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 7
Agricultural Organization: A Comparative Analysis, 1789-1860

European Borrowings

THE AMERICAN COLONISTS found temperature, seasons, rainfall, soil, and topography on the Atlantic Coast not very different from the geographic environment they had known in Europe. Forests along the seaboard proved an obstacle, but they were not of tropical jungle growth, and, once cleared, provided open land. Hence it was possible to transfer European crops, livestock, tools, and methods of production to the New World. Wheat, rye, barley, oats, buckwheat, and peas, all of which had been raised in Europe, became important crops. To this list the Indians made the important contribution of Indian corn, as well as tobacco, potatoes, tomatoes, sweet potatoes, peanuts, pumpkins, and squashes.

With minor exceptions, such as the turkey, Europe supplied all the livestock--horses, cattle, sheep, and swine--that were to dominate the farm scene. The tools and implements brought over from Europe were primitive by modern standards: the hoes, spades, scythes, reaping hooks, shovels, carts, harrows, and plows.1

Colonial farmers were indebted to England not only for crops, livestock, and tools, but also for attitudes and habits that soon assumed the characteristics of the American farm. Although England was predominantly rural in culture at the time when the Colonies were settled, even seventeenth-century England was not highly developed agriculturally. Not more than a quarter of its land was under cultivation and much land lay in open fields. There were few fences and fewer highways, except for cart or bridle paths. The new country to which the Colonists came was much like that of the mother country; hence it was not difficult to adapt English rural practices to Colonial life.2

____________________
1
A complete collection of early Colonial farm tools may be seen in the museum of the Bucks County Historical Society at Doylestown, Pennsylvania. It is interesting that the curator calls attention to the fact that these tools, while modern in make, "are ancient in type." Until power-driven farm machinery began to appear farm tools had remained unchanged for thousands of years.
2
William Bradford in History of Plymouth Plantations, Boston: Wright and Potter, 1898, reports that the Pilgrims were "used to a plaine countrie life and ye inocent trade of husbandry."

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