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Lesson summary: Chesapeake and Southern colonies

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?

Want to join the conversation?

  • male robot hal style avatar for user Eugene Satele
    Did tobacco cause any social change?
    (13 votes)
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    • piceratops ultimate style avatar for user Matthew Chen
      Definitely. Tobacco is an extremely labor-intensive crop, which caused the need for many workers. At first indentured servants were better, since they were cheaper, but when they started living until their indenture was over, this caused a problem. As well as being extremely labor intensive, tobacco drains the soil quickly, which causes the need for a lot of soil. So instead of giving the newly unindentured people land to work with, the farmers wouldn't give them anything, so the servants would just be forced to keep working with the farmers. Because of this, Bacon's rebellion occurred. This frightened farmers and so they started using slaves a lot more.

      Basically, in the long run, tobacco caused the huge plantations with slaves.
      (28 votes)
  • male robot hal style avatar for user davidodivanho
    Did Bacon's Rebellion ever cause any other rebellion's? like a chain reaction.
    (9 votes)
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    • aqualine ultimate style avatar for user Wolfy
      As Bacon spearheaded his particular rebellion, his followers retained Bacon's sentiments after his death. This is what caused the switch to African slaves, but did it cause any other rebellion's? It would be very safe to assume that it did, they were likely just not big enough to be historically memorable during the switch to African slaves.

      I hope this helps.
      (3 votes)
  • mr pants orange style avatar for user Caden Garnett
    How come they didn't just hire Indentured Slaves again if Slavery had been prohibited?
    (6 votes)
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    • old spice man blue style avatar for user Tanish
      Because they didn't want another rebellion to happen. The indentured slaves were the reason the Bacon's Rebellion happened. It was because the indentured slaves hadn't been getting the land they were promised by the farmers who were promising it to them after their years of service because the land was scarce since the Native Americans had control of the land between Jamestown and the Appalachian Mountains. Bacon put together a group of militia. It was a biracial raid group who was going to raid the Native American tribe even though the governor said no. When the governor asked them to stop, Bacon led his group back to Jamestown and then they set the place on fire.
      (11 votes)
  • duskpin seed style avatar for user ameliawilson23
    What are the diseases in Virginia around the 17th century?
    (8 votes)
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  • duskpin seedling style avatar for user Hannah339
    If the Spanish used chattel slavery, and the English used indentured servants, then why did both the Spanish and the English both used enslaved people rather than have servants? Imagine if you were an English colonist, what would have had social change?
    (5 votes)
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  • marcimus pink style avatar for user Jasmine
    Did the Headright System run out of land quickly, or did it take some time?
    (5 votes)
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    • aqualine ultimate style avatar for user Manomay Shravage
      If you consider what one acre equals to: 43,560 square feet, it would be safe to say that 50 acres would be a lot of land. For another example, one football field is 1.32 acres, so 50 acres is about 50 football fields of land!
      Considering the landowners were getting 50 acres of land for each indentured servant, the exhaustion of land must have been quick.
      Hope this helped :)
      (4 votes)
  • blobby green style avatar for user Zoni Shahzad
    What were the reasons the English colonies moved from using indentured servants to using enslaved Africans as their primary source of labor?
    (2 votes)
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    • piceratops ultimate style avatar for user Hecretary Bird
      Above all, the English elite saw indentured servants as too close to themselves, and it was much more palatable for them to force different-looking African slaves to endure the hardships of forced labor. Also, because indentured servants signed contracts to work, they would end up leaving after the contract expired, which obviously wasn't ideal for the rich colonists. Slaves, on the other hand, didn't have rights so they could be forced to work as hard and as long as the elite could make them.
      (7 votes)
  • piceratops sapling style avatar for user Vu
    What's a joint stock company. I don't understand why share the risk?
    (3 votes)
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  • blobby green style avatar for user M.R.Smith31469
    What forces and ideas shape the origin of Chesapeake and New England?
    (3 votes)
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    • duskpin ultimate style avatar for user Nerd-tastic 🤩
      Great question! The main goal of the New England colonies can be summarized with the big G's – Glory (the desire to show how superior one's nation is), Gold (to gain wealth), and God (to escape religious persecution and/or establish a nation centered around a certain religious belief).
      Those who colonized Virginia, many of whom settled along the Chesapeake bay, wanted to establish large plantations where they can grow cash crops like tobacco.
      I hope this helps!
      (3 votes)
  • primosaur ultimate style avatar for user Michael Fulcher
    How were the African slaves immune to the diseases in the New World? That is what the lesson says right?
    (2 votes)
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    • aqualine tree style avatar for user David Alexander
      Some of the diseases brought to the new world from Europe had originated in Africa, but had never been found in the New World until they were brought by Europeans. The Africans, among whom the diseases originated, were already immune. The native Americans, never before exposed to these diseased, died from them.
      (4 votes)