Life in the Thirteen Colonies

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Student Question

Which American colony used subsistence farming?

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The New England colonies were noted for their subsistence farming. These close-knit communities were not agricultural havens, given the short growing season and thin soil. Any surplus agricultural products were either bartered or sold in local markets. The New England colonies were only profitable in terms of shipbuilding, timber, and fishing.

Other colonies practiced some degree of subsistence farming. Many poor people in the Southern Colonies could not afford the slaves needed to keep up a major plantation. They often turned to subsistence farming and became squatters on unclaimed land. This often put them at odds with land speculators, and poor Southern whites were constantly moving west in search of unclaimed land with which to grow enough food for themselves and their families. Early in colonial history, a large gap existed between the rich and the poor in the South that did not exist in many places in the New England and Middle Colonies.

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