America's Beginning: New England vs. Virginia | Teen Ink

America's Beginning: New England vs. Virginia

April 3, 2015
By Abby McCarthy BRONZE, Wayland, Massachusetts
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Abby McCarthy BRONZE, Wayland, Massachusetts
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Author's note:

This piece was inspired by my Honors Old World New World History class.

The London Company founded the colony of Jamestown, Virginia in the spring of 1607. Thirteen years later in 1620, English Separatists led by Captain John Smith set out from Holland to join the colony. They actually landed on Cape Cod, and named their new settlement Plymouth after an English town. The English formed major towns and cities in both colonies with systems of religion and . The settlements of Plymouth and Jamestown faced many challenges. Although New England and the Chesapeake region were both settled by people of English origin, by 1700 the regions evolved into two distinct societies because of the different motives for leaving England, types of people that settled each region, and the emergence of different economies.

The motive for settling Virginia was economic, to accumulate wealth for the Virginia Company and individuals, and was not religious. King James Ⅰ created a joint stock company called the Virginia Company to allow people to invest in the endeavor of colonization (T, p.29). The company sent their first ship to Virginia in 1644 in search of gold (PP). Originally the Virginians’s main focus was to attain great wealth through the gold trade. According to History of Virginia of 1624, British captain John Smith complained, “There was no talk… but dig gold, wash gold, refine gold, load gold”. He continues to describe brawls on the ship during 1607 in which people fought over money. The colonists competed to acquire money for themselves from the gold industry. When the Virginians recognized there was no gold on their land, they turned to trade goods (T, p.29). Men worked to prepare lumber, tar, iron and pitch more than to grow food for themselves (T, p.29). Fortunately, in 1613 John Rolfe developed a method to grow profitable tobacco, which became Virginia’s main industry, and the Virginia company then allowed private ownership of land to spur this enterprise. Many colonists were motivated by the promise of wealth from the tobacco industry (PP). To attract laborers for this industry in particular, the Virginia Company created the ‘headright’ system (T, p.31). This system rewarded those who paid others’ passage with fifty acres of land. The people whose passage was paid often signed contracts of indentured servitude. Indentured servants were children, men, and women who owed five to seven years of labor on tobacco farms. In addition to having their passage paid for them if they came through the headright system, at the end of their service they received land and farming supplies (PP). It is made clear in the Indenture Agreement Between Richard Smyth and Margarett Williams of 1659 that Margaret Williams makes a pact to serve her employer, who will later be obliged to, “pay unto her one axe, one howe, double apparel, fifty acres of land, one year’s provision according to the custom of the country”. She signed away several years of her life for only two sets of clothing, land, tools, and only one year’s provisions. Indentured servants were subject to terrible mistreatment, so only people who were desperate for money became indentured servants (PP). Williams must have been desperate for money to have signed such a bleak agreement. Williams was one of many servants motivated by economic gain. Another indentured servant in 1623 reflects on how Virginians were motivated by money. One shipmate did not have enough money to clothe himself, so he stole the servant’s cloak. In a Letter from an Indentured Servant to his Parents, the servant claims, “My cloak is stolen by one of my fellows”. This servant was close to starving on an unsanitary ship full of sick people who stole from him. The indentured servant must have been desperately poor to have subjected himself to such squalid conditions. He would not have volunteered for such a wretched journey without his motivation for the opportunity to gain wealth. The Ship’s List of Emigrants Bound for Virginia of July, 1636 belongs to a ship called “Merchant’s Hope”. The name itself illustrates the settlers’ motivation to attain wealth through goods for trade. The ship list also shows that only fifteen percent of the people on that ship were women. More men were brought to the colony because they were considered better workers. The purpose of bringing men to the colonies was to accumulate strong workers and create the most trade goods possible to make the colony rich. The colonists were motivated by money, and not by religious freedom. Before boarding the ship, each person had to conform and take an oath of allegiance to the Church of England. No one was allowed to board the Virginia Company’s ship until they signed this mandatory promise. The ship’s list describes the oath as, “touching their conformity to the Church discipline of England and have taken the oaths of allegiance and supremacy”. This means the Virginians followed the same Anglican religion they had in England. No people of other religions were allowed on the ship. These settlers were not hoping to attain religious freedom from the Anglican Church. The colonists’ motive was not religious because they were sailing towards a land where they had to practice Anglicanism. St Luke’s Church in Smithfield, VA was founded 1632, making it “the oldest church of English foundation in the US”. This is clearly an “Anglican style” church because it is visibly well decorated, unlike the Puritan style churches. Inside St. Luke’s church, the Hogsden bible is an Anglican bible with records of baptisms, birth and  Virginians did not leave Europe in pursuit of religious freedom. They stayed loyal to the Anglican church of England.

