Monday, 22 March 2010

Comparison between the Colonies of Chesapeake and New England

This essay will be analyzing and comparing & contrasting the colonies of Chesapeake and New England. This paper’s main concern is how these colonies are so dramatically different and what aspects of the colonies make them so. This paper will argue considerable differences in settling and motives to settle had a dramatic effect on the initial success of the colonies. Chesapeake had a tremendous death rate of 65-percent of their original one-hundred-and-four settlers. This contrast greatly with the initial settling of New England and Plymouth as there were few Indian populations and they were in a far healthier landscape. This paper will continue to discuss the role different governments played in the colonies and in particular the roles women played in creating a stable environment in the colonies; this can be contrasted well with Chesapeake first settling with no female population and New England settling equally with men and women alike.  This essay will finally conclude that it was initially a completely different design and construction of the colonies which essentially made them different in their motives and purpose, but further to this it was their forms of government: martial law or congregationalism which had a truly changing effect on the colonies progression and growth both physically and economically.
The colony of Chesapeake was first settled in April 1607 by the Virginia Company of London. It was designed to be “the first permanent foothold”; the first sustainable Fort was named Jamestown after the King of England[1]. This first settlement was primarily designed to be a base for the English in the New World, competing with the French and Spanish to start showing their might as a global power[2]. However the desired effects of landing in the new world, with a romantic view of the Americas were hard to find in the marsh and swamplands of the Chesapeake. With a vastly mosquito populated area, it is hard to see any propositions that would make it worthwhile enough to settle and then to stay in such an area. It was the intention of the ‘trouble maker’ John Smith, who managed to remove himself of all responsibility of issues that he caused on the crossing from Britain to America, to explore the surrounding area for gold and possible communications.  John Smith was actually sentence to death on the crossing, but this sentence was somehow removed by the new governing council of Chesapeake[3]. It could be inferred that the governing council did not want to have this responsibility on their ‘shoulders’ and if anything was to happen to it could be as a result to Amerindian interactions as oppose to governing law.  To reaffirm the main point of the English landing in Virginia however, it has definitely been viewed that Chesapeake was designed and intended to be the first ‘solid’, sustainable outpost of the (first views of an) ‘English Empire’[4].  
New England was first settled in November 1620; the people on board were of the Puritan sect of the Christianity. This group of people were persecuted in England and firstly moved to Holland. The parents of young puritans at the time were scared of their children taking into too much of the Dutch culture and primarily wanted to stay as English as they could. This therefore led to an idea of heading not back to England, But to the ‘New World’, which they did on the Mayflower. There were 101 people on board; there was actually another boat called the Speedwell however the ship had to turn back on this voyage due to issues the ship, and stayed at Portsmouth to be fixed. They were not welcome in such areas as the Chesapeake and Jamestown this was mainly due to the Anglican Church already being present and coincidently being a part of the ruling government at the time. So it was set that the Puritans, as they were known, would settle north of those areas; it would be known as Plymouth. This was as land where they could practice their religious freedom, where they were prepared to grow their own crops and start a new and open community. It was actually a partial success that there was very little interaction with the local Indian population because of the European diseases that had spread across their lands.  This was therefore a very different set up to that of the Chesapeake.
There are two significant differences in the motives and construction of these colonies. Firstly, Chesapeake was heavily based on economic sustainability and profit. Growing Tobacco for export, becoming a trading hub with areas such as Barbados and obviously the ‘mother country’, ensured a constant form of economic growth. This said, very little consideration went into religious observation, after all this was seen primarily as a permanent business venture. This contrasts somewhat obviously with the founding of New England by the Puritans in 1620 with the first settlement of Plymouth[5]. This was designed to be a permanent home for this annexed group of Christians seeking a new and better life. These colonies were very much polar opposites in their construction of trade, economic growth, and constant self sufficiency and more so (which will be discussed further one), is that women did not settle in the Chesapeake until considerable time after the first settlement and New England colonised both sexes equally at the same time. The only few similarities are: these lands were occupied by English settlers, and they were both designed to be permanent settlements.  However the way in which this worked out did not always go to plan.
In 1609 when Smith returned to Jamestown the colony was not as it was when he left it. Seventy people had died from disease, famine and a ‘miserably cold winter’ leaving just 34 people alive. It must a near incomprehensible sequence of events for the settlers to live in only basic conditions, for this time and also to be amongst so much death and disease. By this time people were ready to leave and no longer wanted to be a part of this ‘business venture’; a whole group of them left and to their surprise met a new consignment of supplies and a replenishment of human life. These were not the only issues however, it could be argued that due to the types of people that were coming to these lands; ex-soldiers, labourers and indentured servants, they essentially missed other aspects that help stabilise human life and culture: the growing of food to eat.
