3.1 The Old South: Colonial Era and Independence (1607-1787)


 

Population, rank

1650

(8 colonies)

1700

(12 colonies)

1750

(13 colonies)

1780

(13 colonies)

Maryland

4,500

3rd

29,600

3rd

141,100

3rd

245,500

5th

Delaware

200

8th

2,500

12th

28,700

11th

45,400

13th

Virginia

18,700

1st

58,600

1st

231,000

1st

538,000

1st

North Carolina

4,500

3rd

10,700

8th  

73,000

7th

270,100

4th

 

46.4%

 

36.1%

 

34.2%

 

29.8%

 


Key events that shaped law and society:

  • The upper South colonies were run by proprietors – English nobles who operated under royal charters, with only loose supervision by the Crown.  In the 1680s, James II briefly attempted to put the New England colonies under direct Crown control, but he did not attempt that experiment with the coastal South colonies.  Each of the colonies developed a relatively powerful local assembly early in its life and the Crown generally advised its governors to work with the assemblies rather than dominate them.
  • Many early settlers came as indentured servants.  They agreed to submit to a master’s control for a fixed period of time in return for food, lodging and training.  The first black Americans came to Virginia in 1619, and all of the coastal Southern colonies soon had a significant black population.  During the early years it was not clear whether blacks would be treated as indentured servants or slaves, but in 1660 Virginia created a legal presumption that all blacks were slaves, and the other colonies soon followed suit. 
  • In the late 1600s and early 1700s, tobacco – a crop that could be grown year around and, thus, could be profitably grown with slave labor – became a key part of Virginia’s and Maryland’s economy.  Tobacco cemented slavery’s place in the South’s economy and culture.
  • The four upper South colonies had as many cultural differences as similarities.  Delaware, which legally was part of Pennsylvania for much of its colonial existence, was connected to the mid-Atlantic region as well as the coastal upper South.  North Carolina’s economy depended more on timber than tobacco; as a result, planters were less of a social and political force than they were in Maryland and Virginia.  But all four colonies were profoundly affected by the rise of slavery, and all except Delaware saw waves of settlers populate their western mountain areas beginning about 1730.
  • The westerners were quite different from the early eastern settlers.  They included Germans, Scots-Irish, Quakers and dissenting Protestants who had little use for the Anglican, planter-dominated east.  The east-west divide became a permanent part of the region’s cultural and legal landscape. 


Captain John Smith's map of Virginia (1624) - courtesy Wikimedia Commons


Cecil Lord Calvert, proprietor of Maryland - courtesy Wikimedia Commons


Colonial courthouse, Edenton, North Carolina - courtesy American Historic Buildings Survey and Wikimedia Commons