The New England Colonies

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Describe the economy of the New England colonies.

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The New England colonies differed geographically from those in the middle region and south in not being able to rely as heavily on farming as a basis for wealth.

Coastal colonies and areas, such as Rhode Island, relied heavily on the fishing industry, which included whaling. Whaling could be dangerous but was also a profitable venture, as whale oil brought high prices.

The soil in New England was on the whole not as good as in other colonial regions. Therefore, the New England colonies developed a manufacturing base, turning raw materials into salable finished products. For instance, the New England colonies excelled at shipbuilding, and they produced rum. The rum industry grew as the New Englanders traded with other colonies for molasses, which they then manufactured into rum.

Great Britain had envisioned the New England colonies staying relatively poor, providing an abundance of raw materials to the mother country cheaply, and then buying high priced finished goods from England. This way, most of the profit would flow back to the homeland. When the New England colonies developed their own industries and trade, capturing much of the profit for themselves, this led the English to impose higher and higher taxes and tariffs to capture the wealth, creating tensions that ultimately led to the Revolutionary War. It has been said that while Great Britain was the wealthiest country in the world in the eighteenth century, the Boston area had the highest average income in the world because of more equitable distribution of income. Because of having to develop alternatives to agriculture, the New Englanders were doing quite well economically on the eve of the revolution.

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