The Chesapeake Bay Region
The settled area.—The Chesapeake Bay country formed another economic unit. By the end of the Stuart régime Maryland contained about 30,000 people, Virginia nearly 60,000, and North Carolina perhaps 3,000, practically all of English extraction. From Cape Charles northward for fifty miles the peninsula was settled. Then came an uninhabited region until opposite Kent Island, where the settlements began again and extended northward to the Pennsylvania line. On the western side of the bay a population belt about twenty-five miles wide extended from the northern boundary of Maryland as far as the Potomac. On the right bank of the Potomac from a point ten miles above Alexandria to the place where the river made its great bend to the eastward the plantations covered a strip about five miles wide. From the great bend the frontier ran almost straight south to the neighborhood of Richmond and then gradually curved to the southeast, enclosing a settled area about twenty-five miles wide on the south side of the James River.
Settled Areas in the Southern Colonies about 1700.
The frontier line crossed the North Carolina boundary about forty miles from the coast and ran southwestward to the Chowan River, which with the northern shore of Albemarle Sound formed the limits of the settled region of North Carolina, then politically united but economically and socially separated from the Charleston district.
The plantations.—The Chesapeake Bay country was almost entirely devoted to agriculture. The small land holdings of the early period were rapidly disappearing and great plantations had taken their place. The average land patent in Virginia in the last decades of the century gave title to from six hundred to eight hundred acres, but many of the plantations covered from ten thousand to twenty thousand acres. So plentiful was land and so easily obtained that the planters preferred to take up new acreage rather than resort to fertilization, the result being that the plantations were widely scattered, an important factor in making each estate a social and economic unit.
Tobacco.—The great staple was tobacco. The plantations were usually located near a creek, river, or the bay shore. Each had its wharf or flatboat from which the trader could load his vessel. Most of the crop was shipped to England, and the price obtained determined the year's prosperity or depression. The large plantation owner usually dealt with some London house, which kept an open account with him, crediting his tobacco against orders for the manufactured articles and luxuries which the Virginia and Maryland gentlemen demanded.
Other industrial activity.—Some writers have held that there must have been much poverty in the plantation country because of the uncertain market for tobacco, but such statements do not take into account the fact that the plantations produced an abundance of food products. Wheat, oats, barley, and maize were grown in large quantities, the cereals usually being planted after the third crop of tobacco. At times wheat was exported. Almost every estate had its garden and orchard, and live stock was abundant, horses, cattle, and hogs usually ranging in the woods. So numerous did the hogs become that pork was an item of exportation. New England coasting vessels ran into the rivers and took on wheat, pork, and tobacco, which, were exchanged for West Indian slaves, rum, and sugar. There was but little manufacturing. Cotton and woolen cloths were made for home use, and brick-making was carried on to a limited extent, but most of the manufactured articles were brought from England.
The system of labor.—The large plantations were worked either by indented servants or slaves. In 1671 Governor Berkeley estimated that there were 6,000 white servants and 2,000 slaves in Virginia. By 1683 there were about 12,000 indented servants and perhaps 3,000 slaves, and by the end of the century the slaves had probably doubled. In proportion to population the indented servants and slaves in Maryland and North Carolina were in similar ratio to the free white population.
Social position of the planter.—At the top of the social and political structure of society was the planter, his position depending largely upon his acreage. Already in Virginia and Maryland the "great-house" or manor house had made its appearance, a rather unpretentious rambling frame house with a brick chimney at either end, the splendor of which was largely due to comparison with the quarters of the slaves. Articles of luxury such as musical instruments, mirrors, brass fixtures, silverware, table linen, and damask hangings were frequently found in the houses of the wealthier planters. These were by no means typical, for pewter was far more common than silver, and in the home of recently released indented servants or small landholders there was little more than bare necessity demanded.
Religion and education.—In religion there was less uniformity than in industry. In Maryland probably three-fourths of the inhabitants belonged to various dissenting sects. Most of the great landholders were members of the Anglican church, but many were Catholics. Most of the Virginians were Episcopalians, while in North Carolina the Quakers were predominant. Popular education in the South was far below that of the North. Public sentiment was against free schools, and the few secondary educational institutions were conducted through private enterprise. The planters frequently secured educated indented servants who acted as tutors. In 1691 the Virginia legislature sent Dr. William Blair to England to secure a charter for a college and the following year he returned with it, this being the legal beginning of William and Mary College.
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