early american wheat -- 2/27/23
Today's selection -- from Over the Alleghenies: Early Canals and Railroads of Pennsylvania by Robert J. Kapsch. More than tobacco, the crop that powered the early American economy was wheat, centered much more in the northern part of the country:
"The end of the Indian Wars was followed by the Second Treaty of Paris (November 20, 1815), which marked the conclusion of the Napoleonic Wars and the lifting of Napoleon's edict banning emigration. Thousands seeking inexpensive land flooded into the United States, joining Americans from the original colonies, to buy land and settle the western territories.
|Kansas Summer Wheat and storm panorama|
"These new settlers struggled to travel west to the new interior lands, because the western territories were hundreds of miles from the American ports. In these early years, terrible roads were the norm; they were rudimentary, often badly built, poorly graded, and seldom maintained. In the winter and spring, snow thaw and rains quickly turned these roads into morasses of mud. Bridges to cross the wide American rivers were almost nonexistent, fords infrequent and dangerous, and ferries generally hazardous due to a combination of slap-dash vessels, rough water, and habitually drunken ferry crews. As a result, overland travel was slow, expensive, and dangerous. Alternatives, such as river navigation, were rare and equally haphazard.
"Once arrived in the western territories, settlers found they needed to sell the surplus of their agricultural produce to the eastern merchants to pay for the land and buy needed implements, tools, cooking utensils, salt, and other necessities of life. Subsistence farming was theoretically possible but was rarely attractive to men and women who needed iron plows, metal pots, salt for curing, and, of course, money to repay the bankers or land speculators who sold them their land.
"Flour was an ideal agricultural commodity to ship from the new western lands. A market for it already existed, and spoilage rates were low. In the late eighteenth century, the middle Atlantic colonies had developed a flour trade with the Caribbean. The Caribbean sugar trade with Europe and elsewhere was well established and highly profitable. The Caribbean slave plantations were much too valuable for growing sugar cane to be used to grow food crops. Thus, American merchants shipped tons of flour to the islands.
"Even before the Revolutionary War, flour had been the colonies' leading export, sent overseas in barrel-weights of 196 pounds of flour and half-barrels of 98 pounds. The three principal cities exporting flour were New York, Philadelphia, and Baltimore, and merchants from these cities shipped both whole grain and flour principally of wheat, rye, and Indian corn. As the flour trade expanded at the end of the Napoleonic Wars (1815), American flour was shipped in large quantities to Europe, especially during drought years such as 1826."