Southern Colonies

Various factors, such as its agricultural dependence and plantation culture, deterred a strong sense of community in the South. These factors, along with a sparse population spread over a wide geographical area, worked against the development of formal education and led to the frequent use of tutors, mostly for the children of the elite. This was in marked contrast to New England, where education was largely driven by community cohesiveness and the Calvinist belief that Christian training was essential for the good of the community. Eventually, however, formal education emerged in certain areas of the South, mainly through the enactment of laws in Virginia and North Carolina requiring orphans and poor children to receive apprentice training in the trades as well as in reading and writing. Beyond these measures, the state exerted little influence over education. Private denominational (charity) schools also sprang up, largely supported by private endowments or gifts.

Though Southern efforts at formal education paled in comparison to the New England system, Southern education was nonetheless steeped in religious instruction. Indeed, early sources confirm that "the most prominent characteristic of all the early colonial schooling was the predominance of the religious purpose in instruction This insistence on the religious element was more prominent in Calvinistic New England than in the colonies to the south, but everywhere, during the early colonial period, the religious purpose was dominant. There was scarcely any other purpose in the maintenance of elementary schools." Virtually every school owed its existence to a religious purpose. In the absence of such purpose, many believe, the cause of education would have greatly diminished. And this religious motive for maintaining schools, though waning somewhat, continued to be dominant through the Revolutionary War, after which it began to decline.

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