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Massachusetts Virginia Colonies Compare Contrast Essays

In the 16th century, the Spanish were exploring and acquiring wealth throughout the world. Because of England's recent change to the Protestant church, Spain wanted to gain a big enough army and enough wealth to dominate Europe and reclaim England in the name of the Catholic Church. England realized quickly that Spain was aiming for them, so in an effort to gain wealth, England invaded Ireland. Eventually, England realized that Ireland didn't have the wealth it needed, so they looked to colonize the New World. Besides having riches as motivation, England also had overpopulation to worry about. Sending the poor to the New World to colonize and search for riches solved all of their problems. England was a strong believer of mercantilism, which is the idea that colonists exist for the betterment of the mother country. With this in mind England had many failed attempts at colonizing the New World. It wasn't until the establishment of Jamestown in 1607 and Massachusetts Bay in 1629 that England's colonization goal began to work.

The colonies of Virginia and Massachusetts Bay are both essential to talk about when speaking of American colonial history. Being two of the first successful English colonies, they paved the way for the future of America. Even though Virginia influenced the South and Massachusetts was a model for the northern colonies, they have many crucial similarities. Their biggest similarity is they were both funded through a joint stock company, a company that increases capital for investment and lowers individual risk by having investors that own stock together. Also, the Native Americans had a large influence on each of the colonies, teaching them farming techniques and being avid trading partners.

One of Virginia's and Massachusetts' many differences lie in why they were made. Virginia was made solely because of King James. He gave a charter to the Virginia Company in 1606 and with it Jamestown was produced. Massachusetts Bay was formed primarily as a place where Puritans could practice their religion freely. They formed the Massachusetts Bay Company and between 1630 and 1640, 21,000 Puritans made the "Great Migration" journey. That is where another large difference comes in. Because of their different objectives, The Virginia Company only sent


Traveling aboard the Susan Constant, Godspeed and Discovery, 104 men landed in Virginia in 1607 at a place they named Jamestown. This was the first permanent English settlement in the New World.

Thirteen years later, 102 settlers aboard the Mayflower landed in Massachusetts at a place they named Plymouth. With these two colonies, English settlement in North America was born.


Jamestown offered anchorage and a good defensive position. Warm climate and fertile soil allowed large plantations to prosper.

Plymouth provided good anchorage and an excellent harbor. Cold climate and thin, rocky soil limited farm size. New Englanders turned to lumbering, shipbuilding, fishing and trade.


Economic motives prompted colonization in Virginia. The Virginia Company of London, organized in 1606, sponsored the Virginia Colony. Organizers of the company wanted to expand English trade and obtain a wider market for English manufactured goods. They naturally hoped for financial profit from their investment in shares of company stock.

Freedom from religious persecution motivated the Pilgrims to leave England and settle in Holland, where there was more religious freedom. However, after a number of years the Pilgrims felt that their children were being corrupted by the liberal Dutch lifestyle and were losing their English heritage. News of the English Colony in Virginia motivated them to leave Holland and settle in the New World.


Inexperience, unwillingness to work, and the lack of wilderness survival skills led to bickering, disagreements, and inaction at Jamestown. Poor Indian relations, disease, and the initial absence of the family unit compounded the problems.

Cooperation and hard work were part of the Pilgrim's lifestyle. Nevertheless, they too were plagued with hunger, disease, and environmental hazards.


The settlers at Jamestown were members of the Anglican faith, the official Church of England.

The Pilgrims were dissenters from the Church of England and established the Puritan or Congregational Church.


In 1619, the first representative legislative assembly in the New World met at the Jamestown church. It was here that our American heritage of representative government was born. Since New England was outside the jurisdiction of Virginia's government, the Pilgrims established a self-governing agreement of their own, the "Mayflower Compact."


The Virginia colonists settled in the territory of a strong Indian empire or chiefdom. English relations with the Powhatan Indians were unstable from the beginning. Vast differences in culture, philosophies, and the English desire for dominance were obstacles too great to overcome. After the Indian uprising in 1622, the colonists gave up attempts to christianize and live peacefully with the Powhatans.

Prior to the Pilgrims' arrival, an epidemic wiped out the majority of the New England Indians. Several survivors befriended and assisted the colonists. Good relations ended in 1636 when the Massachusetts Bay Puritans declared war on the Pequot Tribe and Plymouth was dragged into the conflict.


Who married Pocahontas? Some erroneously believe John Smith did. In actuality, she married John Rolfe, an Englishman who started the tobacco industry in Virginia. The John Smith connection stems from Smith's later writings relating an incidence of Pocahontas saving his life.

According to Longfellow's epic, The Courtship of Miles Standish, John Alden proposed to Priscilla Mullins on behalf of Standish and she replied, "Why don't you speak for yourself, John?" Priscilla did in fact marry John Alden at Plymouth. The records do not mention Standish ever courting Priscilla.


On December 4, 1619 settlers stepped ashore at Berkeley Hundred along the James River and, in accordance with the proprietor's instruction that "the day of our ship's arrival ... shall be yearly and perpetually kept as a day of thanksgiving," celebrated the first official Thanksgiving Day.

In the fall of 1621, the Pilgrims held a celebration to give thanks to God for his bounty and blessings. This occasion was the origin of the traditional Thanksgiving as we know it today.


The growth and development of these two English colonies, though geographically separated, contributed much to our present American heritage of law, religion, government, custom and language. As Governor Bradford of Plymouth stated,

"Thus out of small beginnings greater things have been produced by His hand that made all things of nothing, and gives being to all things that are; and as one small candle may light a thousand, so the light here kindled hath shown unto many, yea, in some sort, to our whole Nation."

The charter of the Virginia Company stated,

"Lastly and chiefly the way to prosper and achieve good success is to make yourselves all of one mind for the good of your country and your own, and to serve and fear God the giver of all goodness, for every plantation which our father hath not planted shall be rooted out."


Bradford, William. Bradford's History. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1908.

Breen, T. H. Puritans and Adventurers. New York: Oxford University Press, 1980.

Hatch, Charles. The First 17 Years. Virginia 350th Anniversary Celebration Corporation, 1957.

Jennings, Francis. The Invasion of America. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1975.

Robbins, Roland W. Pilgrim John Alden's Progress. Plymouth, Massachusetts: Pilgrim Society, 1969.

Author: Nancy Fisher
Park Ranger

1st Revision
John Short, Park Ranger

2nd Revision
Jen Loux, William and Mary Intern
November 1995