American History: Southern Colonies Develop on Farming Economy

17 October, 2012

STEVE EMBER: From VOA Learning English, this is THE MAKING OF A NATION – American history in Special English. I'm Steve Ember.

This week in our series, we finish the story of the first thirteen American colonies. We'll tell about how the southern colonies developed.

Among the southern colonies, the northernmost was Maryland. The king of England, Charles the First, gave the land between Virginia and Pennsylvania to George Calvert in sixteen thirty-two. George Calvert was also known as Lord Baltimore. He wanted to start a colony with greater religious freedoms than existed in England. Calvert was Roman Catholic. Catholics could not openly observe their religion in England. They also had to pay money to the government because they did not belong to the Anglican Church, the Church of England.
American History: Southern Colonies Develop on Farming Economy
A painting of George Calvert

George Calvert never saw the colony that was named Maryland. He died soon after he received the documents giving him the land. The land went to his son Cecil Calvert, who became the next Lord Baltimore. He had the power to collect taxes, fight wars, make laws and create courts in Maryland. Cecil named his brother Leonard as the colony's first governor.

Cecil Calvert believed that English Catholics could live in peace in Maryland alongside Protestants. So he urged Catholics in England to move there. To get more settlers, he allowed people to own farms and gave them some power in local politics. Some Catholics did go to Maryland, but not as many as he hoped. Protestants were in the majority. In sixteen forty-nine, Lord Baltimore accepted a Toleration Act passed by the local government. It guaranteed freedom of religion, but only for Christians.

King Charles the Second gave away more land in America in sixteen sixty-three. He gave eight English lords the territory known as Carolina. It extended south from Virginia into Florida, an area controlled by Spain. Spain also claimed the southern part of Carolina.

Spanish, French and English settlers had tried earlier to populate the area. The eight new owners promised forty hectares of land to anyone who would go to Carolina to live. They also promised religious freedom. The first successful Carolina settlers left England in sixteen seventy. They built a town in an area where two rivers met. They called it Charles Town, for King Charles. Spanish ships attacked the port city many times, but the settlers defended their land.

The settlers planted all kinds of crops to see what would grow best. They found that rice was just right for the hot, humid conditions. Also, their cattle and pigs did so well that the Carolina settlers started selling meat to the West Indies. Many of Charles Town's settlers came from Barbados, a port used in the West Indies slave trade. The settlers began buying black slaves to help grow the rice. By seventeen eight, more blacks than whites lived in the southern part of Carolina. The success of the farming economy depended on slave labor.

The northern part of the Carolina colony grew much more slowly than the southern part. Many settlers in the northern part were from neighboring Virginia. Some had left Virginia because people who disagreed with the Anglican Church were not welcome there.

Historians say the area that became North Carolina may have been the most democratic of all the colonies. The people generally did not interfere in each other's lives. Together, they faced a common enemy: the pirates who made the North Carolina coast their home base.

In sixteen seventy-seven, some of the people in the northern part of the Carolina territory rebelled against England. They did not like England's Navigation Acts. These laws forced people in Carolina to pay taxes to England on goods sold to other colonies. Some northern Carolina settlers refused to pay this tax. These independent thinkers even set up their own government and tried to break free of England. But the English soldiers in the colonies stopped the rebellion by arresting its leader.

There were growing differences between the people of northern Carolina and southern Carolina. Finally the owners of the colony divided it in seventeen twelve, forming what would become the states of North Carolina and South Carolina.

The last English colony founded in the New World was Georgia. It was established in seventeen thirty-two, under King George the Second. Georgia was the idea of a man named James Oglethorpe. He wanted to solve a problem in England involving a growing number of people who could not repay their debts. At that time, debtors were put in prison. This made it impossible for them to earn the money they needed to get out of debt.

Oglethorpe wanted to create a colony where debtors could go instead of going to prison. He wanted it to be a place where people could have good lives while they worked to earn money. But not many debtors wanted to go to Georgia.

The people who did settle there were much like the people in the other colonies. They did not agree with all of Oglethorpe's ideas. They wanted to do things he did not believe were right, like drinking alcohol and owning slaves. In the end the settlers won. They rejected Oglethorpe's ideas about how they should live.

Life was not easy in Georgia. Spaniards and pirates captured ships along the coast. Spain controlled Florida and also claimed Georgia and the Carolinas. Border fights were common. Oglethorpe lost all his money trying to establish Georgia. King George took control of the colony in seventeen fifty-two.

As new colonies were being established nearby, the colony of Virginia was growing. A way of life was developing there that was very different from that of the North. Most people in Virginia at this time were members of the Church of England. Religion was not as important a part of their lives as it was to the people in the North. In the New England colonies, members of the clergy were considered the most important. In the southern colonies, rich land owners were the more important.

People in Virginia did not live in towns, as people did in Massachusetts. They lived along rivers on small farms or on large farms called plantations. Being located on a river made it easy to export goods by ship. Virginians were sending large amounts of tobacco to England. It was the crop that earned them the most money.

But growing tobacco breaks down the soil. After a few years, nothing grew well on land that was planted with tobacco. The farmers had to stop planting anything on the land every few years. That meant they needed a lot of land. They also needed a large work force. So tobacco farmers in Virginia began to buy land -- and workers.

At first, they bought the services of indentured servants, poor people who had no money or jobs. These indentured servants agreed to work for a farmer for a period of four to seven years. After that they were free to work for themselves.

In sixteen nineteen, a Dutch ship brought a group of Africans to Jamestown. They had been kidnapped from their homes by African traders and sold to the ship's captain. He sold them to the Virginia settlers. These first Africans may have been treated like indentured servants. Later, however, colonists decided to keep them as slaves so they would not have to continue paying for workers. Slowly, laws were approved in Virginia that made it legal to keep black people as slaves. By seventeen fifty, there were more Africans in Virginia than any other group.

Indians did not make good slaves because they could run away. The slaves from Africa could not. They had no place to go.

Slavery in the South affected the course of American history. It divided the people and led to a civil war that nearly tore the nation apart. Slavery in the South will be our story next week.

You can find our series online with transcripts, MP3s, podcasts and pictures at You can also follow us on Facebook and Twitter at VOA Learning English. I'm Steve Ember, inviting you to join us again next week for THE MAKING OF A NATION -- American history in VOA Special English.