Plymouth Colony - Economy

Economy

The largest source of wealth for Plymouth Colony was the fur trade. The disruption of this trade caused by Myles Standish's raid at Wessagussett created great hardship for the colonists for many years to come, and was directly cited by William Bradford as a contributing factor to the colonists economic difficulties in their early years. The colonists attempted to supplement their income by fishing; the waters in Cape Cod bay were known to be excellent fisheries. However, they lacked any skill in this area, and it did little to relieve their economic hardship. The colony traded throughout the region, establishing trading posts as far away as Penobscot, Maine. They were also frequent trading partners with the Dutch at New Amsterdam.

The economic situation improved with the arrival of cattle in the colony. It is unknown when the first cattle arrived, but the division of land for the grazing of cattle in 1627 represented one of the first moves towards private land ownership in the colony. Cattle became an important source of wealth in the colony; the average cow could sell for £28 in 1638 (£3,000 as of 2010, or $4,600 at PPP). However, the flood of immigrants during the Great Migration drove the price of cattle down. The same cows sold at £28 in 1638 were valued in 1640 at only £5 (£700.00 as of 2010, or $1,060 at PPP). Besides cattle, there were also pigs, sheep, and goats raised in the colony.

Agriculture also made up an important part of the Plymouth economy. The colonists adopted Native American agricultural practices and crops. They planted maize, squash, pumpkins, beans, and potatoes. Besides the crops themselves, the Pilgrims learned productive farming techniques from the Native Americans, such as proper crop rotation and the use of dead fish to fertilize the soil. In addition to these native crops, the colonists also successfully planted Old World crops such as turnips, carrots, peas, wheat, barley, and oats.

Overall, there was very little cash in Plymouth Colony, so most wealth was accumulated in the form of possessions. Since trade goods such as furs, fish, and livestock were subject to fluctuations in price, they were unreliable repositories of wealth. Durable goods such as fine wares, clothes, and furnishings represented an important source of economic stability for the residents.

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