Southern colonial America at the time of the Revolutionary War



At the beginning of the Revolutionary War, the Southern colonies had grown with more rapidity in population and wealth than New York and Pennsylvania. Virginia and the Carolinas had extended their settlements westward far into the interior. Some emigrants had even wandered to western Tennessee. Daniel Boone had led the way to Kentucky. A few English or Americans had colonized Natchez, on the Mississippi. But the settlers in Kentucky and Tennessee lived with rifle in hand, seldom safe from the attacks of the natives, and were to form in the war of independence that admirable corps of riflemen and sharp-shooters who were noted for their courage and skill from the siege of Boston to the fall of Cornwallis. The Virginians were settled in the Tennessee mountains long before the people of New York-had ventured to build a village on the shores of Lake Erie or the Pennsylvanians crossed the Alleghanies. But still even Virginia is represented to us about this period as in great part a wilderness. . In the North the line of cultivated country must be drawn along the shores of the Hudson River, omitting the dispersed settlements in two or three inland districts. The Delaware and a distance of perhaps fifty miles to the westward included all the wealth and population of Pennsylvania. The Alleghanies infolded the civilized portions of Virginia, and North and South Carolina cannot be said to have reached beyond their mountains. So slowly had the people of North America made their way from the sea-coast.

Of the inland country very little was known, while the region beyond the Mississippi was "a land of fable, where countless hosts of savages were believed to rule over endless plains and to engage in ceaseless battles." Long afterwards it was supposed that the waters of the Missouri might extend to the Pacific.

Within the cultivated district a population usually, but probably erroneously, estimated at three millions were thinly scattered over a narrow strip of land. The number can scarcely be maintained. The New England colonies could have had not more than eight hundred thousand inhabitants; the middle colonies as many more; the Southern a little over a million. New York had a population of two hundred and forty-eight thousand, and was surpassed by Virginia, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Maryland, and was at least equalled, if not exceeded, by North Carolina. Its growth had been singularly slow. The small population of the Union was composed of different races and of almost hostile communities. There was a lasting feud between the Dutch at Albany and the people of New England. . The Germans settled in Pennsylvania retained their national customs and language, and were almost an alien race. Huguenot colonies existed in several portions of the country. The north of Ireland had poured forth a stream of emigrants. Swedish settlements attracted the notice of Kalm along the Delaware. In North Carolina a clan of Highlanders had brought to the New World an intense loyalty and an extreme ignorance. The divisions of race and language offered a strong obstacle to any perfect union of the different colonies. But a still more striking opposition existed in the political institutions of the various sections. In the South, royalty, aristocracy, and the worst form of human slavery had grown up together. In no part of the world were the distinctions of rank more closely observed, or mechanical and agricultural industry more perfectly contemned. In New England the institutions were democratic, and honest labor was thought no shame. In the South episcopacy was rigidly established by law; in New England a tolerant Puritanism had succeeded the persecuting spirit of Cotton Mather and Winthrop. .

The progress of agriculture at the South was even more rapid and remarkable than at the North. The wilderness was swiftly converted into a productive region. The coast from St. Mary's to the Delaware, with its inland country, became within a century the most valuable portion of the earth. Its products were eagerly sought for in all the capitals of Europe, and one noxious plant of Virginia had supplied mankind with a new vice and a new pleasure. . Tobacco was in Virginia the life of trade and intercourse; prices were estimated in it; the salaries of the clergy were fixed at so many pounds of tobacco. All other products of the soil were neglected in order to raise the savage plant. Ships from England came over annually to gather in the great crops of the large planters, . . [and] Virginia grew enormously rich from the sudden rise of an artificial taste.

Other crops replaced tobacco farther south. In South Carolina the cultivation of rice, brought thither in 1694 from Madagascar, had become greatly developed. Indigo, sugar, molasses, tar, pitch, were other valuable Southern products, but cotton, which was destined to assume the place farther south which tobacco then held in Virginia, was as yet cultivated only in small quantities for the use of the farmers. The commercial restrictions imposed by England acted detrimentally upon American agriculture, yet it flourished in spite of them.

Pig-iron was produced to some extent in Pennsylvania and some other colonies, but for export only, not for manufacture. Coal was mined in Virginia. No conception, however, was yet attained of the vast stores of mineral wealth which slept beneath the ground, and which were destined to make the new nation immensely rich within a few generations.





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