The Economic Development of Colonial New England Course Number Date The economic development of New England in the colonial period entailed two broad revolutionary transformations. First was the transition from the Native American economy to the Puritan colonial one…
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This third revolution was built on the fertile ground laid during the colonial period. Colonial economic development of the New England colonies, beginning in 1620, profoundly transformed the existing indigenous economy of gathering, hunting, fishing, and long fallow/polyculture farming (Merchant 1989). Europeans had already established a presence in the region for over a century as fur traders, essentially building upon the existing native economy. The trade did transform the economy by introducing new goods, new diseases, new religion, and intensifying the hunt for beaver and other small mammals. The New England colonists, however, introduced revolutionary change in the ecological and economic environment by introducing notions of private property, displacing the Native Americans, establishing farms and populous villages with a full rounded life, fully intending to make the land their new homes (unlike the transient fur trading posts largely made up of men), and engaging in several wars. However, the New England colonists were distinct not only from the Native Americans, but from the fur traders and their own countrymen to the South in the Chesapeake Bay colonies which, like the fur traders, were also largely skewed toward male settlement rather than families (cf. Merchant, 1989; Heyrman, 1991). The New England territories were rich in forests and fur trapping, with many harbors, but not in good farmland. Farms, accordingly, were small, mainly to provide food for individual families, with the inventories of most farmers showing five or six sheep and hogs, one or two horses, a few cattle, and several bushels of grain. The farmers were able to overcome the odds and create “comfortable abundance” for themselves (Merchant, 1989, p. 99). In whatever trade that existed, however, no particular cash crop, livestock, or commodity dominated. This caused the New England colonies to be perceived as less valuable to England, compared to Virginia or the West Indies (Newell, 1998). Much has been written about the settlers’ Puritan faith, their Calvinist work ethic, their moral discipline, their patriarchal nuclear family structure, and so forth, so that it has become part of the American foundation myth. By this foundation, it has been argued, New England avoided the kind of social disruption that unfettered commercial expansion and avarice had brought to plantation colonies in the Chesapeake and Caribbean (cf. Innes, 1995; Main, 2001). The New England economy during this period was relatively egalitarian, with each family being allotted an average of 150 acres. Spectacular wealth could not be created in these communities, which also meant that the economy did not produce the extreme inequalities found elsewhere (Heyrman, 1991). The Puritan settlers, however, lived on average nearly twice as long as Virginians and about ten years longer than men and women in England. New England also had relatively low rates of infant mortality. While the people of Europe and the Chesapeake colonies barely reproduced themselves, the number of New Englanders doubled about every 27 years; a typical family raised seven or eight children to maturity (Bremer, 1995). While some products of the inland towns such as potash made market journeys profitable and others such as cattle could be driven to market, most products were too heavy and bulky
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