And although some historical accounts paint a bleak picture of early settlements and show that diseases, starvation and other factors were difficult to overcome, we need to recognize that there were successes. It would be unfair to only focus on the challenges without acknowledging their ability to thrive and prosper. To overlook the strategies that the Chesapeake and Barbadian societies used to grow and prosper would be a mistake, because we can contribute many of their decisions and actions to the structure of today’s political system and economy.
Some historians may analyze these two societies and argue that their evolution was a result of learning from the mistakes of previous settlements. However, there is considerable evidence to show that the Chesapeake and Barbadian colonies successfully grew and progressed as a society due to the use of slaves as workers in the colonies, the acquisition of land, and agricultural exports to England to obtain wealth. The purpose of this paper is to examine the events responsible for the advancement of the Chesapeake and Barbadian societies in the mid 1700’s.
The creation of the slave trade in America is arguably one of the major factors that led to the evolution of the Chesapeake and Barbadian colonies. The import of slaves caused a large population explosion in both colonies. The number of blacks in both settlements increased significantly and outpaced that of the white population each decade between 1730 and 1760. In 1730 the black population in the Virginia colony was 30,000 and doubled to 60,000 in 1740 and continued to increase steadily through 1770. 1 The Maryland colony showed similar population increases with the number of blacks almost doubling in ize from 24,031 to 43,450 from 1740 to 1750. 2 The profile of the population in the Barbadian colony was also significant. Unlike the Virginia and Maryland colonies, blacks outnumbered white almost 4 to 1 and were the majority in the population between 1655 and 1770. For example, slaves were 83 percent of the population in 1760 at 86,600 while the white population was 17,800. 3 What is the significance of this population growth and their evolution? The colonies created a formula that would secured their future for generations. When Chesapeake experienced economic growth large plantations became more common.
This created a need for workers. In turn, slavery led to great wealth for the colonies and became one of their greatest resources for economic growth. Over the course of several decades more slaves were brought to America to fulfill the demand for workers to plant and harvest tobacco and other crops. The colonist understood the value of slave labor and the economic growth using slaves would provide. Most importantly, they also understood that the performance of the slaves influenced their profitability. We cannot discuss population growth in the colonies without acknowledging the ugly truth about slavery.
Clearly one group of people suffered while another benefited. Many can criticize the colonies for implementing such a cruel system for economic growth, but we must ask ourselves did slavery help them reach their goal of prosperity. After all, slaves and indentured servants were a productive labor pool that helped them prosper economically during the early and middle years of colonization. Without needing to take a position on slavery, we plainly understand that the back-breaking physical work of slaves is one of the contributing factors that led to great wealth in the Virginia and Maryland colonies.
Another factor contributing to the evolution of the Chesapeake and Barbadian colonies is land ownership. Since the beginning, colonists placed great value on land ownership. Land was a resource of prosperity and the most important indicator of wealth. To attract new settlers to America, colonists permitted them to own land. Although the colonists encouraged ownership, land was not equally distributed and was highly concentrated in the hands of a few people. Based on evidence we can make a direct connection between plantation size in the Chesapeake and Maryland regions based on the number of slaves living on them.
For example, between 1750 and 1770, twenty or more slaves lived on approximately one-third of all plantations. Specially, 31% of all plantations had 21 or more slaves living on them from 1750 – 1759. 4 This average continued through 1779. We can assume that white plantation owners possessing the largest plantations owned the largest number of slaves. There was a direct correlation between land ownership and wealth distribution. Those that owned the land owned the wealth. There was strong evidence of this in Barbados in 1680 where wealthy pioneers owning 60 or more slaves owned approximately 60% of all land and 60% of all slaves. Likewise, 14. 9% of Jamaican land owners possessed land valued at ? 1,000 or more. 6 This trend also started as early as 1669 and continued up through 1750 in the Virginia colony. For instance, between 1700 – 1719, the wealthiest 5. 6 % of the male population owned 61. 5% of the total wealth and between 1720 – 1750 the wealthiest 2. 7 percent of males owned 33. 2% of wealth. 7 One of the greatest values colonists recognized from land ownership was the acquisition of economic and political power. They could influence the future of their society because of the economic power they possessed.
Most importantly, they had the ability to advance their own interests. For example, they could make the rules for who owned the land and where they owned it. They could give land to their heirs to ensure that it remained in their family’s possession for generations. Land ownership and wealth also meant political power. Those with the wealth could hold political office and shape the future of their colonies by making laws that would benefit them directly. The colonists experienced many long-term benefits from land ownership.
