Notes on the Patterns of Economic Growth in the British North American Colonies in the Seventeenth, Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries

  • Stanley L. Engerman


The growth and development of Great Britain in the Industrial Revolution and afterwards was heavily influenced by the economic characteristics of its settlements in the Western Hemisphere. While these colonial areas may not have been indispensable conditions for British industrialisation, their production characteristics and the high levels of income achieved did provide a major market for British exports, as well as an important source of imports to be consumed in Britain or to be re-exported to the continent. In addition, the economic performance of these areas figured in several of the major debates about British economic and social policy in the seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The discussions of mercantilism, of the economics of slavery and its abolition, and of the effects of production methods upon long-term colonial growth, all drew heavily upon the interpretation of the economic performance of the British New World colonies. In this note I should like to draw together some of the available data to discuss the economic conditions of these British colonies (with the exception of Canada) from settlement until the twentieth century. The statistical series presented are drawn from widely-known secondary sources, and their limitations are well-known. Nevertheless it is felt that they can provide useful information on the nature of colonial economic growth, as well as cast light on the impact of slavery and its abolition.


Capita Income Eighteenth Century Sugar Output Sugar Production Slave Trade 
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© Paul Bairoch and Maurice Lévy-Leboyer 1981

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  • Stanley L. Engerman

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