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Differences between the Chesapeake Bay and New England Colonies

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Differences between the Chesapeake Bay and New England ColoniesThere are many key differences that distinguish the inhabitants of the New England colonies from those of the Chesapeake Bay colonies. These dissimilarities include but are not limited to the differences between the social structure, family life, forms of government, religion, and the lives of indentured servants and children in the two colonies.

The social structure and family life of the two colonies varied greatly. The inhabitants of the Chesapeake Bay colonies were never able to establish a successful social structure or sense of family life due primarily to the nature of its inhabitants. According to the essay Looking Out for Number One: Conflicting Cultural Values in Early Seventeenth-Century Virginia, Virginia drew a disproportionately large number of street toughs, roughnecks fresh from wars in Ireland, old soldiers looking for new glory, naïve adventurers, mean-spirited sea captains, marginal persons attempting to recoup their losses. (The Way We Lived 23). These settlers who colonized the Chesapeake Bay region, primarily being composed of males, came for only one reason and that was in order to make a profit. According to the essay Looking Out for Number One, the pursuit of private gain outranked the creation of corporate communities. (The Way We Lived 25).

As a result of this idea, on March 22nd, the Indians of the region launched a coordinated attack on the scattered, poorly defended white settlements, and before the colonists could react, 347 of them had been killed. (The Way We Lived 28). Due to the minute number of women who made the journey to the Chesapeake Bay, there was very little sense of family life in the Chesapeake Bay colonies. Contrary to the exploitive competitive individualism present in Virginia, as well as the rest of the Chesapeake Bay, a deep sense of cooperative commitment to building a new Zion characterized the society established in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. (The Way We Lived 40). The Puritans who settled the New England colonies in Massachusetts Bay placed a high importance on creating a fully functional society.

In order to create this fully functional society the Puritans relied heavily on family life, and according to the essay The Godly Family of Colonial Massachusetts, never thought of the family as purely a private unit, rigorously separated from the surrounding community. (The Way We Lived 41), but instead thought of them as an integral part of the larger political and social world. (The Way We Lived 42). As a result of the emphasis and importance that the Puritans placed on the family, the Puritan community felt that the larger community had a duty to ensure that families performed their functions properly. (The Way We Lived 43). Not only did the Puritans emphasize the importance of family life with regards to the community, but also with regards to economy.

The Puritan family was the main unit of production in the economic system. (The Way We Lived 43), which meant that each family member was expected to contribute economically whether it be through tending to gardens, herding animals, spinning wool, or just taking care of younger brothers and sisters. The social structure in the New England colonies, unlike that of the Chesapeake Bay colonies, helped to insure the safety of its inhabitants by forming a closely knit community while maintaining a high quality of family life which allowed the Massachusetts Bay colonies to thrive.

Another significant difference between the settlement of the Chesapeake Bay colonies and the New England colonies was government. The Virginia Company who financed and organized the settlement of Virginia was the first attempt at government. However, in 1624 when the Virginia Company lost its charter, the colony was thrown into catastrophe because no one knew who held legitimate authority. In the Chesapeake Bay colonies, they also had the House of Burgesses which founded in1619, was used in order to maintain the representative government that the colonists of the Chesapeake Bay colonies demanded. Some what different from this was the government that was present in the New England colonies. As with many other aspects of life, the Puritans government was based on family.

According to the essay The Godly Family of Colonial Massachusetts, The household—not the individual was the fundamental unit of society. The political order was not an agglomeration of detached individuals; it was an organic unity composed of families. (The Way We Lived 43). Since the political decisions were based on families instead of the individuals themselves, each Puritan household received only one vote on issues that were presented. As was customary in the time, the father would represent the head of the household at the polls. If the husband was not able to go to the polls then it would be handed down to the wife and she would represent the family at the poles.

Another major difference between the Chesapeake Bay colonies and the New England colonies was religion. The street toughs and roughnecks who settled in the Chesapeake Bay colonies were not very churchly people although occasionally someone would comment on the need for churches and more importantly schools. Although it was commented upon, the large distances between plantations would have made it nearly impossible to build a church that was close enough to be used by everyone. The quote, Church buildings were in perpetual state of decay; ministers were poorly supported by there parishioners (The Way We Lived 27), shows just how little the people of the Chesapeake Bay colonies cared about religion. The settlers of the New England colonies were quite different when it came to religion. The Puritans that inhabited the New England colonies regarded religion as being of the utmost importance. Many of the laws and ideals in the Puritan society had some root from religion.