In contrast,  Puritans settled Plymouth and Boston to enjoy religious freedom from the Anglican Church and establish Godly communities. Separatists were people who wanted to separate from the Anglican church (T, p.36). Puritans were Separatists who wanted a more pure church than the Anglican church (PP). King James Ⅰ repressed the Puritans and his son Charles Ⅰ later created belligerent laws against them (T, p.37). This prompted many Separatists to move to Holland illegally, but they were appalled when their children drifted away from the church and assimilated to Dutch society (T, p.36). A group of ‘Pilgrims’, people on a religious voyage, sailed across the Atlantic to the new Virginia settlement, far from English authorities to create a stable, religious community to focus on God (PP). Before the ship even landed on Cape Cod, the Puritans established a religious government. Forty one males agreed to establish the “Body Politick” in 1620 when they signed The Mayflower Compact, “Having undertaken for the Glory of God, and Advancement of the Christian Faith, and the Honour of our King and Country.” The Puritan government was established for the Glory of God, to ensure Christian values were followed in the new colony. The Puritans were already separating from the Anglican church when they agreed to govern their community with Separatist religious values. This ensured the Puritans would create a Christian theocracy. John Winthrop was the first governor of this theocracy. He advised the Separatists of the Massachusetts Bay Colony to delight in each other and help each other. In the governor’s sermon A Model of Christian Charity in 1630, John Winthrop proclaimed they should do so, “always having before our eyes our commission and community in the work, our community as members of the same body.” He referenced the bible when he ordered the Puritans to behave as one body. Religion motivated the Pilgrims to unite to overcome hardships and celebrate good times as a strong community. John Winthrop’s instructions presented the Puritan society’s Christian values. The new governor intended for everyone to join together to serve God with a clear sense of community. The Puritan community aimed to serve under the guidance of a minister. They wanted someone faithful who could unite the church under God. The first item on the Puritans’ agenda written in the Articles of Agreement, Springfield, MA of 1636 was, "We intend by God's grace, as soon as we can with all convenient speed, to procure some Godly and faithful minister with whom we purpose to join in church covenant to walk in the ways of Christ." The Puritans’ first concern was to create faith under Christ, so they could live in God’s providence. They prioritized finding a Puritan minister as quickly as possible. These ministers were to be trained in a brand new school called Harvard. Harvard’s fundamental goal was to produce ministers who would spread faith in New England. The Puritans could not send young men to Oxford or Cambridge because they did not want Anglican ministers. The Puritans wanted protestant ministers so badly that they spent large amounts of money on Harvard to train them. It is apparent in The General Court establishes a “school or colledge” later named for John Harvard in 1636 that “one quarter of the Massachusetts Bay Colony’s total tax levy in 1636” was allotted to this cause. This shows that the Puritan religion was a huge priority for the New England settlers. Religious dedication to the Lord was key to the Puritan lifestyle. Puritans hoped to spread loyalty to God through knowledge of the Bible. They endeavored to educate people to read the Bible, and pleaded with the lord to help them do this. The Puritans thought people who could not read the Bible would be taken in by the devil. The Old Deluder Satan Law of 1647 states, “It being one chief project of that old deluder, Satan, to keep men from the knowledge of the Scriptures.” Every town with at least fifty people was required to appoint one person within their town to teach all the children. This person’s wages were to be paid by the town, which shows how seriously the Puritans took this job. They did this to stop Satan’s work because they were afraid of the devil among them. They strived to preserve their religious community with loyalty only to God.

Virginia was settled mainly by single men, indentured servants and slaves. It lacked a strong community and families. In 1619, the unintended landing of a Dutch slave ship changed Jamestown forever by introducing slavery to the colony (PP). Slavery, along with indentured servitude, was the colony’s convenient solution to a frenzied need for laborers to farm tobacco. This ideology sparked the creation of the above mentioned headright system, which often demanded for up to seven year’s service. Because these people had to work as servants for so long, the population of servants in Virginia stayed high. This high population of laborers like servants led to a lower proportion of craftsmen and women (PP). This exacerbated the existing need for women in Virginia. According to the Ship’s List as seen in 1635, on one ship to Virginia there were sixty two men and only eleven women. This absence of women indicates that families were not traveling together, and that single men left home alone. The low women number of women in the initial colony led to an absence of both households and any sense of familial permanence (T, p.31). Jamestown was in dire need of women, so women were sent over to the colony to be married off. Before they were married, they had to be provided homes and care while they were still single. The Virginia company was willing to house these women at great cost because the plantation needed women for families to develop so that people would stay in Virginia with permanence. According to the Virginia Company of 1621, “the plantation can never flourish till families be planted and the respect of wives and children fix the people on the soil.” Virginia did not attain this population of women fast enough to flourish with a strong sense of community. The development of brotherhood was further stunted by the large presence of servants, which fed hierarchy. In the History of Virginia in 1624 Captain John Smith raged that the men had obediently waited upon their evil leaders and purchased our provisions from them for far more money than the goods’ worth. He said, “The rest of us patiently obeyed our vile commanders and [bought] our provisions at fifteen time the values”. The leaders who abused their power over servants kindled a culture of mistrust that prevented Virginia from ever forming a close community. The men wanted to steal the ship and return to England, so they used saker and musket shot to wreak mutiny and murder their Captain Kendell. This exemplifies how the ample population of servants highlighted class differences and stunted the growth of fellowship. Another example of this division created by the mistreatment of servants was in 1623, recorded in an indentured servant’s letter to his Loving and Kind Mother and Father. This servant was having a rough time in an asunder community. His cloak was stolen by other colonists,  he  was only fed meager portions, and he was forbidden to hunt for beneficial food. The servant complained in his letter home, “There is indeed some fowl, but we are not allowed to go and get it, but must work hard both early and late for a mess of water gruel and a mouthful of bread and beef.” Once again, a servant displays resentment towards his leaders for their power. The abnormal, large number of servants formed bitter judgements as hierarchy took place of community. The large servant population hindered the closeness of community in Virginia.

