Southern Colonies: 1566–1733

Reasons for Settling the Southern Colonies

Settling Virginia and the Carolinas

Profit was the primary motive behind the founding of the Southern colonies of Virginia and the Carolinas.

The Virginia Colony, the first permanent English colony in North America, was established in 1607 with the founding of Jamestown. The colony was owned by the Virginia Company of London, a joint-stock company given a land grant by King James I in 1606. The Virginia Company had two goals: to colonize the land between 34° and 41° north latitude and to earn a profit.

The joint-stock company was made up of many shareholders. These investors bought a share of the company in hopes of earning a profit if the Virginia Colony succeeded. Money paid for the shares helped to finance the founding of the colony.

Unfortunately, the Virginia Colony was not an immediate success. Out of the 105 men who sailed from England in 1606 to found the colony, only 38 survived. Not only did the first colonists in Jamestown fail to find vast amounts of gold in North America, they were faced with extremely harsh conditions, such as starvation, disease, and conflict with nearby Native American tribes led by Powhatan. Many of the colonists, such as goldsmiths and silversmiths, did not possess skills useful to building and maintaining a colony. In the end, survival became more important than economic gain.

Over time, the Virginia Colony prospered. The headright system offered immigrants an incentive to settle in Virginia. Each immigrant was granted 50 acres of land, which helped the colony's population grow. But the colony prospered largely because of the introduction of tobacco. Other industries also grew as a result of the region's abundant natural resources, including the production of glass, nautical goods, and beer and wine.

The Carolinas, like the Virginia Colony, were established with profit in mind. Edward Hyde, the first Earl of Clarendon, along with seven other men, obtained a charter, a written document that defines the laws and privileges of a state or country, from King Charles II in 1663. The original proprietors, or owners of the colony, planned to grow silk. This endeavor ultimately failed. Over time, the Carolinas were divided into two separate colonies. North Carolina developed an economy based on small-scale farming, while cash crops like rice and indigo gave rise to South Carolina's plantation economy.

James Fort at Jamestown

This diagram shows the fort constructed in Jamestown in 1607 and the probable purposes of the structures inside its walls. The fort was so completely destroyed that many believed the original location was submerged in the James River. The Jamestown Rediscovery project, launched in 1994, revealed the fort's original location on dry land near the James River.

Settling Maryland

Maryland began as a proprietary colony of Lord Baltimore and served as a refuge for Roman Catholics.

Maryland was established through the efforts of George Calvert and his son Cecilius Calvert. George Calvert served in the House of Commons from 1609 to 1611 and again from 1620 to 1625. He left his position in government after openly embracing his Catholic faith. After being granted the title Lord Baltimore, Calvert, his family, and a number of other Catholic settlers sailed for Newfoundland in Canada in hopes of establishing a safe haven for Catholics. Their efforts failed, and Lord Baltimore's wife, Lady Baltimore, left for the Virginia Colony. Lord Baltimore later attempted to join his wife but was not permitted to stay due his to religious affiliation. Upon his return to England, Lord Baltimore petitioned the king for a charter to establish a colony for Catholics in North America but died before receiving the grant in 1632. His son Cecilius Calvert, who had succeeded to his father's title, accepted the charter on the former Lord Baltimore's behalf. Cecilius's younger brother Leonard set sail for North America in November 1633. In March 1634 he landed in Maryland, where he became the colony's first governor. Maryland was the first English colony not founded by a joint-stock company.

Maryland was established primarily as a refuge, or safe place, for Catholics. Despite its Catholic underpinnings, the population of the colony was disproportionately Protestant from the start. Many Protestants who believed the Church of England did not fully shed its Catholic roots came to Maryland to begin anew. In fact, when Leonard Calvert set sail for Maryland in 1633, the two ships carried 17 Catholics and 123 Protestants. The colony's proprietors sought to ease tensions between religious groups by passing the Act of Religious Toleration in 1649. This act protected the right of Christians to worship freely in the colony.

Maryland Colony Population Growth

Year Total Population of Maryland (Year) Roman Catholic Population (Percent of Total Population)
1670 13,226 2,000 (15.1%)
1710 42,741 3,000 (7%)
1760 162,267 7,000 (4.3%)

Settling Georgia

The Georgia Colony was established to provide economic opportunities to Britain's debtors and poor as well as to provide a buffer between Spanish Florida and the other English colonies.

The Georgia Colony was established in 1732 by James Oglethorpe, a British philanthropist who worked on various reform measures to benefit the country's poor. At the time, those who owed debts were often thrown into debtors' prison. This made it difficult, if not impossible, for poor individuals to work and eventually earn enough to pay back what they owed. Oglethorpe intended for the Georgia Colony to serve as a second chance for England's poor.

Oglethorpe and the colony's other leaders, known collectively as the Trustees, established strict land ownership and inheritance laws. These laws were established to spread wealth equally among colonists and prevent individuals or families from accumulating too much land or wealth. At the same time, they banned slavery.

In addition to serving as a refuge for England's poor, it was a safe haven for a number of Protestant groups. Oglethorpe also permitted the settlement of Jews in the colony.

Like the Virginia Colony, the Carolinas, and Maryland, the Trustees also hoped to turn a profit from the Georgia Colony. They encouraged colonists to produce luxury items like wine and silk. Attempts at growing grapes and producing silk failed.

While Oglethorpe and the Trustees had philanthropy and profit on their minds, the king had another motive. One reason the Trustees were granted a charter was to create a buffer between Spanish Florida and South Carolina. As South Carolina grew and prospered, the English lived in growing fear of a Spanish attack. Settlements in Georgia acted as a buffer, or barrier, between the English and Spanish colonies. As the colony grew, Oglethorpe also loosened his grip on land ownership laws and laws regarding slavery in order to increase economic production and foster population growth to counteract the Spanish.

Map of Colonial Georgia, c. 1732

One reason for Georgia's creation was to provide a buffer between the Carolinas and the Spanish to the south.