Colonial Times

Farming in the Colonial Times

Colonial Times - Farming in the Middle Colonies

This article provides an overview of Colonial Times manufacturing and industries providing facts and information at a glance in respect of:

  • Colonial Times - The industries, work and jobs in the 13 colonies
  • Jobs, work and occupations of the colonists in the Colonial Times
  • Trade and Industries in Colonial times. Different types of work and jobs in Colonial Times
New England ColoniesMiddle ColoniesSouthern
Colonies Index
Colonization, Trade & Colonialism

History of trade, plantations, colonialism and colonization in the 13 Colonies

Colonial Times: Colonialism, Triangular Trade, Mercantilism, Trade, Industries and Plantations

Colonial Times
The people who took the decision to move from their homeland to the uncertainties of life in the New World were looking for a better life in the colonies during the Colonial Times - refer to
Colonialism. North America had not been fully explored so people did not know what the natural resources and raw materials were available in the New World. The one certainty was that America offered vast amounts of land. Land was a commodity in short supply in England. The system of enclosure (fencing in the land) meant there was limited land for the poor and working classes. There were high levels of unemployment in England with little prospects of getting a job during Colonial Times. Young, working class men and women turned towards America for a better life - even if they had to give five or seven years of their lives to pay for the journey by the system of Indentured servitude. The second sons of wealthy families, without the prospect of an inheritance, were looking for opportunities to make money during Colonial Times in America.

Colonial Times - Land and the Headright System

The Headright System was introduced during the Colonial Times in 1691. Headrights were given by the London Virginia company that gave 50 acres of land to colonists who paid their own way to Virginia, or paid the way for someone else to go. The prospect of owning land, an impossible prospect in England, was a great incentive to travel to America and enjoy the opportunities offered in Colonial Times.

Colonial Times and Jobs
There were many different types of work and jobs in Colonial Times. Climate and natural resources determined the work and jobs required in the different regions of the first 13 colonies. A pattern of work, jobs and industries emerged in Colonial Times and trade and exports were basically divided as follows according to the different regions during Colonial Times:

  • New England Colonies: Fish, whale products, ships, timber products, furs, maple syrup, copper, livestock products, horses, rum, whiskey and beer
  • Middle Colonies: Corn and wheat and livestock including beef and pork. Other industries included the production of iron ore, lumber, coal, textiles, furs and shipbuilding
  • Southern Colonies: Tobacco, cotton, rice, indigo (dye), lumber, furs, farm products

Policies and laws relating to Trade and Exports, Colonial work and jobs were dictated by the theory of Mercantilism, the emergence of Triangular Trade routes and the English policy of Salutary Neglect. This article provides an insight into the development of trade and exports during Colonial Times and explains why different types of Colonial Times and jobs emerged in the colonies. Refer to Trade in the Colonies for descriptions of the trades and industries of each of the colonies and the enforced labor of the Slave Plantations.

Colonial Times - Farming
Land was the most important commodity in Colonial America. Which explains why most of the work and jobs early Colonial Times related to farming and agriculture. The first colony of America was established at Jamestown, Virginia in 1607. By 1774, 3 out of 4 families in the American colonies owned their own farms. A typical farm during Colonial Times was 50 to 150 acres consisting of a house, barn, yard and fields. Their types of farms and the jobs and work required to run the farms were dependent on the soil available and the climate. These two factors determined the types of crops that would be successful and led to a great diversity of agriculture in the Northern colonies as opposed to the colonies in the South in and the Middle colonies in Colonial Times. Colonial work and jobs available in each of the areas were determined by the soil and climate.

  • Farming in Colonial Times was difficult in New England for crops like wheat because of the poor soil. But corn, pumpkins, rye, squash and beans were planted provided a living, jobs and work related to farming
  • Farming was far more suited to the Middle colonies. To such an extent that they are often called the breadbasket colonies in Colonial Times because they grew so many crops, especially wheat.
  • The Southern Colonies concentrated on agriculture and developed massive plantations exporting tobacco, cotton, corn, vegetables, grain, fruit and livestock. The work on the plantations were undertaken by slaves in Colonial Times

The work and jobs related to farming led to other industries. Crops such as wheat required the building of flour mills where the wheat was ground into flour. The flour was then shipped to England. Many farmers grew cotton and flax, and many colonists raised sheep that produced wool. These materials were used to make different textiles in Colonial Times.

Colonial Times for Farm women
The women who lived on the farms in Colonial Times were engaged in work and jobs cleaning cooking, growing vegetable, raising children, spinning yarn from wool and knitting sweaters and stockings, making candles and soap and churning milk into butter. Other jobs were necessary such as gathering nuts and berries. The berries were used to make jellies and jams. In the early days of Colonial Times the women  helped with the planting and harvesting of the crops which added to the work and jobs undertaken by the women who lived on the farms.

