The colonial era is especially appealing in regard to ecomic history because it represents a study in contrasts. The ecomy was exceptionally dynamic in terms of population growth and geographical expansion. No major famines, epidemics, or extended wars intervened to reverse, or even slow down appreciably, the tide of vigorous ecomic growth. Despite this broad expansion, however, the fundamental patterns of ecomic behavior remained fairly constant. The members of the main occupational groups - farmers, planters, merchants, artisans, indentured servants, and slaves - performed similar functions throughout the period. In comparison with the vast number of institutional invations in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, structural change in the colonial ecomy evolved gradually. With the exception of the adoption of the pernicious system of black slavery, few new ecomic institutions and revolutionary new techlogies emerged to disrupt the stability of this remarkably affluent commercial-agricultural society. Living standards rose slowly but fairly steadily at a rate of 3 to 5 percent a decade after 1650. (Monetary sums are converted into 1980 dollars so that the figures will be relevant to modern readers.) For the most part, this book describes the ecomic life styles of free white society. The term colonists is virtually synymous here with inhabitants of European origin. Thus, statements about very high living standards and the benefits of land ownership pertain only to whites. One chapter does focus exclusively, however, on indentured servants and slaves. This book represents the author's best judgment about the most important features of the colonial ecomy and their relationship to the general society and to the movement for independence. It should be a good starting point for all - undergraduate to scholar - interested in learning more about the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. This popular study, lauded by professors and scholars alike, has been diligently revised to reflect the tremendous amount of new research conducted during the last decade, and w includes a totally new chapter on women in the ecomy. Presenting a great deal of up-to-date information in a concise and lively style, the book surveys the main aspects of the colonial ecomy: population and ecomic expansion; the six main occupational groups (family farmers, indentured servants, slaves, artisans, great planters, and merchants); women in the ecomy; domestic and imperial taxes; the colonial monetary system; living standards for the typical family
Edwin J. Perkins is Professor of History at the University of Southern California.