However, they benefited at the expense of others by setting up a system that would intentionally prevent them from achieving any level of prosperity and success. Some people may disagree with the method used by the colonies to prosper. However, the fact that they used others to advance their own goals does not cancel out the fact that land ownership and wealth moved them one step closer to securing their position as a viable society. Agricultural exports also played a role in progression of the of the Chesapeake and Barbadian colonies.
Both colonies practiced exporting agricultural products to England and would eventually build the wealth and improve their standard of living. Prior to the 1620’s growing crops was difficult for the colonist because early settlements did not have the knowledge and tools needed to grow them successfully. Barbadian settlers tried to grow crops such as tobacco, cotton, ginger, and indigo, but were unsuccessful. Over time, they learned which crops would grow successfully in their region. After much trial and error, tobacco became the right plant to grow for Chesapeake and sugar for Barbados.
Tobacco exports to England became the main source of income from Virginia and Maryland. Between 1660 and 1760 tobacco exports increased each decade. Along with the number of pounds increasing, the price per pound of tobacco also increased. In 1740 England imported 35,372 pounds of tobacco at a price of 0. 80 pence sterling/pound. By 1770 the amount increased to 38,986 at 2. 06 pence sterling/per pound. Furthermore, the value of exports to England reached $435,094. 8 Additionally, sugar exports to England from Barbados yielded positive financial results for the colonies.
Sugar exports steadily increased from 1651 to 1698 with the highest being 15,587 tons in 1698. 9 This discussion about the impact of exports on the evolution of the colonies is not complete without acknowledging the role slavery played. As exports to England increased, the import of slaves also increased to support the demand for tobacco. The more slaves owned by the colonists, the more crops could be harvested and exported to generate more revenue for the colonies. A closer look at the evidence doesn’t always show a successful progression toward prosperity.
Increases in the black population did not always significantly outnumber that of whites. Also, there is evidence that illustrates a drop in the value of exports to England from 1755 to 1770. While the value of exports was at their highest in 1750 at ? 508,939, they decreased to as low as ? 435,094 in 1770. 10 Tobacco exports to England also dropped in 1770. Additionally, once land ownership opened up to indentured servants and other settlers in the Chesapeake colony, the largest distribution of wealth shifted from the wealthiest to the middle class.
For example, between 1700 – 1719 5. 8% of the wealthiest males owned 61. 5% of the wealth. From 1720 – 1750, 2. 7% of the wealthiest males owned 33. 2% of the wealth while 26% of the male population owned 31. 3% of the wealth. 11 This shows an important shift in wealth within the colony. Some may read this evidence and disagree with the factors that contributed to their advancement and decide not to give full credit because of these inconsistencies. The Chesapeake colonies established a formula long before the mid-1700s to promote and sustain their future growth.
Although the statistical evidence changes for some of the factors, it is clear that the Chesapeake and Barbadian colonies progressed as a society as a result of slavery, land ownership, and agricultural exports. The focus should not only be on the evidence, but the overall impact these factors had on the colonies’ ability to evolve and the impact their prosperity has on our economic situation today. Notes Population Growth, Virginia, 1640-1770, p 67 2 Population Growth, Maryland, 1640 – 1770, p 68 3 Population Estimates, Barbados, 1655 – 1770, p 73 Plantation Size in Virginia by Number of Slaves, 1700 – 1779, p 71 5 Wealth Distribution, Wealthy Planters, 1673 and 1680, p 74 6 Wealth Distribution, Jamaica, 1674 – 1701 (percentages), p 74 7 Wealth Distribution in Middlesex County, Virginia: Personal Property of Deceased Adult Males, 1699 – 1750, p 68 8 Tobacco Imported by England from Virginia and Maryland (in thousands of pounds) and Maryland Tobacco Prices (in pence sterling/pound), 1620 – 1770, p 69 9 Estimated Sugar Exports from Barbados to London, 1651 – 1706 (tons), p 75 10 Value of Exports to and Imports from England by Virginia and Maryland, 1700 – 1770 (in pounds sterling), p 72 11 Wealth Distribution in Middlesex County, Virginia: Personal Property of Deceased Adult Males, 1699 – 1750, p 68 Works Cited Wheeler, William Bruce, Susan D. Becker, Lorri Glover, and John Hart. Discovering the American Past. Kentucky: Cengage Learning, 2012. Print