In contrast, New England was settled by nuclear and extended families that contributed to a sense of community. The abundance of families ensured these families’ permanence in the community because the population would continue to reproduce and families would continue (T, p.38). Families established harmony and a sense of order among the New England settlers (T, p.38). Beginning in the 1630’s, families were especially attracted to Connecticut River Valley for its separation from the Massachusetts Bay colony and fertile land for farming (T, p.38). A plethora of extended families settled, with an average of 6 children to each family (PP). This is evidenced by the 1635 Ships’ list of Emigrants Bound for New England. This lists of large families like the Hull Family, Tabor family, Lovell family and their respective servants, is composed of 41 names. These big families have lots of children and young family members like “Sarah Land, his kinswoman, 18 years.” The three oldest people on the ship are forty year old men. Their wives are much younger because women often died during childbirth, and their husbands remarried. This meant one man could produce many children, which contributed to the presence of large families (PP). The high life expectancy of seventy years old encouraged people farther to have even more children because those children were likely to survive to live to a ripe old age. In order to educate these children, the Old Deluder Satan Law of 1647 ordered that when each town had fifty households, the town had to appoint a teacher for all the town children. The town paid this teacher so the children could learn to write and read. This evidences the large number of children in town, that there would be enough children to fill such a school. The law states, “Provided that those who send their children be not oppressed by paying much more than they can have them taught for in other towns”. This means those who sent children to school were not mandated to pay an unfair, high price to send their children to school. The Puritans joined together to created this school, and they wanted prices to be fair because they were a tight-knit community. This is one example in which the presence of children and families made New Englanders treat each other fairly and fostered community. This exemplifies John Winthrop’s desires for the Puritan community to join together to promote kindness and harmony. Winthrop directed the Puritans to behave as one large family. In his famous sermon delivered in 1630, A Model of Christian Charity, Winthrop preaches, “We must entertain each other in brotherly affection.” This was easier for the Puritans to do because they were already part of their own individual families. The dominance of families bolstered brotherly behavior and familiarity among community members.

