Chesapeake Colonies: Geographical Characteristics

Last Updated: 25 May 2020
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The Southern Chesapeake colonies consist of Virginia, Maryland, North and South Carolina and Georgia. The settlement of the Southern Colonies started at Jamestown Virginia and it was led by Captain John Smith who also became the first Governor of Virginia. The Southern and Northern Settlements both grew up for different reasons. Whilst the Northern settlements grew up to seek refuge from Religious persecution (Jenkins, P, 1997) the Southern Colonists went out to make money and produce goods for England, mainly Mediterranean goods such as citrus fruits, wines and silk.

Richard Hakluyt, who was a geographer for the court of James 1st and advisor to the London Plymouth Company, advised that the Southern Colonies would be ideal place to settle. However his choice of settlement was based purely on assumptions and it was not taken into account the East coast of a country was very different to the West coast (Mitchell, R, D, 1983). As a result tobacco became the staple crop and Virginia, which has been described as growing from smoke. This essay will look at how the Southern colonies continued to grow during the 18th Century and the geographical characteristics of that growth.

At the start of the 18th century the population of the colonies was only 250,000, however by 1785 this had risen to around 2. 5 million. The population was growing fast and by 1820 the population of the United States had overtaken Britain. Due to the rapid explosion of the population, it was forced to distribute over a greater area of land. In the Southern colonies the population occupied almost all of the land east of the Appalachians, which included many fertile mountain valleys, ideal for growing crops and rearing animals (McIlwraith, T. F, et al, 2001).

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After about 1740 Maryland and Virginia experienced settlement change. The Piedomont and Great Valley regions filled with settlers that imitated the Northern colonies with a mixture of grain and livestock farming. The population of the South was rapidly increasing yet it was still predominately rural as people took up more land than they actually needed. This was due to the fact that there was a big lust for ownership of land at the time and it was desirable to own land. In 1786, 3 years after the Treaty of Paris, there was a surge to claim it as there was a cadastrol survey of the land, by the Land Ordnance. Middleton, R, 2002).

People wanted to claim the land before it was surveyed in the hope that they could claim the rights to it. The urbanization of the Chesapeake region up to the 1700's had been very slight, as it had been built up as a fragmented and rural society. As opposed to the North, who were there to be independent from England, the Southern Colonies were there to produce goods for England and the rest of the world. Thomas Jefferson said "We have no Towns of any significance" (Thomas Jeffereson, 1801), because of how fragmented the Chesapeake society was and because there was very little social cohesion.

Thomas Jefferson proposed that the land be split up into rectangles and the land, along with the title, be given free to the yeomanary (Earle, C, 2003). However this is not how it happened, and Congress intervened insisting that land would be sold in order to produce revenue for Government. Consequently, speculators, land companies and individuals eyed obvious town sites, rivers, fording points, junctions of two rivers, harbours and defensive positions that lay well ahead of the frontier and surveyed land.

Actual Settlers, as they were known, were confronted by angry natives not happy at their land being squatted on by these hopefuls. As a result battles ensued and the army was called in to enforce order and in some cases expel settlers from the land that they had tried to lay claim too. The South, which was dominated by a labour intensive agricultural system, had a much longer growing season than the Northern Colonies. As a result of this they convinced themselves of the need for slave labour and continued to use imported slaves well into the 19th Century (McIlwraith, T. F, et al, 2001). Slaves were a major factor behind the growth of the South, without them there would have been a great shortage of labour. Plantation owners found that slaves were cheap when compared to indentured labour. This was labour that would work for their employer for a set number of years and then be free to go and work where ever they wanted. The cost to a plantation owner of a free white servant would be around i??20 per year. For an extra i??7-8 a planter could have "a slave for life! " (Middleton, R, 2002).

This reliance on slaves left the South with a very unskilled labour force, the full affect of this not being felt until the start of the industrial revolution in the 19th century. In the South skilled workers like smiths, joiners, wheelwrights and leather workers were all moving out to the countryside to become plantation owners. The expense of free labour forced people into this (Middleton, R 2002). Not only was it a skilled labour force that was missing but also there was a lack of merchants, traders and artificers, these people being crucial in exporting and selling the goods.