When the Virginia Company first settled in the areas of Chesapeake and then Jamestown there was a distinct lack of farming labourers. In fact there was nearly no attention spared to the development of growing crop and making themselves a truly self sufficient settlement. This was partially due to the mindset of being a business proposition, and one could argue it was this that potentially removed this responsibility from the settlers and they may have felt they should have been ‘looked after’ or ‘taken care of’, after all they were part of a business, a way of creating economy[6]. This therefore meant that more of their attention was focussed on Tobacco growing which became a cash crop for the Virginia Company extremely quickly; even though the King James disagreed with tobacco, he taxed it and therefore it was more of an asset to his ‘purse’ than a health risk to his people. This does bare a limited connection with the Pilgrims who settled in Plymouth, it would not be until the 1630s when Massachusetts started to grow economically and physically, that increased livestock and grains sales significantly which ensured a safer and healthier lifestyle. Whereas Massachusetts was Plymouth’s ‘saving grace’ contrastingly, Chesapeake would not have its saving grace until much later.
It was not just a lack of food that ensured a marginalising from the New England colonies, but it was also the concept of the different ruling governments which really made a change in the ways in which the settlers (of both places) worked and grew economically and physically.
In the case of Chesapeake it could be argued that the instability in government had a true effect on the wealth of the colony.  There were issues from the first settlement with the laws and governance and after 1610 with Lord La War’s “Laws Divine, Moral and Martial”[7] was an attempt to make the colony “filled with aspiration, and the attempts to turn Jamestown into a lasting, thriving community”[8]. Strict martial law did not settle well amongst the working men; obeying the Sabbath and going to church out of work hours was one of the strictest laws that had to be obeyed, the penalty could be imprisonment. A small business colony does not work with vast amount of animosity towards the ruling council. This said it seemed that the government failed to realise that the men may be better behaved if there were women in their lives to support them and to ‘ease the strains’ of every man’s needs – babies do not make themselves! Therefore evidence suggests that sexual tension caused a great deal of issues with the men in the colony and it was in the 1620s when the first ship of ninety young, attractive ladies first set foot on Chesapeake soil. This could be argued to be Chesapeake’s saving grace (as noted before). It appears that there was a vast oversight by the Virginia Company in the importance of women, and the role they had to play in the development of a colony. New England on the other hand, settled both men and women at the same time and this enabled a far more stable growth and greater ‘social cohesion’ between the settlers and the governing bodies[9].
Congregationalism was found to be Massachusetts’ main source of stability[10]; it was this that ensured the considerable differences between this and the Chesapeake colony. Everyone communicated freely, the settlers could voice their opinions openly and civil elections were held regularly. Further to this, considerable foundation of this settlement was love. This may sound a tad ‘corny’ but it made sense to these religious people that their ‘constitution’, their way of life should be built on the simple, most supporting foundation of all, that of love. Again, a recurring theme here is that this was something that never even entered the back of the minds of Sir Thomas Gates, Sir Thomas Dale or Lord Le War of Chesapeake. Massachusetts and New England was by far a more a ‘home’ than a ‘business’. Even though in both colonies people were there because they wanted to be, it is not hard to see which colony had progressed more for humanity than for economy. However, as a result of these fundamental changes and progressions in both colonies, populations grew, stability followed in the Chesapeake, and Massachusetts gradually grew further away from English Sovereignty under the “Cambridge agreement of local government” during the late 17th century[11]. Even though by this time the Virginia Company had been taken over by the monarch and it then became a Crown Colony.
In conclusion there are many underlying factors that truly separate these two colonies. From their very origins these colonies are defined in history in completely different ways: Chesapeake - the business colony, the tobacco growing outpost to make money and to grow an economy as quickly as possible; whereas New England on the other hand was an intentional new beginning for an annexed population of England. The role government had to play in these colonies, again separated them further than sometimes one could first ascertained; government in Chesapeake was a deeply contested aspect of life for many of the settlers there. Lord Del La Wars’ martial law created a vast amount of animosity with the settlers and again, one could argue the settlers saw their role differently to the governors[12]. New England did not need any such laws to ‘scare’ the settlers into working, praising God or even obeying the Sabbath. The laws were based on Christian morals and the major difference is that this was their permanent home; there was no real option of going back to England[13]. Therefore a greater precedent was set to make things in New England and it did. Other fundamental factors such as the introduction of women in Chesapeake and congregationalism in New England both initiated a major trend in stability both in the population, economically and politically. These colonies were vastly different right down to the very backbone of their constructed civilisations.