The economy of Virginia was mainly agricultural, and created a region of large and isolated tobacco plantations, which did not contribute to a sense of community. When John Rolfe discovered how to manufacture tobacco in 1611, this industry flourished (T, p.31). Tobacco farmers required large land areas, so farms expanded out from Jamestown, resulting in more isolated farms as people’s estates physically extended (T, p.32).  According to a map of Plantations in Louisiana, 1858, “Note the long, narrow shapes of these landholdings -- known as ‘long lots’. Their system was designed to give as many planters as possible frontage on the river, which they needed to transport their crops to market and receive goods in return.” Colonists had to use the river to transport crops because many estates were miles across. It would have taken a long time to bring crops this distance by horse or by foot, so towns were spread out along the riverbank. There was a great distance between homes, which prevented the development of a sense of community. This physical distance’s contribution to a culture of isolation is exemplified in a servant’s letter to his parents called, Loving and Kind Mother and Father of 1623. The servant complains about the debilitated and grim plantation. He miserably battled Native American enemies, and proclaimed, “ the nighest help that we have is ten miles of us.” The colonists had not positioned their settlements close enough to help protect one another, so the nearest help to fight these enemies was ten miles away. Plantations were too far apart for Virginians to unite against enemies or develop community. This young servant is just one example of a person physically secluded on the plantation. Such young servants were frequently forced to join the colony by the Virginia company. Children were taken from their families against their will. The Virginia Company Letter to Sir Edwin Landys of 1618 states, “In 1619, 100 children from London aged 12 and older were transported to Jamestown and apprenticed by the company.” The same letter also requests another hundred children to become apprentices, so the colony would have more skilled craftsmen. Skilled workers were needed to balance and serve the larger population of agricultural laborers. The copious workers yielded so much tobacco, it was used as both a currency and dowry. As ordered by the Virginia Company Letter to Jamestown (1621), when women were brought to the colony it was imperative that, “every man that marries them give 120 lbs. weight of the best leaf tobacco for each of them, and in case any of them die, that proportion may advance to make it upon those that survive.” One hundred twenty pounds of tobacco is more than any one woman would smoke, so clearly woman were meant to save this valuable tobacco, the same way young married couples save up money. This shows how tobacco was considered such a stable market that the product itself became treasured like money. Virginia’s economy was centered around tobacco and other crops. These were produced largely with labor from indentured servants. People who did not have enough to money to pay their own passage to the colonies often became indentured servants. These servants had their passage paid so they could work on a plantation for several years in return for land and provisions at the end of their service. Specific guidelines for this servitude were established in agreements like the Indenture Agreement Between Richard Smyth and Margaret Williams of 1659. This agreement rules that, “at the end of the term to pay unto her One Ax Howe, double Apparel, fifty acres of land, one year’s provision according to the custom of the country.” Williams agreed to work in the fields, likely to grow tobacco and contribute to the agricultural economy. Williams aim was to receive land and an axe to clear trees from this land so that she could grow her own crops when she was finished with her indentured service. Servants like Williams tapped into agriculture because it was the focus of Virginia’s economy.

The New England economy was mixed, depending on a variety of professions, and this resulted in tight knit communities that were geographically close. When the Pilgrims landed on the sandy soil of Cape Cod, it became clear that farming would not be the area’s great industry (T, p.37). Fortunately the Pilgrims delved into other profitable trades and industries such as fish, furs, timber, tar, cattle, shipbuilding, rope-making and barrel-making (PP). The colonists of New England did not have to spread themselves far geographically for farming, so they maintained a small, secure settlement (PP). The Ship List of Emigrants Bound for New England, created in 1635, mentions people’s different professions, such as, “Timothy Tabor, in Somerset of Batcombe, tailor, aged 35 years”. According to the list, there was a tailor, a minister, several servants, a clothier, a few husbandmen, and all these people’s respective families. This illustrates a range of professions in New England’s economy. Children had more career options because they learned how to read and write. The Old Deluder Satan Law of 1647 ordered that, “every township in this jurisdiction, after the Lord hath increased them to fifty households shall forthwith appoint one within their town to teach all such children.” This teacher was paid by town taxes to increase literacy among the town children. The ability to read gave children the opportunity to pursue ministry, trade, and other careers that benefited from literacy instead of agriculture, which did not require literacy. Education contributed to New England’s mixed economy by allowing for more traders and skilled workmen. These traders and workmen were ordered to price their goods fairly to benefit the town that had payed for their education. The craftsmen and tradesmen were charging townspeople too much for their services and goods, which oppressed the townspeople. In 1676, Wage and Price Regulations in Connecticut demanded, “This court… in the interim recommends that all tradesmen and laborers ... with their arts and trades comfortably, they do not enrich themselves suddenly.” The men were ordered to charge less money for their products and work to protect the mixed economy of New England. The tight-knit communities had to unite to thrive. One way the community members worked together was through shared land. Local homes were built in locations that fostered a culture of sharing and close community. One 17th century Sudbury Map points out, “Note the location of houses, which are grouped mostly together around a shared pasture and near the church.” The fields that town members shared were next to the church where people congregated. The center of town comprised of shared property and a communal church for everyone. The center of town formed a social unit that brought people together.

The author's comments:

Thank you so much for reading.

The colonies of Jamestown, Virginia and Plymouth, Massachusetts were both created by people from England, but were two completely different settlements. Anglican Virginians were motivated by wealth, while the Puritan Pilgrims sought religious freedom. Jamestown was settled by laborers like indentured servants and slaves who had no sense of community, but Plymouth was based on tight-knit families. While Virginia’s tobacco and agriculture industries stifled the formation of community, New England’s economy of many trades brought people closer together. These factors influenced the regions as they expanded, separating the “the north” from “the south” after 1700. One significant distinction between these regions in the 1700’s was the slavery in the south. Virginia’s craving for wealth motivated the slave trade in a society that was already full of indentured servants and some slaves. Virginia’s economy thrived off of cheating the lower class, and the expansion of slavery was just one step lower. New England’s religious morals and dedication to community discouraged the slave trade. Their economy was based on trades that did not require slave labor. The motivations, people, and economies of the Virginia and New England settlements led to vastly contrary societies.

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