Sunday, February 10, 2013

European Settlers Grew Wealthy From Native Crops of Corn, Cotton and Tobacco

Part 7 of the series Are Native Americans Relevant?

After the arrival of the first European settlers, the Native Americans continued to teach new European settlers about the flora and fauna, and how to farm.  The colonial economy depended on Indian crops.  The early settlers exported tobacco, cotton and corn, major crops supplemented by fur trade in the northern colonies and deerskins in the south.
Cotton is the most important and widely used vegetable fiber in the world. The majority of cottons grown are of American origin.  Europe began importing cotton in 1552, which to the creation of the first textile factories.  The U.S. supplied 7/8s of Britain’s cotton before the Civil War.  From South Carolina west to Texas plantations were created out of Indian farms to grow cotton.  Growers not lucky enough to own coastal plantations had to keep moving west because the land wore out and they didn’t fertilize it. 
 After the Civil War other uses were developed for cotton by products:  cotton oil for soap, lamp oil, cooking oil and cotton meal for fuel, fertilizer and animal feed.
Native American farmers developed a type of corn for almost every ecological niche from southern Canada to northern Chile and Argentina.  It grows in virtually every part of the world where humans can grow crops.  Corn is higher in nutrition than most other grin crops and the yield is higher.  At time of contact, corn was 30 times more productive than traditional European grains.  Settlers ate corn chowder, corn bread, corn tortillas, corn tamales, hominy, grits, fresh corn, popcorn.  They fed corn to their chickens, turkeys and pigs.  They had more meat in their diets than European contemporaries.  Corn was exported to the Caribbean to feed millions of slaves on the sugarcane plantations.

Tobacco is a Native American plant that grows in almost as many diverse environments as corn.  It was grown throughout Virginia, Maryland, North Carolina and South Carolina.  The demand increased through 1600s.  It was the milder tobacco from the Caribbean that was most popular.  The local tobacco was too strong.  

Early tobacco growers began with agricultural procedures learned from the Natives.  The prosperity of early Virginia came from the sale of tobacco.  Without such a prosperous crop, Virginia wouldn’t have fared well.  By 1616 Virginia merchants exported over a ton of tobacco to England.  By 1689 they exported over 7000 tons.  By 1775 tobacco was 1/6 of all exports in all 13 colonies.  

Tobacco was also grown in the Connecticut River Valley.  It was a high quality used for snuff and cigar wrappers.
The plantation system was developed for tobacco.  It also created a new social form in the South that strongly influenced American history.

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