The defeat of the Spanish Armada and the exuberant
spirit of Elizabethan nationalism finally drew England into the colonial race.
After some early failures, the first permanent English colony was established
at Jamestown, Virginia. Initially it faced harsh conditions and Indian hostility,
but tobacco cultivation finally brought prosperity and population growth.
It also guaranteed colonists the same rights as Englishmen and developed an
early form of representative self-government.
The early encounters of English settlers with
the Powhatans in Virginia established many of the patterns that characterized
later Indian-white relations in North America. Indian societies underwent
their own substantial changes as a result of warfare, disease, trade, and
the mingling and migration of Indians from the Atlantic coast to inland areas.
Other colonies were established in Maryland
and the Carolinas. South Carolina flourished by establishing close ties with
the British sugar colonies in the West Indies. It also borrowed the West Indian
pattern of harsh slave codes and large plantation agriculture. North Carolina
developed somewhat differently, with fewer slaves and more white colonists
who owned small farms. Latecomer Georgia served initially as a buffer against
the Spanish and a haven for debtors.
Despite some differences, all the southern colonies
depended on staple plantation agriculture for their survival and on the institutions
of indentured servitude and African slavery for their labor. With widely scattered
rural settlements, they had relatively weak religious and social institutions
and tended to develop hierarchical economic and social orders.