The Southern Colonies: Settlement and Growth

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  • 0:06 Virginia
  • 1:36 Bacon's Rebellion
  • 2:36 Maryland
  • 3:39 The Carolinas
  • 5:53 Georgia
  • 7:13 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Alexandra Lutz

Alexandra has taught students at every age level from pre-school through adult. She has a BSEd in English Education.

What led to the use of slavery and the creation of different colonies? In this lesson, learn about the unique purposes and patterns of settlement, growth and society in the southern colonies (Virginia, Maryland, the Carolinas, and Georgia).


Virginia was started by a group of men in 1607 who wanted to get rich quick. Even through the 1620s, ¾ of Virginia's population was still male, and the goal of the colony was still money. This was achieved through large farms called plantations that planted cash crops - namely, tobacco.

But tobacco requires a lot of manpower, and Jamestown had a population problem. The birth rate was low, and the death rate was high. England had the opposite problem: there were too many people. There was not enough work, no chance to own land and no opportunity for the poor. Even some rich kids faced this dilemma, because English inheritance laws required that all property be passed to the oldest son - and England was full. The younger sons of the noblemen had plenty of money, but no land to build their own estates.

An English politician named Edwin Sandys proposed a solution called the headright system. Anyone who paid for the trip to Virginia received 50 acres. So the rich guys paid for poor people to come with them as servants. These servants were indentured to the landowner, typically for seven years. The gentlemen got the land and free workers for seven years. The lucky 15% of servants who survived their indenture had almost nothing. As a result, Sandys' system created class divisions between the 'haves' and the 'have-nots.'

A deep social divide quickly overtook Virginia. Wealthy planters owned all of the best land and controlled all of society. Though the House of Burgesses was an elected government, only landowning men could vote.

Bacon's Rebellion

Nathaniel Bacon led a rebellion against colonial leadership in Virginia
Nathaniel Bacon

Many former indentured servants - both black and white - headed out onto the western frontier where they fought constantly with the natives. In Jamestown, the leaders ignored their pleas for help. So they took matters into their own hands. A frontier planter named Nathaniel Bacon organized a militia to take revenge on the Indians. When the governor ordered him to stop, the frontiersmen felt like the upper class had absolutely no regard for them. Bacon's army turned into a rebellion against colonial leadership. In 1676, the frontier militia marched into Jamestown, trashed the governor's home and burned the capitol.

Nathaniel Bacon died of dysentery, so the rebellion fell apart. But it wasn't without consequence. To weaken the power of the lower class, the House of Burgesses granted all free white men the right to vote, dividing society along color lines. Bacon's Rebellion also helped turn planters away from indentured servitude and towards slavery.


Back in 1632, two communities dominated America: the money-hungry colony of Virginia and the Puritan refuge of Massachusetts. Civil war in England had driven thousands of Puritans to the northern colony. This same war also led a man named Cecilius or Cecil Calvert (whose title was Lord Baltimore) to start a new American colony for Catholics. He called the colony Maryland, and it resembled Virginia in many ways, including tobacco plantations, indentured servants and slave labor and high mortality. A settler in Maryland lived ten years less than someone in New England.

Despite Calvert's plan, Maryland had a Protestant majority. To protect the Catholics, he approved the Act of Religious Toleration in 1649, guaranteeing political rights to anyone practicing any form of Christianity. But that same year, the king of England was beheaded and Puritans took over the English government. Within a few years, they took over Maryland and overturned that law.

A map of the Carolina colony established in 1663
Carolina Map

The Carolinas

The Puritan government of England lasted just 11 years. The monarchy was restored and the newly crowned King Charles II decided to reward eight of his supporters by giving them a colony in 1663. The eight owners (called proprietors) named it Carolina in his honor.

Like most of the American colonies, Carolina was already inhabited, but not just by Native Americans. Some former indentured servants from Virginia had migrated into the northern part of the land at least ten years before the charter was granted. The southern part was inhabited by poor farmers who had been run off of the island colony of Barbados by wealthy planters. Their crops wouldn't grow in America, but they figured out that hogs thrived with almost no overhead cost.

In 1670, a shipload of rich men also arrived from Barbados. They came for the same reason that rich, young men had gone to Virginia: there was just no land left for them on the island. They founded the Port of Charlestown, and sold pork to Barbados in exchange for slaves.

Soon, Carolina's economy was transformed by the introduction of rice as a cash crop, but growing it requires specialized knowledge. When planters realized that slaves imported directly from West Africa were already skilled in growing rice, the scramble for land - and the laborers who knew how to work it - was on. By 1708, Africans became the majority of the population. The more money slaves made for their owners, the more the Southern elite were committed to slavery and its permanence.

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