Tobacco Coast: A Maritime History of Chesapeake Bay in the Colonial Era

By Arthur Pierce Middleton; George Carrington Mason | Go to book overview
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CHAPTER FIVE
British and African Trade

VIRGINIA and Maryland were regarded by English mercantilists as the two most satisfactory colonies on the North American continent, because their inhabitants consumed enormous quantities of British goods and produced almost nothing that competed with the manufactures of the mother country.

On reaching Virginia in 1759, Jonathan Boucher wrote home to England concerning the Virginians that "they toil not neither do they spin, yet Solomon in all his glory was not array'd like one of These." The common planter's daughters dressed in finer clothes every day than English provincials wore on Sundays. And Boucher's own satin waistcoat, which was thought elegant in his native Cumberland, was such that he was nothing amongst the "Lace and Lac'd fellows" of the colony. He therefore concluded that one may see in Virginia "more brilliant Assemblies than I ever could in the North of England, and except Royal Ones perhaps in any Part of it."1

Nor was the English cast of life along the Chesapeake confined to clothes. Virginians and Marylanders lavished almost all their energies on tobacco planting and relied upon the proceeds of their crop to purchase almost everything they needed in the way of manufactured goods from Great Britain. In this way the Chesa. peake colonies were supplied with all manner of British, continental, and Asiatic goods through Great Britain as an entrepôt:2 cloth and fabrics, clothes and furniture, linen, china, and silver, pewter, hardware, tools, and building materials.3

The value of the annual imports of the Chesapeake colonies from Great Britain rose from about £200,000 at the beginning of the eighteenth century to nearly £350,000 in 1750. In the years 1760-63 the amount averaged more than £500,000 a year, and in 1771 reached the staggering figure of £920,326.4

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