Territory Worth Contesting

Until the mid-1700s, the colonies in North America yielded limited profits for Britain and France. However, that was changing, especially in the British colonies. The population was growing, the economy diversifying, and trade expanding. The potential was immense. America was producing more agricultural products and raw materials and the colonies were becoming a lucrative market for manufactured goods. Both Britain and France recognized that North America was territory worth contesting.

The Port of Philadelphia was the most active harbor in colonial America. As illustrated here, many types of ships transported materials to domestic and foreign ports. In this era, it was far easier to move goods by sea than overland.

Engraving of the Port of Philadelphia, 1768

Engraving of the Port of Philadelphia, 1768

Courtesy of Yale University Art Gallery

Processing grain, a major colonial export, around 1760

Processing grain, a major colonial export, around 1760

Courtesy of Smithsonian Libraries

Mercy Otis Warren, a fierce patriot but also a consumer of imported finery, 1763

Mercy Otis Warren, a fierce patriot but also a consumer of imported finery, 1763

Courtesy of Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Exports

American prosperity depended on the growing value of its exports. By the 1770s, these included not only tobacco and furs, but also rum, wheat, fish, rice, indigo, iron, sugar, and naval stores. Besides seeking political freedom, the colonists wanted independence to control their own global trade.

Codfish Processing, 1715

Codfish Processing, 1715

Codfish were a valuable export to Britain, Europe, and the Caribbean.
Courtesy of Boston Public Library, Norman B. Leventhal Map Center

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Imports

In general, white American colonists in the late 1700s had a comparable standard of living to their British counterparts. English businessmen sought to profit from colonists through sale of manufactured goods and by controlling American trade with other countries, including India and China. Americans were eager consumers, and often fell into debt to British merchants.

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