In contrast to New England and the middle colonies, the southern colonies were predominantly rural settlements.
By the late 17th century, Virginia’s and Maryland’s economic and social structures rested on the planters and the yeoman farmers. The planters of the Tidewater region, supported by slave labor, held most of the political power and the best land. They built great houses and adopted an aristocratic way of life.
The yeoman farmers, who worked smaller tracts, found their way into political office. Their outspoken independence was a constant warning to the oligarchy of planters not to encroach too far upon the rights of free men.
The settlers of the Carolinas quickly learned to combine agriculture and commerce, and the marketplace became a major source of prosperity. Dense forests brought revenue: lumber, tar, and resin from the longleaf pine provided some of the best shipbuilding materials in the world. Not bound to a single crop as was Virginia, North and South Carolina also produced and exported rice and indigo, a blue dye obtained from native plants used in coloring fabric. By 1750 more than 100,000 people lived in the two colonies of North and South Carolina. Charleston, South Carolina was the region’s leading port and trading center.
German immigrants and Scots-Irish unwilling to live in the original Tidewater settlements pushed inland. Those who could not obtain fertile land along the coast, or who had exhausted the lands they had, found the hills farther west a bountiful refuge. Although there were many hardships, restless settlers kept coming; by the 1730s they were pouring into the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. Soon the interior was dotted with farms.
Living on the edge of Native-American country, frontier families built cabins, cleared the wilderness, and cultivated maize and wheat. The men wore leather made from the skin of deer or sheep, known as buckskin. Their food consisted of venison, wild turkey, and fish. They had their own amusements—great barbecues, dances, housewarmings shooting matches, and contests for making quilted blankets.
Source: The Southern Colonies #2
© 1994-2012 GMW - University of Groningen - Humanities Computing