Prosperous New England Distilleries
It is noteworthy that the slave trade of New England was so prosperous by 1725 that England was short of shipwrights. It should be remembered too that after the Revolution the Southern States were actively pursuing emancipation, but this was derailed by the invention of Yankee-tinker Eli Whitney. Then, ever-increasing plantations, slaves and cotton production were needed to feed the profitable textile mills of New England.
Bernhard Thuersam, Executive Director
Cape Fear Historical Institute
Post Office Box 328
Wilmington, NC 28402
Prosperous New England Distilleries:
"…The shipbuilders of the Thames District met in London in the winter of 1724-1725 and formally complained to the Lords of Trade: "In the eight years ending in 1720 we are informed that seven hundred sail of ships were built in New England, and that in the years since…..that the New England trade, by the tender of extraordinary inducements, has drawn over so many working shipwrights that there are not enough left to carry on the work."
The (British Navigation) laws were ignored. For the West Indies trade alone proved so logical, so sound for the ambitious Yankee traders…For the Indies trade was a three-cornered affair hingeing on rum, slaves and molasses. Together they comprised the foundation for more ships and hence more trouble than all the politicians ashore put together. (T)he start of the slave trade had been an offhand sort of occurrence. A Dutch privateer found itself with twenty Negroes taken from a Spanish ship and, not knowing what to do with them, dropped anchor in the river at Jamestown in 1619. The Negroes were offered cheap, and the Virginia settlers decided to trade tobacco for them. The swap was made and the Dutch sailed away, leaving behind them a cancerous growth that was to bring the parent body close to death before the disease was arrested.
Meanwhile, the Virginians did not call them slaves; as late as 1660 Virginia court records were still referring to Negroes as indentured servants. The New Englanders had Indian slaves as early as 1637, and a more or less formal business developed with traders nabbing Indians along the banks of the Kennebec River in Maine and selling them into slavery up and down the coast. It was the black ivory from Africa, however, that turned the trick in the West Indies trade (for New England) and established Southern slavery on a solid and enduring footing.
The mechanics of this all-important trade worked like this: molasses was brought to New England and made into rum; the rum, highly prized among the Negroes on the west coast of Africa, brought its own price among the drinkers, a price that included any of their relatives or friends that might have the bad judgment to be lying about, and the resultant black cargoes were diposed of profitably in Boston, Newport, and on south.
Not all the West Indies rum was drunk by Negroes. A flourishing local trade in fur was conducted with the Indians by the extremely profitable exchange of a few bottles of cheap rum or whiskey for the entire season’s catch of its drunken owner. (New England) Rum, it is generally agreed, had more to do with the destruction of the Indian tribes on the eastern seaboard than all the wars in which they were engaged put together. The tribal chiefs, apparently recognizing this danger when one of the long series of Indian wars ended with the treaty of Falmouth (Massachusetts) in 1726, begged without avail to have the sale of firewater to the young braves stopped."
(Yankee Ships, An Informal History of the American Merchant Marine, Reese Wolfe, Bobbs-Merrill Company, 1955, pp. 43-44)