Family Life and Education in the Southern Colonies

Southern Colonies: Family Life and Education

In the southern colonies, life was very different than life was back in England. We’re looking at the time period of late 1600s to early 1700s.

Life Expectancy

The average man in the southern colonies could expect to live about 35 years. By “average man,” we’re pretty much saying “average person.”

The women were going to live about as long if they didn’t die due to complications in childbirth, because they would have large families at this time. Without formal medicine, there wasn’t going to be anything that people could do for women that had any trouble with childbirth.

Now, the life expectancy of 35 years was, in part, due to disease. Stagnant water, which meant water that is standing still, and unfamiliar heat helped the spread of many diseases throughout the population of the southern colonies.

Malaria was a constant danger. In these warm conditions with standing water, mosquitoes could hatch. Mosquitoes could breed quickly and we’re going to be very prevalent. Mosquitoes would spread malaria, so it was very common for people to get malaria during this time.

Having the unfamiliar heat, people who had come from England were going to be more used to a climate there. The southern colonies were much warmer. The heat, the water standing still, which meant more mosquitoes, were all going to contribute to diseases being spread quickly once they came into play.

People didn’t have a lot of defenses or ways to heal from a disease if they were infected.

Family Size

Because of the high mortality rate, most families were very large. Remember, I was telling you that most people were going to have large families. That’s because if they didn’t have a large family, it was likely that their family could die out very quickly. If they’re only living about 35 years, then they don’t have very much time to get stuff done.

If they have lots of children, then those children can grow up help them with stuff on their small farms and also get married, have children of their own, and create more people who continue the family farm in those areas. The high mortality rate we already attributed to disease.

Also, women trying to have all these children to create these large families did sometimes have problems during labor. Without any formal medication or doctors to help these women, they often died themselves. There was a high mortality rate. Different factors were contributing to that, but families did their best to become large.

Couples will try to have lots of children so that they were more likely to have offspring that survive to adulthood and could have children of their own. Education was not a high priority in the colonies in those days. This is late 1600s, early 1700s. Education wasn’t that important to people in the southern colonies.


One problem was that the population was too scattered for a central public school to be possible. The population was scattered. You would have large plantations. People would live there, but then people had to move away to develop smaller farms.

They couldn’t be too close to a town or to a large plantation, because then they wouldn’t have farmland of their own. They wouldn’t have a market to work in, so the people were going to have to move further away to find small plots of farmland that they could claim for their own and start their home there.

With all these farms scattered far apart, it was hard for there to be a central public school where it would be convenient for lots of children to go to. Children may have had to travel several miles just to get to the school. If there wasn’t an easy way to do that, then they weren’t going to be making it to school.

At this time, population was too spread out for there to be a central public school for formal education. Now, the wealthy plantation owners would hire a tutor for their children. If you were in a wealthy plantation owner’s household, if you were one of their children, then you probably would get an education because your parents would hire a tutor for you to learn. These children might later be sent off to William and Mary, which was a college (university) for higher education in Virginia, or one of the schools up north (Harvard, Yale, or Princeton).

There were some universities. There were some colleges, some places people who go for a higher formal education than just what they would learn from a tutor, but not many people were able to go to them. It was mainly the wealthy plantation owners’ children that would be sent off to these universities.

For the larger portion of the population, there wasn’t any kind of formal education. Children would just be able to learn what their parents were able to tell them. For the less affluent, it was more likely that any education that would be received would be as an apprentice of an experienced craftsman.

Instead of getting a formal education in school or with a teacher, the children of these less affluent people would learn a trade. They would learn from a skilled craftsman how to master that craftsman’s trade. Then, they would be able to do the same thing.

If you had someone who was really good with horses or really good working with metal or a really good hunter, then that person may teach the skill to an apprentice and the apprentice could take over for him.

There were avenues that people could go through to have their children taught, but it wouldn’t be a formal education very often unless it was a child from a wealthy plantation owner’s household. Family life and education in the southern colonies in the late 1600s, early 1700s.


It was likely that you were only going to live to be about 35 years old. Disease was very common. Families were large to kind of offset the high mortality rate. Education wasn’t very important, because it just wasn’t practical.

People were too spread out to have one central location for a public school. Usually, only the wealthy plantation owner’s children were given a higher education. The poor people were given the option sometimes to serve as an apprentice and learn a skilled craftsman trade.



by Mometrix Test Preparation | Last Updated: August 2, 2023