Agriculture ruled the SouthThe cultivation of tobacco required fresh and fertile land, since soil on which it had been grown for three or four years became so exhausted that it produced only weak stalks. Farmers were obliged therefore to have sufficient acreage to insure new ground, and since it was necessary for sites to be near easy transport, planters quickly scattered up and down along the numerous waterways. No towns dotted the region, and even Jamestown, the capital, had only a few houses. Planters quickly adapted themselves to a system of trade at long range, and London, Bristol, and other English ports were their market towns.
Most immigrants to Virginia came to improve their economic position. But religious as well as economic reasons led to the growth of Maryland, the neighboring colony. Here the Calvert family sought to establish a refuge for Catholics in the new land. They were also interested, however, in creating estates which would bring them profit. To that end, and to avoid trouble with the British government, they encouraged Protestants as well as Catholics to settle. In social structure and in government, the Calverts tried to make Maryland an aristocratic land in the ancient tradition, which they aspired to rule with all the prerogatives of kings. But the independence inevitable in a frontier society, whatever its technical structure, was not favorable to feudal trappings. In Maryland, as in the other colonies, the authorities could not circumvent the stubborn belief of the settlers in the guarantees of personal liberty established by English common law and the natural rights of subjects to participate in government through representative assemblies.
Maryland developed a civilization very similar to that of Virginia. Both colonies were devoted to agriculture with a dominant tidewater class of great planters; both had a back country into which yeomen farmers steadily filtered; both suffered the handicaps of a one-crop system; and before the mid-eighteenth century, the culture of both was profoundly affected by Negro slavery. In both colonies, the wealthy planters took their social responsibilities seriously, serving as justices of the peace, colonels of the militia, and members of the legislative assemblies. But yeomen farmers sat in popular assemblies too and found their way into political office. Their outspoken independence of spirit served as a constant warning to the oligarchy of planters too far upon the rights of free men.
By the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, the social structure in Maryland and Virginia had taken on the qualities it would retain until the Civil War. The planters, supported by slave labor, held most of the political power and the best land. They built great houses, adopted an aristocratic manner of life, and maintained contact with the cultured world overseas. Next in the social-economic scale were the farmers who found their hope for prosperity in the fresh soil of the back country. Least prosperous were the small farmers who struggled for existence in competition with slave-owning planters. In neither Virginia nor Maryland did a large trading class develop, for the planters themselves traded directly with London.
It was the Carolinas, with Charleston as the leading port, which developed as the trading center of the south. Here the settlers quickly learned to combine agriculture and commerce, and the colony owed much of its prosperity to the marketplace. Dense forests also provided revenue, and tar and rosin from the long-leaf pine were among the best ship stores in the world. Not bound to a single crop as was Virginia, the Carolinas produced and exported rice, indigo, and naval stores. By 1750, 100,000 or more people lived in the two colonies of North and South Carolina.
In the south as everywhere else in the colonies-from the mountains of Vermont to the ragged forest clearings of the Mohawk River in New York, down along the eastern fringes of the Alleghenies and into the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia-growth of the back country, the frontier, became a significant development. Men seeking greater freedom of conscience than could be found in the original tidewater settlements had early pushed beyond their borders. Those who could not secure fertile land along the coast or who had exhausted the lands which they held found the hills farther west a fruitful place of refuge. Soon the interior was dotted with successful farms, worked by men economically as well as spiritually independent of the older regions. Humble farmers were not the only ones who found the hinterland attractive. Peter Jefferson, an enterprising surveyor and father of Thomas Jefferson, third President of the United States, settled in the hill country, buying 400 acres of land for a bowl of punch.
Although there was a sprinkling of large landowners among those who found their way into the foothills, most of those who left the settled colonies in the east were small, independent pioneers. Living on the edge of the Indian country, their cabins were their fortresses, and they relied for protection on their own sharp eyes and trusty muskets. By necessity, they became a sturdy and self-reliant people. They cleared tracts in the wilderness, burned the brush, and cultivated corn and wheat among the stumps. The men dressed in hunting shirts and deerskin leggings, the women in homespun petticoats. Their food was "hog and hominy" and roast venison, wild turkey, or partridge and fish from a neighboring stream. They had their own boisterous amusements-great barbecues where oxen were roasted whole, house-warmings for newly married couples, dancing, drinking, shooting matches, quilting bees.