What Our Homes Tell Us What Our Homes Tell Us Our nation was built on ideals of freedom and prosperity for those settlers who wished to journey to a new land. Part of that prosperity was in preparing a home for themselves and their families. Homes tell rich stories about society and the values and principles within that society. The hovel-to-house home patterns that exist in the early stages of our historical development show the regional and social differences between the people settling the America’s. In studying the housing of our ancestors we can discover what types of resources were available at the time, the priorities of the time, family make-ups, permanence of people, and what type of skilled workers were available within a geographic zone. We also can learn about the hardships that may have been endured. When studying the housing differences between colonial New England and the Chesapeake Bay region of our country we discover a sharp contrast in the time frame within which people built and made substantial dwellings for themselves and their families.
The Chesapeake Bay region remained largely made up of shanties, lean-tos, and rough simple cabins for nearly one century as opposed to New England where by the 1680’s many settlers had built strong dwellings of finished brick and timber. The reason for the differences between these two regions lies in the economics and family structures of the immigrants. In the Chesapeake region the men outnumbered the woman and disease killed many settlers in the area. Families were rendered unstable and stunted. The New England region, however, was rich with intact families that were hearty and healthy. Survival in New England was easier and the family unit was essential in strengthening the Puritan’s colonies. Also in the Chesapeake regions were the tobacco growers. A large stable dwelling was not the focus of their settlements.
The number of slaves one could put to work and the amount of tobacco one could produce determined position in the Chesapeake area. A settler was much more likely to spend any extra money he had on a new slave rather than a more comfortable living environment. Families were a pieced together collage of widows, orphans, and stepchildren. This region was plagued with death and lack of permanence. Some historians argue that the south was also “lazy” and had not desire to build more permanent housing.
It is also true that tobacco only thrived on fresh land so relocating was probably common among the tobacco growers of the Chesapeake area. New England’s puritan population was thriving. The accumulation of wealth and the stability of the family determined social status. The Puritans were after a Utopia in which the intact family played a large role. The goal of the Puritan settlements was a long and carefully thought out plan of purity and permanence. The puritans came with and intent of staying and thriving by any means possible.
The Chesapeake Bay people came seeking immediate wealth and riches. The Puritans had many skilled artisans and a very productive work ethic. They believed that by working on their homes, families, town, etc., they were doing God’s work and they were closer to reaching their pure Utopia. The people of the Chesapeake had to economize any wealth toward the purchase of fieldhands. The Puritans were a self-sufficient society, which did not have slaves. The economy was not based on how many people were working the fields.
As we analyze the housing in both these regions we see how large an effect the social values and principles of a people can affect the quality of life of those people. Both these groups of people were seeking entirely different things from the America’s. Success came later for the people in the Chesapeake region because they had to emerge from a long period in which men outnumbered women and disease was rampant. Once these factors were under control and eliminated then the Chesapeake colonies began to see more permanence and less suffering. Families were able to grow and people were able to diversify and delve in industries other than tobacco. This region began building more substantial housing and dwellings after about 1720.
New Englanders were permanently established and settled by this time. In studying the past we can compare to present day the values and ideals that were present 200 to 300 years ago. Today we see that people still show their wealth by buying and displaying wealth. Houses are not merely a place to eat and sleep but also a showcase for ones material success and prosperity. Bibliography .
Nash, Jeffrey ,Howe Frederick, Davis, and Winkler, The American People,Addison Wessley Educational Publishers, 1998 History Essays.