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1600-1754: Business and Communications: Overview

1600-1754: Business and Communications: Overview

Early Exploration. English exploration and settlement of the Atlantic seaboard of North America began at the end of the sixteenth century. This development followed Spanish and French exploration during the sixteenth century into the area the English would call Carolina. Poor planning, natural disasters, and distance from more-populated settlements drove the Spanish and French back to the Caribbean. Frustrated in their attempts to find gold and silver and to establish staging areas for further exploration, the French and Spanish turned their attention to other parts of the world. However, the English commitment to settle North America resulted in a thriving economy that eventually compensated for the early risks.

English Immigrants. A variety of motives prompted 155,000 English immigrants to cross the Atlantic Ocean to settle the coast of North America during the seventeenth century. Social, political, religious, and economic factors influenced a wide variety of people to risk the experience of emigration during the seventeenth century. An expanding population and decreasing opportunity for employment drove many impoverished English men and women to seek their future in a new world. Because only firstborn sons could hope to inherit family lands, younger sons sought their fortunes in the colonies. Families who wanted to practice their trades far from the English Crown risked the journey to establish new communities. Promotional literature tempted Puritans, Cavaliers, Quakers, and Scots-Irish to settle in one of the goodlyst, best and frutfullest cultures that ever was sene, and where nothing lacketh. The economic status and assorted intentions of settlers who responded to such advertisements often determined their destination, which in turn shaped colonial development.

Other Nationalities. Although the number of English immigrants surpassed all other groups, other Europeans found cause to journey to a foreign land to benefit from the favorable economic opportunities. French Huguenots who escaped persecution that resulted from the revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685 sailed to Massachusetts, New York, and South Carolina. Emigrants who had suffered the hardships of war, persecution, and famine left Germany and Switzerland for Pennsylvania in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Ten percent of the American colonial population spoke German. The Dutch who traded furs in New York in the seventeenth century were followed by Dutch families who moved to Pennsylvania in the eighteenth century. Swedes made their way to Delaware. Each of these groups could have migrated to other parts of the world but chose instead the British colonies because of the promise of economic prosperity.

Virginia. Members of the English gentry sought quick wealth in the Virginia colony in 1607. Single men unaccustomed to working for a living joined the original venture. Poor planning and lack of discipline doomed 67 of the first 105 men to death within a year. The high mortality rate (four hundred out of five hundred men by 1609) prevented initial stability. Striving to identify a crop that would assure economic security and profit, John Rolfe developed a strain of tobacco that thrived in the Virginia soil.

Massachusetts Bay. In 1629 four hundred English Puritans traveled to the Massachusetts Bay Colony and were followed by seven hundred more settlers in 1630. These orderly families and servants hoped to establish a community that would offer a religious and economic alternative to the growing depravity of England. Communal support rather than individual profit led these families to cluster in communities under the leadership of their Puritan ministers.

Carolina. English proprietors intent on establishing a pseudofeudal colony gained the rights to settle Carolina. Settling first near present-day Charleston in 1670, English families accepted fifty acres per each family member and servant. Families from Barbados in the West Indies left the sugar island with their slaves to seek new opportunities. They received land for each slave they transported. In a climate different from both England and Barbados, Carolinian settlers sought a staple crop that would bring wealth. Within twenty years of arriving, planters identified rice as the crop most conducive to coastal lowlands. Defying the original model of a feudal fiefdom, these independent southern settlers spread out along the coast and forty miles inland into a colony of their own making.

Middle Colonies. The most diverse region was the mid-Atlantic, or Middle, Colonies. Dutch, French, Germans, and Scandinavians settled New Netherland before the English Crown claimed the area of New York in 1664. Further south along the Delaware River, Swedes settled a small colony. From 1638 until 1655, the Swedes traded for furs with nearby Lenni Lenape, or Delaware, Indians. For the next nine years the Swedes fell under Dutch control, until the English Crown claimed them as well. In 1682 William Penn led a group of Quakers to a colony that promised religious freedom. Within five years eight thousand more Quakers, Baptists, French Huguenots, Lutherans, and Catholics settled in Pennsylvania. With an industrious group of settlers who had the good fortune to reside on fertile land, the Middle Colonies would become the breadbasket of the British colonies.

Native Americans. The land the European settlers embraced was not virgin land. Indians had been burning, farming, and hunting this vast continent for twenty-five hundred years before the European explorers arrived. Southwest Indians irrigated their land to grow maize, beans, and squash. Eastern Woodland Indians burned forests and prairies to stimulate crop production and wild berry growth. They grew maize, potatoes, beans, squash, sunflowers, and tobacco. Pottery shards, baskets, stone weapons, and shells unearthed in archaeological digs reveal an elaborate trading system among the seven million to ten million Indians who inhabited North America. These productive enterprises were interrupted when the Europeans brought ravishing disease along with their intentions to subdue the land. The absence of antibodies meant the Indians were particularly vulnerable to diphtheria, influenza, measles, smallpox, and typhus. The deaths of 90 percent of the Indian population north of the Rio Grande left a widowed land that offered little resistance to European settlement. Indians who survived contributed to the economic development by offering food during the starving days, trading the first valuable commodity of skins and pelts, and teaching the art and science of growing crops in America.

Farming. Contrary to popular myth, the American colonial economy was not anchored by self-sufficient farmers. Individuals placed a high value on independence and sufficiency but recognized that the hardships of settlement and getting started required mutual support. Even farmers living in relatively remote areas needed to rely on distant neighbors. The household was the fundamental unit of production in American agriculture. Farmers produced crops for consumption and sale, and their families provided most of the laboâ to achieve those ends. Servants, hired hands, and slaves assisted in those efforts. But even that combination of workers was not enough to sustain a colonial family. Neighbors depended on each other to build their homes and churches, harvest crops, break sod, cut timber, raise barns, build fences, establish livestock herds, and give birth to babies. On a daily basis neighbors exchanged soap, candles, butchered meat, spun thread, or woven fabric. One family could not consume an entire butchered sow before the meat would spoil. They could preserve some of the meat but would trade the rest for a knitted shirt or new shoes. A family might also trade the meat for a service, such as help in weaving a blanket or harvesting a crop. This barter economy allowed families to specialize in particular crafts or to maintain a minimum of tools. The ways in which they relied on each other reinforced agricultural practices and labor systems.

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