Differences among colonial regions (2024)

Students will explore the differences among the three colonial regions of New England, Mid-Atlantic / Middle, and the Southern colonies. In small groups for each region, students will observe and note details of pictures, maps, and advertisem*nts in order to describe each region. Students will use historical reading skills to conclude how the geography and natural environment influenced the economic specialization of each region with special attention to the early colonial era. This lesson will prepare the learner for the concept of interdependence of the colonies as a result of specialization.

Historical Background

Colonial America depended on the natural environment to meet basic needs of the people and the colony. The available natural resources provided (or in essence dictated) what each region’s unique specialty would be or become. Specialized economies quickly emerged as a result of human and environmental interaction.

Colonial America also had regional differences among culture or historical reason for establishment as a colony. The Southern Colonies were established as economic ventures and were seeking natural resources to provide material wealth to the mother country and themselves. In contrast, the early New England colonists were primarily religious reformers and separatists. They were seeking a new way of life to glorify God and for the greater good of their spiritual life. The Middle colonies welcomed people from various and diverse lifestyles. The social-political structure included all three varieties: villages, cities, and small farms.

Another difference is clearly noted in the human resources. New England had skilled craftsmen in the industry of shipbuilding. The Mid-Atlantic presented a diverse workforce of farmers, fisherman, and merchants. The Southern Colonies were primarily agricultural with few cities and limited schools. As these regions developed highly specialized economies, each could not supply everything that was needed or at least not as effectively as an interdependent system – they relied on each other for certain items or skills.

New England’s economy at first specialized in nautical or boating equipment, while later the region developed mills and factories. The environment is ideal for water-powered machinery (mills), which allowed for finished products to be crafted, such as woven cloth and metal tools. The middles colonies had rich farmland and a moderate climate. This made it a more suitable place to grow grain and livestock than New England. Their environment was ideal for small to large farms. The coastal lowland and bays provided harbors, thus the middle colonies were able to provide trading opportunities where the three regions meet in market towns and cities. The Southern colonies had fertile farmlands which contributed to the rise of cash crops such as rice, tobacco, and indigo. Plantations developed as nearly subsistent communities. Slavery allowed wealthy aristocrats and large landowners to cultivate huge tracts of land. When strictly examining the geography of New England compared to the South, it is plausible that the vast space of the Southern region influenced the way it remained rural and still today holds that as a sense of pride or shared experience/identity.

Notable differences are found in the way social life was structured among regions. For the people of the South, life emerged as rugged and rural while people of the North are heavily connected to the Church and village community. These cultural differences remained and shaped some of the confrontations that needed to be addressed during the Civil War.

Lesson Objective

How did climate, geographic features, and other available resources distinguish the three colonial regions from each other?

How did people use the natural resources of their region to earn a living or have their basic needs met?

What are the benefits of specialization and trade?
How did political and social life evolve in each of the three regions?


  • Primary sources printed and divided by colonial region (southern, middle, and New England)
  • Historical Reading Skills: Student Handout


  1. Hook: Have you ever thought of living in a place that is totally different from here? like an island or a farm, in a big city or perhaps in the mountains. Take a moment to pick one place that is different from here. Describe the climate and the weather.Name some natural resources in that environment. What kind of job could you/most of your neighbors have?
  2. Model historical thinking skills: An image of the Boston map is projected and students are asked to list objects they see. Students answer the questions from their PSA question sheet (see student worksheet handout) by raising their hands. Teachers record student responses on the smart/white board. Teachers explain that some questions might not be appropriate for their picture, but the idea is to do the best they can and fill in as many details as they can.
  3. Teachers explain that students will be split into “expert groups”.
  4. Each group will have 4-5 pictures from one region.
  5. The students must work together to analyze which region they have and discuss the historical thinking questions.
  6. Students record their observations for each source on a separate chart and label/title the chart as they go.
  7. Students present their region to the class and show all of the images. A script is provided at the bottom of the student handout.


Students will demonstrate knowledge of their assigned region by creating a rough draft of a poster or brochure that will describe life in the colonial age. Students will select a region or colony to feature in a letter to a family member urging them to join the student in the new land OR create a poster/brochure that advertises the features of the region. Students will provide details on how people interacted with their environment to produce goods and services. In order to exceed the Standard, student will need to include an example of interdependence among the regional economies. The student creation will be graded on a four-point formative rubric scale.


Hyde, Sir Thomas. A Plan of the town of Boston. c. 1777? Map. Washington, D.C. From Library of Congress: Geography and Map Division http://www.loc.gov/teachers/classroommaterials/lessons/tinker/newengland_gallery.html (accessed July 20, 2012) .

Habermann, Franz Xaver. Vue de Boston. illustration. Augsbourg: 177-. From Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/pp.print (accessed on July 20, 2012).

Image of New England fishermen from a late 19th-century history book. Shows evidence of fishing industry and ruggedness of the environment. http://ushistoryimages.com/colonial-massachusetts.shtm

Tisdale, Elkanah. Town Meeting. engraving. 1795: New York. printed by John Buel, 1795. Rare Book RR Repository: Library of Congress Rare Book Division Washington, D.C. (accessed via http://archive.org/details/poeticalworksofj01trumiala on November 24, 2012)

Carwitham, J. (John). A South East View of Great Town of BOSTON in New England in America. Etching hand colored. 1730-1760? (accessed via LOCpix.app on November 24, 2012)

Hill, John. Hudson. 1792. etching. later painted by Wall, W.G. 1821-1825. New York City. http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/pp.print (accessed via LOCPix.app on November 24, 2012).

Peale, Charles Willson. The Accident in Lombard Street. 1787. Illustration. Philadelphia: From Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division. Washington, D.C. http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/93508047/ (accessed July 20, 2012).

Muchley, Robert. Pennsylvania.
Pennsylvania : WPA Federal Art Project, between 1936 and 1941. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. (accessed on July 20, 2012).

Hall, John. William Penn’s treaty with the Indians, when he founded the province of Pennsylvania in North America, 1681. painting. 1775 University of North Carolina http://www.learnnc.org/lp/multimedia/6575 Courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division. (accessed on August 25, 2012).

Kennerly, Samuel, Jr. M.D. Hermitage 26 Acres of Land. advertisem*nt. Staunton Spectator: 1867. From Duke Library Emergence of Advertising in America. http://library.duke.edu/digitalcollections/eaa/ (accessed on July 20, 2012).

The Old Plantation, c. 1790.
Credit: Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Museum, Colonial Williamsburg.

Stearns, Junius Brutus. Life of George Washington–The farmer. illlustration. Lemercier, Paris: c. 1853. From Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington D.C. http://www.loc.gov/teachers/classroommaterials/lessons/tinker/preparation.html (accessed on July 20, 2012).

Washington, George. A plan of my farm on Little Huntg. Creek & Potomk. G. W.
1732-1799. Created/published 1766. Library of Congress American Memory Collection. (accessed from LOC.gov on Nov. 24, 2012)

Differences among colonial regions (2024)
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