American Economy

Colonial cities set up markets for the exchange of manufactured goods from Europe and produce from rural and frontier settlements in the New World. By 1690, all of the cities had regular markets that they held on a particular day each week at a specific location, both of which were designated by provincial or village authorities. In some of the Northern towns, the custom of yearly fairs had also become well established by 1690. Boston established the colonies’ first market in 16331634. Every Thursday, settlers from the surrounding countryside journeyed to Boston to exchange goods and produce with the townsfolk. The market was held outside at the head of King Street until 1658, when funds became available for the construction of a town house. Increased trading at the Boston market ultimately led to the town meeting and the appointment of a market clerk, two of the defining characteristics of politics and trade in Boston for nearly 200 years. In 1648, a weekly market opened on the Strand in New Amsterdam, where townsfolk and farmers exchanged goods. Every Saturday, meat, pork, butter, cheese, turnips, carrots, cabbage, and other country produce, as well as manufactured goods, were bought and sold. In 1662, both Tuesday and Saturday were designated as market days. When the English seized control of New Amsterdam in 1664, they constructed a building to house the market and, in 1683, they officially introduced English market custom in the form of the Dongan Charter. Newport and Philadelphia established their markets in the 1670s and 1680s, respectively, and Charles Town had its market by the 1690s. In addition to weekly market days, some seventeenth-century town dwellers instituted annual or semiannual fairs. New Amsterdam held annual cattle and hog fairs. Philadelphia also held an annual fair in which all types of merchandise were exchanged. Philadelphia residents valued their fairs, and each county competed eagerly to host them. By 1688, Philadelphia was holding two fairs a year, on May 20 and August 20. Boston residents had also been granted two fairs per year in 1648, but their experience with fairs proved short-lived. There is no evidence that Newport or Charles Town held fairs in the seventeenth century, but, by the eighteenth century, both towns had a robust economy. Trade and commerce engaged townsfolk of all classes in the seventeenth century. Most inhabitants worked to support the local shipping industry. Some workers prepared commodities for export. Other residents became the ship’s crews. Townspeople also worked as artisans, mechanics, or shopkeepers. Gristmills, sawmills, breweries, bakeries, cooperages, and tanneries all appeared in the towns almost as soon as they were established. As trade grew, these occupations also grew, employing more townsfolk. A corps of artisans and laborers also worked diligently to construct and maintain the many ships passing in and out of the cities’ harbors. Controlling and managing all of the economic activity in the growing towns were a few wealthy merchants. Merchants, artisans, and shopkeepers all acquired their much-needed skilled laborers through a system of apprenticeship similar to the one in place in England. Young boys, and occasionally girls, were given for a set number of years to a master workman, who would train them in a given craft or occupation. The great need for skilled laborers during the seventeenth century meant that apprenticeships usually lasted no more than three or four years. Though slight variations existed, a general system of apprenticeship appeared in all of the towns by the end of the seventeenth century. Economic activity in colonial cities was governed by the medieval notion that merchants, craftsmen, artisans, and laborers’ greatest responsibility was to maintain the welfare of the community. Village authorities sought to maintain a fair and customary price for goods. They also promoted quality standards, supervised the food supply, regulated weights and measures, oversaw payment of debts, and protected trade from outside intruders. The result, at least in part, was that townsfolk often found themselves severely limited in their actions and economic dealings. The Role of the US Government in the American Economy – Issues In … travelquaz

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