The Economics of Bostonian Trade

The Economics of Bostonian Trade

As a colony of Great Britain, all products coming in and out of Boston’s docks were meant to benefit the English economy. Just like all territories of England, the Massachusetts Bay Colony was forced into the practice of mercantilism, the economic theory that claimed the amount of wealth a nation had directly impacted the strength of the country, making colonies necessary for imperial powers. Under mercantilism, Boston was mandated to follow English regulations, including providing raw materials to the Crown and accepting goods from its mother country to sell to colonists. Severe taxes and duties were forced on vessels that carried foreign goods, and legislation like the Navigation Acts and the Sugar Act of 1764 further restricted colonial economic powers.

While the port of Boston traded many items across the globe, the biggest imports to the market are listed below –

  • Sugar
  • Molasses
  • Salt
  • Tobacco
  • Spices
  • Cotton
  • Indigo

How was wealth distributed in the city of Boston?

  • In Boston, 1687…
    • Of a population of 6,000 people, about 1,000 or 1/6 owned Chart of Wealth inequality in Colonial Americaproperty.
    • Of these, about 50 people, or 1% of the population, owned 25% of all the wealth in Boston.
    • Of the white adult males, 14% were extremely poor, had no property, and could not vote.
  • In Boston, 1770…
    • Of the top 1% of the population, 44% owned all the city’s wealth.
    • Of the white adult males, 29% were extremely poor, had no property, and could not vote.

This graph demonstrates that throughout much of the colonial period:

  • In 1690, the wealthiest 10% of all the colonists owned about 47% of all the wealth; by 1775, they owned about 65% of all the wealth.
  • In 1690, the next 30% owned between 37% of all the wealth; by 1775, they owned 28% of all the wealth.
  • In 1690, the poorest 60% owned between 16% of all the wealth; by 1775, they owned 7% of all the wealth.

For most of the colonial period for the top 10%, the percentage of wealth steadily increased while for the remaining 90% of the colonists, the percentage of wealth steadily decreased. This was a direct result of the influences that foreign imports (see the “Exports and Imports” page) had on the port of Boston and the people residing there.

Sources used in page –

“Mercantilism.” Ushistory.org. Independence Hall Association, 14 July 1995. Web. 25 Apr. 2015. <http://www.ushistory.org/declaration/lessonplan/mercantilism.asp>.

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