New England in the northeast has generally thin, stony
soil, relatively little level land, and long winters, making it difficult
to make a living from farming. Turning to other pursuits, the New
Englanders harnessed water power and established grain mills and sawmills.
Good stands of timber encouraged shipbuilding. Excellent harbors promoted
trade, and the sea became a source of great wealth. In Massachusetts,
the cod industry alone quickly furnished a basis for prosperity.
With the bulk of the early settlers living in villages
and towns around the harbors, many New Englanders carried on some
kind of trade or business. Common pastureland and woodlots served
the needs of townspeople, who worked small farms nearby. Compactness
made possible the village school, the village church and the village
or town hall, where citizens met to discuss matters of common interest.
The Massachusetts Bay Colony continued to expand its
commerce. From the middle of the 17th century onward it grew prosperous,
and Boston became one of America's greatest ports.
Oak timber for ships' hulls, tall pines for spars
and masts, and pitch for the seams of ships came from the Northeastern
forests. Building their own vessels and sailing them to ports all
over the world, the shipmasters of Massachusetts Bay laid the foundation
for a trade that was to grow steadily in importance. By the end of
the colonial period, one-third of all vessels under the British flag
were built in New England. Fish, ship's stores and wooden ware swelled
New England shippers soon discovered, too, that rum
and slaves were profitable commodities. One of the most enterprising
-- if unsavory -- trading practices of the time was the so-called
"triangular trade." Merchants and shippers would purchase slaves off
the coast of Africa for New England rum, then sell the slaves in the
West Indies where they would buy molasses to bring home for sale to
the local rum producers.