Southern Colonies Geography & Climate

Instructor: Kevin Newton

Kevin has edited encyclopedias, taught middle and high school history, and has a master's degree in Islamic law.

In few other regions did geography and climate play such an important role in determining social order, and even political order, as they did in the Southern colonies.

Colonies in the South

When the first English colonists arrived in places like Roanoke and Jamestown, they had no idea what they were getting themselves into. In search of gold, they found mosquitoes. However, within a few years, this region would grow to become one of the richest in the world.

In this lesson, we'll look at the geography and climate of the Southern colonies, specifically Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, and Maryland. Afterwards, we'll see how this combination of climate and geography led the colonies to adopt specific settlement patterns and social structures.


Let's start with the geography. Going west until the Blue Ridge and Appalachian Mountains, the land within the Southern Colonies was especially well suited for farming. Acres of land are pierced by a number of rivers and streams, which means easy irrigation and access to larger ports downstream. Large pine forests offered wood to fell, while the size of the region offered plenty of land to purchase for those with the available resources.


Jamestown was doomed for failure if the tobacco seed had never arrived. The tobacco seed proved to grow better in the soil of Virginia and North Carolina than anywhere else. Further to the south, tobacco was still a popular crop, but sub-tropical plants like indigo, necessary for the latest European fashions, soaked up the Southern sun and rain showers.

Tobacco was popular throughout Europe

Effects on Settlement Patterns

This combination of geography and climate caused agriculture to heavily influence the settlement patterns of the Southern colonies. Every major city built, from Savannah and Charleston to Annapolis and Alexandria, served one purpose - act as a trade port for the plantations that were further inland.

As a result, these cities were all near rivers that drained in from the hinterland. Within this wilderness, plantations fought for riverfront access that would make loading their wares on barges much easier. An increasing population of slaves did much of this work.

Further inland, away from the placid rivers, lived those individuals, often poor whites, whom were not planters but were not slaves. They pressed out against the wilderness, hoping to find their own prosperity growing many of the same crops, in addition to their own food. However, the planters controlled the market for such crops, so they had little change to make much of these endeavors.

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