The Trade of the Middle Colonies

Peter Kalm, Travels into North America (1749), 1, 253-8; 243-5; reprinted in Guy Stevens Callender (ed.), Selections from the Economic History of the United States, 1765-1860 (Boston: Ginn and Co., 1909), 16-20.

New York sends many ships to the West Indies, with flour, corn, biscuit, timber, tuns, boards, flesh, fish, butter, and other provisions; together with some of the few fruits that grow here. Many ships go to Boston in New England, with corn and flour, and take in exchange, flesh, butter, timber, different sorts of fish, and other articles, which they carry further to the West Indies. They now and then take rum from thence, which is distilled there in great quantities, and sell it here with a considerable advantage. Sometimes they send yachts with goods from New York to Philadelphia, and at other times yachts are sent from Philadelphia to New York; which is only done, as appears from the gazettes, because certain articles are cheaper at one place than at the other. They send ships to Ireland every year, laden with all kinds of West India goods; but especially with linseed, which is reaped in this province. I have been assured, that in some years no less than ten ships have been sent to Ireland, laden withnothing but linseed; because it is said the flax in Ireland does not afford good seed. But probably the true reason is this: the people of Ireland, in order to have the better flax, make use of the plant before the seed is ripe, and therefore are obliged to send for foreign seed; and hence it becomes one of the chief articles in trade.

At this time a bushel of linseed is sold for eight shillings of New York currency, or exactly a piece of eight.

The goods which are shipped to the West Indies, are sometimes paid for with ready money, and sometimes with West India goods, which are either first brought to New York, or immediately sent to England or Holland. If a ship does not chuse to take in West India goods in its return to New York, or if no body will freight it, it often goes to Newcastle in England, to take in coals for ballast, which when brought home sell for a pretty good price. In many parts of the town coals are made use of, both for kitchen fires, and in rooms, because they are reckoned cheaper than wood, which at present costs thirty shillings of New York currency per fathom; of which measure I have before made mention. New York has likewise some intercourse with South Carolina; to which it sends corn, flour, sugar, rum, and other goods, and takes rice in return, which is almost the only commodity exported from South Carolina.

The goods with which the province of New York trades are not very numerous. They chiefly export the skins of animals, which are bought of the Indians about Oswego; great quantities of boards coming for the most part from Albany; timber and ready made lumber, from that part of the country which lies about the river Hudson; and lastly wheat, flour, barley, oats and other kinds of corn, which are brought from New Jersey and the cultivated parts o f this province. I have seen yachts from New Brunswick, laden with wheat which lay loose on board, and with flour packed up into tuns; and also with great quantities of linseed. New York likewise exports some flesh and other provisions out of its own province, but they are very few; nor is the quantity of pease which the people about Albany bring much greater. Iron however may be had more plentifully, as it is found in several parts of this province, and is of a considerable goodness; but all the other products of this country are of little account.

Most of the wine, which is drank here and in the other colonies is brought from the Isle of Madeira and is very strong and fiery.

No manufactures of note have as yet been established here; at present they get all manufactured goods, such as woollen and linen cloth, &c. from England, and especially from London. . . .

Philadelphia, the capital of Pensylvania, a province which makes part of what formerly was called New Sweden is one of the principal towns in North America; and next to Boston the greatest....

Several ships are annually built of American oak, in the docks which are made in several parts of the town and about it, yet they can by no means be put in comparison with those built of European oak, in point of goodness and duration.

The town carries on a great trade, both with the inhabitants of the country, and to other parts of the world, especially to the West Indies, South America, and the Antilles; to England, Ireland, Portugal, and to several English colonies in North America. Yet none but English ships are allowed to come into this port.

Philadelphia reaps the greatest profits from its trade to the West Indies. For thither the inhabitants ship almost every day a quantity of flour, butter, flesh and other victuals; timber, plank and the like. In return they receive either sugar, molasses, rum, indigo, mahogany, and other goods, or ready money. The true mahogany, which grows in Jamaica, is at present almost all cut down.

They send both West India goods, and their own productions to England; the latter are all sorts of woods, especially black walnut, and oak planks for ships; ships ready built, iron, hides and tar. Yet this latter is properly bought in New Jersey, the forests of which province are consequently more ruined than any others. Ready money is likewise sent over to England, from whence in return they get all sorts of goods there manufactured, viz. fine and coarse cloth, linen, iron ware, and other wrought metals, and East India goods. For it is to be observed that England supplies Philadelphia with almost all stuffs and manufactured goods which are wanted here.

A great quantity of linseed goes annually to Ireland, together with many of the ships which are built here. Portugal gets wheat, corn, flour, and maize which is not ground. Spain sometimes takes some corn. But all the money, which is got in these several countries, must immediately be sent to England, in payment for the goods which are got from thence, and yet those sums are not sufficient to pay all the debts.