Though Winthrop's party initially intended to become farmers, they found the area's rocky soil difficult to cultivate, and some colonists turned to the sea for their livelihood. Settlers used small boats, called shallops, to fish and trade with Native Americans and with English settlers in other coastal villages. Trade increased rapidly, and, before long, Boston became the chief trading port in the area. More distant coastal trade soon followed.
Boston established trade relations with Virginia in 1631, and, in 1633, 10, 000 bushels of corn from Virginia arrived in Boston Harbor. In return, Boston shipped many barrels of salted codfish south. Boston had also established trade with Maryland, the Dutch colonies of Manhattan and Long Island, and French colonies in Canada during the 1630s.
By the time of Winthrop's death, in 1649, Boston had established a vigorous and profitable commerce with ports throughout the New World. Boston's early settlers, under Winthrop's guidance, also became skilled shipbuilders. Their first sizable vessel, the Blessing of the Bay, was launched on the Mystic River near Winthrop's Medford estate in 1631.
Medford and the Mystic quickly became the center of Boston's shipbuilding industry. Within thirty-five years of Boston's founding, there were 300 New England ships, most of them Boston-owned, engaged in coastal and overseas trade. There were also 1,300 smaller ships fishing off the Massachusetts coast.
When immigration to Boston lagged in the 1640s, the city increased its development of maritime commerce. Strife between the Puritans in England and King Charles erupted into a civil war known as the Puritan Revolution in 1640, causing immigration to Boston to dwindle. Decreased immigration brought hard times to many colonists who during the 1630s had counted on new immigrants to stimulate Boston's growing economy.
When immigration ceased, Boston's residents sought other economic outlets. New England's rocky soil and short growing season prohibited common cash crops such as tobacco, sugar, and rice. Thus, Boston residents increasingly exported manufactured goods and surplus foodstuffs.
Traders began sailing to ports as far away as Europe, Barbados, Jamaica, and even Madagascar and became directly involved in the trade of rum, slaves, and molasses, among other commodities. Parliament attempted to control Boston traders with the passage of a series of Navigation Acts in the 1660s that required the transport of goods through English ports. While many Boston merchants sailed to England with their goods, most sea captains carried on their trade illegally.
Finally, in 1684, the charter of Massachusetts was annulled, and in 1686 the frigate HMSRose was stationed outside Boston Harbor to apprehend smugglers. Sir Edmund Andros was appointed governor of the New England colonies in 1687. Boston's trade was crippled, and a severe depression set in.
The Andros government lasted two years and four months and ended in violent revolt by Boston's residents. Following Andros's deportation, Boston traders were once again free to sail to the West Indies and Europe. New England became a royal province in 1692, but the new royal governors made little effort to enforce the Navigation Acts.
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