Colonial Times - Household Industries
It was very expensive to import textiles from England so small, household industries emerged in the colonies during the Colonial Times. Cloth made in the home was called “homespun.” Other every day items were required leading to other household industries. Work and jobs also included making furniture and also producing timber used to build houses. Other household industries included making alcohol such as beer, whiskey and rum. These household industries emerged as mills and distilleries were built and the alcohol and textile industries were developed. All of these provided more work and jobs requiring even more labor in the colonies in the Colonial Times.

Colonial Times - The Fur Trade
Another really important aspect of Colonial Times related to the fur trade. North America had a vast variety of fur-bearing animals and the fur trade was often used to supplement the incomes from the farms - the beaver was the most important. Some colonists were trappers and others were fur traders negotiating trade with the Native Indians. The fur trade was highly lucrative and the French and English had fought to monopolize the fur trade which led to the Beaver Wars. Beaver skins were used in hat making. The sales of hats made from beaver skins were an extremely important source of income to the British nation and from 1700 to 1770 Great Britain made 21 million hats. Beaver skins were the first great American trade commodity in Colonial Times.

D'Orsay Beaver Hat

Colonial Times - beaver pelts and the fur trade

Continental Beaver Hat

Beaver Hat

Beaver Hat

Colonial Times - Mills, Yards and Distilleries
Various work and jobs were created due to the building of mills during Colonial Times. Most mills were run by water power. Mills were used for:

  • Grinding grain to make flour - called gristmills  which operated by turning massive millstones for grinding grain
  • Cutting Wood
  • Forging iron
  • Bark mills - Tanneries also emerged to make leather goods such as shoes and saddles
  • Paper making 'mills' which grinded linen rags into pulp

Other establishments were introduced in Colonial Times turning household industries into commercial industries - the breweries and distilleries. Distilleries are the names of the places where liquor is manufactured - especially rum which became a major export from the colonies.

Colonial Times - The Textile Industry
Textiles were used to make clothing, bedding, linens, curtains, ship sails and upholstery. Textiles were made chiefly from wool and flax. Cotton was used less often. During the Colonial Times of the 17th century serge, a durable twilled woolen fabric, was commonly used for bed curtains, upholstery and clothing. Linsey-woolsey, or wincey, was a strong, coarse fabric. The name Linsey-woolsey derives from a combination of linen and wool. Linsey-woolsey, or wincey, fabrics were woven with a cotton warp and woollen weft and another job and work for the people living in Colonial Times. However, during the colonial period, less than half of all households had spinning wheels and fewer than 10% owned looms or raised sheep or flax. A loom was a textile machine for weaving yarn into textiles. The Textile industry emerged in Colonial Times when men worked on several looms in a factory like environment.

Colonial Times - Hemp
Hemp was a fibrous material obtained from the inner bark of the hemp plant and used to manufacture ship rigging. Farmers were encouraged to raise hemp as a crop and various incentives were offered to its production during Colonial Times. Hemp was suited to the terrain of the Chesapeake area. However, hemp had to undergo a painstaking process of cutting, rotting and drying which coincided with the busiest period in the tobacco season. Employing people in the tobacco industry was seen as more cost effective for farmers than producing hemp.

Colonial Times - Tobacco
Tobacco was the first plantation crop of the Colonial Times in North America and became the biggest of all the trade exports in early Colonial Times. Read the following article for additional information and facts about the Tobacco Plantations in Colonial Times

Slaves working in a tobacco plantation

African slaves working on a Southern tobacco plantation in 1670 during Colonial Times

Colonial Times - Cotton

Cotton was not grown on colonial plantations until 1793 when Eli Whitney invented the cotton gin which made the production of cotton more profitable. The large scale cultivation of cotton, using enforced slave labor, was extremely profitable for the owners of the plantations in Colonial Times. Read the following article for additional information and facts about the Cotton Plantations in Colonial Times.

Colonial Times - Timber and Lumber
The rich forest areas of North America enabled workers to become employed in the associated timber and lumber activities. Great quantities of wood were required in the colonies and for trade exports in Colonial Times. Pine, oak, maple, beech, birch, hickory, ash and cypress trees were all plentiful in Colonial America. The timber and lumber industries in Colonial Times used the saw mills to produce wooden planks for export to England, which were manufactured into finished goods. Wood was the necessary raw material required for the ship building industries, barrel making and to build the houses in Colonial Times. Other forest products included resin (used for varnishing), tar (for coating and preserving timber), pitch (used for water proofing), turpentine (distilled pine oil used for cleaning), potash (made from wood ashes and used in soap, bleach and fertilizers).

