Fun Facts of the Southern Colonies for Your History Lesson!

for history teachers fun & interesting facts the 13 colonies
Interesting Facts on the Southern Colonies!

Take your history students back in time to the southern plantations of Virginia Colony, on down to the small farms of Georgia Colony and everything else in between with these fun and amusing facts about each of the Southern Colonies!


The cultural, societal, and traditional diversity of the Southern Colonies had a significant impact on the development of the 13 original colonies and the emergence of the United States of America during the American Revolution. Unlike the New England colonies or the Middle colonies, the Southern colonies had a natural environment well-suited for agriculture. From the lush mountains of Virginia to the humid Atlantic coasts of Georgia and South Carolina, an ample amount of fertile land in conjunction with a long growing season gave way to the enduring legacy of the colonial South. Dominated by agriculture and heavily influenced by wealthy white colonists, who erected and owned large farms known as "plantations," while many others lived on their own smaller farms, ignite your students' curiosity and learning with the fun and interesting facts below which delve deeper into the rich history of the Southern Colonies!


The Southern Colonies:

Virginia, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia



Overview: Established in 1607, the colony of Virginia included the first permanent settlement to be established by the British in America, Jamestown. The English colonists who settled in Virginia faced many challenges, including conflicts with the local Native Americans (whose land they were encroaching upon) and harsh environmental conditions, but they were eventually able to establish a successful colony.


Here are some lesser known fun facts your students might not know about this first colony:


In the 17th century, Virginia colonists used tobacco as currency

Today, we use bills, coins and credit or debit cards to buy things. However, in colonial Virginia, tobacco was so valuable that it was often used as currency. Colonists would trade their tobacco for goods and services, and sometimes even pay taxes with it. Because tobacco was so important to Virginia's economy, it was designated as the colony's official currency in 1619.



Four of the first five presidents of the United States were born in Colonial Virginia

Colonial Virginia would serve as the birthplace for four of the first five presidents of the United States: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and James Monroe. Only John Adams (the second U.S. President) was born elsewhere (Adams was from Massachusetts). These four men-- Washington, Jefferson, Madison and Monroe-- worked together throughout the American Revolutionary War era, including making significant contributions to the creation of the Continental Congress, the Declaration of Independence, and the U.S. Constitution, as well as later serving as presidents.



The Virginia House of Burgesses was the first representative assembly in the American colonies

The Virginia House of Burgesses-- originally established with the first meeting of the Virginia General Assembly at Jamestown in July 1619-- was the first democratically-elected legislative body in the British American colonies. The House of Burgesses was made up of elected representatives from different areas of the colony, and it had the power to make laws and levy taxes.



John Smith, Pocahontas and John Rolfe were not just characters in a Disney movie 

When English settlers arrived in what is now known as Virginia in 1607, two important figures aided in establishing the colonial settlement there: John Smith and John Rolfe. John Smith was bold and adventurous, and became the leader of the colony. He famously helped to establish trade relationships with the local Native American peoples, including the Powhatan peoples, which helped the settlers survive in their new environment. John Rolfe was a tobacco farmer who introduced a new strain of tobacco to the colony that became very popular, and the cultivation of tobacco became a crucial element in the colony's economic growth. John Rolfe also married Pocahontas, the daughter of Powhatan who was the powerful ruler of thirty or more Algonquin-speaking tribes who lived in the area. The marriage of Rolfe to Pocahontas helped to ease tensions between the settlers and the Native Americans. Together, Smith, Pocahontas and Rolfe played important roles in the settlement of Virginia and helped to lay the foundation for future growth and success.




Overview: In 1632, the colony of Maryland was founded following a grant by King Charles I to Cecilius Calvert, the Baron of Baltimore. The colony was named in honor of Queen Henrietta Maria, the wife of Charles I. Maryland would eventually become one of the few predominantly Catholic regions among the English colonies in North America. Maryland was also one of the key destinations where the government sent tens of thousands of English convicts, who were sentenced to "transportation" for their crimes-- which meant being sent to the colonies, away from their families and home-- a practice that would persist until the Revolutionary War.


