Duringthe late 16th and the 17th century, European countries werecolonizing the newly discovered America in search of treasures andasylum. In 1606, King James granted the Virginia Company a charter totravel to America looking for silver, gold, and gems (Nelson 13).Upon arrival, the English travelers did not find any treasures butencountered fertile lands (Wolfe). Similarly, the pilgrims left theGreat Britain in 1620 seeking religious freedom in other regions.Initially, the pilgrims had planned to travel to Virginia, but thestorms blew their ships towards Massachusetts where they settled(Brooks). Therefore, both began growingand receiving settlers throughout 1607 to 1750. Although Virginia andMassachusetts were colonized by English settlers, the two regionswere different due to the varied reasons that led to theirdevelopment, political systems, and economic prosperity.
Eachcolony was founded under different circumstances. Massachusetts wasformed as a social entity since the settlers came to the regionseeking self-determination and religious freedom. Most settlers inMassachusetts were mainly families bound together as units (Brooks).Therefore, almost everyone who settled in Massachusetts was freewhile most of the settlers in Virginia came as servants or slaves.The settlers in Massachusetts observed the Puritans religiouspractices, while the settlers in Virginia followed the teaching ofthe Church of England. The settlers in Massachusetts did not tolerateother religions and in 1700, they enacted a decree directing allRoman Catholics to leave in three months otherwise, they would facecapital punishment (Brooks). On the other hand, Virginia wascolonized by individuals (Nelson 14). Moreover, most of the settlersin Virginia were mainly Anglican, who were mainly interested ineconomic activities.
Additionally,the economic structure of the two colonies varied significantly. TheEnglish settlers in Virginia were experiencing difficulties and manyof them died due to starvation (Kim 183). As such, they startedfarming as a way to survive. Virginia had an unstable economy sinceit depended solely on tobacco plantations. Therefore, drought,diseases, or a bad tobacco production would severely hurt the regioneconomically. The tobacco plantation required a lot of labor, but thewhite and Indian workers were not enough to satisfy the labor demand.As a result, the plantation owners started buying large numbers ofslaves from Africa, which made the slave trade a significant economicactivity in the region (Wolfe). Accordingly, the slave populationincreased from 2,000 to 4,000 in two decades and by the 1700s,Virginia had 16,000 blacks. Consequently, Virginia’s economy wasbuilt on the plantation and free labor (Wolfe).
Onthe contrary, Massachusetts had a more stable economy because thesettlers had several sources of income unlike in Virginia. As morePuritans moved to Massachusetts, they developed communities and towns(Nelson 52). They also started small-scale farming in the fieldssurrounding the towns where they grew a variety of crops, which madethe region economically successful (Brooks). Nonetheless, the farmsin Massachusetts were small and the spoils were not favorable forfarming, unlike the fertile lands in Virginia. Then again,Massachusetts had many harbors, which facilitated trade anddevelopment of the fishing and whaling industry (Kim 182). Inaddition, the settlers formed more towns that led to the need for newprofessions such as blacksmiths and merchants. Massachusetts did notrely on slave labor since the Puritans were hard working, whichlargely contributed to the success of the colony. Hence, the numberof slaves in Massachusetts was lower than in Virginia.
Thepolitical systems in colonies weredifferent as well. Virginia colony had an autocratic government. Theresidents in Virginia belonged to different social classes, whichwere determined by their wealth. Those who owned large plantationsbelonged to the upper class in the society, who controlled politicalmatters in the region (Kim 185). Virginia had a small group ofmiddle-class residents, who barely had much influence in politics andthe elections. For example, the middle class consisted of theresidents with smaller pieces of land, who were mainly indenturedservants, while the lower class consisted of recently freed servantswho did not own any land (Wolfe). The upper-class colonists sought toregulate the opportunities available for the other social classes tolimit the competition for power in the government. Hence, the colonyhad very little cash flow because the elite displayed their wealth asa show of power to prevent the poor and the slaves from rebelling.Furthermore, 80 percent of the population constituted of the poor whodid not have the right to vote (Wolfe).
Incontrast, Massachusetts had a more representative and democraticgovernment based on regular elections (Kim 189). The region had alarger middle class of 65 percent, which allowed the Puritans to makedecisions as a community (Nelson 52). Each Puritans town had a churchwhere they held town meetings and the male church members made majordecisions on how to govern the town. Moreover, slaves inMassachusetts had the right to own property since both whites andblacks were considered equals according to the law. Hence, there wasmore cash flow because the elite did not need to flaunt wealth toexert control on the people in the lower class.
Furthermore,the colonists in Massachusetts were better educated as compared tothose in Virginia. The Massachusetts charter stipulated that everytown should have an elementary school funded by local taxes. Eventhough most of the Puritans women were illiterate, many families senttheir daughters to school, which ensured that most of the colonistscould read and write by the 1700s (Brooks). However, Virginia colonydid not achieve the same literacy levels until the 18thcentury.
Inconclusion, were formed for differentreasons, which contributed to contrasting political system andeconomic prosperity. Virginia was founded for economic purposes,while Massachusetts was based on the religious needs of the Puritans.Therefore, Massachusetts settlers did not tolerate other religionsexcept Puritans unlike the Anglican colonists in Virginia.Massachusetts colonists practiced farming, but they also engaged inother economic activities, which made the region more economicallystable as compared to Virginia where colonists only relied on tobaccoplantations. On the other hand, the need for labor in the tobaccofarms led to the slave trade in Virginia, unlike Massachusetts, wherethe Puritans practiced small-scale farming, which minimized thenumber of slaves in the colony. Additionally, the residents inMassachusetts colony were more educated because the law requiredevery person study so that they could learn how to read the Bible.The political system in the two colonies also signified theirdifferences. The Virginia plantation owners belonged to the elitegroup that mainly made decisions on how to govern the colony, whichmade the government mainly autocratic. Conversely, Massachusetts wasruled by a democratic government, which was a representation of allthe people in the colony. Nonetheless, the two colonies played animportant part in the revolution that eventually gave rise to onenation.
Brooks,Rebecca B. Historyof the Massachusetts Bay Colony.5 Jan. 2015. Web. 30 May 2016.
Kim,Sukkoo. “Institutions and US regional development: a study ofMassachusetts and Virginia.” Journalof Institutional Economics,5.2 (2009): 181-205.
Nelson,William E. TheCommon Law in Colonial America, Vol. 1:The Chesapeake and New England 1607-1660.Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008. Internet resource.
Wolfe,Brendan. “Colonial Virginia”. EncyclopediaVirginia.21 Sept. 2015. Web. 30 May. 2016.