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Differences Between Northern and Southern Colonies in America, Early 18th Century

A document-based essay that shows the major differences between the upper and lower colonies in america in the early 1700s.

In the beginning of the 18th century, colonization of the American frontier was becoming increasingly popular. However, many social differences were starting to appear between the New England colonies and southern colonies, such as Virginia. Major factors contributing to these vast societal differences include very different economic theory, prejudice of lower classes by the aristocracy, wealth and religion and their influence on political power, and the societal diversity of the immigrating population. These issues formed the key factors that led to a large difference in society between New England and Virginia and how they developed as colonies.

Settlers bound for New England, before they even arrived, had agreed upon societal rules and guidelines that they all intended to follow. Recorded documents written aboard the Arbella, a ship headed for Salem in 1630, gave evidence that the settlers recognized that there would be a gap between the rich and the poor, and eliminating that gap would not be feasible (Doc D). Therefore, laws were not established to promote economic equality at first. However, it was mentioned many times that the Northerners, who were mostly very religious, should “consider the religious ends of their callings” to offer what they can to assist the lives of the poor (Doc E, Doc A). Therefore, it was not law that persuaded the rich to give charity to the lower class, but their own ethics, morals and religious beliefs that kept the society relatively free from wide-spread poverty, as was apparent in Virginia. Furthermore, opinion of the lower class was also kept at a respectable level, as the Puritan religion required the poor not to be looked down upon, but offered a hand (Doc A). Colonists also felt threatened by the fact that if they did not work for the good of the community, it would only help those who are enemies of god, thus giving them a personal responsibility to take care of the poor, as the fear of the devil was all too prevalent for the northern colonies (Doc A). Colonists of New England were all connected closely through both these beliefs and their similar religious theology and agreed that it was in their best interest to come together in both good times and bad, and not to lose track of their goals.

In Virginia, on the other hand, the economy and attitudes was set from the start to spiral into disaster. Since the distinction between the rich and poor classes were already very prevalent before arriving on the new land, the rich were able to easily take advantage of the poor, setting prices of goods up to fifteen times their worth (Doc F). This caused a very high tension between the two social classes. In some cases, lives were lost as a result of the poor refusing to succumb to the rich’s tyrannical rule (Doc F). This did not mark the end of the aristocracy’s power. Once the ships of people arrived in Virginia, a majority of the colonists were forced to work unpaid for the next 5 to 7 years for their wealthy landlord in order to pay off their debts. This caused further resentment of the rich by the poor, who had very little hope for becoming successful during and after their indentured servitude. 

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