Maryland was founded as a refuge for English Catholics

Maryland was founded in 1634 by Lord Baltimore, a Catholic nobleman, as a refuge for English Catholics who were facing persecution in their own country. In 1649, the Maryland Act of Toleration in order to safeguard religious freedom and promote religious tolerance for all Christians, both Catholic and Protestant. The colony soon became one of the few places in the world where Catholics and Protestants could worship together in peace. However, those of different religions (other than Christianity) enjoyed no such protections for their religious beliefs, despite the passage of the Maryland Act.



The original capital of the Maryland colony was St. Mary's

St. Mary's was the fourth oldest permanent settlement in the British colonies. By 1694, the capital of the colony was relocated to Annapolis, along the Chesapeake Bay, and continues to serve as the capital of the state of Maryland today. Annapolis is home to the State House, the oldest state capitol that is still in use for legislative purposes.




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North Carolina

Overview: King Charles II created the original land grant that established the colony of Carolina, which would eventually split into North Carolina and South Carolina, in 1663. North and South Carolina were split into two colonies in 1712, but firm boundaries between the two Carolinas would not be agreed upon until 1735. North Carolina’s economic and population growth was hampered by a number of factors, including restrictions on their ability to ship tobacco (imposed by their colonial neighbor, Virginia), by economic and religious quarrels that led to several uprisings, by war with the Tuscarora people (1711–13), and by coastal piracy. Unlike other colonies, which had coastal towns that represented the first settlements, North Carolina had no town until Bath was incorporated in 1705.


North Carolina almost had the first English colonial settlement in the Americas... years earlier than the establishment of Jamestown, Virginia in 1607

Roanoke was a settlement established by English explorers in the late 16th century, but it has come to be known as the "Lost Colony" due to its mysterious disappearance. In 1587, a group of about 115 colonists, including women and children, set sail from England to establish a settlement on Roanoke Island, just off the shores of what is now North Carolina. The leader of the expedition, John White, left to gather supplies from England and when he returned three years later, the colony had vanished without a trace. The only clue left behind was the word "Croatoan" carved into a post, which may have been a reference to a nearby island or Native American tribe.


The fate of the settlers remains a mystery to this day, and their disappearance has captured the imagination of many people. Some theories suggest that they were absorbed into Native American tribes, while others suggest that they perished due to disease, famine, or conflict with the indigenous people. Whatever the cause of their disappearance, the story of the Lost Colony continues to intrigue and mystify people of all ages. 



The coastal inlets and islands of North Carolina was a safe haven for a number of pirates in the 17th and 18th Centuries

One of the most notable pirates who prowled the waters off off the coast of North Carolina was Edward Teach, better known as Blackbeard. According to legend, Blackbeard had a hideout on Ocracoke Island, where he stored his treasure and planned his attacks on other ships. Famous for a rich, dark beard that covered almost his entire face, Blackbeard would often tie slow burning matches or hemp to the ends of his beard and under his captain’s hat, so that smoke billowed out and around his face. He added to his alarming appearance by wearing a crimson coat and carrying two swords on his waist, along with pockets stuffed with an array of pistols and knives.


Blackbeard’s Reign of Fear would last for several years, including a weeklong blockade of the port of Charleston, South Carolina in May of 1718. During the blockade, he commanded over three hundred pirates and had come into possession of several ships, which he used to line up across the bay in Charleston. The city would be held hostage for several weeks, with Blackbeard and his men demanding food, money, and other supplies as payment. While Blackbeard horrified the people of the surrounding colonies, North Carolinians enjoyed buying goods at discounted prices from him, which he had stolen from ships.


Shortly after the siege, Blackbeard actually surrendered to the Governor of North Carolina, Charles Eden, and promised to end his life of piracy. For a while, he settled in the city of Bath, and married a local woman (who was rumored to be his thirteenth or fourteenth wife). However, Edward Teach's reform from dread pirate to quiet citizen of Bath was incredibly short lived. He returned to piracy, terrorizing ships and sailors, before finally being captured and executed in late 1718.




