The Middle Colonies

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What was New York's economy like in the 1600s?

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In the 1600s, New York's economy was largely trade-based, with the port city playing a crucial role in shipping furs, timber, and agricultural products like wheat, barley, and corn back to Europe. The city saw a rise in businesses, insurance firms, banks, and lawyers to facilitate these transactions. Additionally, iron-ore found in various regions was smelted and used locally or exported to Europe. The agricultural sector was primarily based on the manor system, with landowners leasing out their land for cultivation.

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New York has been, and still is, an important trading location. This was true from the founding days of the city at the mouth of the Hudson River.

When it was a Dutch and English colony in the 1600s, New York's economy was greatly based on the commerce that came through this port. Furs and timber from the interior were brought there for shipment back to Europe. As a result, a growing population of businessmen, insurance firms, banks, and lawyers developed in New York to handle the many details of carrying out this business. Some shipbuilding also took place at the Port of New York.

As agriculture took hold in the fertile Hudson Valley, crops such as wheat, barley, and corn fed not only the colonists, but the economic output of the region overall as much of it was shipped overseas. Most of the agriculture in the colony was based on the manor system, not unlike that of feudal Europe, in which relatively wealthy landowners leased out smaller tracts of their farmland for cultivation by other farmers.

There were also sources of iron-ore found in Adirondack, Hudson Valley, and Finger Lakes regions that were smelted down in local forges. Some of this iron was used locally in manufacturing goods for use by the colonists, while the rest was shipped to Europe for use in manufacturing there.

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New York, both during the Dutch phase of the colony (which lasted until 1664) and the English phase (which began in 1664), exported agricultural products and natural resources. The economy was based on shipping and the exportation of furs and timber. In addition, industries based in New York manufactured products from iron ore, including plows, kettles, locks, and nails, for export to Europe. 

Farms in New York were often small and consisted of about 50 to 150 acres. The Middle Colonies, including New York, were regarded as the "bread basket" of the colonies and produced crops such as wheat that was ground into flour and exported to England. The colony also produced corn and products such as beef and pork, as well as textiles from flax and hemp. Under the Dutch, the port of New York (then called New Amsterdam) was founded at the tip of Manhattan to defend the fur operations of the Dutch West India Company. The economy flourished, and the population of the city quickly grew to 2,000 people by 1665. The city, whose economy was based on the fur trade, was incredibly diverse, as the Dutch permitted immigration of many types of people, including Jews.

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When New York was originally created as New Netherland, its economy was based on fur trading at first.  At that point, the Dutch were trading with Native Americans for furs.  After a while, there came to be more of an emphasis on Dutch settlers who would be farmers.  This move towards an agricultural economy caused conflict with the Indians whose lands were needed for farms.

After the British took control of New York, it continued to be a colony whose economy ran mostly on agriculture.  The British continued the Dutch system in which a few large landowners had huge grants of land that they controlled like feudal fiefs.  The produce from these huge estates came through New York City, which was already becoming an important center for trade.

The economy of New York, then, was mainly agricultural for much of the 1600s with produce from large estates being traded through New York City.

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