Growing a Nation

Historical Timeline — 17th-18th Centuries

Economic Cycles

Revolutionary War boom

Postwar depression and deflation; maritime commerce prosperity




Farm Economy

17th century
Farmers near water transportation grow some cash crops for trade; farmers inland emphasize subsistence farming

18th century
Northern farmers produce a variety of crops and livestock, sometimes supplemented by craftwork; Southern plantation agriculture concentrates on export crops.

Declaration of Independence results partly from British controls on farm exports, restrictions on land titles, and limitations on western settlement

Shay's Rebellion, a farmers' revolt against deflation 1791 First National Bank chartered

Farmers & the Land

17th century
Small land grants commonly made to individual settlers; large tracts often granted to well-connected colonists

First permanent English settlement at Jamestown, Virginia

First African slaves brought to Virginia; by 1700, slaves are displacing southern indentured servants

18th century
English farmers settle in New England villages; Dutch, German, Swedish, Scotch-Irish, and English farmers settle on isolated Middle Colony farmsteads; English and some French farmers settle on plantations in tidewater and on isolated Southern Colony Farmsteads in Piedmont; Spanish immigrants, mostly lower middle-class and indentured servants, settle the Southwest and California.

Continental Congress offers land grants for service in the Continental Army

1785, 1787
Ordinances of 1785 and 1787 provide for survey, sale, and government of northwestern lands

Total population: 3,929,214; farmers 90% of labor force; U.S. area settled extends westward on average of 255 miles; parts of the frontier cross the Appalachians

Public Land Act authorizes Federal land sales to the public in minimum 640-acre plots at $2 per acre of credit.

Farm Machinery & Technology

18th century
Oxen and horses for power, crude wooden plows, all sowing by hand, cultivating by hoe, hay and grain cutting with sickle, and threshing with flail

Cradle and scythe introduced; invention of cotton gin (1793); Thomas Jefferson's plow with moldboard of least resistance tested (1794)

Eli Whitney invents the cotton gin, which contributes to the success of cotton as a Southern cash crop

Charles Newbold patents first cast-iron plow

Crops & Livestock

17th and 18th centuries
All forms of domestic livestock, except turkeys, are imported at some time; crops borrowed from Indians include maize, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, pumpkins, gourds, squashes, watermelons, beans, grapes, berries, pecans, black walnuts, peanuts, maple sugar, tobacco, and cotton

17th and 18th centuries
New crops from Europe include clover, alfalfa, timothy, small grains, and fruits and vegetables; African slaves introduce grain and sweet sorghum, melons, okra, and peanuts

18th century
Tobacco is the chief cash crop of the South

First Merino sheep imported

Sheep industry greatly emphasized in New England


18th century
Transportation by water, on trails, or through wilderness

Lancaster Turnpike opened, first successful toll road

Agricultural Trade & Development

17th century
Tobacco is the first important American export

18th century
Colonies export tobacco, rice, indigo, grain, and meat products

First tariff act, for revenue only

The tariff is a perennial subject of contention between the agricultural interests of the South and West and the commercial interests of the North

Value of tobacco exports: $4.36 million or 44% of total exports

Life on the Farm

17th century
Farmers endure rough pioneer life while adapting to new environment

18th century
Ideas of progress, human perfectibility, rationality, and scientific improvement flourish in the New World; small family farms predominate, except for plantations in southern coastal areas; housing ranges from crude log cabins to substantial frame, brick, or stone houses; farm families manufacture many necessities

Farm Organizations & Movements

18th century
Civic and intellectual leaders in colonial and revolutionary America copy the aristocratic and fashionable Europe interest in agriculture, science, and commerce, and form societies to promote these interests

The Philadelphia Society for the Promotion of Agriculture and other rural concerns are organized

Whiskey Rebellion, a farmers' revolt against taxes on grain in whiskey

Agricultural Education & Extension

Massachusetts Bay Colony requires elementary school in towns of at least 50 families and Latin school in towns of at least 100 families

18th century
Essay upon Field Husbandry written by Jared Eliot of Connecticut

Thomas Jefferson's Notes on the State of Virginia contains one of the finest detailed descriptions of agriculture in an American State and asserts the virtues of rural life

Government Programs & Policy

18th century
Local governments often regulate the prices of basic foodstuffs

George Washington suggests to Congress the establishment of a National Board of Agriculture

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