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Lesson summary: Chesapeake and Southern colonies

GEO (Theme)
KC‑2.1.II.A (KC)
KC‑2.1.II.D (KC)
Unit 2: Learning Objective C
Summary of the key terms, events, and concepts of the early Chesapeake and Southern colonies
British colonies in the south, ranging from the Chesapeake to the West Indies, focused on the production of cash crops like tobacco and sugar. The focus on plantation agriculture led to large populations of enslaved Africans in these colonies as well as social stratification between wealthy white plantation owners and poor white and black laborers.

Key terms

Bacon’s RebellionAn armed rebellion of former indentured servants who were upset that the Governor of Virginia would not send an army to attack Native Americans living on the frontier
Lord BaltimoreFounder of the colony of Maryland who offered religious freedom to all Christian colonists.
Cash cropA crop cultivated because it is profitable for trade, not because the farmer uses the crop to survive.
Corporate coloniesColonies that were run by joint-stock companies, like Jamestown
Headright systemThe system in which wealthy landowners would pay for the passage of young men and women to the English colonies and in return get 50 acres of land
House of Burgesses The first representative government in colonial Virginia
Indentured servantA person who would work for another person for a set amount of time without pay in exchange for free passage to a new country
JamestownThe first permanent English colony, established in present-day Virginia by the Virginia Company
Joint-stock companyA type of business, which raised money from investors and spread the risk of a financial venture over a large number of people
Maryland Act of Toleration (1649)Guaranteed religious tolerance for all Christians living in Maryland
PowhatanLeader of the Algonquian tribe that lived in the area surrounding Jamestown
John SmithAn English adventurer who is often credited with the success of the Jamestown colony after he instituted a policy of strict discipline with the colonists
TobaccoA cash crop that became extremely profitable for Virginia planters
Virginia CompanyA joint-stock company that the British crown approved to create settlements in Virginia

Timeline of key events

1607 Founding of Jamestown
1608John Smith takes control of Jamestown, instituting strict discipline to help the colony succeed
1609First Anglo-Powhatan War
1616John Rolfe plants Virginia’s first tobacco crop
1618Headright system created in Jamestown, Virginia
1619First ship with enslaved Africans arrived in Virginia; founding of the House of Burgesses
1622Second Anglo-Powhatan War
1632Lord Baltimore founds Maryland
1649Maryland Act of Toleration passed
1663English nobles found the Carolinas as a proprietary colony
1676Bacon’s Rebellion
1732James Oglethorpe founds Georgia

Core historical themes

Motivations for colonization: English colonies emerged along the eastern seaboard for a variety of reasons. People, primarily men, originally migrated to Virginia to find gold and silver to make a quick profit. After it became evident that there were no precious metals in the area, men came to Virginia to start cultivating cash crops like tobacco. Maryland was originally founded to be a safe haven for Catholics and eventually became a safe haven for all Christians. After the successful cultivation of cash crops in the Chesapeake colonies, the Southern colonies were also founded to continue creating large plantations.
Demographics in the colonies: Both the Chesapeake and Southern colonies were made up of a majority of single, young, white men who worked as indentured servants. After Bacon’s Rebellion, the Chesapeake and Southern colonies moved towards using enslaved laborers brought from West Africa.
Labor systems: The first labor system in the colony of Virginia was indentured servitude, in which servants worked for landowners in exchange for passage to America. But because indentured servants only worked for a short period of time and sometimes fought over access to land after their terms ended, plantation owners switched to using enslaved Africans as their primary source of labor. Enslaved Africans became vital to the cultivation of tobacco as they were immune to many European diseases and soon were nearly 50% of the population in the Chesapeake and Southern colonies.
Economics in the colonies: Both the Chesapeake and Southern colonies had rich soil and temperate climates which made large-scale plantation farming possible. Both regions had an agriculture-based economy in which cash crops like tobacco, indigo, and cotton were cultivated for trade.
Establishing representative governments: In Virginia, the House of Burgesses was established in 1619 serving as a representative government. It started a tradition of representative governments all throughout the English colonies.
Interactions with Native Americans: Early interactions with Native Americans remained somewhat cooperative, but as land and resources became scarcer and many more Englishmen came to the colonies, violence erupted between the white settlers and the Native Americans. When the government in Virginia would not support the colonists in attempting to eradicate Native Americans from the frontier, white settlers vented their frustrations by burning Jamestown in Bacon’s Rebellion.

Review questions

  • How did the goals of English colonization compare to the goals of Spanish colonization?
  • How did the demographics of the Chesapeake and Southern colonies compare to the demographics of the New England colonies?
  • What were the reasons the English colonies transitioned from using indentured servants to using enslaved Africans as their primary source of labor?

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