Chp 4

How did the numbers and condition of women affect family life and society in New England, the South, and African-American slaves? Compare and contrast these three groups and describe each group's dominant characteristics and how they became distinct in character.


The numbers in women affected family life in New England, Southern, and African-American society due to their ability to reproduce and create families. Each area had their own advantages and disadvantages, ranging from disease to differing life styles. No matter the situation, each area was directly affected by the role of women as the leaders of the family.

In the South the reproduction rate was very slow, especially in the Chesapeake area, due to disease.  The woman that survived were few and outnumbered by men six to one in the beginning of the seventeenth century.  Only did odds improve to three men per every two women towards the end of the century.  As the colonies struggled onward in their development eventually generations of natives to the Chesapeake are were able to acquire immunity to the diseases such as malaria, dysentery, and typhoid.  The presence of more women allowed for reproduction causing more families to form.  Eventually the South could grow upon its own birthrate.

African-Americans did not suffer disease to the extent of the southerners, and unlike the women of the South, there was not a deficit of African women.  Initially, the only reason there were a lack of families was because of the distance between plantations, but as planting was more widely adopted by colonists, farm land became closer in proximity allowing for more contact of friends and family.  This only occurred in the North, further towards the South there was more isolation and virtually no contact between slaves on separate plantations.  In the North the female population began to rise, and just as the women population in the Chesapeake, were enabled reproduction through their own fertility.

In contrast with the people of the Chesapeake, New Englanders tended to migrate not as individuals but as families.  The population never suffered the prospect of severe disease and had always grown from its natural own natural reproductive increase due to the remarkably fertile people.  Early marriages encouraged the prolific birthrate.  Women of New England generally wed by their early twenties and produced children every two to three years after marriage until menopause.  Childbearing became the cause of death of many women, thus it became feared.  Many women would end up raising children until their death.  However, in the colonies to the North disease was not a major threat, so the longevity of New Englanders contributed to family stability; this invented the notion of grandparents.

Disadvantages for women in the South included the hardships caused by disease paled in comparison to those of the African Americans. Up north, the situation was different due to the different life styles and the different emphasis changed the effects on the women. Nonetheless, the increase in the number of women and their conditioning allowed for a more prosperous society, in both the facets of the family life and the public life. Having a leader in the family and more children allowed for a greater emphasis to be placed on the education and leading a healthier and better life.  

The main disadvantage of women in the South was the hardships caused by disease in contrast to the African-Americans.


In the early years of American History women played an extremely important role.  Women helped the area to produce family ties of different strengths.  These family ties in the South, New England, and in the African-American slave areas influenced their population and even cultures.  

            The Southern people had very weak family ties due to many factors.  There were very few women living in the South, causing it to be hard to form many marriages.  Those few marriages only lasted about seven years because of the deaths of spouses.  Most children grew up with only one parent.  Few families were able to grow because of the lack of women and because of diseases.  There were many girls who became pregnant before marriage.  All of these hardships contributed to the weak family ties in the South.  After the people were able to develop immunities to the deadly diseases, more families were able to form, allowing the population to rise.

            The Slaves who lived in the Chesapeake area had relatively close family ties, especially when compared to the family ties of the people in the South.  They had a much larger population of women, making it easier to find spouses.  When these families had children in America, a unique African-American slave culture was created.  This culture included different speech, religion, and folkways.  They created an entirely new speech known as Gullah.  Some words from this language can still be seen in the languages of Americans today. 

            The New England area seemed to have the best family ties out of the three.  New Englanders immigrated to this area as families rather than as individuals.  Women usually were married by their early twenties, and would have a child about every two years thereafter.  Raising these many children was a full time job for the New England woman.  New England had close family ties since women there were able to live longer and raise children.  All people in the New England area had a very long life span that is almost equivalent to the life span of people today. 

            The New England women and the women in the South had different rights.  Since southern families were fragile, a woman needed to have better economic security if the husband died.  Women were allowed to inherit their husband’s estates after the spouse’s death.  New England women were forced to give up their property rights after marriage.  Lawmakers there believed that a woman’s separate property right would destroy the marriage.  However a woman would receive the property of her husband if she became a widow. 