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South Carolina

Overview: Established as part of the Carolinas as part of a grant issued by King Charles II, major settlement in what would become South Carolina began around 1651. While the northern half of the colony (North Carolina) attracted frontiersmen from Pennsylvania and Virginia, the area that would soon become South Carolina was populated primarily by wealthy Englishmen and women, who set up large plantations that were dependent on the labor of enslaved peoples. Due to the warm climate and lengthy growing season, the plantations of South Carolina grew tobacco, cotton, rice, and indigo.


The colony of South Carolina became independent from its northern neighbor in 1712. The capital city of Charleston, established in 1680, became a major port for maritime traffic on the Atlantic Ocean. Indigo, rice and Sea Island cotton were the colony's primary cash crops and they were exported to other colonies, as well as to Great Britain. As a result, South Carolina soon became one of the most prosperous of the colonies. The colony enjoyed a strong colonial government that fought wars with the local Native American peoples, as well as with the Spanish imperial outposts located just to their south in Florida, while also being capable of fending off the threat of pirates.


At one point, the colony of South Carolina had a pirate for a governor

In 1736, the British appointed former pirate Thomas Nairne as governor of South Carolina. Nairne had been a member of Blackbeard's crew (until Blackbeard was captured and executed in 1718). Nairne had even been captured and imprisoned by the British, before turning his back on piracy and becoming a loyal subject of the Crown.



The Stono Rebellion: the largest enslaved peoples rebellion in British North America

In 1739, a group of slaves in the colony of South Carolina rose up in rebellion against plantation owners and slaveholders. The revolt began on the Stono River, where a group of enslaved people armed themselves and began marching south toward Florida, where they believed the Spanish would offer them freedom. The rebellion was quickly put down by a militia of white settlers, but it resulted in the deaths of about 25 white people and 50 slaves. The revolt remains an important moment in the history of enslavement in America and a reminder of the brutal realities of life for enslaved peoples during the colonial era.



Home of the first successful library in the colonies

The first successful public library in the American colonies was established in Charleston, South Carolina. In 1698, a group of Charlestonians (the term used to describe citizens of Charleston) organized the Library Society of Charleston, which became the first lending library in the colonies. Members paid a fee to borrow books, and the library's collection eventually grew to include thousands of volumes. The library still exists today and is one of the oldest cultural institutions in the United States.




Overview: Georgia would be the last of the original thirteen colonies established by the British along the Atlantic coast of America. Founded in 1732, the colony's charter was granted to General James Oglethorpe by King George II. The colony would be named "Georgia" in George II's honor.


General Oglethorpe was a staunch opponent of enslavement, and originally, the practice of slavery was outlawed in Georgia from 1732 - 1751. However, in 1751, Ogelthorpe's charter to govern the colony was not renewed, and the colony became a province of the British Crown. As such, the practice of slavery became legal in Georgia. By the time of the Revolutionary War, a number of large plantations had been established across the colony, and it was much like its more northern neighbor colonies, South Carolina and Virginia.


The colony was originally founded as a "second chance" colony for debtors

Georgia was originally intended to be a colony for debtors (a person who owed a large sum of money, and could even go to prison for not being able to pay it back). In 1732, British philanthropist James Oglethorpe founded the colony of Georgia as a haven for debtors who had been imprisoned in England. Oglethorpe believed that many debtors were actually honest people who had fallen on hard times, and he wanted to give them a fresh start in a new land. Although the colony eventually became more diverse, it was originally settled by a large number of debtors seeking a second chance.



Georgia was home to the first successful agricultural experimentation in the United States

In 1733, James Oglethorpe brought over a group of Italian farmers who experimented with various crops and farming techniques in Savannah. They successfully grew crops like grapes and olives, which were not typically grown in the British colonies at the time. Their work helped to establish Georgia as an agricultural powerhouse and paved the way for other agricultural innovations in the United States.



From Sir Walter Raleigh at Roanoke and the first permanent English Settlement of Jamestown, to the royal charter that allowed James Oglethorpe to establish a new British colony just north of Spanish Florida to serve as a buffer between the English and Spanish colonial empires in North America, the Southern colonies cultural, economic, and societal history during the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth century is a crucial component of United States history.


I hope the facts that I've provided in this article are useful for your history class and help spark some lively discussions amongst your students!


Many of my personally-designed and built out U.S. history curriculum bundles incorporate the use of many of the interesting and amusing facts explored in this article!



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