that had been taking place in these two colonies for several centuries. North Carolina was the place that became a new homeland for many medium and small tobacco farmers that arrived predominantly from Virginia and Maryland. South Carolina was a mixture of two types of population. The north of the colony was inhabited by people from Virginia and Pennsylvania, whereas the south was the place for wealthy planters from Barbados, Bermuda, etc. This diversity proved to be an effective boost for the development of economy, trade and manufacturing. It is necessary to mention that “the Carolinas proved highly profitable to the empire and won the approval of merchants, bankers, and politicians in London” (Wright 45). Both the Carolinas and Georgia’s manufacturing was highly dependent on their hot and humid climate that allowed to take good crops throughout the year. It resulted in their fast development and focus on the trade with other colonies and foreign countries.

The same situation was in the Middle colonies where the Dutch came first and brought their unique and very successful style of trading. These colonies quickly turned into centers for various commercial enterprises and endeavors. The authorities exerted every effort to keep this image of a business paradise and tried to boost the development of the region’s economy in every possible way. In general, it would be right to say that there were far more industrial enterprises of different size in the Middle colonies than in the Southern ones. For example, only in Pennsylvania there were plenty of textile companies that produced various types of clothes and materials, including sails for trading vessels. This region was also famous for its high-quality pig iron.

In both geographic sections the focus on trade resulted in the development of the industries that were closely connected to all commercial processes. For instance, ship building, manufacturing of naval appliances, creating all other forms of transport vehicles were very popular at that period.

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Religious and Philosophical Background

In terms of religion, the Middle and Southern colonies had much in common. America’s religious life was not stable at that period of time as the population experienced a painful adaptation to new environment and constant shifts in conceptual priorities. There was no single unified religion in the contrasted regions and it resulted in a certain degree of religious freedom and tolerance. The Mid-Atlantic colonies had even greater religious diversity than the Southern colonies. There was evidence of practicing religious groups of Quakers, Catholics, Lutherans, Jews, etc. on the territory of the Mid-Atlantic lands. Quakers were particularly strong at that time. They believed in the notion of universal priesthood. It means that any true believer can preach if he or she is moved to speak by the divine forces. The highest degree of religious diversity could be observed in the state of New York (New Amsterdam). Woodard claims, “Ethnic and ideological purity have never been a priority, government has been seen as an unwelcome intrusion, and political opinion has been moderate, even apathetic” (16). However, it is not possible to say that the Middle and Southern colonies were a paradise for expressing any radical religious ideas. The degree of tolerance differed from one settlement to another. Landsman mentions, “For if toleration and diversity were among the distinguishing characteristics of the Middle Colonies, the ways in which people mixed – the degrees of integration and inclusion, the extent of liberty and tolerance, and the general character of the groups themselves—were quite varied” (267). For example, there were certain tensions with the Quakers as they refused to pay taxes in order to support the English Protestant Church.

As it was in case of the Mid-Atlantic colonies, the Southern territories were also originally planned to be a place where any individual would be able to live happily and in harmony with God and the surrounding world. “The Trustees tried earnestly to make Georgia the combination of Eden and Utopia which they had envisioned” (Wright 59). Such naïve and idealistic theories were quite popular among the people who came to both Carolinas and Georgia; although it is worth remembering that the principal reasons for inhabiting this land were, by all means, economic and not religious. These colonies were seen by many as the Promised Land that would give everyone an opportunity to build a prosperous, balanced and peaceful society.

The ideological theories praised at both colonies favored religious tolerance and, in fact, the Mid-Atlantic and Southern colonies were quite similar in their approaches to religion and general philosophic ideas on which the society was supposed to be built.

Social Sphere

The social systems of the Mid-Atlantic colonies and the Southern colonies were strikingly different. The social structure established at these territories was greatly dependant on the economic and religious spheres described above. New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Delaware were considered one of the most democratic places at that period. There were many Dutch, German and Swiss immigrants in the Middle colonies that practiced rather democratic attitude to all social and gender groups. For example, women in these colonies enjoyed more equality with men than in any other geographic section. Women were allowed to have their own property, make wills and most of them worked in the fields and workshops with men on the equal footing.

At first the Mid-Atlantic colonies had rather homogeneous social structure as most of the population consisted of small and medium farmers and craftsmen. It did not last long, but it created the atmosphere of equality that enrooted in the social system of this region for a very long time. Later some individuals became more powerful and wealthy than others and the greater social stratification emerged, but the gap between different social classes was not enormous. The transitions from one class to another were not rare.

The situation in the Southern colonies was absolutely different. As they were initially founded by only one hundred English settlers and many wealthy slave owners from Bermuda, Barbados and some other Caribbean regions, the system of slavery had been adopted there from the very beginning. They introduced “a system so cruel and despotic that it shocked even its seventeenth-century English contemporaries” (Woodard 19). The society was formed according to the West Indies model. The white population was a superior cast that ruled and governed the lives of all other ethnic groups. Democracy and human rights were a privilege of a selected few who enjoyed it by the right of birth and money. The position of slaves was not slightly different from the one that was accepted in ancient cultures. They were property of their owners and had no rights at all.

Therefore, the social structure of the Middle and Southern colonies was very different. At that time it was quite difficult to imagine that in the future the population of these colonies would enjoy the same privileges and democratic rights as in the modern USA. However, it must also be mentioned that at the very beginning of the colonies’ functioning these social systems emerged largely not by the will of their inhabitants, but because of the circumstances and influences from outside.


In general, the Mid-Atlantic and Southern colonies had more similarities than differences. This is, to a certain extent, a surprising conclusion as these geographic sections were founded under different circumstances and performed different functions. However, these basic similarities can be explained by the fact that the early period of American history was quite a difficult process that made all the colonies focus on creating, first of all, as strong economic system as it was possible. It was also necessary to maintain relative social stability in the colonies that resulted in paying special attention to religion and other social regulations. All these aspects led to the implementation of the common core principles that became the basis both for the Middle and Southern colonies.

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In addition, it is worth mentioning that this analysis is extremely useful in understanding the current problems that arise between some American states. As Woodard says, “America’s most essential and abiding divisions are not between red states and blue states, conservatives and liberals…. Rather, our divisions stem from this fact: the United States is a federation comprised of … regional nations, some of which truly do not see eye to eye with one another” (12). It means that understanding the nature of the differences between various parts of America can help the US society to build a more prosperous and harmonious future.

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