            The women in these three places would help produce either strong family ties, or weak family ties.  The strong family ties in New England allowed them to prosper and to have a higher population while the weak family ties in the South caused there to be a small population.  The strong family ties of the slaves helped produce a new culture that would be seen throughout the rest of American history.       


The numbers and condition of women greatly affected family life and society in New England, the South and among African-American slaves, yet for each group the ways in which they affected society were greatly varied.  New England society was fairly stable, Southern society was less stable, and African American society was least stable of all.

New England families were very stable because the people lived to old ages and women were always pregnant. They might even be pregnant every two to three years until menopause. In fact, women were so fertile that they came to fear pregnancy as they aged because they could die during childbirth. It is also said, because of their longevity, that New Englanders “invented” grandparents. The stable family environment was nurturing to children and their upbringing was reflected in the strong, tranquil social structure of colonial New England. The women’s fertility affected New England’s future economic system because the larger more concentrated population set the stage for industrial centers for the nation.

The Chesapeake area of the South was a very hostile environment for families. There were very few women, and most men died young and without a mate. The harsh region contributed to the low fertility rate. It was rare that children grew up with both parents and about a third of women were already pregnant when they wed. Once a generation was born immune to the harsh diseases that ran rampant in the area, the stage was set for family life. Although the population of women was growing, at the start of the 18th century, men still outnumbered women three to two. Since the families were smaller and fewer children meant fewer workers for the family plantation, the economy was dependant upon slave labor.

In the Deep South, family life was hard for slaves because plantations were great distances apart, labor was very physically demanding and there were few women. The climate was so hostile that the only thing that sustained the slave population was new imports.  In comparison to the Deep South, the slaves in the Chesapeake region did not face such difficult lives. The work wasn’t as grueling, plantations were larger and closer together, and population of slave women was on the rise. Where larger plantations were in existence, the closeness of the plantations allowed visiting between the slaves, which in turn led to the formation of families. These families may have had parents at different plantations, or a rich owner might have bought their slave’s mate to reproduce more slaves. The slave population grew the most from its own reproduction, which was unlike past slaves. The contact between friends and family members allowed for a distinct slave culture to form. Its mixture of African and American cultures gave lasting contributions to American culture such as words that came from their own language, Gullah.  In addition the slaves began the tradition of verbal and physical responses to preachers, musical instruments such as the banjo and bongo, and the foundations for jazz. A couple of words that we use today from Gullah are gumbo and voodoo. The tradition of responding to preachers dates back to the ringshout, a West African religious dance done by replying to the preacher’s shouts while “shuffling” in a circle.

  The numbers and conditions of women generally improved family life and society in these three groups. With the increase of women, population increased as did the importance of family life. The conditions of women were often a result of their numbers. In New England Women were usually married by the time they were in their early twenties and would bear at least ten children, and raise around eight. Women would devote their lives to child-raising, and children were raised in nurturing environments. Although they had an important role in the home, in society they were still considered inferior. Because of this emphasis on family, they were deprived of separate rights of ownership from their husbands, since that would recognize division between husband and wife. In the South, family life was slightly different. Families were usually smaller, and because of disease life expectancy, particularly for men, was much lower. However, because so many women were made widows, there were laws created which allowed them property rights after the death of their husbands, rights which the women of New England were denied. African American slaves also benefited from the increase in the female population. The first slaves brought to America were mostly men and they were usually placed on farms and plantations that too far to allow communication between one another. As more female slaves were brought into the country, the slave population of slaves grew. With the growing population slaves created a distinctive new society that combined ideals and traditions from their native lands with the American way of life. In all three groups women were significant to society, but they still were not considered to have as much worth as a man. With the country developing its own identity separate from that of England, new ideas were being introduced. Some women now expected to be treated with more equality, and although they were not completely taken seriously, there were measures taken to protect them, such as right to inherit property and protection against brutality. For all three groups the women proved that there was strength in numbers.

Women affected the family life and society in New England, the South, and with the African-American slaves.  The group with the most respect for women were the African American slaves.  They were the only group living in the new world that treated the women of their clan as equals and human beings.  People of the New England colonies were the next in line.  Although women didn’t matter much in the New England colonies, they were regarded in a higher esteem than the women of the south.  The southern colonies were not family oriented, nor did they have any respect for their women or slaves.

