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View of Boston, 1723
Explain the importance of maritime commerce in the development of the economy of colonial Massachusetts
Focus Question: What was the role of maritime commerce in Massachusetts's colonial economy?
Topics on the Page
Port Cities of Massachusetts
Salem Witch Trials
"Massachusetts went to the sea, not by choice, but by necessity,"
said historian Samuel Eliot Morrison.
Fishing and shipbuilding industries
The soil was too poor and the climate to extreme to support year-round agriculture.
The colonists turned to seafaring and trading, steps that would lead them directly into conflict with British mercantile policies.
Settlers cut down trees and floated them down to sawmills near the ports in Boston, which created a major shipbuilding center.
Whale hunting: created oil for lamps, as well as ivory, etc.; “whaling” grew into a major business.
1633, began exported cod and mackerel from Newfoundland
In 1602 Bartholemew Gosnold explored the bay and christened Cape Cod for the fish that swarmed about it
Lumber was not only imported from other parts of the continent, but came from Massachusetts itself; colonists used it to build ships to promote trade routes; to trade fish for other goods like molasses.
As a result, by the early 18th century, Massachusetts used its close proximity to the Grand Banks and its good coastal harbors to become the "primary commercial fishing community in the world" (
Historical Atlas of Massachusetts
, Richard W. Wilkie and Jack Tager, eds., University of Massachusetts Press, p. 20).
Fishing was centered at the ports of Gloucester, Marblehead, New Bedford, and Nantucket. By 1740, 150 whaling ships sailed from Nantucket alone.
Into the Deep: America, Whaling and the World
from PBS American Experience
from the New Beford Whaling Museum
Commercial Fishers: Whaling
from On the Water, Smithsonian Museum of American History
Forgotten Port: Provincetown's Whaling Heritage
How Nantucket Came to be the Whaling Capital of the World
from Smithsonian (December 2015)
for the New Bedford Whaling Museum's website.
Laura Jernegan: Girl on a Whaleship
from the Martha's Vineyard Museum
Final chase of Moby-Dick
Moby Dick, e-book version
Moby Dick Teachers' Notes
For more, see
World History I.12
Origins of the Atlantic Slave Trade
Click here for an
interactive map of Triangular Trade Routes
for a website from the Smithsonian on Living in the Atlantic World
Developed many trade routes; one was
carried fish, lumber, etc. from Massachusetts to the West Indies, where the “Yankees” bought sugar and molasses and sailed back to Massachusetts. Then the colonists used these goods to make rum.
: rum, guns, clothes, tools from Mass. to West Africa, where they were traded for slaves.
: ships with slaves went to the West Indies, and with those profits, traders bought more molasses.
Rum from Massachusetts went to the west coast of Africa to trade for slaves, who were carried to the West Indies and exchanged for sugar and molasses that was returned to make more rum.
Fish, food, timber and horses to the west indies for sugar which went to England to be traded for manufactured goods.
Fish, food, timber and fur to southern Europe to be exchanged for wine, silk, spices and fruit, which were brought to England and exchanged for manufactured goods.
for a teaching guide to triangle trade. This lesson gives both elementary school and middle school examples.
from the narrative of Olaudah Equiano is a primary source describes a slave auction and the feelings that an enslaved African would have.
To contextualize this primary source, this
Crash Course World History Video
explains the Atlantic slave trade concisely and complexly.
2 minute Interactive map on all Trans Atlantic trade
Port cities of New Bedford, Newburyport, Gloucester, Salem, and Boston
Settlers initially landed in Gloucester and set up the first fisheries, but soon abandoned their settlement and moved to Salem, because the land was more ideal for farming
Gloucester was eventually re-settled
Boston was the main port, part of the triangular trade route; traded internationally; closest port to England
Salem: the Witch Trials of 1692 and 1693
New Bedford is known as the "whaling city" because it was the most important port in the whaling industry
Newburyport is situated on the Merrimack River, which made it a major lumber and shipbuilding center; first place the "tea rebellion" occurred.
for the Musuem of Cape Ann website, which features art based on the maritime livelihood of Cape Ann (Gloucester, Essex, Rockport, Manchester-by-the-Sea).
for a powerpoint on port towns in Colonial American and the simplification of triangle trade
Focus Question: What were the causes of the witchcraft trials in 17th Century Massachusetts?
Salem Witch Trials (1692)
See also Influential Literature Page on the play
The Crucible by Arthur Miller
In January of 1692 two girls, the daughter and niece of Reverend Paul Samuel Parris of Salem Village, became very ill. The village doctored declared that the two girls had been bewitched. The hysteria that followed as come to be known as the
Salem Witch Trials
The conditions surrounding the 17th century Massachusetts Bay Colony, including fear of the devil, competition with nearby Salem town and a concern about attack from neighboring Indian tribes, were ideal for this rapid spread of fear of witches.
One hundred and fifty men and women were thrown into prison when the affected girls cried out their names. Those being accused awaited trail for the crime of witchcraft, which at the time was punishable by death.
The trials began in June of 1692, presided over by Chief Justice William Stoughton. Bridget Bishop of Salem was the first to be tried and sentence to death by hanging on June 10. Thirteen women and five men were sentenced to death before the court was disbanded in October of the same year.
The Superior Court of Judicature was formed to replace the "witchcraft" court and did not allow for spectral evidence. Those being accused of witchcraft were released from prison and those awaiting execution were pardoned. The craze of the witchcraft trials were over and apologies were offered to the victims families.
The Salem Witch Trials are often compared with the "witch hunt" during the
period in the United States.
Lesson Plan/Teaching Tips for Salem Witch Trials
Understanding the Salem Witch Trials
Timeline of Salem Witch Trials
For background sources, see
Salem Witchcraft Trials, 1692
Salem Witch Trials Documentary Archive and Transcription Project
For an interactive experience, see
Salem Witchcraft Hysteria
from National Geographic.
For information on an earlier outbreak of witchcraft trials In Northampton, Massachusetts, see
Jury Finds Mary Parsons Not Guilty of Witchcraft, May 13, 1675
Mary Parsons Witchcraft Trial
from Historic Northampton.
Image IDs from left to right
Map of Cape Cod
Wikimedia Commons, "Cape Cod Bay map".
Triangular trade map
Wikimedia Commons, "Triangle trade".
Wikimedia Commons, "Gloucester MA".
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