2293 Words


Adair, John Eric. “Founding Fathers: The Puritans in England and America”, 1892, pp.264, 290, 296.
Breen, Timothy H. and Foster, Stephen. ”The Puritans’ Greatest Achievement: A Study of social cohesion in seventeenth Century Massachusetts”,1973, pp.6
Brogan, Hugh ‘The Penguin History of the USA’,(Second Ed), 2001.
Commager, Henry Steele and Cantor, Milton “Documents of American History: to 1898”, p.18
Davidson, James West. “After the fact: the art of historical detection”,p.8
Geiter Mary K, and Speck W A, “Colonial America”, Palgrave Macmillan, 2002, p.51
Goetz Philip W, “The New Encyclopaedia Britannica”,1981, pp.419, 439 & 767
Meyers, Debra and Perrault, Mélanie
Colonial Chesapeake: new perspectives”, 2006, p.38
Schama, Simon. ’A History of Britain: The British Wars 1603-1776’, 2001
Smith John, A true relation of such occurences and accidents of noate as hath happened in Virginia (1608)’, p.3
Southern Ed, The Jamestown adventure: accounts of the Virginia colony, 1605-1614”, p.179/8/9
The New Encyclopaedia Britannica, part 3, Volume 18, pp.948 & 955

[1] Mary K, Geiter and W A, Speck, “Colonial America”, Palgrave Macmillan, 2002, p.51
[2] Philip W Goetz, “The New Encyclopaedia Britannica”,1981, pp.419, 439 & 767
[3] John Smith, A true relation of such occurences and accidents of noate as hath happened in Virginia (1608)’, p.3
[4] Debra Meyers and Mélanie Perrault, Colonial Chesapeake: new perspectives”, 2006, p.38
[5] Geiter and Speck, “Colonial America”, p.69
[6]   James West Davidson, “After the fact: the art of historical detection”,p.8
[7] Ed Southern, The Jamestown adventure: accounts of the Virginia colony, 1605-1614”, p.179/8/9

[8] Ed Southern, The Jamestown adventure: accounts of the Virginia colony, 1605-1614”, p.179
[9] Breen, Timothy H. and Foster, Stephen. ”The Puritans’ Greatest Achievement: A Study of social cohesion in seventeenth Century Massachusetts”,1973, pp.6
[10] Breen and Foster “Puritans Greatest Achievements”, p.6/7
[11] Henry Steele Commager and Milton Cantor, “Documents of American History: to 1898”, p.18
[12] The New Encyclopaedia Britannica, part 3, Volume 18, pp.948 & 955
[13] John Eric Adair, “Founding Fathers: The Puritans in England and America”,1892, pp.264,290,296.

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