Life in the Thirteen Colonies

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Why was agriculture important in the Thirteen Colonies?

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Agriculture has been important for civilizations since the Neolithic Revolution, when hunters and gatherers began to practice sedentary agriculture approximately 10,000 years ago. Farming continues to be important even to the most advanced economies in the world (see the first link below). In the pre-industrial context (i.e., before the Industrial Revolution of the late 1700s and early 1800s), economies relied even more on agriculture and, owing to the relative scarcity of food, successful farming was critical to a civilization's survival and success. This pre-industrial context was the reality for the American colonies.

At the beginning, English settlers struggled to survive in their new environment, and the possibility of famine was real; however, with time, they began to move beyond subsistence farming and there arose a lively commerce in agricultural goods. Indentured servitude, slavery, and demographic growth led to growth in the labor force, and technological innovation contributed to an increase in yields.

Agriculture in the 13 Colonies was important for other reasons as well. For one, the plantation economy of the South led to the institutionalization of slavery. Meanwhile, the British taxation of agriculture in the Colonies contributed to the American Revolution. Both of these topics can be fruitfully explored.

One who seeks a deeper understanding of the development of American agriculture may want to read the following book:

Cochrane, Willard W. The Development of American Agriculture: A Historical Analysis Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1993.

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