European colonization of the Southern United States

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European colonization[edit]

The predominant culture of the South was rooted in the settlement of the region by British colonists. In the seventeenth century, most voluntary immigrants were of English origins who settled chiefly along the coastal regions of the Eastern seaboard. The majority of early British settlers were indentured servants, who gained freedom after enough work to pay off their passage. The wealthier men who paid their way received land grants known as headrights, to encourage settlement.[1]

The French and Spanish established colonies in Florida, Louisiana, and Texas. The Spanish colonized Florida in the 16th century, with their communities reaching a peak in the late 17th century. In the British and French colonies, most immigrants arrived after 1700. They cleared land, built houses and outbuildings, and worked on the large plantations that dominated export agriculture. Many were involved in the labor-intensive cultivation of tobacco, the first cash crop of Virginia. With a decrease in the number of British willing to go to the colonies in the eighteenth century, planters began importing more enslaved Africans, who became the predominant labor force on the plantations. Tobacco exhausted the soil quickly, requiring new fields to be cleared on a regular basis. Old fields were used as pasture and for crops such as corn and wheat, or allowed to grow into woodlots.[2]

Also in the seventeenth century, colonists started importing African laborers. In the coastal and other settlements, early workers lived closely together in a multiracial society. Europeans married and made unions with Africans and Native Americans. The colonies gradually passed laws that hardened early conditions of indenture into lifelong racial slavery attached to African descent. Africans contributed to the economy of rice and indigo cultivation with their skilled knowledge, technology and labor, as well as to all the commodity crops; and to every aspect of culture (food, music, stories and religion).

Rice cultivation in South Carolina became another major commodity crop. Some historians have argued that slaves from the lowlands of western Africa, where rice was a basic crop, provided key skills, knowledge and technology for irrigation and construction of earthworks to support rice cultivation. The early methods and tools used in South Carolina were congruent with those in Africa. British immigrants would have had little or no familiarity with the complex process of growing rice in fields flooded by irrigation works.[3] Africans were instrumental in the development of major earthworks for cultivating these commodities, as well as in the knowledge of technology and techniques for processing. The earthworks included extensive, elaborate systems of dams and irrigation for rice.

In the mid- to late-18th century, large groups of Scots and Ulster-Scots (later called the Scots-Irish) immigrated and settled in the back country of Appalachia and the Piedmont. They were the largest group of immigrants from the British Isles before the American Revolution.[4] In a census taken in 2000 of Americans and their self-reported ancestries, areas where people reported 'American' ancestry were the places where, historically, many Scottish, Scotch-Irish and English Borderer Protestants settled in America: the interior as well as some of the coastal areas of the South, and especially the Appalachian region. The population with some Scots and Scots-Irish ancestry may number 47 million, as most people have multiple heritages, some of which they may not know.[5]

The early colonists, especially the Scots-Irish in the back-country, engaged in warfare, trade, and cultural exchanges. Those living in the backcountry were more likely to join with Creek Indians, Cherokee, and Choctaws and other regional native groups.

The oldest university in the South, The College of William & Mary, was founded in 1693 in Virginia; it pioneered in the teaching of political economy and educated future U.S. Presidents Jefferson, Monroe and Tyler, all from Virginia. Indeed, the entire region dominated politics in the First Party System era: for example, four of the first five PresidentsWashington, Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe — were from Virginia. The two oldest public universities are also in the South: the University of North Carolina (1795) and the University of Georgia (1785).


  1. ^ "Indentured Servitude in Colonial America"
  2. ^ Isaac, Rhys (1982). The Transformation of Virginia 1740-1790. University of North Carolina Press. pp. 22–23. ISBN 0-8078-4814-X. 
  3. ^ Meinig, D.W. (1986). The Shaping of America: A Geographical Perspective on 500 Years of History, Volume 1: Atlantic America, 1492-1800. Yale University Press. pp. 175–176. ISBN 0-300-03548-9. 
  4. ^ David Hackett Fischer, Albion's Seed: Four British Folkways in America, New York: Oxford University Press, 1989, pp.361-368
  5. ^ "Population by Selected Ancestry Group and Region: 2005". Retrieved 22 Aug 2006.