However this did not cause a problem in the tobacco region of Virginia because they exported directly from their plantations. It was is the Carolinas that this lack of merchants was apparent because they did not ship from their own plantations but had to transport their goods to central warehouses. As the Southern colonies adopted a more northern approach to agriculture, the need for slave labour should have been reduced, but this was not the case due to the fact that there was a big demand for cotton, which was very labour intensive.

This was a result of the revolution in America and the industrial revolution in Britain, This had a big impact on the industry in the southern colonies both socially and spatially. One aspect of this industrialisation process was the iron industry. In 1775 the colonial iron industry turned out 15% of world production (McIlwraith, T. F, 2001). The geographical influences of iron was bog ore, which was used to produce the iron, which was reduced in furnaces. These furnaces were heated by hardwood, located in the hill country, which was cut to make charcoal.

The owners were able to control large areas of woodland and also influence settlement due to the huge demand that the iron industry had on labour. The products that they produced remained mainly in America but it was important process in the industrialisation of America. Another aspect was the huge demand for cotton and Britain became a major importer of American Cotton. The cotton industry had its origins in the coastal regions of South Carolina. Cash crops like Rice, Indigo and cotton were plantation crops grown on the chain of Sea Islands situated along the coast of South Carolina and Georgia (McIlwraith, T,F, et al, 2001).

However due to market and environmental factors rice and indigo quickly vanished as cash crops but as settlements moved further inland it was cotton that was deemed to be the staple crop. It was suited well to the climate and the soil conditions and the people readily exploited this by mono cropping. By doing this they were never giving the soil a chance to recover and its implication on settlements was that it pushed them further and further west in search of quality fertile land. Further South stood the capital, Charleston, which was established in 1692.

Originally it experienced very slow growth but from about 1730 onwards it steadily grew and by 1775 the population had grown to 12,000. Charleston, South Carolina, became the leading port and trading centre of the South. There the settlers quickly learned to combine agriculture and commerce, and the marketplace became a major source of prosperity. The naval stores industry was very important to the Southern Colonies. The South was an area that had a rich supply of pine trees, pitch, tar and resin that was required by the Royal Navy (Knox, P et al, 1998). It was able to provide some of the best ship building materials in the world.

Up until the 18th century the Royal navy had obtained its supplies from the Baltic, but due to uncertainties of supply they switched their source to the Carolinas. The production soon shifted to North Carolina as rice production became of greater importance in South Carolina. Unlike Virginia, the Carolinas were not bound to a single crop, making them a more economically sound area to settle. The land enabled them to extract raw materials but also grow goods that could be exported. As a result of the Carolinas producing different crops, and the need to keep moving on, there was a difference in the type settlements that emerged.

In contrast to South Carolina, the urbanization of North Carolina was very slight and it was only a very few inland areas that urbanized, an example being Salem, whilst its coastal areas, such as Wilmington, remained very small. This can be put down to the fact that North Carolina was not concentrating on a crop but extracting raw materials, so movement would have been regular (Earle, C, 1992). The late 18th Century southern colonies can be characterized in many different ways geographically. At Virginia, the major geographical characteristic was the land.

The Jamestown Settlement was made up as a profit orientated trading station rather than a socially cohesive agricultural settlement. People needed to grow tobacco to sell to England, so the rich planters had a lot of control over society. This meant that their plantations doubled up as urban places offering many services that you would expect to find (Middleton, R (2002). Further South, as well as the need of land for the cotton industry, was the need of the raw materials, needed for the naval industry. Due to the high use of slave labour, rurality of the settlements was not a problem.

If labour was short they imported it, they never had to go looking for it. In the Southern regions they liked to invest in areas where they knew they could make the most money from the land that was available. Major outside influences on the Southern Colonies was the industrial revolution in England, which meant that there was big demand for cotton. As a result people were constantly on the look out for good fertile land and the population continued to spread. The industrial revolution brought with it factories and demand for products which added momentum to the spread and organization of the Southern Colonies.

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