Anglicization in the New World
Though both purported to be transplanted versions of English society, both the New England and Virginia colonial settlements differed from the home country. Factors of environment as well as those of motivation played a heavy role in the creation of the two new social orders. The nature of the settlements themselves would influence the way in which they were run; the religious basis of the New England colonies and the economic foundation of the Chesapeake were to affect their political and social institutions. In addition, environmental factors were to have a strong influence on the colonies; the commodities that could be produced in that environment as well as the regions' mortality rates affected the infrastructure of each colony. These factors interacted to produce societies with both differences and similarities from the original English social and political order.
New England, long considered the closest mirror of English society in the Americas, also had significant differences in its social and political order. In many ways, New England reflected the traditional English society. The low mortality rates and even sex ratios of the colony more or less created a demographic situation like that of England and allowed a stable patriarchal system to take root. Migration to New England was "'a voluntary exodus of families and included relatively few indentured servants.' Virtually from the beginning, therefore, the age structure and sex ratio in New England resembled those of established societies all over Western Europe far more closely than was the case with any other new societies established by the English in America during the early modern era." For this reason, parental authority remained strong, and the family played an important social role. In addition, the New England colonists distributed land according to the idea of the English village consisting of independent communities. Without a large cash crop to create a competitive environment, this goal was possible, and New England colonists strove to achieve it. The establishment of social ties, which could prove problematic in a colonial setting, was facilitated by the settlers' common Protestant belief, allowing for "well-ordered communities knit together by Christian love and composed only of like-minded people with a common religious ideology and a strong sense of communal responsibility." In these ways, New England was able to reproduce a version of English communal life.
However, while New England was able to reproduce a community system like the ideal English village, it remains doubtful whether their recreation resembled anything existing in contemporary England.
"The old image of the rural English 'village filled with with small yeoman families' is thus now being rapidly supplanted by a picture of a community 'dominated by a few large landowners, with a multitude of small producers, agricultural and otherwise' as well as large numbers of dependents, virtually all of whom, like it or not, were heavily 'involved in a capitalist and cash marketing system'... the market was central to, if not preeminent in, the lives of most Englishmen, at least in the south and west, from which most immigrants to the colonies were drawn."
English society was more commercially oriented and socially mobile than the settlements in New England. Individuals would move for reasons of subsistence or to improve their own prosperity, causing a de-emphasis on kinship ties. It must also be remembered that the settlers in New England were motivated to emigrate precisely because of their own qualms, religious and otherwise, with the society in their home country; they were not trying to recreate the society that they had lived in before, but rather were trying to build upon a traditional ideal.
"The world puritans hoped to substitute for the one in which they lived used suspicion and mutual surveillance to achieve a tight social regimen and to suppress individual deviance and sin, to exert tight control over the unruly forces of the market... This world, Hugh Kearney has remarked, was 'an idealized version of the gentry-cum-yeoman society' which the puritans thought they had seen disappearing in England."
Though the New England puritans were able to recreate an 'English' society, it was not the society that they had come from, but rather an idealized England of yeoman families.
At first glance, Virginia appears to have less of a connection to English society than New England. The society was far from stable; mortality was very high, and the unbalanced sex ratio made it so that Virginia relied on immigration to maintain a stable population. In contrast to New England, where families made up the bulk of immigrants, the vast majority of immigrants in Virginia were unmarried young men who entered into indentured servitude with the hopes that they could eventually own their own plantations. Unsurprisingly, these conditions undermined social stability and authority. "High mortality resulted in more than half of Virginia's few children living in broken families in which one or both parents were dead... the fragility of life - and fortune - in the colony meant that social and political authority was weak, impermanent, and open to change." The existence of a potentially very lucrative tobacco crop also contributed to instability and inequity. In attempting to garner large amounts of wealth, men would gamble with their resources, in marked contrast to the more stable societies of New England. Competition for the labor necessary to grow tobacco was also an important element in Virginia; individual gain took priority over the needs of the community.
"With no permanent commitment to the colony, property owners in Virginia showed little concern for the public weal of the colony and routinely sacrificed the corporate welfare to their own individual ends... Extremely reluctant to devote time or energy to any endeavor that did not contribute directly to their immediate tobacco profits, the free settlers often failed to produce enough food to feed themselves and their servants."
Thus, the colony of Virginia was distinguished for its lack of social cohesion, competitiveness, and instability.
The society built in the Chesapeake, based on economics and functioning on individual competition and greed, has several similarities to the evolving English social order. "If this new picture of English society as a dynamic, mobile, loose, open, individualistic, competitive, conflicted, acquisitive, highly stratified, and market-based society undergoing rapid economic and social change is correct, between 1630 and 1660 the Chesapeake colonies represented a much closer approximation of old England." Due to the competitiveness of the tobacco market, the high mortality rates, and the concentration of land and labor inevitable in a large-scale enterprise, Virginia lacked the social cohesiveness of New England. The mobility of labor and weak family ties mirrored certain elements of an emerging English capitalism, albeit in a more extreme and unstable form.
Both New England and Virginia created somewhat skewed visions of England; New England's vision emphasized the traditional ideal, while Virginia's embodied the mobility and competitiveness that existed in the increasingly capitalist society. Neither could provide a complete picture of England, however; the situation of each colony caused it to externalize different elements of the English social and economic order. Though English society itself never made the journey across the Atlantic, the different colonial outgrowths nonetheless possessed distinctively 'English' traits.
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