The Growth of the American Economy: An Introduction to the Economic History of the United States

By Robert G. Albion; Harold F. Williamson | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 3
The Organization of Production During the Colonial Period

IN 1680, IN ANSWER TO THE QUERY, "What obstructions do you find to the improvement of the trade and navigation of your Corporation?" the governor of Connecticut replied: "The want of men of estates to venture abroad, and of money at home for the management of trade, and labor being so deare with us." With an economy of words scarcely typical of the period the governor had succinctly stated the problem of Colonial production. The lack of capital and the scarcity and high cost of labor were principal obstacles to the rapid expansion of Colonial, productive enterprises. In the year 1680 the Colonists were not as yet fully cognizant of the effect that economic nationalism would have on braking Colonial enterprises competing with home industries. When they fully awoke to its import to their economy, the voices of producers joined the chorus of protest led by merchants and land speculators.


Natural Resources and the Extractive Industries: Agriculture

Although handicapped by scarcity of capital and labor, by poor marketing and transportation facilities, and by political regulation, Colonial productive enterprise was given impetus and sustained by the abundant natural resources of the Atlantic Seaboard. Colonial production centered chiefly in the extractive industries requiring little machinery and using, in the main, unskilled or semiskilled labor. The soil provided crops and minerals, the forests timber, fur-bearing animals, and game, and the coastal waters, rivers, streams, and lakes a wide variety of fish.

Of Colonial productive enterprise, agriculture was the leading occupation and principal source of wealth; and down to the end of the Colonial period the population remained predominantly rural. On the eve of the Revolution, Boston and New York each had approximately 20,000 inhabitants; Newport 9,000; Philadelphia the largest Colonial town, 35,000; and Charleston, the largest city in the South, under 15,000. Other towns averaged between 1,000 and 4,000 inhabitants, and the

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