How did New Englanders' maritime livelihood spur other industries and transatlantic commerce?

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New England's agricultural industry was severely limited for several reasons. First, fecund farmland was sparse because of the rocky terrain. Second, the growing season was short. In addition, the climate was too severe for large-scale agriculture.

New England was blessed with outstanding fisheries, however. Its cod-rich waters were the best in the world, and Europeans consumed a lot of cod. Whales were caught, too, and whale products were used to make perfume and other commodities.

The success of the fishing industry led to shipbuilding, and that created a market for timber, sawmills, rope making, and a myriad other businesses. Building a large ship took about five months, and it employed a multitude of different workers and craftsmen.

New England's prosperity enabled it to participate in what became known as the "triangular trade." One "triangle" in this trading relationship included the British West Indies and Britain. As the mother country, Britain sought to have the upper hand in this relationship by maintaining a favorable balance of trade. And British merchants demanded payment in specie.

Although the trade was perhaps unfair in some respects, New Englanders prospered, too. Its economy became much more diversified than that of the Southern colonies. In fact, some clergy worried that its great prosperity was an impediment to the region's spirituality.

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Historically, New Englanders' turn to the sea for their livelihoods spurred a number of other industries as well as transatlantic commerce. Commercial whaling, for example, started in New England in the 1600s and continued right up until 1927, when the John R. Mantra whaling ship left New Bedford, Massachusetts, for its last whale-hunting voyage.

The raw materials obtained from whales was of great commercial value both domestically and abroad until the demand declined as petroleum-based products came into use in the mid- to late-nineteenth century. Whale oil, however, remained the ideal lubricant for very delicate machinery and clockwork and was used for these purposes well into the twentieth century.

You might be surprised to learn that the whaling industry of New England supported the Industrial Revolution. Whale oil (made from rendered fat) was used to lubricate factory machinery before the invention of petroleum-based lubricants. A product called spermaceti (a substance taken from echolocation organs inside the heads of sperm whales), actually a kind of wax, was burned for light in lanterns and lighthouses and was in high demand both in the United States and in Europe. New England's spermaceti candles were also sold overseas.

Whalebone, which comes from baleen plates in the mouths of certain kinds of whales, is strong but flexible and was used to make such items as tools, buggy whips, umbrellas, corsets, petticoats, and collar stiffeners. As raw materials, whalebone and whale oil both supported the manufacturing industries of New England until the first half of the twentieth century when many factories from this area moved out to the Midwest.

Today whales are a part of New England's tourist industry in the form of organized whale watches.

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When answering this question, you should be aware that, like all the other colonial zones, New England remained primarily agricultural. It was much more mercantile than the other colonial zones, but by modern standards, every colony was agrarian at its core.

That being said, New England saw the growth of a merchant class, which was very active in trading both with England and with the other colonies within North America and in the West Indies. In doing so, they patronized additional industries within the colonies. For example, because trade was primarily carried out by way of ships, shipbuilding became a major industry in New England.

New England shipping became a key part of Britain's trading network, and it was also a key contributor to the Triangle Trade (and with it, the slave trade).

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