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The Success of the Chesapeake Tobacco Colonies

The success of the British trade is easily attributed to the success of the Chesapeake colonies and the tobacco they furnished. The land in this region was fertile and the temperature more favorable than most other European colonies. It “proved able to develop forms of subsistence agriculture”, more so than other colonies. (1) The obsession Europe had with tobacco made it a commodity worthy of sinking money into. Though other countries did grow tobacco in the Caribbean, only the Chesapeake colonies had the land and resources to meet the ever growing demand. It brought in huge profits “sustained by European mode so consumption”. (2)

The biggest difference of all in driving the Chesapeake tobacco trade to the forefront of success was how Britain began the process. Britain looked to create another world supplying them with tobacco. They were willing to bring in less money in the beginning of the colonies to ensure long-term existence and profitability. From the beginning Britain had a monopoly over the colonies and the tobacco they produced. (3)

The relationship was ideal as the colonies gave Britain “seemingly endless supplies of natural resources” and in return the colonies themselves were not allowed “any production or trade” beyond that. (4) They had to rely on British made products to survive if it could not be found naturally ready to use in the New World. In other words, they could use the wood they found on the land as long as they did not sell it to other countries. They could harvest pelts, but they could not make their own tools or trade the pelts for them with France. As long as the colonies produced, they “were able to trade equally for goods from England without having to worry about the scarcity of the product.” (5)

Britain guaranteed success with a product always in demand and creating constant need from one side of the ocean to another. What that need ended with the Revolutionary War, the British reign of Atlantic trade was drastically diminished.


(1) Paul Butel, The Atlantic, trans. Iain Hamilton Grant (New York: Routledge, 1999), 103.
(2) Ibid, 139.
(3) Ibid, 140.
(4) “Economic Aspects of Tobacco during the Colonial Period 1612-1776,” Tobacco News and Information, Access August 17, 2012, http://archive.tobacco.org/History/colonialtobacco.html.

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