Colonial Economies

In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, agriculture pretty much dominated the economies everywhere.


Texternal image grn_field.jpghe heavy demand for tobacco throughout the known world made it a viable cash crop in the Chesapeake regions. However, sometimes overproduction led to drops in price, creating the boom and bust cycle, which was quite unstable. The first major drop was in 1640. Much like in Asia, Southern colonies of Georgia and South Carolina had plenty of coastal plains that could be flooded and drained easily, making this place very viable for rice growing. Rice growing is no easy feat, which is why slave labor was most crucial and popular in these areas where whites refused to perform such strenuous manual labor. The Southern economy depended solely on cash-crops, keeping their society away from industry and commerce. All trading of their crops was done by either people in London, or people from the North.


As in the South, agriculture was a key point in the northern economy, however it was far more diverse due to the different climate, temperature, and soil, which made large sized plantations difficult. Soil in the southern New England and the lower middle colonies such as New York or Pennsylvania was much more fertile, giving these colonies the role of wheat producers for the North and parts of the South as well. Even though agriculture was possible in the North, a commercial economy was soon on the rise. Industry has its beginnings within the household, with everyday tasks. Those who were skilled in these tasks became craftsman and could earn money by being a cobbler, blacksmith, or many others. Due to the plentiful amount of available timber, shipbuilding took off in the North, and becameexternal image lumbering.gif the first real large-scale industry in the colonies. In the 1640's metalworking efforts began in Saugus, Massachusetts, the methods were a success but the effort failed when there was insufficient funding available. Later, Peter Hasenclever opened a large ironwork enterprise, Long Pond ironworks, employing over 100 men. The explosion of the metal industry in Great Britain was not shared by the Americans because of the Iron Act of 1750 which limited their access to the metal. In the middle of the seventeenth century, trade was on the decline, replaced by mining, fishing, and lumbering. These practices produced things that could be exported to Great Britain for their manufactured goods. (America was sending its natural resources to the mother country, following the idea of mercantilism.) A new class was on the rise: the commercial class.


external image route.gifAmericans were so primitive in their trade practices, only their determination kept the practice alive. They had no real form of currency, leaving them to rely on simply the barter system for trading and purchasing goods from England or others. They also had no knowledge of what was in demand, which made trading ventures very long journeys. However, trading within the Americas themselves flourished, and later a triangular trade between the Caribbean, the Americas, and England as well as the coast of Africa grew. America exported rum, agricultural products, and various meats. The Caribbeans offered sugar and molasses. Slaves took the dreaded "middle passage" from Africa to the Americas, and many would not survive the journey. This complicated trade pattern facilitated the rise of a merchant class around the middle of the eighteenth century. The British Navigation Acts were supposed to protect Britain from competition for colonial trade, however it did not stop the Americas from trading with higher-paying countries illegally.


A new desire for material goods arose during this period due to influence from Britain, and the availability of luxury manufactured goods from there as well. The growing gap between the classes was made clearer by the people who had money, making it obvious by indulging themselves with expensive foreign goods. The new consumerism drove traders and merchants to being advertising their goods in local newspapers, a practice which has not ceased since then. Many items such as tea, expensive furniture, and fancy dining sets, that were considered pure luxuries before, were now considered necessary for many colonists which truly exemplifies a consumer society. Also, it was seen that having possessions had impact on a person's virtue, giving people more desire for new things, as well as the desire to learn how to be a refined man or woman. Looks became increasingly important as people attempted to keep up with fashion, and keep their houses well furnished with gardens and rooms for entertainment, and places to display newly acquired luxury items.