          The New England lifestyle was much different from that of the south.  The denizens of New England lived longer and healthier lives than the inhabitants of the Southern colonies.  Also, because the New England families came to the new world as a family unit, they were much more centered on keeping the family happy.  This was not so in the South.  The job of women in New England was to marry young and start having children.  They married in their 20’s and had children until they weren’t able to anymore.  The thought that most children died at birth was quite a hyperbolization.  About eight out of every ten children lived after their birth.  Children were taught to be polite and social at a young age.  Not only did the mothers and fathers help raise a child, the grandparents did as well.  It is often said that New England families “invented the grandparent”.  Above all else in New England, the integrity of marriage was fought for.  In the South, women were allowed to own separate estates in the chance that their husband should die.  This was unheard of in New England.

          The Deep South was among one of the last places a slave wanted to be.  Slaves were treated much harsher in the southern colonies than anywhere else.  The slaves in the Chesapeake area was one of the only slave societies to “perpetuate itself” by natural reproduction.  This was due to the closeness of the tobacco plantations.  The slaves were given more space to interact with their family and friends.  Slaves along the Virginia coastline developed their own language, called Gullah.  In 1712, in New York City a slave revolt occurred which resulted in the death of many whites and about 21 slaves.  This happened again in South Carolina in 1739. 

          The Southern colonies were the least forgiving parts of the New World.  The people of the Deep South treated slaves with utter hatred.  The ways that slaves were treated in the south were unlike anywhere else.  The southern colonies were definitely an African-American’s nightmare.  The south was much less family- oriented than the New England colonies.  Since most of the people of the south didn’t come to the new world as a family, life was not family centered.  The women were expected to marry young and have many children, just as it was expected in the New England colonies.


The Regionally Diverse Woman
Women have had a distinct family-oriented role for centuries.  This role has dictated a woman’s role in society- whether it is in the home or the workplace.  Women of seventeenth century colonial America had an apparent role, also.  This varied, based on societal influences and social acceptances.  The Southern, New England, and African American slave women all contributed to their own societies in similar, yet different ways, based on their cultural differences.  Regionalism, as well as existing circumstances within the society, strongly influenced the ways in which women were treated, as well as their dominant characteristics.

Women in the Chesapeake Bay colonies, although a scarcity because of disease-induced death, were an integral component in the South’s male dominated society.  Because of the lack of women, and the high demand for them from the men, women did not stay single for extended periods of time.  Sadly, most marriages did not last long, due to untimely death of one, if not both partners; which caused children to be raised in broken homes.  Most children were not raised with both a mother and a father, and virtually no one had grandparents.  This lack of parental control and order within the society caused the children to be unruly, and thus increased the amount of pregnancies out of wedlock.  The woman was also becoming quite a commodity in the eyes of the Southern men. 

Contrary to the Southern society, the New Englanders were thriving.  Healthy crops and high-quality living conditions allowed New England women marry young, and to rear many children, which caused an almost immediate population surge in the North.  With so many children being born, many women died at childbirth.  This caused widespread fear among women.  If the mother of the family died, then the father would quickly remarry, and have children with his second wife.  The family, however, was the center of the New England society.  Children were taught to be respectful of others, and maintain the utmost obedience.  Quite unlike Southern society, the most New England children grew up having grandparents to aid their parents in the upbringing process.  It was said that “New England invented Grandparents.”

The African American slaves were oppressed throughout the country, because they were deliberately taken from their homes and removed from their society, cultures and way of life.  Initially, when slaves were taken from Africa, to join the slave trade, men were most frequently brought to other parts of the globe.  But, by 1720, the amount of females in the South began to rise, which caused to a slow increase in the African American population.  The women were needed in order for other African Americans to be born.  This increase in population caused the African culture to assimilate to the American culture, and thus brought about many unique contributions to the American society.  This assimilation and amelioration of the American society was due, in large part, to the African women.  The African woman’s role was much the same as that of the Southern and New England woman’s role, in that she was the deciding factor in the culture and the closeness of the family.  She caused population to increase and children to be raised if she was so able.  The woman was an irreplaceable component in the colonial times.

The woman’s role in seventeenth century colonial times was varied, depending on the region in which she was living.  Health and cultural circumstances were what constituted this role.  The Southern, New England and African American women each contributed their own attributes to the society in which they lived.