History of Domestic and Foreign Commerce of the United States - Vol. 1

By Emory R. Johnson; T. W. Van Metre et al. | Go to book overview
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CHAPTER IX.
THE AMERICAN FISHERIES BEFORE 1789.1
Dominant position of New England in American fisheries prior to 1789 , 145.
American fisheries in the sixteenth century , 146.
Development of New England fisheries during the seventeenth century, 148.
Establishment of the whaling industry, 152.
Struggles with France over the fisheries , 153.
Extent of the New England fisheries in 1731, 154.
The fisheries from the Peace of Paris to the Revolution, 156. Effect of the Revolution upon the fisheries, 158.
Provisions as to fisheries in the Treaty of 9703, 159.
Revival of cod fishery from 1786 to 1790 , 160.
Depressed condition of the whale fishery , 161.

Previous to 1789, and, in fact, until near the middle of the nineteenth century, New England held a virtual monopoly of the American fisheries possessing any great degree of commercial importance. A history of the early development of the American fisheries is, therefore, little more than an account of the rise and growth of the fishing industries of New England, and it is to that subject that this chapter will be chiefly devoted, the early history of the fisheries in other parts of the United States being left for consideration in subsequent chapters.

That the predominance of the New England fisheries for two and a half centuries was due to other conditions than the lack of fishing resources elsewhere in America is apparent from the fact that in recent times the fisheries of the Middle Atlantic States have yielded an annual product greater in value than the products of the New England fishing industries. The explanation of the commanding position of New England during the early centuries lies in a consideration of the physical character of the land along the Atlantic coast and the economic laws governing the industrial development of a nation. The material development of a new country is invariably characterized by the early exploitation of those resources and the rise of those industries yielding the largest returns in proportion to the productive effort expended. This principle was admirably illustrated in the economic development of the American colonies. In the region south of the Hudson River, where the fertile coastal plain and the piedmont afforded an abundance of arable soil, agriculture was easily the most profitable industry. The material prosperity of that section was based primarily upon the cereals of the middle colonies, and the tobacco, rice, and indigo of the southern colonies, together with the various forest products of lumber, ashes, and naval stores; and though offshore and inshore fisheries of great value existed all along the coast, they remained practically undeveloped, as long as a large supply of cheap agricultural land was readily available. In New England, though agriculture was the most important single industry, it did not absorb the energies of the inhabitants to the extent that it did those of the people living farther south. The early

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1
This chapter was written by T. W. Van Metre.

-145-

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