Colonial Times - Shipbuilding
The shipbuilding industry was extremely important, especially to the New England Colonies in Colonial Times. The first ships were built for fishing, but trade was also conducted by water, which led to the real boom in ship building. Shipyards sprang up all along the coast of New England. The abundance of timber and lumber made shipbuilding cheap in the colonies. The Navigation Acts encouraged the ship building industry. Many different types of work and jobs were related to the ship building industry including carpenters, joiners, sail makers, barrel makers, (for transporting the products) painters, caulkers (they sealed joints making ships water-tight) and blacksmiths. There were 125 colonial shipyards by the year 1750 - shipbuilding in Colonial Times was big business.

Colonial Times - Fishing and Whaling
The coastline of the Northeast Atlantic coast gave rise to many opportunities for a fishing industries. The coastal waters gave rise to whaling. Whale oil was a valuable resource as it could be used in oil lamps and for making soaps. Spermaceti was a white waxy substance produced by the sperm whale used in candles and ointments. Ambergris was an extremely valuable substance found in whales and used for the production of medicines and perfumes. Whaling was so profitable that, despite its dangers, many hundreds of ships were used for the whaling industry. Other work and jobs were undertaken by fishermen in the coastal areas of all the colonies but especially in New England. There were many different types of fish including cod, mackerel, herring, halibut, hake,  bass and sturgeon that helped to make fishing one of the most successful industries in Colonial Times.


Whaling in Colonial Times

Colonial Times - Staves and Headings for making barrels

The work and jobs related to 'Staves and Headings' were an extremely important, but often overlooked, trade item during Colonial Times. Staves and Headings were wooden items used in barrel making. The barrel parts made from wood were called the 'Staves and Headings'. The staves were the narrow strips of wood that formed the sides of a barrel. The headings were the lids of the barrels. Staves and Headings were one of the top ten exports and were used by the barrel makers (coopers) in England. The barrel hoops were a circle of iron. Several hoops were used to hold the barrel together and one of the many uses of the iron exported to England. Barrels were used for transporting products, rum, flour, fruit, hardtack (bread), salted meat and fish in Colonial Times. Some barrels were made in the colonies due to the English policy of Salutary Neglect but the basis of  Mercantilism was to supply raw materials to England for their workers to make finished goods - finished goods have a higher value than raw materials.

Colonial Times - Iron Making
The early colonists discovered that iron ore was in abundance in Colonial America. The manufacture of iron was seen as one of the most valuable resources of Colonial America. Virginia and then Maryland were the first colonies to export iron to England but iron making eventually became the mainstay of the Middle Colonies during Colonial Times. To produce iron, the Ironworks required  two main elements:

  • A source of iron ore
  • Wood to make charcoal to fuel the furnace

The forests provided the wood and the iron ore was in abundance. A large labor force was required to facilitate iron making and slaves were also employed in manufacture of iron. Iron making was one of the first non-agricultural industries. Iron was used to make barrel hoops, anchors and chains for the ships, wagon wheels, plows, tools, spikes, kettles and nails. Large blocks of iron were exported to England to enable their workers to make these finished goods in Colonial Times.

A Reverberatory furnace OF 1647 used to melt iron

A Reverberatory furnace of 1647 used to melt iron in Colonial Times

Colonial Times - Horses

Horses were a profitable livestock commodity that could be used for trade and export in Colonial Times. The soil in New England was not well suited to farming so horse breeding was seen as an economical use of hilly and infertile land. Many different breeds of horses were brought to America by the colonists. Horse breeding developed from using these original breeds of horse including the jennet, small pacing horses, the strongly built Andalusian breed, the hardy barb horse, coach horses, the black Friesian breed and the fast Arabian horse breeds.

Colonial Times - Indigo
Indigo was not grown on colonial plantations until Eliza Lucas Pinckney (1722–1793) developed the indigo plants as an additional cash crop. A variant of the indigo plant is native to South Carolina and Georgia. Read the following article for additional information and facts about the Indigo Plantations in Colonial Times.

Colonial Times - Rice Plantations
Rice was a particularly difficult crop to cultivate but  the Southern colonists mastered its culture with the example of rice cultivation in Africa provided by their African slaves. By the 1690's and rice became the mainstay of the colonies of Georgia and South Carolina. Read the following article for additional information and facts about the Rice Plantations in Colonial Times.

Slaves cutting Sugar Cane

Slaves cutting Sugar Cane in Colonial Times

Colonial Times - Sugar Cane Plantations
Cane sugar was first imported to the 13 Southern colonies from the West Indies. However, after the US purchased the Louisiana Territory from France in 1803, plantation owners also began growing sugar cane on their plantations. Read the following article for additional information and facts about the Sugar Cane Plantations in Colonial Times.

Colonial Times

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