Chesapeake Colonies

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CHESAPEAKE COLONIES, Maryland and Virginia, grew slowly from 1607 to 1630 due to the low-lying tidewater's highly malignant disease environment. Stagnant water, human waste, mosquitoes, and salt poisoning produced a mortality rate of 28 percent. Within three years of coming to the colony, 40 to 50 percent of the indentured servants, who made up the majority of the population, died from malaria, typhus, and dysentery before finishing their contracts. By 1700, settlement patterns tended toward the healthier Piedmont area, and the importation of slaves directly from Africa boosted the population.

As the tobacco colonies' populations increased, so did their production of tobacco, their principal source of revenue and currency. Plantations were set out in three-to-ten-acre plots for tobacco along the waterways of Maryland and Virginia, extending almost 200 miles in length and varying from 3 to 72 miles in width, which gave oceangoing ships access to almost 2,000 miles of waterways for transporting hogsheads of tobacco. Ship captains searched throughout Chesapeake Bay for the larger planters' wharves with storehouses, called factories, to buy tobacco for merchants. Small planters also housed their crops at these large wharves. Planters turned to corn and wheat production in the eighteenth century.

The county seat remained the central aspect of local government, yet it generally held only a courthouse, an Anglican church, a tavern, a country store, and a sparse number of homes. A sense of noblesse oblige was conserved within the church government and the militia. Books and pamphlets imported from London retained the English culture and a sense of civic responsibility.


Finlayson, Ann. Colonial Maryland. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1974.

Kulikoff, Allan. Tobacco and Slaves: The Development of Southern Cultures in the Chesapeake, 1680–1800. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1986.

Meyer, Eugene L. Chesapeake Country. New York: Abbeville, 1990.

Morgan, Phillip D. Slave Counterpoint: Black Culture in the Eighteenth-Century Chesapeake and Low country. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1998.

Michelle M.Mormul

See alsoMaryland ; Virginia ; Virginia Company of London ; andvol. 9:An Act Concerning Religion ; Speech of Powhatan to John Smith ; Starving in Virginia, 1607–1610 .