Monday, April 2, 2018

The Chesapeake Tobacco Economy - Indentured Servants & Angry Native Americans

The Chesapeake was immensely hospitable to tobacco cultivation. Profit-hungry settlers often planted tobacco, before they planted corn; seeking fields to plant tobacco, these new immigrants plunged farther away from the river valley and closer to the often angry Native Americans, who saw themselves being pushed off the lands whose ancestors had lived on for centuries.
Leaf-leaden ships annually hauled some 1.5 million pounds of tobacco out of Chesapeake Bay by the 1630s and it sold on the streets of London and beyond, almost 40 million pounds a year by the end of the century (18 million kilograms).

This enormous production depressed prices, but colonial Chesapeake tobacco growers responded to falling in the familiar way of farmers: by planting still more acres of tobacco. More tobacco meant more labor; families formed too slowly to provide it by natural population increase and Indians died too quickly on contact with whites to be a reliable labor force.
African slaves cost too much money; but England still had a “surplus” of displaced farmers, desperate for employment; many of them, as “indentured servants” lent their bodies usually for seven years of hard labor. Women also worked in the tobacco fields & tended to home chores as well.  In exchange they received transatlantic passage and eventual “freedom dues” at the end of their contract which included goods, clothes, and perhaps a bit of land.