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Toolbox Library, primary resources thematically organized with notes and discussion questionsOnline Seminars, professional development seminars for history and literature teachersBecoming American: The British Atlantic Colonies, 1690-1763
Becoming American: The British Atlantic Colonies, 1690-1763
Theme: GrowthTheme: PeoplesTheme: EconomiesTheme: IdeasTheme: American
Theme: Economies

2.
Pennsylvania five-pound paper note, issued May 1760
Commerce II: Colonies
- "Money matters and affairs of trade": snapshots of colonial economies, 1705-1762 (PDF)
- Rev. Cotton Mather, Theopolis Americana [God's City: America]. An Essay . . . against the Corruptions of the Market-Place, sermon, 1709, excerpts (PDF)


"Between 1680 and 1770," writes historian Jon Butler, "the economy of the British mainland colonies in America soared with growth unprecedented by both New and Old World standards."1 With enticing new opportunities for wealth, autonomy, and innovation came the inevitable downsides of economic expansion—volatility, sudden poverty, greed, financial fraud, ascendant materialism, and the spectre of unforeseen consequences. How did this unprecedented growth manifest itself in individual colonies? in individuals' lives?
  • "Money matters and affairs of trade." Seven snapshots of colonial economies are presented here, spanning almost six decades, from New England to Georgia, including pleas to build towns as trading centers, a "reliable answer" to questions about economic options in the southern colonies, and poems bewailing that "gainful Trade is at a stand" and "a bare Subsistence claims our utmost Care." While reading, look for illustrations of three aspects of the colonies' economic growth after 1680 that are highlighted by historian Jon Butler:

    • - "One could become richer or poorer in America in new and quite spectacular ways."
    • - "Taken together, they demonstrated how thoroughly, if quietly, European colonists took command their own economic life."
    • - "Even amid a European colonial system, they shaped a notably autonomous economy that determined much in colonial life, far beyond the economy itself and well past the American Revolution."2

    • - Selections by Rev. Francis Makemie (Virginia, 1705), John Saffin (Massachusetts, 1709), Richard Lewis (Maryland, 1728), the Virginia Gazette (Virginia, 1738), Rev. Johann Martin Bolzius (Georgia & Carolina, 1750), Benjamin Franklin et al. (Pennsylvania, 1752), and John Woolman, 1762.

  • Theopolis Americana [God's City: America]. One downside of economic growth was a broadening of opportunities for excess, envy, debt, ascendant materialism, and downright fraud the "corruptions of the Market-Place" condemned by Rev. Cotton Mather in a 1709 sermon in Boston. Not only were men cheating men, they were defiling God's plan for America as "God's City." Although a slaveholder, Mather also condemns the slave trade and chastises slaveholders who do not Christianize their slaves and treat them humanely. Concluding with a positive call to virtue, he offers "Some Good Hopes of Better Things to be yet seen in the AMERICAN World."
    • - Rev. Cotton Mather, Theopolis Americana [God's City: America]. An Essay . . . against the Corruptions of the Market-Place, sermon, 1709, excerpts.

Be sure to pair these readings with those in Commerce I: Empire. How does the macro/micro economic perspective affect your response to the readings? (16 pages.)


Discussion questions
  1. How did the "unprecedented growth" of the economy in the 1700s manifest itself in individual colonies? in individuals' lives?
  2. What positive aspects of economic expansion are represented in these selections—the opportunities for wealth, security, autonomy, and innovation?
  3. What downsides are represented in the selections?
  4. How do the positive aspects balance against the downsides? How would Benjamin Franklin respond to this question? Cotton Mather? You?
  5. Create a dialogue between two speakers in these selections on the colonies' economic growth. Pair, for example, Franklin and Mather, Makemie and Bolzius (both clergymen), and Saffin and Lewis (both poets).
  6. Chart illustrations of the three aspects of the colonies' economic growth after 1680 that are highlighted by historian Jon Butler. (See examples, left incomplete, in the chart below.)

    • - "One could become richer or poorer in America in new and quite spectacular ways."
    • - "Taken together, they demonstrated how thoroughly, if quietly, European colonists took command their own economic life."
    • - "Even amid a European colonial system, they shaped a notably autonomous economy that determined much in colonial life, far beyond the economy itself and well past the American Revolution."2

"Colonists . . . "ColonyEconomic ChallengeResponse/ Remedy
"could become richer or poorer in new and quite spectacular ways"Massachusetts Bay



Massachusetts Bay







official "pomp and gallantry" in hard times

clergyman delivered a sermon condemning the practices



"took command of their own economic life"




Carolina and Georgia



low supply of coin money, stifling trade



low supply of coin money, stifling trade


colony issued its own paper money to stimulate trade



"shaped a notably autonomous system that determined much in colonial life"










resistance of planters to building towns




trading with Spanish and French traders in the West Indies despite British ban

  1. Be sure to pair these readings with those in Commerce I: Empire. How does the macro/micro economic perspective affect your response to the readings?
  2. Include selections from other sections of this Toolbox, including those in Theme I: GROWTH #1: The Colonies, 1690-1715, and #9: The Colonies, 1720-1763. What does this broadening of perspective give to your understanding of the commercial bond between Britain and her colonies? of the "autonomous systems" the colonists were creating?

Framing Questions
  •  What were the local, regional, and global economies of pre-revolutionary America in the 1700s?
  •  How did they influence the colonies—their self-determination and sense of the future?
  •  How did they shape the lives of individuals—free, bonded, and enslaved?


Printing
Snapshots of colonial economies: 11
Mather, Theopolis Americana:  5
TOTAL 16 pages
Supplemental Sites




1 Jon Butler, Becoming America: The Revolution Before 1776 (Harvard University Press, 2000), p. 50.


2 Ibid., pp. 50-51.



Images:
- A south east view of the great town of Boston in New England in America, hand-colored etching, engraved by John Carwitham, between 1730 and 1760 (detail). Courtesy of the Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, #LC-USZC4-628.
- "A List of the Ships and Vessels, Goods, Wares, and Merchandizes, Imported into York River [Virginia], from March 25, 1739, to June 24, 1739," Virginia Gazette, 24 August 1739, detail. Colonial Williamsburg Digital Library; permission pending.
- Pennsylvania five-pound paper note ("bill of credit"), reverse, with phrase "To Counterfeit is D E A T H"; printed by Benjamin Franklin; issued May 1760. Department of Special Collections,


*PDF file - You will need software on your computer that allows you to read and print Portable Document Format (PDF) files, such as Adobe Acrobat Reader. If you do not have this software, you may download it FREE from Adobe's Web site.





ECONOMIES
1. Commerce I   2. Commerce II   3. Merchants
4. Consumers   5. Planters   6. Servitude








TOOLBOX: Becoming American: The British Atlantic Colonies, 1690-1763
Growth | Peoples | Economies | Ideas | American


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