Comparing Settlement Patterns: New Spain, New France, New England


Early Spanish, French, & English permanent settlements tried to transplant European forms into the "new world" environment, in the effort to make the new world environment look like the old one.


Spanish: Following Columbus voyages to W. Indies, Spanish established sugar plantations; when Natives died imported African slave labor remaking population of Caribbean; in Mexico used Native Population to mine gold; when this population died, Spanish in SW turned to ranching and farming.  Law of the Indies (1573) royal ordinances dictated that settlements be like a Spanish village, a grid of streets around a central plaza of approx 5 1/2 acres, w/ church at one end and govt/military building at other.  Houses joined together w/common walls on plaza side.  Beyond houses were common pastures, woodlots, and private holdings assigned to each family based on military rank: 106 acres for common folk, 2200 for officers; nobility even higher.  Settlers received water for irrigation in proportion to their acreage (which was in proportion to rank).  Gates on common "acequia madre" w/ time you were allowed to open them to your fields strictly regulated (2-4 hours flow).  [interestingly,, Native Americans had also irrigated to grow corn, beans, and squash and Spanish followed and incorporated Native American networks into their own.] Traditions of government regulating land and water use brought from Spain; if you wanted to settle in New Spain you had to abide by its strict rules.  Irrigation needs kept Spanish SW settlements clustered; Spanish towns such as Santa Fe well established long before Quebec or Jamestown.


French: hoped to find gold down St. Lawrence river and along Great Lakes, but developed fishing and fur trading posts instead,  trading w/Micmacs.  By 1663 there were approximately 2500 French in Canada, mostly in Quebec, Trois-Rivieres, and Montreal.  French pattern of living in cities along St. Lawrence River trade route w/ very little permanent settlement elsewhere.


NOTE: one major way that these Spanish and French settlements differed from those in Europe is sex ratio--they were approx 90% male.  Both Spanish and French had considerable trade with Native population and contacts resulted in substantial metis and mestizo populations. 


English: followed two different patterns of settlement: plantations in Chesapeake and Carolinas and family farms in New England and Middle Colonies.


          Chesapeake: Virginia Company of London established 1606 to extract gold from Virginia, created outpost in Jamestown in 1607.  Unable to find gold, but in 1612 English began planting tobacco.  By 1617 70,000 lbs/yr.; 1638 3,000,000 lbs; by 1700 30,000,000 lbs; by 1775 100,000,000 lbs. (accounted for 27% of total value of American exports on eve of Revolution).  Tobacco very labor and soil intensive: cultivation required 9 months of labor/yr, and soils would only produce tobacco for about 5 years before exhausting.  As in Caribbean, scarcity of labor led to importation of African slave population, as well as to use of indentured labor and headright system (to encourage population growth).  Indentures: company paid for passage in return for 7 years labor.  headrights: anyone who arrived granted 100 acres, anyone who sent someone over granted 50 acres.  Thus: poor could indenture themselves and get 100 acres at end of 7 years (betting that they would live--btw 1607-24, 80% of Virginia colonists died (1/3 Jamestown killed in Powhattan raid of 1622)., At same time, wealthy in england could send four people over and get 200 acre plantation.  RESULT of these land systems combined with demands of tobacco agriculture and geography of Chesapeake region (wide, navigable rivers) to create very dispersed population in contrast to Spanish or French.


NOTE: while Chesapeake offered economic opportunity to landless in early modern England displaced by commercial revolution, huge differences in extent of land holdings from outset between those who labored and those who could afford to purchase labor.  By 1700 the top 10% of Chesapeake population owned over 1/2 acreage and 2/3 total wealth.


          Carolinas: like Chesapeake, also developed plantation agriculture.  Earliest English settlers in Carolinas came from Barbados where they had run sugar plantations along Spanish model with African slaves.  Sugar did not do well in Carolinas, but west African slaves planters brought with them introduced new crop--rice--which was Carolinas major export throughout 18C.


By contrast, family farm (with children providing labor rather than slaves or indentures) became prevailing mode of agricultural production in English middle colonies and New England.  Note: plantations w/slavery and indentures did exist in tobacco regions of Northeast, such as Hudson River Valley and CT River Valley.


          Mid-Atlantic colonies topography and navigable rivers led to dispersed settlement pattern.  Pennsylvania had reputation as "best poor man's country" and for most of 18C had no trouble attracting settlement.  Was "breadbasket" of Colonial America like Iowa or Kansas today.  Dutch in New York, Welsh and Swedes in PA, plus communal settlements of religious dissenters--Moravians from Germany--meant that look of land varied with diverse building practices (stone barns) and cultivation methods settlers brought with them from Europe.  Pattern repeated itself in mid-late 19C with German and Scandinavian immigrants farmers in the upper midwest.


          Of course, family farms grouped around religious community was main pattern in 17C New England.  Biggest difference between New England and colonies to the south was that while Chesapeake and Carolinas were in many ways extension of commercial revolution of early modern england, puritan settlements were not only an extension of it (Massachusetts Bay Company) but also a reaction against it.  In many ways, their model community very much resembled medieval village in settlement pattern, ties of religious obligation, and especially effort to regulate individual social and economic behavior.  Earliest Massachusetts towns had nucleated settlement with outlying fields and common pastureland at the time when pastures were being fenced and enclosed in old England.  John Winthrop was "setting the price" in Massachusetts long after "free market" forces had obliterated this practice in Old England.  Desire to live close together meant concentrated settlement--in 17C town held all land and dispersed it according to need.


NOTE also that New England farmers traded with Native population to an extent--but the large numbers of Puritan women who crossed the Atlantic early on meant less "intercourse" (in all senses of the word) with Native population compared to French and Spanish settlements (which were 90% male).  


New England also traded with England (timber, fish, furs)--but primary goal of Colony was self-sufficiency, and this was replicated, to an extent still hotly debated by historians, at the village and family farm level.  This meant that while Chesapeake and Carolinas were transforming huge tracts of land to produce tobacco and rice for market, New England and Middle Colony farmers were growing cereals and staples similar to what they would be growing in England, and producing items for local trade. Certainly inland, if anywhere, we might find the "subsistence" family farm that Carolyn Merchant describes on pp. 157-63 of text (and that she describes at length in Ecological Revolutions book).