A 1642 Massachusetts statute, for example, required heads of the households to lead their households in prayers and scriptural readings; to teach their children, servants, and apprentices to read; and to catechize household members in the principles of religion and law. (The Way We Lived 43). Another way in which the Puritans applied religion in their society was in family life. Based upon the Old Testament, the Puritans instituted the ideal that the father was endowed with patriarchal authority as head of his household. (The Way We Lived 45). Along with that idea, the Puritans believed that their religion taught that family rolls were part of a continuous chain of hierarchical and delegated authority descending from God, and it was within the family matrix that all larger, external conceptions of authority, duty, and discipline were defined. (The Way We Lived 45).

Perhaps the most important way in which the Puritans administered religion into their society was through the way they raised their kids. The Puritan religion taught that even newborn infants were embodiments of guilt and sin (traceable to Adams transgression in Eden), who, unless saved by God, were doomed to writhe in Satans clutches for eternity. (The Way We Lived 50). As a result of their belief in infant depravity and original sin, they would forcefully break down and tear apart a childs sinful nature and instill respect for divinely instituted authority.

The lives of indentured servants and children in the Chesapeake Bay colonies and the New England colonies greatly differed. In the Chesapeake Bay colonies, men who held positions of political and economic power treated indentured servants and slaves not as human beings, but as instruments to produce short-run profits. (The Way We Lived 25 & 26). The obsession that the Virginians had with making private profits also had an affect on the indentured slaves and servants. The Virginians were so caught up in making private profits that they fed the indentured slaves the cheapest food in small portions, clothed them in rags, worked them hard, beat and abused them, and then gambled them off in games of chance. Children in the Chesapeake Bay colonies were not required to go to school since no public school had been established due to the great distances between plantations.

Children in the Chesapeake Bay colonies most likely helped out with chores such as cleaning the house and taking care of the garden. Although there is no mentioning of indentured servants or slaves in the New England colonies, there were servants who lived and worked in Puritan homes. These servants were well taken care of and were provided with adequate food and clothing unlike indentured servants in the Chesapeake Bay colonies. Children in the New England Colonies were much more responsible and held to a higher standard than those in the Chesapeake Bay colonies. Starting around the age of seven, Puritan children entered into a stage of semi-dependency (The Way We Lived 51), which helped to get them to become productive. Boys would generally weed fields and vegetable gardens while girls would be taught housewifery (The Way We Lived 51), or like their mothers, assist their father in the fields. Children in the New England colonies were also fostered out very often to attend school and become apprentices due to a higher importance being placed on schooling in the New England Colonies.

There were differences mainly because of religion and geographical features. The Puritans of the New England colonies, due to their religion, were stricter and more family oriented. The Chesapeake Bay colonies due to the fertile soil which was well suited for growing tobacco focused more on profit because of the personal gain that could be made growing tobacco. Had the soil not been right for growing tobacco, the Virginia colony would have perished much like the colony in Sagadahoc, Maine.

I was surprised by the Virginians when they didnt band together to protect themselves from the Indians. In a life or death situation, I would rather cooperate with people I dont like than loose my life. I found it odd that the Virginians did nothing to protect themselves from the second attack.

As a result of religious ideas and geographical locations, there was an immense degree of difference between how the New England and Chesapeake Bay colonies were settled. As a result, you have two very different colonies form with the New England colonies being more devoted to family life, religion, education, and community while the Chesapeake Bay colonies are used only for personal gain from the growing of cash crops such as tobacco.


Binder, Frederick, and David Reimers. The Way We Lived. 5th.

New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2004.

Breen, T.H.. “Looking Out for Number One: Conflicting Cultural Values in Early Seventeent-Century Virginia.”Butler, Nathaniel. “Virginia, A Troubled Colony, 1622.”Frethorne, Richard. “The Experiences of an Indentured Servant,1623.” April 2 & 3, 1623.

Mintz, Steven, and Susan Kellog. “The Godly Family of Colonial Massachusettes.” (1988): 4-17.

Anne Bradstreet. Poems of Mrs. Anne Bradstreet. (Boston, 1758)The Charter and General Laws of the Colony and Province of Massachusetts Bay (Boston: T.B. Waite and Co., 1814), 73-74.

Records of the Governor and Company of Massachusetts Bay, 1628-1686 (Boston: 1853-1854), 5: 60-61.

Moody, Eleazer. Good Manners for Colonial Children. (Boston: Fleets, 1772), 17-19.

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