British colonial era (1607-1775)

Just before they defeated the Spanish Armada, the English began exploring the New World. In 1585 an expedition organized by Walter Raleigh established the first English settlement in the New World, on Roanoke Island, North Carolina. The colony failed to prosper, however, and the colonists were retrieved the following year by English supply ships. In 1587, Raleigh again sent out a group of colonists to Roanoke. From this colony, the first recorded European birth in North America, a child named Virginia Dare, was reported. That group of colonists disappeared and is known as the "Lost Colony". Many people theorize that they were either killed or taken in by local tribes.

Like New England, the South was originally settled by English Protestants, later becoming a melting pot of religions as with other parts of the country. While the earlier attempt at colonization had failed on Roanoke Island, the English established their first permanent colony in Jamestown, Virginia, in 1607, at the mouth of the James River, which in turn empties into Chesapeake Bay.

Settlement of Chesapeake Bay was driven by a desire to obtain precious metal resources, specifically gold. The colony was technically still within Spanish territorial claims, yet far enough from most Spanish settlements to avoid colonial clashes. As the "Anchor of the South", the region includes the Delmarva Peninsula and much of coastal Virginia, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia .

Early in the history of the colony, it became clear that the claims of gold deposits were vastly exaggerated. Referred to as the "Starving Time" of the Jamestown colony, the years from the time of landing in 1607 until 1609 were rife with famine and instability. However, Native American support, in addition to reinforcements from Britain, sustained the colony.

Due to continued political and economic instability, however, the charter of the Colony of Virginia was revoked in 1624. The primary cause of this revocation was the revelation that hundreds of settlers were dead or missing following an attack in 1622 by Native American tribes led by Opechancanough. A royal charter was established for Virginia, yet the House of Burgesses, formed in 1619, was allowed to continue as political leadership for the colony in conjunction with a royal governor.

A key figure in the Virginia Colony and Southern political and cultural development generally was William Berkeley, who served, with some interruptions, as governor of Virginia from 1645 until 1675. His desire for an elite immigration to Virginia led to the "Second Sons" policy, in which younger sons of English aristocrats were recruited to emigrate to Virginia. Berkeley also emphasized the "headright system," the offering of large tracts of land to those arriving in the colony. This early immigration by an elite contributed to the development of an aristocratic political and social structure in the South.

Despite the early failures, English colonists continued to arrive along the southern Atlantic coast. Virginia became a prosperous English colony. The area now known as Georgia, was also settled, though its beginnings were as a penal colony similar to what was established by the English in Australia. Prisoners bound for Australia were originally meant for Louisiana, to effect legitimate conquest of New France with civilian occupation and thus extend British North America.[citation needed] This strategy was abandoned at the Treaty of Paris and because the Patriots were firm in their conviction that no White man should endure slavery, even as Black slaves were being manumitted by the abolitionist movement in the British Isles.

[edit] Rise of tobacco culture and slavery in the colonial South

See main article Slavery in the colonial United States

From the introduction of tobacco in 1613, its cultivation began to form the basis of the early Southern economy. Cotton did not become a mainstay until much later, after technological developments, especially the Whitney Cotton gin of 1794, greatly increased the profitability of cotton cultivation. Until that point, most cotton was farmed in large plantations in the Province of Carolina, and tobacco, which could be grown profitably in farms of smaller scale, was the dominant cash crop export of the South and the Middle Atlantic States.

 

Early slave ship, carrying hundreds of slaves in crowded, unhealthy conditions

The earliest form of slavery in the colonies emerged from the first introduction of slaves in 1619 aboard a Dutch slave ship until, approximately the 1660s, when slaves became a better economic labor force than indentured servants. During this period, often life expectancy was low and indentured servants came from overpopulated European areas. With the lower price of servants compared to slaves, and the high mortality of the servants, planters often found it much more economical to use servants.

Because of this, slavery in the early colonial period differed greatly in the American colonies from that in the Caribbean. Often Caribbean slaves were worked literally to death on large sugar and rice plantations, while the American slave population had a higher life expectancy and was maintained through natural reproduction. This natural reproduction was important for the continuation of slavery after the prohibition on slave importation in 1808 by the United States Congress.

Much of the slave trade was conducted as part of the "Triangular Trade", a three-way exchange of slaves, rum, and sugar. Southern planters purchased slaves using rum, made in New England from cane sugar, which was in turn grown in the Caribbean. This slave trade was generally able to fulfill labor needs in the South for the cultivation of tobacco after the decline of indentured servants. Most of the slaves brought to America refused to eat, wanting to die rather than to work for nothing.

At approximately the point when tobacco labor needs began to increase, the mortality of the colonies decreased. By the late 17th century and early 18th century, slaves became economically viable sources of labor for the growing tobacco culture. Also, further South than the Mid-Atlantic, Southern settlers grew wealthy by raising and selling rice, indigo, and cotton. The plantations of South Carolina often were modeled on Caribbean plantations, yet never attained similar size.

[edit] The growth of the Southern colonies

For details on each specific colony, see Province of Georgia, Province of Maryland, Province of North Carolina, Province of South Carolina, and Virginia Colony.

By the end of the 17th century, the number of colonists was growing. The large population centers were still in the northeastern and middle colonies, leaving the southern colonies of Maryland, Virginia, North and South Carolina a rural frontier land. The economies of these colonies were tied to agriculture. During this time the great plantations were formed by wealthy colonists who saw great opportunity in the new country. Tobacco and cotton were the main cash crops of the areas and were readily accepted by English buyers. Rice and indigo were also grown in the area and exported to Europe. The plantation owners built a vast aristocratic life and accumulated a great deal of wealth from their land. They supported slavery as a means of working their land and tended to keep close ties with the European cultural circles.

On the other side of the agricultural coin were the small yeoman farmers. They did not have the capability or wealth to operate large plantations. Instead, they worked small tracts of land and developed a political activism in response to the growing oligarchy of the plantation owners. Many politicians from this era were yeoman farmers speaking out to protect their rights as free men.

Charleston became a booming trade town for the southern colonies. The abundance of pine trees in the area provided raw materials for shipyards to develop and the harbor provided a safe port for English ships bringing in imported goods. The colonists exported tobacco, cotton and textiles and imported tea, sugar and slaves. The fact that these colonies maintained an independent trade relation with England and the rest of Europe became a major factor later on as tension mounted leading up to the American Revolutionary War.

After the late 17th century, the economies of the North and the South began to diverge, especially in coastal areas. The Southern emphasis on export production contrasted with the Northern emphasis on food production.

By the mid-18th century, the colonies of Maryland, Delaware, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia had been established. In the upper colonies, that is, Maryland, Virginia, and portions of North Carolina, the tobacco culture prevailed. However, in the lower colonies of South Carolina and Georgia, cultivation focused more on cotton and rice.